Restoring wetlands much more than 'just add water'

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL--Wetlands lost to agricultural development can be reflooded with relative ease, but they won't regain their former flora and fauna without a huge effort, according to research at the University of Minnesota. In what may be the largest study of wetlands restored in agricultural landscapes, Susan Galatowitsch, an associate professor of horticulture, and John Mulhouse, an assistant scientist in applied ecology, found that restored prairie potholes in southwest Minnesota, southeast South Dakota and northern Iowa were quickly colonized by waterfowl-dispersed plants but were slow to acquire a diverse plant community resembling the original wetlands. Their work is being presented Tuesday, Aug. 7, at the Ecological Society of America annual meeting in Madison, Wis.

"To achieve no net loss of both quality and quantity of wetlands will require a bigger commitment to seeing these things through than was previously assumed," said Galatowitsch. "It's a lot more work than people thought. But I think restorations are worth doing, and interest in high-quality wetland habitats is high."

The Farm Bill of 1985 first linked agricultural policy and ecological policy, said Galatowitsch. Farmers were encouraged to restore wetlands historically used as waterfowl breeding grounds. Restorations in the three states studied were funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and, in Minnesota, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources through its Reinvest in Minnesota program. All restorations were done voluntarily by farmers. Galatowitsch and Mulhouse found that while newly refilled wetland basins readily acquired aquatic plants, bulrushes and cattails, the normally diverse edges of marshes tended to become populated with a few weedy species.

"About half [the species] we saw came in fast," said Galatowitsch. "Unfortunately, much of what's spreading is perennial weeds, such as reed canary grass. Weeds can keep other plants from thriving." <

Contact: Deane Morrison
University of Minnesota

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