SERCAL 2017 Poster Presentations

SERCAL 2017 Technical Session, Davis

Chair: Gavin Archbald, H. T. Harvey & Associates

Lead presenters in alpha order

CDFW’s Invasive Species Program Contributes to Ecological Restoration

Elizabeth Brusati

Invasive Species Program, California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Sacramento, Elizabeth.brusati@wildlife.ca.gov

The mission of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Invasive Species Program is to reduce the negative effects of non-native invasive species on the wildlands and waterways of California. We are involved in efforts to prevent the introduction of these species into the state, detect and respond to introductions when they occur, and prevent the spread of invasive species that have become established. Our primary focus is aquatic species. We also work to address the ways by which species are introduced, typically inadvertently, by human activities. This poster will highlight current projects in the Invasive Species Program that contribute to ecological restoration. First, CDFW conducts weed risk assessments for State Parks’ Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW). These assessments are required for DBW to add invasive plants to its control program and improve Delta habitat for both native species and navigation. Second, CDFW has implemented an eradication project for watersnakes (Nerodia spp.) near Sacramento. These invasive snakes are probably abandoned pets that prey on native fish, amphibians, and snakes. Third, CDFW is coordinating the update to the California Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan, which will include actions on prevention, control, and outreach. Finally, California Invasive Species Action Week is June 3-11! See our website for a list of events and add yours.

 

The Interagency Development of an EcoRestore Adaptive Management Program

Maggie Christman*1, Karen Kayfetz2, Martina Koller3, Tricia Lee4, and Lauren Hastings5

Delta Stewardship Council, 980 Ninth Street Suite 1500, Sacramento 95814: 1maggie.christman@deltacouncil.ca.gov, 916.445.0464; 2karen.kayfetz@deltacouncil.ca.gov, 916.445.5694; 3martina.koller@deltacouncil.ca.gov, 916.445.5838; 4tricia.lee@deltacouncil.ca.gov, 916.445.5336; 5lauren.hastings@deltacouncil.ca.gov, 916.445.5026

The California EcoRestore initiative calls for the restoration and enhancement of 30,000 acres of habitat, primarily floodplain and tidal marsh, in the Delta and Suisun Marsh by 2020. As part of this initiative, the Interagency Adaptive Management Integration Team (IAMIT), comprising agency and stakeholder scientists and technical management staff, was charged with developing a white paper describing existing adaptive management resources, how those resources link together, and what resources are currently lacking. The white paper was developed in 2016-2017 and concludes with a series of recommendations for developing a complete, integrated, and financially supported adaptive management program for EcoRestore. We present here the recommendations of the white paper, which integrate existing efforts to enhance coordination, synthesis and evaluation, information sharing, and communication. The desired outcome of implementing these recommendations is a program that 1) supports individual restoration projects, 2) considers local and system-scale effects, 3) sets a stage to evaluate impacts of restoration actions at multiple time and spatial scales, and 4) has an organization structure wherein acquired knowledge is effectively communicated and used for development of subsequent goals, objectives and management actions. While the scope of the program is initially limited to integration of current EcoRestore projects, implementation of the recommendations will provide a strong foundation for a robust, long-term habitat restoration adaptive management program based on scientifically rigorous modeling, monitoring, research and assessment methods.

 

Enhancing the Wildlife Value of Farms in the Central Valley: A team effort

Matthew Danielczyk*1, Reyn Akiona2, and Cindy Lashbrook3

1Audubon California, 400 Capitol Mall, Suite 1535, Sacramento, mdanielczyk@audubon.org; 2USFWS, 7376 S. Wolfsen Rd., Los Banos 93635; 3Riverdance Farms, Livingston

We bring together farmers, government agencies, other NGOs, students, and other volunteers to establish woody vegetation on farms, simulating riparian forest to benefit migrating riparian songbirds and other wildlife. Most farms have a small percentage of unused or marginal land that could be put to use as wildlife habitat, which could partially ameliorate the effects of the decline of riparian habitat in California’s Central Valley, including the impact on listed species. These restoration projects also provide opportunities to engage the community in conservation. We typically work with five to ten different organizations, each lending a particular expertise to the overall effort. This cross-fertilization has led not only to successful restoration projects, but also to strategic collaboration beyond the scope of the projects.

