Assessing the impact of human trampling on vegetation: a systematic review and meta-analysis of experimental evidence.
ABSTRACT: Vegetation trampling resulting from recreation can adversely impact natural habitats, leading to the loss of vegetation and the degradation of plant communities. A considerable primary literature exists on this topic, therefore it is important to assess whether this accumulated evidence can be used to reach general conclusions concerning vegetation vulnerability to inform conservation management decisions. Experimental trampling studies on a global scale were retrieved using a systematic review methodology and synthesised using random effects meta-analysis. The relationships between vegetation recovery and each of initial vegetation resistance, trampling intensity, time for recovery, Raunkiaer life-form (perennating bud position), and habitat were tested using random effects multiple meta-regressions and subgroup analyses. The systematic search yielded 304 studies; of these, nine reported relevant randomized controlled experiments, providing 188 vegetation recovery effect sizes for analysis. The synthesis indicated there was significant heterogeneity in the impact of trampling on vegetation recovery. This was related to resistance and recovery time, and the interactions of these variables with Raunkiaer life-form, but was not strongly dependent on the intensity of the trampling experienced. The available evidence suggests that vegetation dominated by hemicryptophytes and geophytes recovers from trampling to a greater extent than vegetation dominated by other life-forms. Variation in effect within the chamaephyte, hemicryptophyte and geophyte life-form sub-groups was also explained by the initial resistance of vegetation to trampling, but not by trampling intensity. Intrinsic properties of plant communities appear to be the most important factors determining the response of vegetation to trampling disturbance. Specifically, the dominant Raunkiaer life-form of a plant community accounts for more variation in the resilience of communities to trampling than the intensity of the trampling experienced, suggesting that simple assessments based on this trait could guide decisions concerning sustainable access to natural areas. Methodological and reporting limitations must be overcome before more disparate types of evidence can be synthesised; this would enable more reliable extrapolation to non-study situations, and a more comprehensive understanding of how assessments of intrinsic plant traits can be used to underpin conservation management decisions concerning access.
Project description:The Siberian mammoth steppe ecosystem changed dramatically with the disappearance of large grazers in the Holocene. The concept of Pleistocene rewilding is based on the idea that large herbivore grazing significantly alters plant communities and can be employed to recreate lost ecosystems. On the other hand, modern rangeland ecology emphasizes the often overriding importance of harsh climates. We visited two rewilding projects and three rangeland regions, sampling a total of 210 vegetation relevés in steppe and surrounding vegetation (grasslands, shrublands and forests) along an extensive climatic gradient across Yakutia, Russia. We analyzed species composition, plant traits, diversity indices and vegetation productivity, using partial canonical correspondence and redundancy analysis. Macroclimate was most important for vegetation composition, and microclimate for the occurrence of extrazonal steppes. Macroclimate and soil conditions mainly determined productivity of vegetation. Bison grazing was responsible for small-scale changes in vegetation through trampling, wallowing and debarking, thus creating more open and disturbed plant communities, soil compaction and xerophytization. However, the magnitude of effects depended on density and type of grazers as well as on interactions with climate and site conditions. Effects of bison grazing were strongest in the continental climate of Central Yakutia, and steppes were generally less affected than meadows. We conclude that contemporary grazing overall has rather limited effects on vegetation in northeastern Siberia. Current rewilding practices are still far from recreating a mammoth steppe, although large herbivores like bison can create more open and drier vegetation and increase nutrient availability in particular in the more continental Central Yakutian Plain.
Project description:Coastal resilience is threatened as storm-induced disturbances become more frequent and intense with anticipated changes in regional climate. After severe storms, rapid recovery of vegetation, especially that of dune-stabilizing plants, is a fundamental property of coastal resilience. Herbivores may affect resilience by foraging and trampling in disturbed areas. Consequently, assessing the impacts of herbivores on recovering vegetation is important for coastal land management.We combined imagery classification, wildlife monitoring, and trend analysis to investigate effects of white-tailed deer on recovery rates of vegetation four years poststorm in nine overwashed areas. We estimated local deer density with trail cameras, how it relates to an index of primary productivity, and assessed the relationship between deer density and rates of vegetation recovery in overwash fans.Prestorm vegetation cover consisted of shrubs and sporadic patches of beach grass. Poststorm cover was dominated by beach grass. At current rates, vegetation coverage will return to prestorm conditions within the decade, though community transition from grasses to shrubs will take much longer and will vary by site with dune formation.The effect of deer on rates of vegetation recovery was negative, but not statistically significant nor biologically compelling. Although effects of deer trampling on beach grass are evident in classified imagery, deer foraging on beach grass had little effect on its rate of spread throughout overwash fans.While the rate of spread of the primary dune-building grass was not deleteriously affected by deer, locally high deer densities will likely affect the future establishment and development of herbs and shrubs, which are generally more palatable to deer than beach grass.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Free-ranging horses (Equus caballus) in North America are considered to be feral animals since they are descendents of non-native domestic horses introduced to the continent. We conducted a study in a southern California desert to understand how feral horse movements and horse feces impacted this arid ecosystem. We evaluated five parameters susceptible to horse trampling: soil strength, vegetation cover, percent of nonnative vegetation, plant species diversity, and macroinvertebrate abundance. We also tested whether or not plant cover and species diversity were affected by the presence of horse feces. RESULTS: Horse trailing resulted in reduced vegetation cover, compacted soils, and in cases of intermediate intensity disturbance, increased plant species diversity. The presence of horse feces did not affect plant cover, but it did increase native plant diversity. CONCLUSION: Adverse impacts, such as soil compaction and increased erosion potential, were limited to established horse trails. In contrast, increased native plant diversity near trails and feces could be viewed as positive outcomes. Extensive trailing can result in a surprisingly large impact area: we estimate that < 30 horses used > 25 km2 of trails in our study area.
