Assessing restoration outcomes in light of succession: management implications for tropical riparian forest restoration.
Today there is a wide variety of approaches on how to determine when a river restoration project can be considered ecologically successful. The limited information on river restoration responses renders this practice a subjective component of river management. We aimed to contribute to this issue by assessing the ecological outcomes of a restoration project conducted in Quebrada Chiclana, a first-order tropical stream located in the headwaters of the Rio Piedras in the city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. We focused on the reforestation component of the restoration project using current structure and composition of riparian vegetation as an indicator of restoration success. Recovery of riparian vegetation was studied eight years after restoration using a forest succession approach. We conducted a vegetation census and measured structural variables on vegetation at restored and nearby reference areas. We encountered a riparian vegetation community composed of 35 tree and 84 non-tree species. The non-native trees tall albizia (Albizia procera) and African tuliptree (Spathodea campanulata) were the most abundant tree species within the study area. We observed 11 out of the 16 woody species initially proposed in the reforestation plan but with lower tree density than proposed. Even though we demonstrate that the river restoration project has not yet met its reforestation objectives, our results show recovery of the vegetation community in the impacted area has occurred through natural succession.