 

Bonus Points: Unrecognized supplemental benefits of mitigation and conservation banks

Kim Fettke

Wildlands, 3855 Atherton Rd., Rocklin, kfettke@wildlandsinc.com, 916.435.3555

The purchase, restoration, and protection of natural lands for mitigation banks (e.g., wetland banks) and conservation banks (i.e., species banks,) generates credits to sell as mitigation for impacts to specific species or wetland resources that benefit from the bank (e.g., kit fox credits, seasonal wetland credits). However, banks benefit many additional species and habitats, even though these benefits may not be recognized via the generation of mitigation credits. Ecosystem bonus! Four Wildlands banks provide examples of these unrecognized benefits. Fremont Landing Conservation Bank — 100-acre bank in Yolo County at the confluence of the Sacramento and Feather Rivers, entitled for the sale of riparian floodplain and shaded riverine aquatic (SRA) habitat credits as salmonid mitigation. This species bank also provides habitat benefits for the state-listed Swainson’s Hawk documented onsite. San Luis Rey Mitigation Bank — 56.5-acre bank in San Diego County, entitled for the sale of riparian wetlands and waters credits. This wetland bank also provides valuable benefits to the state- and federally-listed Least Bell’s vireo documented onsite. Ridge Cut Giant Garter Snake Conservation Bank — 186-acre bank in Yolo County, entitled for the sale of Giant Garter Snake credits. This species bank also provides over 100 acres of freshwater marsh benefits. Pajaro River Mitigation Bank — 273-acre bank in San Benito County along the Pajaro River in Santa Clara Valley, entitled for the sale of freshwater marsh credits. This wetland bank also provides valuable year-round (wintering and breeding) habitat benefits for the western burrowing owl, a CA species of special concern.

 

Soil Salvage as a Technique for Coastal Sage Scrub Restoration

Robert Freese*1, Matthew Major1, Sarah Kimball2, Riley Pratt1, Megan Lulow3, Constantin Raether1, Paige Lowry Austin2, and Jutta Burger1,2

1Irvine Ranch Conservancy, 4727 Portola Parkway, Irvine 92620, rfreese@irconservancy.org; 2Center for Environmental Biology, Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Science, University of California – Irvine, Irvine 92697-1450; 2UCI Reserve System, University of California – Irvine, Irvine 92697-1450

Good quality native habitats have surface soil that contains a native seedbank, various propagules, and a complex microbial community. These resources are important components needed for successful ecological restoration. Surface soil can be harvested from sites slated for development and transported to nearby sites of degraded habitat as a means to restore them. However, the salvage process also poses several challenges that need to be considered. We explore management issues at three restoration sites in Irvine, California, which received surface soil from a common donor site in December 2015. Placement of transported soil can alter soil physical properties as evidenced by soil compaction, crusting, erosion, and mixing with underlying soil materials. It also creates a highly disturbed environment open to weed invasion. However, data from six and sixteen months after soil transfer show that vegetation at these sites can progress rapidly toward success under optimum environmental conditions. Despite a common donor source, the three recipient sites appear to be developing vegetation communities with distinctly different components of shrubs and forbs.

 

A Study of Long-term Restoration Success from Southern California

Julia Groebner

Restoration Ecologist, AECOM, 401 West A Street, Suite 1200, San Diego 92101, 619.610.7590, julia.groebner@aecom.com

Despite many advances in the field of restoration ecology, little is known about the long-term effectiveness of restoration efforts. It is often assumed that restored habitats follow a reliable trajectory towards the desired ecological state, but very few studies have addressed this topic. This study examines the long-term effectiveness of upland and wetland habitat restoration efforts in San Diego County, California. I evaluated the current ecological conditions (vegetation community composition, diversity, and structure, and quality of surrounding habitat) of 25 restoration sites that had not been actively managed for at least 5 years. I compared the sites’ current conditions to their conditions at the conclusion of active restoration and analyzed whether current vegetation conditions are related to historic site conditions or surrounding habitat quality. I found significant differences between upland and wetland restoration sites. Upland restoration sites were more variable in condition and less successful long-term, particularly if they were of lower habitat quality at the end of active restoration. Wetland restoration sites were less variable in condition and more successful long-term, as long as the proper wetland hydrology was established. However, both upland and wetland restoration sites may be declining in habitat quality with time elapsed since the end of active restoration. The study provides several ways in which planning and implementation of upland and wetland restoration projects could be improved to better promote long-term restoration success. It also serves as a valuable baseline for future studies of restoration success in San Diego County.

