Establishing species-rich plant communities is a common goal of habitat restoration efforts, but not all species within a target assemblage have the same capacity for recruitment and survival in created habitats. We investigated the development of a tidal salt marsh plant community in the presence of a rapidly colonizing dominant species, Salicornia virginica, in a newly created habitat in Mugu Lagoon, California, USA. We planted rooted cuttings of S. virginica, Distichlis spicata, Jaumea carnosa, and Frankenia salina in single- and mixed-species stands, where each species was planted alone or in combination with S. virginica in 4 m2 plots. We measured species percent cover, recruit density, canopy structure, and aboveground biomass after three growing seasons. When planted alone, S. virginica achieved the greatest cover, up to 70%, followed by J. carnosa (55%), F. salina (35%), and D. spicata (12%). Total percent cover was about 30% lower than in a reference site. For each species, average percent cover and aboveground biomass per plant were generally similar between single-species and mixed planting treatments, suggesting that on the time scale of this study, competition between species was weak. Canopy structure (height, number of layers) and total aboveground biomass of all species were largely unaffected by planting treatments, although S. virginica was shorter when planted with J. carnosa. Salicornia virginica recruits constituted approximately 98% of the cover of seedling recruits into the created site. Despite intense S. virginica recruitment, our intervention in the successional process by planting species with poorer colonization abilities, particularly J. carnosa and F. salina, prevented S. virginica from completely dominating the canopy, thus increasing vascular plant richness in the created site. Artificially increased richness may enhance some ecosystem functions and create a seed source to facilitate the persistence of a diverse plant assemblage in restored sites.
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Vol. 26 • No. 3