How hydrological connectivity regulates the plant recovery process in salt marshes.
Designing effective restoration strategies is a priority in recovering salt marsh plants. Hydrological connectivity is a main driver underpinning the success of the plant recovery process and can regulate life-history process-based restoration strategies. However, the relationship between these is unclear. Plant recovery needs to go through a whole life-history process, from seed to adult. Common restoration strategies are seed addition (SA) or seedling transplantation (ST), which start from seed germination and seedling growth stage. Besides these two strategies, another strategy starting from seed retention stage, microtopographic adjustment (MA), was designed to study the relationship with hydrological connectivity. A framework was also constructed to assess a gradient of hydrological connectivity between marsh plain and sea. We conducted several field experiments to test their relationships. The composite measurement of hydrological connectivity with five geomorphic variables can well represent the variation of environmental factors. Soil moisture, inundation frequency and sediment deposition were positively correlated, while soil salinity and hardness were negatively correlated with hydrological connectivity. The success of different restoration strategies varied with hydrological connectivity. MA showed a monotone decreasing trend, while SA and ST showed a unimodal trend as hydrological connectivity increased. Importantly, each strategy occupies a non-overlapping optimum range along the hydrological connectivity gradient. There is low hydrological connectivity for MA (0-0.28), middle hydrological connectivity for SA (0.28-0.55) and high hydrological connectivity for ST (0.55-1). Synthesis and applications. Our findings expand the quantification of the hydrological environment beyond elevation, distance or other single index to include a range of elements of hydrological connectivity, thus illustrating the underlying mechanisms of hydrological connectivity which regulate restoration strategies based on different life stages. The results provide a reliable framework to assess hydrological connectivity and offer guidance to select the optimum restoration strategy under different hydrological connectivities or to regulate the hydrological connectivity variables (topography on marsh plain and morphology of tidal creeks) to relief stresses. These findings will be beneficial to ecological restoration and coastal management.