 

Success with the National Seed Strategy: Restoration projects using local source seed

Ed Kleiner

Comstock Seed LLC, 917 Hwy 88, Gardnerville, NV 89460, 775.720.3681, ed@comstockseed.com

The National Native Seed Strategy is challenging the seed industry by encouraging the use of local seed sources. The strategy is influencing specifications in the private sector which is now requiring local seed for large rural projects such as utility corridors, highways, and mines, as well as projects at the urban interface. Common themes in the design and implementation of successfully completed projects, as well as failure points in others, provide insight for a functional path for future projects. Indeed, all projects provide unique circumstances; experience gained adds to the functional path. 

 

Flow, Form, and Function: Integrating hydrologic and geomorphic considerations reveals opportunities and tradeoffs for river restoration

Belize Lane*, Gregory Pasternack, and Samuel Sandoval-Solis 

Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, University of California Davis, One Shields Ave., Davis 95616, baalane@ucdavis.edu

The extent and timing of river ecosystem functions is largely controlled by the interplay of hydrologic dynamics (i.e., flow) and the shape and structure of the river corridor (i.e., form). However, most river restoration studies address either flow or form without regard for their dynamic interactions. This study represents a first attempt to apply synthetic hydrologic and geomorphic archetypes to the evaluation of river flow-form-function linkages to inform effective watershed- and regional-scale river restoration efforts with limited resource requirements. In an application to California’s Mediterranean-montane streams, we evaluated the interacting roles of channel morphology, water-year type, and hydrologic impairment in river ecosystem response. The pool-riffle archetype supported flow convergence routing and promoted high hydraulic diversity and riparian recruitment, while the plane-bed archetype facilitated sediment transport and provided habitats of reduced stress for salmonid redds during dry years. Only wet years supported riparian recruitment, high performance of salmonid bed preparation, and a shear stress reversal, while dry years significantly increased spatiotemporal hydraulic diversity in the river corridor and availability of spawning habitat. Hydropower-driven hydrologic impairment caused redd dewatering risk and altered salmonid bed occupation and preparation functions. This study highlights critical tradeoffs in ecosystem function performance and emphasizes the significance of spatiotemporal diversity of flow and form at multiple scales for maintaining river ecosystem integrity.

 

Testing Methods to Restore Diverse Perennial Grasslands in Southern California

Matthew Major*1, Robert Freese1, Sarah Kimball2, Nicole Tamura1, Paige Lowry Austin2, and Jutta Burger1,2

1Irvine Ranch Conservancy, 4727 Portola Parkway, Irvine 92620, mmajor@irconservancy.org; 2Center for Environmental Biology, Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Science, University of California – Irvine, Irvine 92697-1450

Valley needlegrass grasslands are highly invasible and their restoration and persistence is challenged by propagule pressure and competition from non-native species. Diverse grasslands are also difficult to restore because their two major components — native grasses and broad-leaf forbs — compete with one another during initial establishment. Here, we investigate different methods to successfully restore forb diversity into native grassland across two parallel planting trials within the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks in Orange County, CA. In the first trial, a palette of 15 forbs was seeded either (A) early or (B) later after seeding purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra) within the same season. In the second trial, forbs were seeded in an established monoculture of purple needlegrass, either (1) directly, (2) after mowing and de-thatching, or (3) after mowing, de-thatching, and treatment with low-dose glyphosate. When forbs were seeded soon after grasses but prior to the application of selective herbicide, a different suite of forb species emerged than when they were seeded later. When forbs were seeded into established grassland, mowing and dethatching improved forb establishment and low-dose glyphosate treatment further promoted establishment relative to controls. Based on results, we conclude that forbs and needlegrass can be seeded in close succession under low ambient weed seed load or when selective herbicides are used aggressively early after seeding. Staggered seeding over multiple seasons works only with aggressive management to temporarily stunt needlegrass, increase seed-soil contact, and reduce weed cover. Many site-specific factors play a role in establishment, such as erosion, existing grass density, and the non-native seed bank.

