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Evaluating outcomes of restoration ecology projects on limited budgets: assessment of variation in sampling intensity and sampling frequency for four habitat types

Henry, Hugh A. L., Murphy, Stephen D., McFarlane, Mhairi L., Barna, Heather, Dunning, Katelyn, Hood, Alexandra, Crosthwaite, Jill C.
Restoration ecology 2019 v.27 no.2 pp. 457-465
data collection, ecological restoration, forests, habitats, meadows, monitoring, multidimensional scaling, sampling, sand, sowing, species richness, tallgrass prairies, wetlands, woodlands, woody plants, Canada
While best practices for evaluating restoration ecology projects are emerging rapidly, budget constraints often limit postrestoration monitoring, which emphasizes the need for practical and efficient monitoring strategies. We examined the postrestoration outcome for an ENGO (Nature Conservancy of Canada) project, to assess retroactively how variation in intensity and frequency of sampling would have affected estimates of plant species composition, diversity, and richness over time. The project restored four habitat types (mesic forest, oak woodland, wet meadow, and sand barren) using sculptured seeding of tallgrass prairie and woody species. Species‐level plant cover was monitored annually for 10 years in 168 2 × 2–m quadrats. We performed randomization tests to examine estimates of species diversity and richness as a function of the number of quadrats sampled, and assessed the necessity of annual sampling for describing changes in species composition and successional trajectories. The randomization tests revealed that sampling 10–17 quadrats, depending on habitat type, was sufficient to obtain estimates of species diversity that were at least 95% of values obtained from the whole dataset. Species richness as a function of number of quadrats sampled did not plateau, which suggests that rather than increasing the number of sampling quadrats, richness could be estimated more efficiently using nonquadrat based sampling techniques. Nonmetric multidimensional scaling analysis revealed that plant species composition largely stabilized by 3–5 years postrestoration depending on habitat type. By that time, native, seeded species dominated the restoration, and the benefits of annual sampling for tracking changes in species composition diminished.