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Endangered species management and ecosystem restoration: finding the common ground

Michael L Casazza, U.S. Geological Survey
Cory T Overton, U.S. Geological Survey
Thuy-Vy D Bui, U.S. Geological Survey
Joshua M Hull, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; University of California, Davis
Joy D Albertson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Valary K Bloom, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Recovery Branch
Steven Bobzien, East Bay Regional Park District
Jennifer McBroom, Invasive Spartina Project
Marilyn Latta, California State Coastal Conservancy
Peggy Olofson, San Francisco Estuary Invasive Spartina Project
Tobias M Rohmer, Invasive Spartina Project; Olofson Environmental Inc.
Steven Schwarzbach, U.S. Geological Survey
Donald R Strong, Department of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis
Erik Grijalva, University of California, Davis
Julian K Wood, Point Blue Conservation Science
Shannon M Skalos, U.S. Geological Survey
John Takekawa, National Audubon Society


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Management actions to protect endangered species and conserve ecosystem function may not always be in precise alignment. Efforts to recover the California Ridgway’s Rail (Rallus obsoletus obsoletus; hereafter, California rail), a federally and state-listed species, and restoration of tidal marsh ecosystems in the San Francisco Bay estuary provide a prime example of habitat restoration that has conflicted with species conservation. On the brink of extinction from habitat loss and degradation, and non-native predators in the 1990s, California rail populations responded positively to introduction of a non-native plant, Atlantic cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora). California rail populations were in substantial decline when the non-native Spartina was initially introduced as part of efforts to recover tidal marshes. Subsequent hybridization with the native Pacific cordgrass (Spartina foliosa) boosted California rail populations by providing greater cover and increased habitat area. The hybrid cordgrass (S. alterniflora × S. foliosa) readily invaded tidal mudflats and channels, and both crowded out native tidal marsh plants and increased sediment accretion in the marsh plain. This resulted in modification of tidal marsh geomorphology, hydrology, productivity, and species composition. Our results show that denser California rail populations occur in invasive Spartina than in native Spartina in San Francisco Bay. Herbicide treatment between 2005 and 2012 removed invasive Spartina from open intertidal mud and preserved foraging habitat for shorebirds. However, removal of invasive Spartina caused substantial decreases in California rail populations. Unknown facets of California rail ecology, undesirable interim stages of tidal marsh restoration, and competing management objectives among stakeholders resulted in management planning for endangered species or ecosystem restoration that favored one goal over the other. We have examined this perceived conflict and propose strategies for moderating harmful effects of restoration while meeting the needs of both endangered species and the imperiled native marsh ecosystem.

Key words

ecosystem; endangered; restoration; California Ridgway’s Rail; Spartina

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087