Lesser snow geese (Anser caerulescens caerulescens) and Canada geese (Branta canadensis) use several salt marshes in Cook Inlet, Alaska, as stopover areas for brief periods during spring migration. We investigated the effects of geese on nitrogen cycling processes in Susitna Flats, one of the marshes. We compared net nitrogen mineralization, organic nitrogen pools and production in buried bags, nitrogen fixation by cyanobacteria, and soil and litter characteristics on grazed plots versus paired plots that had been exclosed from grazing for 3 years. Grazed areas had higher rates of net nitrogen mineralization in the spring and there was no effect of grazing on organic nitrogen availability. The increased mineralization rates in grazed plots could not be accounted for by alteration of litter quality, litter quantity, microclimate, or root biomass, which were not different between grazed and exclosed plots. In addition, fecal input was very slight in the year that we studied nitrogen cycling. We propose that trampling had two effects that could account for greater nitrogen availability in grazed areas: litter incorporation into soil, resulting in increased rates of decomposition and mineralization of litter material, and greater rates of nitrogen fixation by cyanobacteria on bare, trampled soils. A path analysis indicated that litter incorporation by trampling played a primary role in the nitrogen dynamics of the system, with nitrogen fixation secondary, and that fecal input was of little importance.
Additional publication details
Nitrogen dynamics in an Alaskan salt marsh following spring use by geese