Ecological Assessment of Dune Restorations in the Great Lakes Region
Because of the economic and environmental importance of stabilizing fragile sand dune habitats, restoration of dunes has become a common practice. Restoration efforts in the Great Lakes and East Coast regions of North America often consist of planting monocultures of the dominant native grass species, Ammophila breviligulata. We evaluated 18 dune restoration projects in the Great Lakes region conducted over the past 25 years. We characterized attributes of diversity (plants and insects), vegetation structure (plant biomass and cover), and ecological processes (soil nutrients and mycorrhizal fungi abundance) in each restoration, and we compared these measures to geographically paired natural dune communities. Restoration sites were similar to reference sites in most measured variables. Differences between restorations and reference sites were mostly explained by differences in ages, with the younger sites supporting slightly lower plant diversity and mycorrhizal spore abundance than older sites. Plant community composition varied little between restored and reference sites, with only one native forb species, Artemisia campestris, occurring significantly more often in reference sites than restored sites. Although it remains unclear whether more diverse restoration plantings could accelerate convergence on the ecological conditions of reference dunes, in general, traditional restoration efforts involving monoculture plantings of A. breviligulata in Great Lakes sand dunes appear to achieve ecological conditions found in reference dunes.