The development of vegetative zonation patterns in restored prairie pothole wetlands.
The spatial structure of plant communities can have strong impacts on ecosystem functions and on associated animal communities. None the less, spatial structure is rarely used as a measure of restoration success. The restoration of hundreds of wetlands in the prairie pothole region in the mid-western USA provided an excellent opportunity to determine whether the re-establishment of abiotic conditions is sufficient to restore structure, composition and spatial patterning of the vegetation. We mapped the topography and vegetative distributions in 17 restored and nine natural wetlands. We used these data to compare the composition and spatial structure of the vegetation in both wetlands types. The composition of the plant communities differed between restored and natural wetlands; the restored wetlands lacked the well-developed sedge-meadow community found in most natural wetlands. However, the spatial heterogeneity was similar, although the zonation patterns were less well-developed in the restored wetlands. Although the overall structure was similar, species distributions differed among wetland types, such that species were found more than 10 cm higher in restored wetlands than in natural wetlands. Synthesis and applications. This study illustrates that restored plant community composition and spatial structure may converge on their targets at different rates. Evaluations of restoration success should consider spatial structure of communities along with compositional and functional metrics.