Effects of land use on wetland plant diversity in Mississippi

Author(s): Shoemaker, C.; Windham, E.; Ervin, G.

Restoration of former agricultural lands to wetlands has increased in the past 25 years, with public and private programs subsidizing the conversion of marginal farmland into wetlands. These wetlands were constructed with structural and functional goals in mind, such as increasing biodiversity and water quality within local and regional watersheds. While successful in terms of area restored, restored wetlands frequently do not meet desired management goals; often, these wetlands resemble highly degraded wetlands in terms of structure and function. While on-site parameters and management recommendations have recently received much attention, desired structural and functional components continue to fall short of management expectations. This study examined relationships between wetland site characteristics, measures of plant diversity, and land use. Data were collected in a total of 30 restored and naturally occurring wetlands in the Delta region of Mississippi during the 2014 and 2015 growing seasons. Wetland sites were surveyed twice during each growing season (May and August) from 50 evenly spaced observation points per wetland. Lower levels of plant diversity were observed in natural, compared to restored wetlands, with hydroperiod and management activities clearly affecting assemblages. Additionally, land use impacted observed plant community metrics, with the prevalence of agricultural and developed lands showing a negative relationship with plant species diversity. Wetland plant diversity showed a strong positive correlation with fallow land cover surrounding wetlands, with fallow land most often corresponding to land placed in conservation easements. Results thus suggest that low-intensity land use buffers associated with conversation easements are having a positive impact on wetland plant species diversity in the Mississippi Delta.

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