Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in created agricultural wetlands

University dissertation from Lund : Lund University

Abstract: This doctoral dissertation was produced in a cooperation between Halmstad University (Wetland Research Centre, School of Business and Engineering) and Lund University (Limnology & Marine Biology, Department of Ecology).Abstract . Wetland creation at large, regional scales is implemented as a measure to abate the biodiversity loss in agricultural landscapes and the eutrophication of watersheds and coastal areas by non-point source nutrient pollution (mainly nitrogen). The consequences of creating many new wetlands for biodiversity conservation and nutrient reten- tion (ecosystem functioning) in agricultural landscapes are still relatively unknown, both on local (per wetland) and regional (per landscape) scales. In Sweden, wetland creation has progressed already since the 1990s, and by now larger numbers of created wetlands are present, mainly in the intensively farmed landscapes of southwestern Sweden. This thesis aimed to investigate the following aspects in these systems: (i) their large-scale effects on biodiversity, (ii) their functional diversity of bacterial denitrifiers, (iii) the abiotic and biotic influences on wetland ecosystem functioning, (iv) the potential for biodiversity-function links, and (v) the potential for functional links and joint functioning.(i) Created wetlands hosted diverse assemblages of macroinvertebrates and plants. They maintained a similar com- position and diversity as natural ponds in agricultural landscapes. The environmental conditions per wetland did hardly affect macroinvertebrate and plant assemblages, and the prerequisites for nutrient retention did neither. In landscapes were wetland creation efforts had increased the total density of small water bodies by more than 30%, macroinver- tebrate diversity of created wetlands was facilitated on both local and regional scales. (ii) Diverse communities of denitrifying bacteria with the capacity for conducting different denitrification steps (functional types) were present in all investigated wetlands. The richness of denitrifying bacteria communities was affected by nitrate concentration and hydraulic loading rate, which may potentially be relevant for the nitrogen retention function of created wetlands. The diversity across different functional types of bacterial denitrifiers increased with nitrate concentration. (iii) Both abiotic and biotic factors influenced ecosystem functions of created wetlands. Variation in nitrogen retention was associated to nitrate load, but even to vegetation parameters. In wetlands with constant nitrate load, planted emergent vegetation facilitated nitrogen retention compared to other vegetation types. In wetlands with variable loads, nitrogen retention was facilitated if nitrate load was high and many different vegetation types were present; nitrogen load could explain the majority of the variation in nitrogen retention compared to vegetation parameters. Phosporus retention of created wetlands was best explained by vegetation parameters. Litter decomposition was inhibited at high nitrate to phosphorus ratios. Methane production increased with age and decreased with plant cover. (iv) Biodiversity may facilitate wetland ecosystem functions, particularly in dynamic wetland ecosystems. Nitrogen retention increased with vegetation type diversity, phosphorus retention capacity with plant richness, and litter decomposition with macroinvertebrate diversity. (v) Created wetlands have the capacity of sustaining several parallel ecosystem services. Some wetland functions were coupled; nitrogen retention increased with fast litter decomposition. On the other hand, methane emission and nitro- gen retention were independent of each other, as were nitrogen and phosphorus retention.In conclusion, created wetlands have the potential to at least partly abate the lost biodiversity and multifunctionality caused by the past extensive destruction of natural wetlands in agricultural landscapes.