Wetland Restoration Thresholds: Can a Degradation Transition Be Reversed with Increased Effort?

Lindig-Cisneros, R., J. Desmond, K.E. Boyer and J.B. Zedler

Publication Date:

Previous attempts to reverse the degradation of a coastal wetland and restore nesting habitat for an endangered bird showed that adding nitrogen could temporarily increase the height of Spartina foliosa, but not produce self-sustaining tall canopies. We asked if increased effort (up to five years of N fertilization) would shift canopy attributes across the hypothesized threshold. Thirty plots were treated with 0-5 yr of urea addition, and all were followed for 5 yr. Canopies were robust while urea was being added, but Spartina reverted to short stature soon after fertilization ended, supporting R. J. Hobbs and D. A. Norton’s concept of an irreversible transition. However, specific outcomes depended on the choice of response variable (six comparisons), the choice of reference data (initial conditions, same-year data, and pooled data), and the choice of statistical design (repeated measures vs. complete design), indicating the need to assess experiments thoroughly before making strong recommendations for management.

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Peer-reviewed Article

Ecological Applications