Evaluation of seagrass planting and monitoring techniques: Implications for assessing restoration success and habitat equivalency
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Restoration has become an integral part of coastal management as a result of seagrass habitat loss. We studied restoration of the seagrass (Halodule wrightii) near Tampa Bay, Florida. Experimental plots were established in June 2002 using four planting methods: three manually planted and one mechanically transplanted by boat. Seagrass cover was recorded at high resolution (meter scale) annually through July 2005. Natural seagrass beds were concurrently examined as reference sites. We also evaluated the suitability of a commonly used protocol (Braun-Blanquet scores, BB) for comparing the development of seagrass cover using the planting methods and quantifying spatial patterns of cover over time. Results show that BB scores mirrored conventional measures of seagrass characteristics (i.e., shoot counts and above- and belowground biomass) well when BB scores were either low or very high. However, more caution may be required at intermediate cover scores as judged by comparison of BB scores with direct measurement of seagrass abundance. Significant differences in seagrass cover were detected among planting methods and over time (2002-2005), with manual planting of rubber band units resulting in the highest cover. In contrast, the peat pot and mechanical planting methods developed very low cover. Recovery rates calculated from development of seagrass spatial cover were less than those reported for natural expansion. Importantly, time to baseline recovery may be substantially greater than 3 years and beyond standard monitoring timelines. Prolonged recovery suggests that the rate of service returns, critical for estimating compensatory restoration goals under habitat equivalency analysis, may be severely underestimated.