VEGETATION PATTERNS IN DEPRESSIONAL RESTORED, NATURAL REFERENCE, AND PRIOR-CONVERTED WETLANDS IN THE USA MID-ATLANTIC COASTAL PLAIN.
Vegetation responds quickly to environmental changes, making it a useful tool for assessing the success of wetland restorations. Plant community composition was compared in 47 sites across the coastal plain of Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and North Carolina, USA. Fifteen of the sites were isolated depressional wetlands (natural reference), 16 were farmed "prior-converted cropland" sites (ditched and drained former wetlands), and 17 were restored wetlands. Prior-converted sites were highly disturbed and dominated by non-wetland conventional row crops. Natural reference sites were dominated by native woody species and restored sites were dominated by herbaceous wetland species. Natural reference sites had lower Anthropogenic Activity Index scores, higher average coefficients of conservatism, and higher Floristic Quality Assessment Index scores than restored and prior-converted sites. Wetland restorations have succeeded in developing wetland plant communities, but have not developed plant communities that match natural reference wetlands. This is likely due to continued human disturbance, age, and a lack of proper propagules.