 

Revisiting Common Planning Approaches to Arundo Removal to Increase Resiliency within Riparian Ecosystems

Anisha Malik

5 Hutton Centre Drive, Suite 500, Santa Ana 92707, 949.855.3674, anisha.malik@mbakerintl.com

Southern California watersheds have been impaired by the introduction of Arundo donax, a moderately invasive species that successfully outcompetes the native habitats for resources. Riparian restoration projects have been underway the past few decades, with each project learning more about the resilience of the species and improved methods of removal. On one such project within Arroyo Trabuco Creek, the Arundo grew over 15-20 feet before bending over due to its weight. Once this happened, new sprouts entangled themselves in the existing shoots, causing a thick wall to be formed. This decreased provided ecosystem services due to alteration of the channel morphology, displacement of riparian habitat, reduction in food supply, and corridor capabilities for local wildlife, and an increase in bank erosion caused by diversions of water flow. The complete removal of Arundo rhizomes at this project site has allowed for the channel to correct itself following significant precipitation events in January of this year. Although the site is improving with the installation of native plantings, changes continue to occur within the system as new variables are introduced. The new variables emphasized the importance of baseline studies and adaptive management to better understand the external drivers for the site. Species complexity was focused on as a means of deterring future invasion. With the introduction of polyphagous shot hole borer to the area as well as other stressors, what are the most effective methods for planning restoration of these riparian ecosystems to increase resiliency against emerging threats?

 

Using Restoration to Change Our Culture for a Sustainable Future

Matthew Marowitz

Saddleback College, 24821 Pointe Stanhope #E, Dana Point 92629, mattmarowitz@gmail.com

People from industrial nations tend to appraise the natural world by the dollar value it can be assigned in terms of natural resources. Such a view about exploiting nature is not sustainable. If we continue our culture of overconsumption, the planet will not be able to keep up. We need innovations in how restoration interacts with the public so we can shape our culture to be sustainable. Having more opportunities in community-based restoration is an effective way to persuade more people. By spreading community-based restoration across a region, we can build strong environmental values that will root themselves into our society. The environment is something more people are becoming concerned about. Community-based restoration programs allow people to express their concerns, promoting stewardship over the environment by educating volunteers and making them part of the solution. This creates a sense of ownership within volunteers, urging them to think about environmental issues in a new way and hopefully causing them to change their habits to be less impactful. We must use restoration as an opportunity to teach people about ecosystem services and the impacts humans have on nature. Consistent pressure, through repeated conversations by many people is needed to shape the mindset of society. Eventually our culture will no longer reflect overconsumption as the norm. We will seek to conserve our natural resources rather than exploit. First, however, we must use restoration as a platform to help change the environmental values within our culture so we can sustainably move into the future.

Fairview Park Case Study: Citizen scientists’ role in seed collection

Victoria Masjuan

Saddleback College Ecological Restoration Program, 28000 Marguerite Pkwy, Mission Viejo 92692, victoriamasjuan@gmail.com

In a unique pilot program offered by the City of Costa Mesa’s Department of Parks and Recreation, led by staff and trained interns with the Institute for Conservation Research and Education, ecologically-minded residents come together to take part in the “Fairview Environmental Workshop”. Over the course of four consecutive Saturdays, locals learn the history of restoration at Fairview Park, take part in weeding activities, and also learn about and participate in native seed collection. Volunteer citizen scientists enrolled in the summer 2016 workshop collected dozens of paper bags filled with fascicled tarplant (Deinandra fasciculata) and bush sunflower (Encelia californica) seeds, which were then propagated at the Banning Ranch Land Trust nursery and are ready to be used in future restoration activities at Fairview Park and the surrounding areas. If we as restoration practitioners uphold the traditional logic dictating that the more locally sourced the seeds, the better, then the example set by the Fairview Environmental Workshop shows us one pathway to truly local, cost-effective native seed sourcing, with the added bonuses of community involvement and drumming up local support for restoration projects in the area.

