Plant communities, along with soils and appropriate water regimes, are essential components of healthy wetland systems. In Louisiana, the loss of wetland habitat continues to be an issue of major concern. Wetland loss is caused by several interacting factors, both natural and human-induced (e.g., erosion and saltwater intrusion from the construction of canals and levees). Recent estimates of annual coastal land loss rates of about 62 km2 (24 mi2) over the past decade emphasize the magnitude of this problem. In an attempt to slow the rate of loss and perhaps halt the overall trend, resource managers in Louisiana apply various techniques to restore damaged or degraded habitats to functioning wetland systems.
Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wetlands Research Center (NWRC) have cooperated with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources in studies that address effective restoration strategies for coastal wetlands. The studies have identified differences in growth that naturally exist in native Louisiana wetland plant species and genetic varieties (i.e., clones) within species. Clones of a species have a distinctive genetic identity, and some clones may also have distinctive growth responses under various environmental conditions (i.e., preferences). Indeed, large areas of coastal marsh are typically populated by several clones of a plant species, each growing in a microenvironment suited to its preferences.
These studies will provide information that will assist resource managers in selecting plant species and clones of species with known growth characteristics that can be matched to environmental conditions at potential restoration sites.
Before the studies began, a collection of several clones from four plant species native to coastal Louisiana was established. The species collected included saltgrass (Distichlis spicata), common reed (Phragmites australis), giant bulrush (Schoenoplectus californicus), and saltmarsh bulrush (Schoenoplectus robustus). Plants connected by roots were collected from public lands across the coastal zone, and then allowed to grow several months and produce new stems and plants from underground stems called ?rhizomes.? These procedures maintained the genetic identity of the clones and allowed the plants to adjust to greenhouse conditions before experimental treatments began.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Native Plants for Effective Coastal Wetland Restoration