Eric L. G. Hazelton, Rebekah Downard, Karin M. Kettenring, Melissa K. McCormick, Dennis F. Whigham
Estuaries and Coasts, forthcoming issue
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-017-0289-z | Published online September 25, 2017
Chesapeake Bay tidal wetlands are experiencing a broad-scale, aggressive invasion by the non-native, clonal grass Phragmites australis. The grass is often managed with herbicides in efforts to restore native plant communities and wildlife habitat. Management efforts, however, can act as a disturbance, resulting in increased light availability, potentially fostering reinvasion from soil seedbanks. If native vegetation establishes quickly from seedbanks, the site should have greater resiliency against invasion, while disturbed sites where native plants do not rapidly establish may be rapidly colonized by P. australis. We surveyed the soil seedbank of three vegetation cover types in five Chesapeake Bay subestuaries: areas where P. australis had been removed, where P. australis was left intact, and with native, reference vegetation. We determined the total germination, the proportion of the seedbank that was attributable to invasive species, the richness, the functional diversity, and the overall composition of the seedbanks in each of the cover types (i.e., plots). After 2 years of herbicide treatment in the P. australis removal plots, vegetation cover type impacted the total germination or the proportion of invasive species in the seedbank. In contrast, we also found that seedbank functional composition in tidal brackish wetlands was not influenced by vegetation cover type in most cases. Instead, plots within a subestuary had similar seedbank functional composition across the years and were composed of diverse functional groups. Based on these findings, we conclude that plant community recovery following P. australis removal is not seed-limited, and any lack of native vegetation recruitment is likely the result of yet-to-be-determined abiotic factors. These diverse seedbanks could lead to resilient wetland communities that could resist invasions. However, due to the prevalence of undesirable species in the seedbank, passive revegetation following invasive plant removal may speed up their re-establishment. The need for active revegetation will need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis to ensure restoration goals are achieved.