Research Article: Are we restoring functional fens? – The outcomes of restoration projects in fens re-analysed with plant functional traits

Date Published: April 24, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Agata Klimkowska, Klara Goldstein, Tomasz Wyszomirski, Łukasz Kozub, Mateusz Wilk, Camiel Aggenbach, Jan P. Bakker, Heinrich Belting, Boudewijn Beltman, Volker Blüml, Yzaak De Vries, Beate Geiger-Udod, Ab P. Grootjans, Petter Hedberg, Henk J. Jager, Dick Kerkhof, Johannes Kollmann, Paweł Pawlikowski, Elisabeth Pleyl, Warner Reinink, Hakan Rydin, Joachim Schrautzer, Jan Sliva, Robert Stańko, Sebastian Sundberg, Tiemo Timmermann, Lesław Wołejko, Rob F. van der Burg, Dick van der Hoek, Jose M. H. van Diggelen, Adrie van Heerden, Loekie van Tweel, Kees Vegelin, Wiktor Kotowski, Xiao Guo.


In peatland restoration we often lack an information whether re-established ecosystems are functionally similar to non-degraded ones. We re-analysed the long-term outcomes of restoration on vegetation and plant functional traits in 38 European fens restored by rewetting (18 sites) and topsoil removal (20 sites). We used traits related to nutrient acquisition strategies, competitiveness, seed traits, and used single- and multi-trait metrics. A separate set of vegetation records from near-natural fens with diverse plant communities was used to generate reference values to aid the comparisons. We found that both restoration methods enhanced the similarity of species composition to non-degraded systems but trait analysis revealed differences between the two approaches. Traits linked to nutrient acquisition strategies indicated that topsoil removal was more effective than rewetting. After topsoil removal competitive species in plant communities had decreased, while stress-tolerant species had increased. A substantial reduction in nutrient availability ruled out the effect of initial disturbance. An ability to survive and grow in anoxic conditions was enhanced after restoration, but the reference values were not achieved. Rewetting was more effective than topsoil removal in restricting variation in traits values permitted in re-developing vegetation. We found no indication of a shift towards reference in seed traits, which suggested that dispersal constraint and colonization deficit can be a widespread phenomena. Two functional diversity indices: functional richness and functional dispersion showed response to restoration and shifted values towards reference mires and away from the degraded systems.

Partial Text

Fens (i.e. groundwater-fed mires) have declined strongly during the past century, mainly due to drainage and nutrient enrichment, which caused extinctions of specialised species and large release of carbon dioxide and nutrients from decomposing peat soils [1]. The understanding of these losses is boosting restoration projects [2, 3], exposing a need to better understand the relationships between composition of plant communities and mire ecosystem processes.

Restoration outcomes are difficult to generalize, as they depend on many factors [11]. By using PFTs, entire functional spectra and multivariate analysis, we were exploring the general response to restoration. In multivariate analysis we found a larger and more consistent shift towards reference situations after TSR than after RE, determined by a shift towards nutrient-poor and permanently wet conditions. This confirmed our hypothesis 1 and partly hypothesis 2. We found that the shift in traits related to reproduction after restoration was opposite than during fen degradation [27]. As expected, we found indications of dispersal limitations after restoration, which partly confirmed hypothesis 3, but we did not detect any differences between RE and TSR in this respect. This suggests that TSR is effective in enforcing a shift in traits related to nutrient acquisition strategies, towards values similar to non-degraded fens (particularly when species are used as indicators, with CMs). The effect of TSR could be enhanced due to higher establishment of low-competitive mire specialists from soil seed bank or higher microsite availability. After RE, non-adopted species disappeared but, as the new colonization was limited by a closed canopy, this resulted in lower species richness, restricted values for some PFT’s permitted in vegetation (lower range), and species pool representing a limited array of life strategies. The two restoration measures—TSR and RE primarily affect two different aspects of functional characteristics, respectively value and range.