Use grazing to control problematic plants: freshwater marshes

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
    not assessed
  • Certainty
    not assessed
  • Harms
    not assessed

Study locations

Key messages

  • Three studies evaluated the effects, on vegetation, of using grazing to control problematic plants in freshwater marshes. Two studies were in the USA. One study was in Costa Rica.

VEGETATION COMMUNITY

  • Community composition (1 study): One replicated, randomized, paired, controlled study in Costa Rica found that amongst plots where cattail-dominated vegetation had been crushed, grazing had no significant effect on the overall plant community composition over 15 months.
  • Relative abundance (1 study): One replicated, paired, controlled, before-and-after study in a canarygrass-invaded marsh in the USA found that grazing had no significant effect on the relative abundance of the invader: over two years, it declined similarly in grazed and ungrazed plots.
  • Overall richness/diversity (3 studies): Of three replicated, paired, controlled studies in invaded marshes/wet meadows in the USA and Costa Rica, two found that grazing typically had no significant effect on plant species richness and/or diversity over approximately two years. The other study found that grazed areas had higher plant species richness than ungrazed areas after two months.

VEGETATION ABUNDANCE

  • Overall abundance (1 study): One replicated, paired, controlled, before-and-after study in a canarygrass-invaded marsh in the USA found that grazing had no significant effect on total vegetation cover at the ground surface, over two years.
  • Native/non-target abundance (1 study): One replicated, paired, controlled, before-and-after study in an invaded wet meadow in the USA found that two months of grazing increased cover of non-invasive grass-like plants.

VEGETATION STRUCTURE

About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A replicated, paired, controlled, before-and-after study in 2005–2007 in four freshwater marshes invaded by reed canarygrass Phalaris arundinacea in Nebraska, USA (Hillhouse et al. 2010) found that grazing had no significant effect on plant species richness, overall vegetation cover, or the abundance of reed canarygrass (both absolute and relative). Over two years, grazed and ungrazed plots experienced statistically similar changes in plant species richness (data not reported) and overall vegetation cover (grazed: decline from 8% to 3%; ungrazed: decline from 8% to <1%). The same was true for reed canarygrass absolute cover (grazed: decline from 8% to 2%; ungrazed: decline from 8% to <1%) and relative abundance (grazed: decline from 93% to 68% of recorded plants; ungrazed: decline from 96% to 68% of recorded plants). The study also reported increases in bare ground cover and decreases in litter cover in grazed plots – whereas the opposite was true in ungrazed plots (see original paper for data). Methods: Three 3–8 ha plots were established in each of four depressional marshes, in dense stands of reed canarygrass. Eight plots (two plots/marsh) were grazed in both 2006 and 2007 (at some point between April and August; 20–40 animal units for 10–49 days/year). The other four plots (one plot/marsh) were left ungrazed. Plant species and vegetation cover were recorded at points along transects (number of points not clearly reported) before grazing (2005) and after 1–2 years of grazing (July–August 2006 and 2007).

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A replicated, paired, controlled, before-and-after study in 2008 in a wet meadow invaded by purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria and reed canarygrass Phalaris arundinacea in New York State, USA (Kleppel & LaBarge 2011) found that grazed paddocks had higher plant species richness and greater cover of non-invasive plants than ungrazed paddocks. After two months, grazed paddocks contained more plant species in total (grazed: 25; ungrazed: 20 species/20 m2) and per quadrat (grazed: 4.0; ungrazed: 2.6 species/0.25 m2). Grazed paddocks had lower cover than ungrazed paddocks of the key invasive species: purple loosestrife (grazed: 20%; ungrazed: 65%) and reed canarygrass (grazed: 20%; ungrazed: 50%). Accordingly, grazed paddocks had higher cover of other grass-like plants (40%) than ungrazed paddocks (20%). Before intervention, cover of these plant groups was statistically similar in paddocks destined for each treatment (loosestrife: 50%; canarygrass: 43–45%; other grass-like plants: 20–30%). Methods: Four pairs of 200-m2 paddocks were established in an invaded wet meadow. Between 16 June and 3 August 2008, one plot/pair was rotationally grazed by sheep (two ewes/paddock for 2–3 days every two weeks). Detailed vegetation surveys were carried out after intervention (mid-August 2008; 20 quadrats/paddock). Cover was also surveyed before intervention (early June 2008).

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A replicated, randomized, paired, controlled study in 2007–2008 in an ephemeral freshwater marsh in Costa Rica (Osland et al. 2011) found that amongst plots in which invasive southern cattail Typha domingensis was damaged, cattle grazing typically had no significant effect on the overall plant community composition, diversity or richness. Over 15 months, grazed and ungrazed plots had a statistically similar overall plant community composition (five of five comparisons; data not reported) and plant diversity (five of five comparisons; data reported as a diversity index). Plant species richness did not significantly differ between treatments in three of five comparisons (grazed: 5–10; ungrazed: 6–11 species/3 m2) but was lower in grazed plots in the other two (grazed: 4–7; ungrazed: 6–8 species/3 m2). After both three and 15 months, cattail properties did not significantly differ between grazed and ungrazed plots. This was true in terms of height (grazed: 7–74; ungrazed: 21–73 cm), density (grazed: 1–4; ungrazed: 1–4 shoots/m2) and dry above-ground biomass (grazed: 0–135; ungrazed: 5–95 g/m2). Methods: In February 2007, cattail-dominated vegetation was damaged (by driving over it in a tractor with large paddle wheels) in 15 pairs of 20-m2 plots. Cattle were then allowed to graze one plot in each pair. The other plots were fenced to exclude cattle. After 2–16 months, vegetation was surveyed in three 1-m2 quadrats/plot.

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Taylor N.G., Grillas P., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2021) Marsh and Swamp Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions to Conserve Marsh and Swamp Vegetation. Conservation Evidence Series Synopses. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

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Marsh and Swamp Conservation

This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:

Marsh and Swamp Conservation
Marsh and Swamp Conservation

Marsh and Swamp Conservation - Published 2021

Marsh and Swamp Synopsis

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