Wood chip soil amendments in restored wetlands affect plant growth by reducing compaction and increasing dissolved phenolics

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Adding chipped wood to soil ameliorates compaction, allowing faster plant growth that is critical to successful wetland restorations. Following the filling and planting of an erosion gully in Halstead Meadow, Sequoia National Park, the tallest leaf height and maximum clone width of transplanted Scirpus microcarpus seedlings were negatively correlated with soil compaction. Plant height decreased by 9.8 cm and width decreased by 11.9 cm per MPa of soil compaction (range of 0.74–4.50MPa). We experimentally amended mineral soil in a test trench and found that every 0.10 cm3/cm3 addition of wood chips (range of 0.00–0.75 cm3/cm3) reduced compaction by 0.174MPa. Had the Halstead Meadow gully fill contained an equivalent volume of wood chips to the reference area soil organic matter content (0.64 cm3/cm3), we predict compaction would have been reduced by 1.11MPa, increasing individual transplant width spread by 36%, approximately doubling the vegetated area after two growing seasons. In a greenhouse phytometer experiment, conifer bark leachate (phenolics 211 mg/L) significantly reduced plant growth and, in the presence of added nutrients, increased the production of the enzyme polyphenol oxidase (PPO). However, phenolics concentration in bark-free conifer wood leachate (12mg/L), similar to field-sampled concentrations, did not affect plant growth or PPO production. Pure conifer bark is not recommended as a soil amendment, but the addition of low-bark-content wood chips to gully fill may be a feasible and effective means of reducing soil compaction, accelerating plant establishment, and lowering wetland restoration project costs.
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