Comparative Strategies for Accelerated Wetland Restoration on Agricultural Land

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2003: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:

Annual Reports


  • Additional Plants: native plants


  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, wetlands


    Early comparisons of wetland restoration strategies showed supplemental planting in historically wet agricultural areas to be a more effective means of restoring native wetland plant diversity than other restoration strategies. Measures of plant species richness and diversity compared favorably to other, similarly aged restorations in other parts of Ohio. The persistence of wetland species in the remnant seedbank helped facilitate quicker establishment of vegetative cover in both planted and unplanted wetlands. However, unplanted wetlands had far fewer plant species than planted wetlands. Early hand-pulling successfully suppressed Typha spp. establishment, but was inadequate for controlling Phalaris arundinacea, even when coupled with herbicide applications.


    Discharge from agricultural settings is the most pervasive non-point source of pollution affecting surface water quality in the United States (USEPA 1984). To protect surface water quality and to respond to more stringent non-point source standards, cost-effective methods to treat agricultural non-point source discharges are urgently needed (Petersen 1998).

    As a result, the restoration of wetlands on former agricultural land has received increasing public support through USDA programs including the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP). To date, restoration of wetlands on active farms or recently fallow agricultural land is becoming an effective strategy for improving both habitat quality on farms and water quality off the farms. However, processes of natural succession into functional and sustainable wetlands are complicated by the presence of a variety of exotic and invasive species, distances from native seed sources, and the impacts of site history. This has been demonstrated in numerous studies of past projects where created and restored wetlands were found to be devoid of individual, and in some cases entire functional groupings of native plant species many years after restoration (Galatowitsch and van der Valk 1996a and 1996b, Moore et al. 1999, Mulhouse and Galatowitsch 2003, Seabloom and van der Valk 2003).

    More projects are needed to improve our understanding of how to accelerate the process of wetland habitat restoration within agricultural settings and the degree to which early management of these restorations is needed in order to produce sustainable levels of biodiversity and water quality improvement. The results of these studies would be of interest to farmers, restoration practitioners, public managers, and resource management professionals across Ohio and the Midwest.

    The Black River Watershed, including the area in which the project took place, was listed in 1991 as one of 43 toxic hotspots in the Great Lakes basin. While many industrial discharges in the northern part of the watershed have been addressed, agriculture in the upstream southern areas is the number one contributor to non-point source pollution. In addition, 90% of the original wetlands in the watershed have disappeared, in large part due to agriculture. It was (and is) the goal of this project to investigate what early restoration strategies will provide the best short- (and long-term) wetland plant diversity and water quality improvements, and to serve as an interactive example of the benefits of restoration for local farmers, students, resource managers, and restoration practitioners.

    Project objectives:


    "The overall goal for the project was to install and develop an experimental design for six ½ acre, hydrologically isolated wetland cells that would facilitate short- and long-term studies of wetland restoration techniques on active or fallow agricultural land. It was, and will continue to be our goal that this study, and future studies, will advance local and general knowledge about restoring wetland ecosystems on active farms or recently cropped areas.

    Short term outcomes targeting faculty at The Ohio State University and Oberlin College, graduate student Joshua Smith and undergraduate students include: a) development of experimental designs to determine optimal seeding combinations and the impacts of nutrient runoff; b) determination of indicators for ecosystem processes and results of treatments; and c) establishment of monitoring system that will allow for real-time collection of data and display of data on a publicly accessible website. For this study in particular, Joshua Smith compared the effects of seeding, planting, and invasive species management strategies on the initial establishment of wetland plant communities in a previously tiled agricultural field that had been fallow for two years. A future study will examine the effects of simulated nutrient and sediment runoff on the established plant community and the effects of each initial management strategy on water quality.

    Intermediate outcomes are to target public school students, farmers, and city officials with a focus on development of an educational outreach program targeting public schools, public officials, farmers, and landowners. The long-term outcomes of the project will be to improve restoration ecology practices applied to wetlands on agricultural fields."


    To be completed by the end of 2003:

    1)Establish six, half-acre, hydrologically independent wetland cells for the research and continued monitoring of wetland restoration strategies on agricultural land (completed).

    2)Complete baseline soil, water and seedbank sampling of the site (completed).

    3)Decide and implement an agreed upon experimental design regarding planting, seeding, and invasive species management regimes for each wetland cell (completed).

    4)Complete the purchasing and installation of sampling and monitoring equipment (completed).

    To be completed by the end of 2004:

    1)Create a centralized location for storage of sample vouchers and complied data (completed).

    2)Complete 1st year plant community survey in each wetland cell (completed).

    3)Reassess experimental design and provide adaptive management to address any unforeseen biological or environmental issues (completed).

    To be completed by the end of 2005:

    1)Complete 2nd year plant community survey of each wetland cell (completed).

    2)Finish the creation of a website to display photographs, data, and project findings (in progress).

    3)Successful defense of Master’s Thesis by Joshua Smith (not completed until December 2006)

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.