To assess attributes of algal assemblages as indicators of salt marsh restoration, we chose eight pairs of salt marshes in North Carolina, USA, each pair with one restored marsh (from 1 to 28 years old) and a nearby existing salt marsh. Algae on both Spartina alterniflora and sediments (sediment algae) were collected in each marsh during spring and summer 1998 for assaying algal biomass (dry mass (DM), ash free dry mass (AFDM), chl a content, algal biovolume), algal species composition and diversity, and gross primary production. An attribute restoration ratio was calculated by dividing attribute values from each restored marsh by values from a paired reference marsh. Controlling for regional variation in reference marshes substantially increased precision in relations between attributes and the increase in age of restored marshes. The organic matter restoration ratio of sediments increased with age of restored marshes in both spring and summer. The algal biomass restoration ratios of epiphytes, calculated with algal biovolume and chl a, increased with restored marsh age in summer but not during spring. Biomass of sediment algae was not related to marsh age. The species diversity of sediment algae in summer showed an asymptotic relationship with sediment nutrient concentration. The similarity of diatom species composition between paired restored and reference sites increased with age of restored marshes during spring and summer. Primary production by epiphytic and sediment algae in summer showed site-specific changes and did not change consistently with marsh age. Algal biomass, algal diversity, and diatom species composition during summer were positively correlated with sediment nitrogen and phosphorus concentration. We concluded that other structural and functional development of restored wetlands, especially nutrient storage in sediments, regulates algal species composition and algal biomass accumulation, which can be used to evaluate salt marsh restoration.
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