Submitted to: Ecological Applications
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/12/2010
Publication Date: 4/30/2011
Citation: Desteven, D., Lowrance, R.R. 2011. Agricultural Conservation Practices and Wetland Ecosystem Services in a Wetland-Dominated Landscape: The Piedmont-Coastal Plain Region. Ecological Applications. 21:53-517. Interpretive Summary: The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service is evaluating the environmental benefits of wetland conservation practices as part of the national Conservation Effects Assessment Project. As part of this assessment, a review of the state of knowledge concerning wetland functions is being done for the entire U.S. on a region by region basis. The most common wetland practices used in the southeastern U.S. are Riparian Forest Buffers and Wetland Wildlife Habitat Management. The water quality and wildlife habitat functions of riparian forest buffers are well established although riparian buffer widths and connectivity (lack of gaps in the riparian forest) are more important for wildlife. Very few direct studies of Wetland Wildlife Habitat Management exist but because these practices are generally based on those applied successfully in state and federal wildlife refuge systems, they are likely to be successful. In some parts of the southeast it is possible to maintain wetland functions in grazing lands and it is possible to restore some seasonal wetland functions through drainage management. There is limited information on the typos of wetlands restored and managed in the southeast and a move to a more functional assessment of ecological benefits could make evaluation of effects more quantitative. More information on the wetland types used as targets for wetland practices and how the functions of restored and managed wetlands compare to reference conditions would be useful.
Technical Abstract: In the wetlands-rich eastern Coastal Plain and Piedmont region, diverse inland wetlands (riverine, depressional, wet flats) have been impacted by or converted to agriculture. Farm Bill conservation practices that restore or enhance wetlands can return their ecological functions and services to the agricultural landscape. We review the extent of regional knowledge regarding the effectiveness of these conservation practices. Riparian buffers and wetland habitat management have been the most commonly applied wetland-related practices across the region. Riparian Forest Buffers have been most studied as a practice. Water-quality functions including pollutant removal, provision of aquatic habitat, and enhanced in-stream chemical processing have been documented from either installed RFBs or natural riparian forests; forest buffers also serve wildlife habitat functions that depend in part on buffer width and connectivity. Wetland restoration/creation and habitat management practices have been less studied on regional agricultural lands; however, research on mitigation wetlands suggests that functional hydrology, vegetation, and faunal communities can be restored in depressional wetlands, and the wetland habitat management practice represents techniques adapted from those used successfully on wildlife refuges. Other conservation practices can also support wetland services. Drainage management on converted wetland flats restores some water-storage functions, and viable wetlands can persist within grazed flats if livestock access and grazing are managed appropriately. Because wetland hydro geomorphic type influences functions, ecosystem services from conservation wetlands will depend on the specifics of how practices are implemented. In a region of diverse wetlands, evaluation of ecological benefits could be improved with more information on the wetland types restored, created, and managed.