Plant functional diversity and nutrient availability can improve restoration of floating fens via facilitation, complementarity and selection effects.
Peat-forming wetlands, particularly floating fens that form the initial stages of these ecosystems, are declining globally due to excavation, dehydration and eutrophication. Restoration typically involves reestablishment of early-successional open-water stages, with oligotrophic conditions that are characteristic for these systems. However, restoration success is notoriously limited. A potential improvement may be to initiate succession by reintroducing of target plant species. Knowledge is therefore needed on (a) which plant functional groups should be re-introduced to stimulate fen formation; and (b) how to manage nutrient levels during restoration, considering that plant growth may be slow in oligotrophic conditions. We hypothesized that increasing functional diversity of introduced species would stimulate the formation of peat-forming target communities, their biomass accumulation and expansion onto open water. We also hypothesized that nutrient availability would mediate the relative contribution of specific functional groups to these effects. We investigated this in 36 artificial outdoor ponds by manipulating plant functional diversity (clonal dominants, clonal stress-tolerators and interstitials) on constructed rafts with fen-forming communities, and subjected these to a range of nutrient loadings over 2 years. Increasing functional diversity as well as increasing nutrient loadings had stimulating effects on plant biomass accumulation, cover formation and rhizome growth onto open water. Both complementarity (due to niche partitioning or facilitation) and selection effects were mechanisms underlying the diversity effect, with a constant relative importance over the entire range of nutrient availabilities. Different functional groups were important for biomass production at different nutrient availabilities. Rhizome formation by clonal stress-tolerators contributed disproportionately to open water colonization, identifying this functional group as key across all nutrient levels. Synthesis and applications. Restoration of floating fen communities can be stimulated during the first 2 years by introducing a high functional diversity of plant species. These include fast-growing clonal species, clonal stress-tolerators and interstitials, which facilitate each other. Restoration is dependent on the presence of clonal stress-tolerators such as Calla palustris, Comarum palustre and Menyanthes trifoliata for expansion onto the open water. Furthermore, restoration can start under a wide range of water nutrient levels, including eutrophic conditions.