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Restored saltmarshes have low beta diversity due to limited topographic variation, but this can be countered by management

Lawrence, Peter J, Sullivan, Martin JP and Mossman, Hannah L (2022) Restored saltmarshes have low beta diversity due to limited topographic variation, but this can be countered by management. Journal of Applied Ecology. ISSN 0021-8901

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1. Spatial heterogeneity of species (beta diversity) is an important attribute of ecological communities, but is less frequently considered when assessing restoration success than other aspects of diversity (gamma and alpha). Differences in beta diversity between restored and natural sites may arise due to differences in environmental heterogeneity. 2. We used a nested sampling design to survey plant communities and environmental conditions (elevation, redox potential and metrics of topography) on four pairs of restored and natural saltmarshes. We assessed whether there were differences in both alpha and beta diversity between natural and restored sites and analysed their environmental drivers. 3. Topography was an important driver of plant alpha diversity and beta diversity on saltmarshes. The effects of topography were partly indirect, mediated though changes in redox potential, but topography also influenced plant communities independently of both elevation and redox. 4. Restored saltmarshes were less heterogeneous in topography than natural marshes. This reduced topography was reflected in lower beta diversity; plant communities 1 m apart in natural marshes were as dissimilar as those found 20 m apart in restored marshes. 5. Large-scale topographic manipulation carried out at one site a decade after initial restoration successfully increased topographic heterogeneity and increased beta diversity when surveyed 3 years after manipulation. These changes were still evident when resurveyed after a further 2 years. 6. Synthesis and applications. Increasing environmental heterogeneity can improve restoration outcomes by increasing beta diversity on restored sites. The effect of environmental heterogeneity is likely to be particularly strong within intertidal habitats such as saltmarshes, where small changes in topography can determine whether a species can occur at a given location. Topographic manipulation is a feasible post-restoration technique that can be applied to ensure restored saltmarshes better meet policy targets of biological, physical and functional equivalence with natural marshes.

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