Coastal wetland seed banks exposed by low lake levels or through management actions fuel the reestablishment of emergent plant assemblages (i.e., wetland habitat) critical to Great Lakes aquatic biota. This project explored the effectiveness of using portable, water-filled cofferdams as a management tool to promote the natural growth of emergent vegetation from the seed bank in a Lake Erie coastal wetland. A series of dams stretching approximately 450 m was installed temporarily to isolate hydrologically a 10-ha corner of the Crane Creek wetland complex from Lake Erie. The test area was dewatered in 2004 to mimic a low-water year, and vegetation sampling characterized the wetland seed bank response at low, middle, and high elevations in areas open to and protected from bird and mammal herbivory. The nearly two-month drawdown stimulated a rapid seed-bank-driven response by 45 plant taxa. Herbivory had little effect on plant species richness, regardless of the location along an elevation gradient. Inundation contributed to the replacement of immature emergent plant species with submersed aquatic species after the dams failed and were removed prematurely. This study revealed a number of important issues that must be considered for effective long-term implementation of portable cofferdam technology to stimulate wetland seed banks, including duration of dewatering, product size, source of clean water, replacement of damaged dams, and regular maintenance. This technology is a potentially important tool in the arsenal used by resource managers seeking to rehabilitate the functions and values of Great Lakes coastal wetland habitats.
Journal of Great Lakes Research
Vol. 35 • No. 2
Vol. 35 • No. 2