Rapid enhancement of multiple ecosystem services following the restoration of a coastal foundation species

The global decline of marine foundation species (kelp forests, mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrasses) has contributed to the degradation of the coastal zone and threatens the loss of critical ecosystem services and functions. Restoration of marine foundation species has had variable success, especially for seagrasses, where a majority of restoration efforts have failed. While most seagrass restorations track structural attributes over time, rarely do restorations assess the suite of ecological functions that may be affected by restoration. Here we report on the results of two small-scale experimental seagrass restoration efforts in a central California estuary where we transplanted 117 0.25-m2 plots (2,340 shoots) of the seagrass species Zostera marina. We quantified restoration success relative to persistent reference beds, and in comparison to unrestored, unvegetated areas. Within three years, our restored plots expanded ˜8,500%, from a total initial area of 29 to 2,513 m2. The restored beds rapidly began to resemble the reference beds in (1) seagrass structural attributes (canopy height, shoot density, biomass), (2) ecological functions (macrofaunal species richness and abundance, epifaunal species richness, nursery function), and (3) biogeochemical functions (modulation of water quality). We also developed a multifunctionality index to assess cumulative functional performance, which revealed restored plots are intermediate between reference and unvegetated habitats, illustrating how rapidly multiple functions recovered over a short time period. Our comprehensive study is one of few published studies to quantify how seagrass restoration can enhance both biological and biogeochemical functions. Our study serves as a model for quantifying ecosystem services associated with the restoration of a foundation species and demonstrates the potential for rapid functional recovery that can be achieved through targeted restoration of fast-growing foundation species under suitable conditions.

Beheshti K. M., Williams S. L., Boyer K. E., Endris C., Clemons A., Grimes T., Wasson K., & Hughes B. B.. 2021. Rapid enhancement of multiple ecosystem services following the restoration of a coastal foundation species. Ecological Applications: e02466. doi: 10.1002/eap.2466. Article.

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