The use of Paleoecological Approaches in Modern Wetland Reconstruction/Mitigation Efforts

 

Ben A. LePage, URS Corporation, 1400 Union Meeting Road, Blue Bell, PA, 19422-1972;

 Ben_LePage@URSCorp.com

 

Given the taphonomic bias for the preservation of mesic lowland terrestrial floras, terrestrial paleoecology is, by default, the study of ancient wetland communities.  Traditional terrestrial paleoecological studies are commonly focused on either the macro- or microfloral remains, but as our interest and fascination with fossils and ancient environments continues to grow our ability to glean new information from ancient ecosystems increases with the development and application of new methodologies.  Regardless of the methodology used, each approach allows one to answer a suite of specific questions that could range from the original composition of the vegetation, species abundance, dominance and successional patterns to climate change.  As such, our understanding of ancient wetland floras and ecosystems is considerable.  However, our level of understanding of modern wetlands contrasts sharply with ancient wetlands.  Although wetlands are among one of the most important ecosystems on Earth, prior to the mid-1980s recognition of their ecological value and study was, with few exceptions, limited.  One of the major problems associated with wetland restoration and mitigation projects is that more than 50% are deemed to be incomplete or outright failures.  While it is difficult to assign a single cause for such a large number of failures, the use of paleoecological approaches for aspects of wetland restoration or creation shows great promise for helping to reduce the number of failed wetland projects.  Key benefits to using a paleoecological approaches in a wetland restoration/mitigation plan include 1) guidance for the reconstruction of the local and regional vegetation, 2) a mechanism to quantitatively measure the success of reconstruction/mitigation efforts 3) a high-resolution spatial and temporal framework and 4) a predictive tool that may allow wetland managers and planners to forecast vegetation changes in local and regional wetland ecosystems that naturally occur with changes in hydrology and climate.  A review of a number of classical and newly developed paleoecological methodologies and their potential application to some of the problems identified in the reconstruction/mitigation efforts of modern wetland ecosystems is presented.