2011 Summary: Coastal wetland restoration research

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The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) projects currently taking place in Great Lakes coastal wetlands provide a unique opportunity to study ecosystem response to management actions as practitioners strive to improve wetland function and increase ecosystem services. Through a partnership between the U.S. Geological Survey – Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Ducks Unlimited, a GLRI-funded project has reestablished the hydrologic connection between an intensively managed impounded wetland (Pool 2B) and Crane Creek, a small Lake Erie tributary, by building a water-control structure that was opened in the spring of 2011. The study site is located within the USFWS Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR) and lies within the boundaries of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-designated Maumee River Area of Concern. The broad objective of the project is to evaluate how hydrologically reconnecting a previously diked wetland impacts fish, mollusks, and other biota and affects nutrient transport, nutrient cycling, water quality, flood storage, and many other abiotic conditions. The results from this project suggest large system-wide benefits from sustainable reestablishment of lake-driven hydrology in this and other similar systems.

We comprehensively sampled water chemistry, fish, birds, plants, and invertebrates in Crane Creek coastal wetlands, Pool 2A (a reference diked wetland), and Pool 2B (the reconnected wetland) in 2010 and 2011 to:

1) Characterize spatial and seasonal patterns for these parameters.

2) Examine ecosystem response to the opening of a water-control structure that allows fish passage

Our sampling efforts have yielded data that reveal striking changes in water quality, hydrology, and fish assemblages in our experimental unit (2B). Prior to the reconnection, the water chemistry in pools 2A and 2B were very similar. Afterwards, we found that the water chemistry in reconnected Pool 2B was more similar to Crane Creek (e.g., greater turbidity, higher concentration of nitrogen). Sites closest to the structure showed the most creek influence with that influence decreasing with distance from the structure, suggesting that input water from Crane Creek is not mixing fully with the pool water. We also found that water level fluctuations were much greater in the reconnected wetland due to the influence of seiches in Lake Erie. We measured the nutrient concentrations of water flowing into and out of Pool 2B during seiche events and found that the phosphorous and nitrogen concentrations generally were drastically reduced after pulsing through the reconnected wetland. Fish response to the reconnection was equally striking. High-resolution sonar revealed extensive bidirectional movement of fish through the structure on a daily and seasonal basis. There also were significant increases in both the catch per unit effort (CPUE) and the species richness of all sites in Pool 2B from 2010 to 2011. Reconnecting the diked pool to the larger Crane Creek wetland complex, and therefore Lake Erie, has opened up rich new habitat for many fish species. Thirteen species of fish not previously found in the pool entered through the structure and actively used the reconnected wetland. We also found that the wetland functions as a productive spawning ground and nursery area with notable shifts in the predominant age-class of several species of fish, especially northern pike. We observed no negative effects of reconnection on the avian or vegetative communities. All sites within the connected pool had increases in diversity and abundance in the avian community and decreases in the species richness and Floristic Quality Assessment Index values for vegetative communities. After one year of study, data suggest that maintaining a hydrologic connection between diked and coastal wetlands in Lake Erie allows fishes to use vegetated habitats regularly, reduces the concentration of nutrients in coastal waters, and maintains productive habitats for birds and other biota.  It will be important to continue to monitor the status of the reconnected wetland to determine the effect of long-term connection to Crane Creek and Lake Erie.  If conditions degrade, periodic management actions involving hydrologic isolation of the rehabilitated coastal wetland could be used to mimic intermediate levels of disturbance and maintain wetland vegetation.

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Title 2011 Summary: Coastal wetland restoration research
Year Published 2014
Publisher Great Lakes Science Center
Contributing office(s) Great Lakes Science Center
Description 65 p.
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