Spadafora first wanted to examine the community level changes between three types of wetlands: natural, rehabilitated, and created. The rehabilitated and created wetlands differed in that the rehabilitated wetland had once been a wetland in the past while the created wetland was constructed in a forested depression. The created and rehabilitated wetlands were restored and built, respectively, in 2003, and monitoring of invertebrate populations began soon after. How much had they changed, and begun to resemble the historic wetland, from 2003 until the start of her research in 2012? Visually, the restored wetlands looked much healthier after 9 years, as seen in the comparison in figures 1 and 2.
So what was different about the rehabilitated and created wetlands? Spadafora hypothesized it may have something to do with a moss. Naturally occurring sphagnum moss (figure 3) may be most recognizable as a base for floral arrangements, but it also serves as an important ecosystem engineer by providing habitat structure for aquatic invertebrates, such as isopods and predaceous diving beetles (Family Dytiscidae, figure 4). Sphagnum also appeared in the rehabilitated wetland in 2009, which is the time period where isopods became dominant in the invertebrate community. To test her theory that sphagnum influences invertebrate communities, she expanded her study to include twenty Delmarva Bays (ten with sphagnum, ten without) and shifted her taxonomic focus to Dytiscid beetles. Although not as abundant as the isopods, these Dytiscid beetles are crucial for Delmarva bay ecosystems because, in the absence of fish, they are one of the top predators. If sphagnum mosses were influencing beetle diversity, she expected to see more species of beetles in the sphagnum wetlands. Indeed, beetle diversity was higher in the moss-containing wetlands, and interestingly some species were only found in either the sphagnum or non-sphagnum sites.
For more information, check out Ellie Spadafora’s recent publication in Restoration Ecology.
About the author:
Becca Wilson is a PhD candidate in the Lamp Lab. She studies the spatial distribution and societal impacts of nuisance black flies in western Maryland.