Create mounds or hollows before planting trees/shrubs: freshwater wetlands
Overall effectiveness category Likely to be beneficial
Number of studies: 3
Background information and definitions
This action involves creating discrete mounds (e.g. by adding blocks of soil, bundles of sticks, other coarse woody debris) or hollows (e.g. by excavation) before planting marsh or swamp vegetation. The scale of this action falls somewhere between reprofiling/relandscaping (large-scale landscape features, tens of metres wide) and disturbing the ground surface (which may create small scale mounds or hollows, millimetres or a few centimetres wide/deep).
Often, this action aims to mimic the natural microtopography of marshes or swamps, which can be created by sediment accumulation, erosion, tree fall, root growth or animal activity (Vivian-Smith 1997, Bruland & Richardson 2005). Microtopography can increase plant diversity, because the different microclimates or microelevations may support different species (Vivian-Smith 1997). Planting into mounds can be useful if seedlings would otherwise be flooded too deeply or for too long (Zamith & Scarano 2010). Large woody debris will also add nutrients and organic matter to a site as it decomposes.
Studies that examine the effects of planting into existing microtopographic features (e.g. mounds), even if they compare effects between different kinds of features, are not summarized as evidence here (e.g. Raulings et al. 2007; Sleeper & Ficklin 2016).
Related actions: Create mounds or hollows, other than to complement planting; Reprofile/relandscape before planting; Disturb soil/sediment surface before planting without creating discrete mounds and/or hollows.
Bruland G.L. & Richardson C.J. (2005) Hydrologic, edaphic, and vegetative responses to microtopographic reestablishment in a restored wetland. Restoration Ecology, 13, 515–523.
Raulings E.J., Boon P.I., Bailey P.C., Roache M.C., Morris K. & Robinson R. (2007) Rehabilitation of swamp paperbark (Melaleuca ericifolia) wetlands in south-eastern Australia: effects of hydrology, microtopography, plant age and planting technique on the success of community-based revegetation trials. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 15, 175–188.
Sleeper B.E. & Ficklin R.L. (2016) Edaphic and vegetative responses to forested wetland restoration with created microtopography in Arkansas. Ecological Restoration, 34, 117–123.
Vivian-Smith G. (1997) Microtopographic heterogeneity and floristic diversity in experimental wetland communities. Journal of Ecology, 85, 71–82.
Zamith L.R. & Scarano F.R. (2010) Restoration of a coastal swamp forest in southeastern Brazil. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 18, 435–448.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A controlled study in 1988–2000 in a freshwater swamp in Michigan, USA (Anderson et al. 2007) reported that creating ridges and ditches before re-planting harvested trees had no clear effect on plant species richness, and no significant effect on overall plant diversity, after 11–12 years. Amongst plots that were harvested then re-planted, those with created ridges and ditches had similar plant species richness (36–44 species/2 m2) to those with natural, unmodified ridges and ditches (39 species/2 m2; statistical significance not assessed). The same was true separately for richness of bryophytes (created: 18–20; natural: 18 species/2 m2), Sphagnum mosses (created: 6–7; natural: 7 species/2 m2), herbs (created: 11–12; natural: 10 species/2 m2) and woody plants (created: 7–12; natural: 11 species/2 m2). For comparison, unharvested plots – where trees were planted amongst natural ridges and ditches – contained 47 plant species/2 m2 (including 25 bryophytes, 12 Sphagnum mosses, 8 herbs and 14 woody species). Overall plant diversity was statistically similar in harvested/re-planted plots with created ridges, harvested/re-planted plots with natural ridges, and unharvested/planted plots (data reported as a diversity index). Methods: In 1988, all trees were cut and removed from three plots in a forested swamp. In two plots, microtopography (trenches and adjacent mounds) was created after harvesting, using a disc trencher or a plough. In the third plot, natural pits and mounds remaining after harvesting were not altered. An additional plot was not harvested and the natural microtopography was not altered. All plots were subsequently planted with tree seedlings. In 1999 and 2000, understory vegetation (<1 m tall) was surveyed in twenty 1,000-cm2 quadrats/area. Each quadrat contained a pit or trench, a mound and the slope between them.Study and other actions tested
A replicated, paired, controlled study in 2008–2013 in two created freshwater swamps in Michigan, USA (Kangas et al. 2016) reported that white cedar Thuja occidentalis seedlings had higher survival rates when planted into created mounds than on flat ground, and that the average height of survivors increased more on mounds than on flats. After five years and in four of four comparisons, cedar seedlings planted on elevated mounds had a higher survival rate (54–94%) than seedlings planted on lower flats (0–41%). Between two and five years after planting, the average height of surviving trees increased more on mounds than on flats in three of four comparisons (mounds: 11–39 cm/year; flats : 0–23 cm/year). In the other comparison, there was no significant difference between treatments (mounds: 1 cm/year increase; flats: 2 cm/year decrease). Methods: In spring 2008, one-year-old white cedar seedlings were planted into 37 plots on two recently excavated wetlands (5–106 seedlings/plot, approximately 2.8 m apart). The seedlings were planted on created mounds in 20 plots (1.0–1.5 m diameter; 13–25 cm tall) and on a flat surface in the other 17 plots. Mound tops were never flooded. Flats were sometimes flooded. Some mounded and flat plots were also fenced to exclude deer. Surviving trees were monitored in April 2010 and October 2013.Study and other actions tested
A replicated, site comparison study in 2013 of eight 10-year-old restored/created freshwater wetlands in Maryland, USA (Russell & Beauchamp 2017) found that adding coarse woody debris to wetlands before planting trees/shrubs generally had no significant effect on plant community composition, richness or diversity – but did affect the ground layer community composition. The amount of coarse woody debris added to wetlands (none, low density, high density) was not significantly related to plant community composition, richness or diversity. This was true for both the ground vegetation layer (<1 m tall) and the tree layer (>1 m tall; data not reported). However, the effect on community composition was also analyzed for wetlands with vs without added coarse woody debris. In this analysis, ground layer community composition significantly differed between treatments (data reported as a graphical analysis). Methods: In June–August 2013, vegetation was surveyed along transects in eight restored/created depressional wetlands (4–6 transects/wetland, extending from the centre to the surrounding upland). The wetlands had been restored or created on farmland in 2003–2004, by: rewetting, adding wheat/barley straw, and planting trees/shrubs in wetland and upland areas. Logs, from trees felled on site, were added to pools/pool margins in six of the wetlands (three low density: 15–50 logs/ha; three high density: 136–333 logs/ha).Study and other actions tested