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Development of a preliminary metric-based indicator of functional recovery for tidal marshes
Proceedings of the 2022 Mississippi Water Resources Conference

Year: 2022 Authors: Dybiec J.M., Ledford T., Rinehart S., Tatariw C., Mortazavi B., Cherry J.

Despite their known importance, an estimated 25-50% of tidal marshes have been lost worldwide over the past 50 years due to anthropogenic pressures, such as coastal development and pollution, and those that remain are at increased risk of loss due to climate change. While tidal marsh restoration and creation efforts are used to offset these losses, post restoration/creation monitoring typically focuses primarily on the recovery of plant communities. As a result, the recovery of important functions like carbon storage and nitrogen removal capacity, both of which are of great ecological and societal importance, is often not assessed. Therefore, an accessible method for estimating functional recovery in restored and created tidal marshes would be of great benefit to coastal sustainability efforts. Metric-based indicators have previously been used to assess ecosystem functions through simple and inexpensive biotic/abiotic measures, and therefore, may provide a useful method to assess restoration in a time-effective and budget-friendly manner.

Using data collected from 12 restored/created and 4 natural tidal marshes across the Mississippi-Alabama Gulf Coast during Summer 2021, we calculated percent recovery of certain functions at restored/created marshes by pairing them with reference natural marshes. We then used backwards model selection to determine what combination of simple site characteristics (e.g., soil bulk density, percent plant cover, site age) could explain the recovery of more complex functions (e.g., soil organic matter accumulation, above/belowground biomass). For example, we found that soil organic matter recovery could be estimated through site age and bulk density, while plant biomass recovery could be estimated by site age and percent plant cover. From these relationships, we generated metrics capable of "scoring" functional recovery in tidal marshes based on these easier-to-measure factors. Further data collection in Summer 2022 will allow us to assess the validity of this indicator of functional recovery. While preliminary in nature, this model represents a unique and accessible method for improving post-restoration/creation monitoring efforts.

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