Both vertebrate herbivores and fire have long been known to have dramatic and important effects on wetland vegetation. However, the interactive effects of burning and herbivory have received less attention. In this study, conducted in the coastal marshes of the Pearl River Basin in Louisiana, USA, both the effects of herbivory and fire as well as the interaction between these effects were examined in three marsh com-munity types: Sagittaria lancifolia, PanicUm virgatum, and Spartina patens. At five sites for each of the three community types, the effects of burning and fencing to exclude herbivores were determined over two years. Results showed that total biomass was reduced by burning but increased by fencing, with no interactive effects on total biomass. Species density (the number of species per unit area) was enhanced in plots that were both burned and fenced. Spartina patens was an important component in all three communities. Cover estimates indicated that S. patens responded to burning and fencing differently from the other dominant species. In the Panicum virgatum community, P. virgatum cover was enhanced by burning and fencing while S. patens cover was reduced. In the Sagittaria lancifolia community, S. lancifolia and Vigna luteola were enhanced by burning and fencing while S. patens was reduced. In the S. patens community, Scirpits americanus was enhanced by fencing, but burning had no significant effect on cover of either dominant species. These and other data are generally consistent with the hypothesis that herbivory favors S. patens while burning favors other dominant species. Thus, the relative effects of fire and herbivory have an influence (along with other factors such as salinity) on the dominance of S. patens in coastal marshes.
Additional publication details
The interactive effects of fire and herbivory on a coastal marsh in Louisiana