 

Successful Restoration of Riparian Habitat from a Himalayan Blackberry Thicket

Erin McDermott*1 and Sue Wickham2

1Nomad Ecology LLC, 822 Main St., Martinez 94553, emcdermott@nomadecology.com; 2Solano Land Trust, 700 Main Street, Suite 210, Suisun City 94585, sue@solanolandtrust.org

Solano Land Trust in partnership with Nomad Ecology implemented the Old Homestead Wetland and Riparian Enhancement Project located at Lynch Canyon Open Space in Solano County in 2012. The 9-acre restoration site includes 1,600 linear feet of creek, 1.4 acres of wetlands and waters, a spring, riparian vegetation, and cultural resources. Prior to project implementation, the site contained over an acre of dense Himalayan blackberry in wetland and riparian habitat. The challenging goals of the project included removing Himalayan blackberry in sensitive riparian habitat, long-term control of this aggressively rhizomatous species, and replacing it with locally sourced native vegetation that would provide habitat for wildlife. The project provided many opportunities such as engaging volunteers in the restoration effort, amplifying local seed material, using an onsite spring to naturally provide water to the wetland plantings, and employing cattle as a vegetation management tool. This enhancement project implemented a multistage approach of mechanical and chemical Himalayan blackberry control, seed collection and amplification, tree and shrub planting, and grazing management. Five years after the enhancement project was initiated, the site is meeting objectives: cover of Himalayan blackberry is extremely low, the creek channel is dominated by native vegetation, the wetlands where blackberry was removed are dominated by herbaceous wetland vegetation, native tree and shrub cover has increased onsite, and the site provides habitat for wildlife.

 

Comparison of Stream Simulation to Hydraulic Design Approaches for Constructing Fish Passage Channel Segments in Central California Coastal Streams: Challenges, opportunities, and lots of large rocks

Jeff Peters*1, Jeff Kozlowski2, Brendan Belby3, Danny Stratten4, and Martin Fisher5

ICF, 630 K Street, Suite 400, Sacramento 95814, 916.737.000: 1Geomorphologist and Restoration Specialist, 916.231.9603 direct, 916.752.984 mobile, Jeff.Peters@icf.com; 2Fish Biologist; 3Hydrologist; 4Restoration Specialist; 5Civil Engineer

This poster compares different fish passage restoration design approaches for two separate bridge replacement projects located on two central California coastal streams in Santa Barbara County: Arroyo Parida Creek and Salsipuedes Creek. Arroyo Parida Creek is located near the town of Carpinteria, and is crossed by State Route 192. Salsipuedes Creek is located near the town of Lompoc and is crossed by State Route 1. Both creeks are designated as critical habitat for federally endangered Southern California Coast steelhead. Two design options are presented herein — a hybrid roughened channel/step-pool complex design with a 4.7% slope on Arroyo Parida Creek, and a rock ramp / roughened channel design with a 2.0% slope on Salsipuedes Creek. The design approach for Arroyo Parida Creek centers on creating a channel that best simulates the conditions found elsewhere in the creek (i.e., the reference reaches) using the stream simulation methodology. The primary goal of the stream simulation design is to provide for a high degree of channel stability by simulating the geomorphic conditions observed elsewhere—a continuous streambed that simulates natural channel width, depth, and slope. For Salsipuedes Creek, site conditions and other constraints necessitate that a hydraulic design approach be undertaken. Unlike the stream simulation design approach, the hydraulic design approach involves designing a structure for passage of targeted fish species and life stages by establishing a stable channel that is compatible with the swimming and leaping abilities of fish over a specified range of flows. For both projects, we estimated changes in hydraulic variables—such as depths, velocities, shear stress values, and energy dissipation factors —that would result from implementation of the design options and to assess whether these changes would affect fish passage conditions, stream morphological characteristics, or the quality of habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms in channel reaches upstream and downstream of the proposed design reaches. Changes were assessed for a range of flow conditions from base flow to higher magnitude, less frequently occurring events. Each project presents a unique situation to provide fish passage at a range of flows, with associated opportunities and constraints. For Arroyo Parida Creek, a buried water main pipeline and a relatively narrow riparian corridor serve as the primary design constraints, while the presence of relatively pristine upstream reference reaches aided in the design approach. For Salsipuedes Creek, which occurs at a geologic transition within the watershed, no appropriate reference reaches were available. As such, with the aide of 2-dimensional hydraulic modeling, we designed a rock ramp that would create sufficient flow depth and velocity, as well as habitat diversity, to ensure that fish passage and 100-year channel stability needs would be met. Both projects involve the use of very large boulders (D84 = 4.5 feet!), are in the latter stages of design, and are expected to be constructed within the next few years.

