Ecological structure and function in a restored versus natural salt marsh
Rezek, Ryan J.
Pollack, Jennifer Beseres
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Habitat reconstruction is commonly employed to restore degraded estuarine habitats and lost ecological functions. In this study, we use a combination of stable isotope analyses and macrofauna community analysis to compare the ecological structure and function between a recently constructed Spartina alterniflora salt marsh and a natural reference habitat over a 2-year period. The restored marsh was successful in providing habitat for economically and ecologically important macrofauna taxa; supporting similar or greater density, biomass, and species richness to the natural reference during all but one sampling period. Stable isotope analyses revealed that communities from the natural and the restored marshes relied on a similar diversity of food resources and that decapods had similar trophic levels. However, some generalist consumers (Palaemonetes spp. and Penaeus aztecus) were more 13C-enriched in the natural marsh, indicating a greater use of macrophyte derived organic matter relative to restored marsh counterparts. This difference was attributed to the higher quantities of macrophyte detritus and organic carbon in natural marsh sediments. Reduced marsh flooding frequency was associated with a reduction in macrofaunal biomass and decapod trophic levels. The restored marsh edge occurred at lower elevations than natural marsh edge, apparently due to reduced fetch and wind-wave exposure provided by the protective berm structures. The lower elevation of the restored marsh edge mitigated negative impacts in sampling periods with low tidal elevations that affected the natural marsh. The results of this study highlight the importance of considering sediment characteristics and elevation in salt marsh constructions.