Effects of vertebrate herbivores on soil processes, plant biomass, litter accumulation and soil elevation changes in a coastal marsh

Journal of Ecology
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Abstract

1 Submergence of coastal wetlands in Louisiana is currently rapid and widespread. A number of factors contribute to this loss of habitat, including the activities of herbivores. The objective of this study was to examine the effects of large mammals, predominantly nutria and wild boar, on processes controlling soil elevation in coastal marshes.

2 Effects of herbivores on soil and vegetation were assessed by the use of paired fenced and unfenced plots over two successive growing seasons. Above‐ground biomass, litter production, changes in soil elevation, vertical soil accretion, shallow subsidence, below‐ground production of roots and rhizomes, the thickness of the root zone, soil bulk density, and soil organic matter were measured.

3 Above‐ground biomass, below‐ground production, soil elevation and the expansion of the root zone decreased due to herbivore activity. Litter production, the rate of soil surface accretion and shallow soil subsidence were all higher in grazed compared to ungrazed plots, while soil organic matter and bulk density did not differ significantly between treatments.

4 The results indicate that herbivores can have a negative effect on soil building processes, primarily by reducing below‐ground production and expansion of the root zone. Where natural rates of mineral sediment deposition are high, coastal marshes are expected to persist, despite herbivore activities. However, where sediment inputs are substantially less, herbivores may lead to destruction of habitat.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Effects of vertebrate herbivores on soil processes, plant biomass, litter accumulation and soil elevation changes in a coastal marsh
Series title Journal of Ecology
DOI 10.1046/j.1365-2745.1998.00314.x
Volume 86
Issue 6
Year Published 1998
Language English
Publisher British Ecological Society
Contributing office(s) National Wetlands Research Center, Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Description 9 p.
First page 974
Last page 982
Country United States
State Louisiana
Other Geospatial Pearl River Wildlife Management Area
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