From Around the System…
Taskinas Marsh at the Virginia Reserve

What do restoring a painting, a house, and a wetland all have in common? Setting goals for your work depends on what they used to look like. When you’re focused on restoring a wetland along a dynamic, rapidly changing coast, then that’s a tall order. In a perfect world, you would have “before” data describing the site in its pre-degradation state that you could use as a benchmark to track your progress. If you don’t, the next best approach is to compare your site to a similar one that is healthy and has not suffered the same degradation.

A recent study published in Estuaries and Coasts demonstrates the potential for National Estuarine Research Reserves to serve as “gold standard” reference sites for setting wetland restoration goals and tracking progress. Found in diverse biogeographic regions around the country, research reserves are permanently protected and continuously monitored, reducing the potential effort and cost of such a comparison.

In the study, scientists at our Rhode Island, Virginia, Maine, Oregon, North Carolina, and New Hampshire reserves teamed up with the NOAA Restoration Center to examine the progress of 17 tidal wetland restoration projects by comparing them to nine reference sites in or near reserve lands. The study used an RPI (restoration performance index) scoring approach, which compares changes in parameters at different sites over time to determine restoration progress. Restoration sites exhibited an intermediate level of restoration when compared to the reference sites, consistent with similar assessments described in the literature.

From Kachemak Bay…

Headwater streams are the birthplaces of watersheds. In Alaska’s Kenai Lowlands, site of the Kachemak Bay Reserve, these streams provide rearing habitats for thousands of paper clip-sized, juvenile salmon each year. Until recently, it wasn’t known that these critically important critters lived so far up the watershed.

Now, thanks to the reserve’s research, we know these streams are productive habitats for juvenile salmon, largely thanks to surrounding landscape features, such as alders and peatlands, that provide nutrients to the streams. The reserve is working with local organizations to conserve these features so that these streams continue to support baby salmon as they make their way to the sea and back again as adults.

You can learn more about this important research in recent publications, including:

– “Watershed Influences on the Structure and Function of Riparian Wetlands Associated with Headwater Streams – Kenai Peninsula, Alaska” in Science of the Total Environment
– “Low-level Addition of Dissolved Organic Carbon Increases Basal Ecosystem Function in a Boreal Headwater Stream” in Ecosphere
Nitrogren Subsidies from Hillslope Alder Stands to Streamside Wetlands and Headwater Streams, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska.” in Journal of American Water Resources Association

Reserve scientists Steve Baird (bottom) and Chris Guo (top) monitor juvenile salmon in a small headwater stream.
ReservesChesapeake Bay, VirginiaAdvancing the Science: NERRS Research