Variant restoration trajectories for wetland plant communities on a channelized floodplain.
Restoration efforts are typically based on an assumption that reestablishment of altered determinants of ecological structure and function will lead to a predictable reestablishment of populations and reassembly of communities. Dechannelization and reestablishment of natural hydrologic regimes provide the basis for the ongoing restoration of the Kissimmee River in Central Florida, United States. The expected reestablishment of historically dominant broadleaf marsh (BLM) and buttonbush shrub (BB) communities was evaluated over a 10-year period following implementation of the first phase of the restoration project. Plant species composition and cover were assessed during dry (spring) and wet (summer) season sampling periods at five sites on the restored floodplain, and four "control" sites on the channelized floodplain. Mean daily stage data from nearby gauges indicated hydroperiods and depths on the reflooded floodplain were within the range of historic hydrologic conditions that selected for BLM and BB communities on the pre-channelization floodplain. After reflooding, pasture grass and upland shrub communities rapidly transitioned to a fluid mix of obligate and facultative wetland species. Although signature BLM and BB species, Sagittaria lancifolia (bulltongue arrowhead), Pontederia cordata (pickerel weed), and Cephalanthus occidentalis (buttonbush), recolonized all study sites, the expected reestablishment of dominant cover of these species did not occur. Results indicate that restoration of BLM and BB communities has been impeded by deep flood pulse disturbances, establishment of invasive wetland grasses, and mineralized soil characteristics of the drained floodplain.