Top-down control of foundation species recovery during coastal wetland restoration.
Restoration has been increasingly adopted to halt trends in coastal wetland loss globally. Existing restoration often assumes that once abiotic stress is relieved, disturbances are prevented, and invasive species are eradicated, coastal wetlands will recover if propagules of native species are supplied either through natural dispersal or planting. Whether other factors including consumers can help explain the often suboptimal performance of existing restoration remains poorly understood. In a series of field experiments in the Yangtze estuary, we examined the relative importance of abiotic stress and crab grazing in regulating the recovery of the native foundation plant species Scirpus mariqueter in salt marsh areas where exotic cordgrass was successfully eradicated. We found that grazing by herbivorous crabs, rather than abiotic stress, was the primary obstacle restricting the recovery of planted Scirpus. This negative effect of crab grazing varied predictably across elevation and was strongest at low elevations where abiotic conditions were positive for Scirpus. These findings highlight that i) measures to control crab grazing are needed to enhance the success of Scirpus restoration, even in areas where abiotic conditions are set to be optimal, and ii) restoration measures purely focused on reducing abiotic stress could be ineffective or suboptimal in field conditions, likely jeopardizing restoration investment and success. Since top-down control of foundation plant species is common in many coastal wetlands and can be especially important in degraded systems where herbivores are abundant, we urge that future coastal wetland restoration assesses for the impacts of grazers and, when present, apply intervention measures.
Qian, W; Chen, J; Zhang, Q; Wu, C; Ma, Q; Silliman, BR; Wu, J; Li, B; He, Q
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