In peatland restoration we often lack an information whether re-established ecosystems are functionally similar to non-degraded ones. We re-analysed the long-term outcomes of restoration on vegetation and plant functional traits in 38 European fens restored by rewetting (18 sites) and topsoil removal (20 sites). We used traits related to nutrient acquisition strategies, competitiveness, seed traits, and used single- and multi-trait metrics. A separate set of vegetation records from near-natural fens with diverse plant communities was used to generate reference values to aid the comparisons. We found that both restoration methods enhanced the similarity of species composition to non-degraded systems but trait analysis revealed differences between the two approaches. Traits linked to nutrient acquisition strategies indicated that topsoil removal was more effective than rewetting. After topsoil removal competitive species in plant communities had decreased, while stress-tolerant species had increased. A substantial reduction in nutrient availability ruled out the effect of initial disturbance. An ability to survive and grow in anoxic conditions was enhanced after restoration, but the reference values were not achieved. Rewetting was more effective than topsoil removal in restricting variation in traits values permitted in re-developing vegetation. We found no indication of a shift towards reference in seed traits, which suggested that dispersal constraint and colonization deficit can be a widespread phenomena. Two functional diversity indices: functional richness and functional dispersion showed response to restoration and shifted values towards reference mires and away from the degraded systems.
We concluded that targeting only one type of environmental stressor does not lead to a recovery of fens, as it provides insufficient level of stress to restore a functional ecosystem. In general, restoration efforts do not ensure the re-establishment and long-term persistence of fens. Restoration efforts result in recovery of fen ecosystems, confirmed with our functional trait analysis, although more rigid actions are needed for restoring fully functional mires, by achieving high and constant levels of anoxia and nutrient stresses.