A multi-scale approach to prioritize wetland restoration for watershed-level water quality improvement

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Wetland restoration is commonly presented as an important strategy for maintaining and enhancing the water quality and ecological capital of watershed-scale ecosystems. Prioritizing restoration sites on the landscape is often a haphazard process based on widely held, though often untested, assumptions about relationships between watershed characteristics and water quality. We present a framework to target and prioritize wetland restoration locations using both regional and watershed-level screening models. The regression-tree and random forest models presented in this paper identify watershed variables with the strongest relationships to a given water quality parameter, present a clear hierarchy of variable importance, and present approximate thresholds in watershed area where these variables express the greatest impact on water quality. The proportion of watersheds classified as prior-converted agricultural land was an important predictor of both ortho and total phosphorus. Fortunately because prior-converted agricultural lands were historically wetlands, they are often very suitable for wetland restoration. These sites often have poorly-drained soils requiring artificial drainage to be suitable for agriculture. These drainage systems become conduits for transporting phosphorus from agricultural field and to area streams and rivers. Maintaining natural land-cover within stream buffers is identified as another important predictor of water quality. This seems to be especially true with regard to NO 3 -NO 2 concentrations. Our model results support specific management recommendations including: (a) exclusion of agricultural land-uses from riparian buffers, (b) maintaining or increasing watershed-level wetland-cover and (c) reducing wetland fragmentation. © 2010 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.






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Flanagan, N, and CJ Richardson (2010). A multi-scale approach to prioritize wetland restoration for watershed-level water quality improvement. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 18(6). pp. 695–706. 10.1007/s11273-010-9188-9 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/15723.

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Neal Flanagan

Visiting Assistant Professor

Curtis J. Richardson

Research Professor of Resource Ecology in the Division of Environmental Science and Policy

Curtis J. Richardson is Professor of Resource Ecology and founding Director of the Duke University Wetland Center in the Nicholas School of the Environment. Dr. Richardson earned his degrees from the State University of New York and the University of Tennessee.

His research interests in applied ecology focus on long-term ecosystem response to large-scale perturbations such as climate change, toxic materials, trace metals, flooding, or nutrient additions. He has specific interests in phosphorus nutrient dynamics in wetlands and the effects of environmental stress on plant communities and ecosystem functions and services. The objectives of his research are to utilize ecological principles to develop new approaches to environmental problem solving. The goal of his research is to provide predictive models and approaches to aid in the management of ecosystems.

Recent research activities: 1) wetland restoration of plant communities and its effects on regional water quality and nutrient biogeochemical cycles, 2) the development of ecosystem metrics as indices of wetland restoration success, 3) the effects of nanomaterial on wetland and stream ecosystem processes, 4) the development of ecological thresholds along environmental gradients, 5) wetland development trends and restoration in coastal southeastern United States, 6) the development of an outdoor wetland and stream research and teaching laboratory on Duke Forest, 7) differential nutrient limitation (DNL) as a mechanism to overcome N or P limitations across trophic levels in wetland ecosystems, and 8) carbon sequestration in coastal North Carolina pocosins.

Richardson oversees the main analytical lab in NSOE, which is open to students and faculty. Dr. Richardson has been listed in Who's Who in Science™ annually since 1989 and was elected President of the Society of Wetland Scientists in 1987-88. He has served on many editorial review committees for peer-reviewed scientific journals, and he is a past Chair of the Nicholas School Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy. Dr. Richardson is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society of Wetland Scientists, and the Soil Science Society of America.

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