 

Strip-seeding, a Novel Grassland Restoration Strategy — Student Poster Contest Winner

Julea A. Shaw*1, Leslie M. Roche1, Travis Bean2, Emilio A. Laca1, Andrew P. Rayburn3, and Elise S. Gornish1

1Department of Plant Sciences, University of California–Davis, jashaw@ucdavis.edu; 2Botany & Plant Sciences, University of California, Riverside; 3River Partners, Modesto

The prevalence of invasive annual grasses and the difficulty of establishing native perennials makes restoration of California grasslands challenging. Recently, strip-seeding has been proposed as a novel, cost-effective strategy to address these persistent challenges to restoration success. Strip-seeding is a spatially-patterned seeding method that involves seeding in linear patches across a site. The method is expected to reduce cost of seed, increase native establishment, and reduce invasive species cover within seeded areas. However, strip-seeding has never been formally tested in western grassland systems, and it is unclear how initial configuration may alter the plant community and dispersal of desirable species to unseeded areas. We examined the utility of strip-seeding by seeding native perennial bunchgrass mixes in different strip width configurations (seeding coverage from 0% - 100%) in fall 2012 in Davis, CA. In spring 2016, we measured the community diversity and abundance across transects in seeded strips and in unseeded between-strip areas. There were no significant differences in plant communities among strip-seeded treatments, but there were differences between plant communities in strip-seeded treatments and controls. Native grasses successfully established in all seeded strips with cover similar to those in the 100% seeded treatment (~31%). Average native cover in unseeded areas was only slightly lower than in seeded areas (~27%), however non-native cover was higher in unseeded areas than in seeded areas (~60% vs ~31%). Therefore, strip-seeding is an effective method for establishing native species, but control of non-natives in unseeded areas will require further management.

 

Effects of European Beachgrass Removal on Native Dune Vegetation

Joanna Solins*1 and Lewis Reed2

1UC Davis Graduate Group in Ecology, jsolins@ucdavis.edu; 2Bodega Marine Reserve, lkreed@ucdavis.edu

European beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria) is an invasive perennial grass that has significantly modified coastal dune ecosystems on the Pacific coast of the United States. Removal of European beachgrass is challenging and costly, and thus prioritization of management efforts is important to maximize the benefits of limited intervention opportunities. This study examines the impacts over time of manually removing European beachgrass at different densities of invasion in Bodega Bay, California. We compared plant communities in removal test plots to those in control plots, as well as those in a nearby uninvaded area. Cover of European beachgrass decreased and stabilized one year after removal for all levels of invasion density, but there was no increase in native species cover or species richness compared to pre-removal or control plots. Native cover, species richness, and Shannon diversity were greatest in the uninvaded area, but diversity and native cover were also high in areas of low European beachgrass density. Results of this study suggest that management of European beachgrass by manual removal should target areas of low-density invasion to preserve the native plant community found there and prevent spread into nearby uninvaded areas.

 

Leveraging Public Aerial Image Datasets to Evaluate Wetland Restoration Progress

Sophie Taddeo*1 and Iryna Dronova2

Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, University of California at Berkeley: 1202 Wurster Hall #2000, Berkeley 94720-2000. sophie.taddeo@berkeley.edu; 2304 Wurster Hall, Berkeley 94720, idronova@berkeley.edu

The continued monitoring of ecological properties is critical to advancing our understanding of post-restoration dynamics and factors constraining site recovery. However, limited budgets restrict the consistent monitoring of wetland ecosystems at a spatio-temporal scale relevant to ecosystem processes of interest. The heterogeneous and dynamic nature of wetlands calls for repeated and long-term measurements which can inflate monitoring cost. Public aerial images and remote sensing datasets could help circumvent these challenges yet remain under-utilized in wetland monitoring and restoration ecology. To address this gap, we use a restored freshwater wetland of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as a case study to demonstrate how aerial images from USDA’s National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) can be leveraged to monitor vegetation dynamics. Using a time series spanning 11 years, we measure changes in the extent, distribution, and structure of vegetated patches in the study site. Our study reveals a significant relationship between patch size and patch growth, with smaller patches showing a faster growth than larger ones. We observe a continual increase in the heterogeneity and structural complexity of patches as well as a significant relationship between initial patch distribution and species dispersal. The continued monitoring of lateral vegetation growth patterns reveals a site’s capacity to maintain critical functions including soil built-up, carbon sequestration, and habitat provision. Our study shows how easily implementable analyses based on free datasets can offer a rapid site-scale screening of vegetation properties in wetlands.