Reinvasion of restored California vernal pools reveals the importance of long-term restoration planning
Joanna Tang, Madeline Nolan, Carla D'Antonio, Scott D. Cooper, Lisa Stratton
Ecological restoration often focuses on short-term intervention efforts with the goal of creating restored ecosystems that do not require continuous human maintenance. Here, we ask: Do short-term restoration efforts result in self-sustaining native assemblages, or do these restored ecosystems require long-term management to prevent reinvasion of exotic species? We address this question using restored vernal pool wetlands in coastal California. Restoration efforts in vernal pool ecosystems are often hindered because many restored vernal pools exist within a grassland matrix that is highly invaded by exotic annual grasses and forbs. To test whether restored pools experienced reinvasion, we assessed plant species abundance and diversity at varying times after intensive weeding had ceased. The central bottom of pools, where inundation duration is the longest, showed stable or even increasing native cover and no trends in exotic abundance over time. However, exotic cover and richness increased in the upland edges of the pools, where drier conditions allow exotic grasses from the surrounding unrestored grassland to grow. Our findings indicate that edges of restored ecosystems are susceptible to invasion over time, but that this depends on abiotic and biotic conditions within the ecosystem, such as pool shape and landscape matrix, that can potentially be manipulated through initial planning (e.g., constructing circular pools) and long-term management (e.g., annual weeding). Our findings highlight the importance of ongoing monitoring and adaptive management and support a paradigm shift away from short-term interventions and toward viewing restoration as a longstanding relationship with the land that may require continuous human management.