Despite their differences, managed and non-managed wetlands in the Mississippi Delta achieve similar functional outcomes

Author(s): Ervin, G.; Shoemaker, C.

This project aimed to evaluate abiotic and biotic characteristics of restored and non-managed wetlands in the Mississippi Delta, in an effort to determine whether restored wetlands are achieving desirable ecological functions in this predominantly agricultural landscape. With the assistance of USDA-NRCS, we identified 24 Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) wetlands and 6 non-restored, non-managed wetlands (NMW) for this work. These wetlands were assessed during 2014 and 2015 for water quality, hydrology, plant species composition, and landscape setting, as metrics of ecological condition and function.

Hydroperiods differed between NMWs and WRP sites, with longer, more intense flooding observed in NMWs; these differences were correlated with lower levels of plant species diversity, richness, and evenness in the NMWs, compared to WRP sites. We also found significant differences in soil organic matter content between wetland types, with NMWs having higher soil organic matter content, also likely correlated with the differences in hydroperiod between groups. In contrast to our observations of plant species and soils in these wetlands, few differences were found in water quality parameters between the two groups of wetlands.

At a broader scale, we found that WRP sites tended to be surrounded by higher levels of agriculture and conservation land, at distances from 100 to 500 m from the wetland edge, while NMWs tended to be surrounded by greater amounts of forested wetland cover. Additionally, we found that the conservation status of plant species in NMWs tended to be higher than that for WRP wetlands, which typically are situated in former marginal agricultural lands. Nevertheless, the lack of any substantial differences in water quality between NMWs and WRPs suggests that removal of excess nutrients associated with agricultural practices can be accomplished by wetlands across the agricultural landscape, even in moderately to heavily disturbed systems, such as the moist-soil managed wetlands typically created under the WRP efforts.

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