Project description:Land-use and management are disturbance factors that have diverse effects on community composition and structure. In traditional rural grasslands, such as meadows and pastures, low-intensity management is maintained to enhance biodiversity. Maintenance of road verges, in turn, creates habitat, which may complement traditional rural grasslands. To evaluate the effect of low-intensity disturbance on insect communities, we characterized species abundance distributions (SAD) for Carabidae, Formicidae, and Heteroptera in three grassland types, which differed in management: meadows, pastures, and road verges. The shape of SAD was estimated with three parameters: abundance decay rate, dominance, and rarity. We compared the SAD shape among the grassland types and tested the effect of environmental heterogeneity (plant species richness) and disturbance intensity (trampling in pastures) on SADs. The shape of SADs did not differ among the grassland types but among the taxonomic groups instead. Abundance decay rate and dominance were larger for Formicidae, and rarity smaller, than for Carabidae and Heteroptera. For Carabidae and window-trapped Heteroptera, rarity increased with increasing plant species richness. For Formicidae, dominance increased with trampling intensity in pastures. Although the SAD shape remained largely unchanged, the identity of the dominant species tended to vary within and among grassland types. Our study shows that for a given taxonomic group, the SAD shape is similar across habitat types with low-intensity disturbances resulting from different management. This suggests that SADs respond primarily to the intensity of disturbance and thus could be best used in monitoring communities across strong disturbance and environmental gradients. Because taxonomic groups can inherently have different SADs, taxon-specific SADs for undisturbed communities must be empirically documented before the SAD shape can be used as an indicator of environmental change. Because the identity of the dominant species changes from management type to another, the SAD shape alone is not an adequate monitoring tool.
Project description:Invasive consumers can cause extensive ecological damage to native communities but effects on ecosystem resilience are less understood. Here, we use drone surveys, manipulative experiments, and mathematical models to show how feral hogs reduce resilience in southeastern US salt marshes by dismantling an essential marsh cordgrass-ribbed mussel mutualism. Mussels usually double plant growth and enhance marsh resilience to extreme drought but, when hogs invade, switch from being essential for plant survival to a liability; hogs selectively forage in mussel-rich areas leading to a 50% reduction in plant biomass and slower post-drought recovery rate. Hogs increase habitat fragmentation across landscapes by maintaining large, disturbed areas through trampling of cordgrass during targeted mussel consumption. Experiments and climate-disturbance recovery models show trampling alone slows marsh recovery by 3x while focused mussel predation creates marshes that may never recover from large-scale disturbances without hog eradication. Our work highlights that an invasive consumer can reshape ecosystems not just via competition and predation, but by disrupting key, positive species interactions that underlie resilience to climatic disturbances. Invasive species could have cascading effects on ecosystem functioning. Here the authors use experimental and remote sensing data and modelling to show that an invasive mammal causes loss of facilitative interactions between sessile ecosystem engineers in salt marshes, and lower ecosystem resilience to disturbance.
Project description:Alpine grasslands harbor diverse groups of flora and fauna, provide important ecosystem functions, and yield essential ecosystem goods and services, especially for the development of nature-based tourism. However, they are experiencing increasing anthropogenic perturbations such as tourist trampling. Although negative effects of tourist trampling on alpine vegetation have been frequently reported, previous studies have focused mainly on changes in taxonomic diversity after trampling, and rarely provide a mechanistic elucidation of trampling effects from a trait-based perspective. The present study evaluates the impacts of simulated trampling on taxonomic and functional diversity of a typical alpine grassland community in Shangri-La, China using a standardized protocol. The results showed that although taxonomic diversity was not statistically significantly affected by trampling, some functional attributes responded rapidly to trampling disturbance. Specifically, functional divergence decreased with an increase in trampling intensity, and characteristics of community-weighted mean trait values changed towards shorter species with reduced leaf area and lower leaf dry matter content. Such strong shifts in functional attributes may further affect ecosystem goods and services provided by alpine grasslands. Our inclusion of functional diversity in the analysis thus adds an important caution to previous studies predominantly focusing on taxonomic diversity, and it is urgent to keep alpine grasslands well managed and ecologically coherent so that their valuable functions and services can be safeguarded.
Project description:Conservation grazing for breeding birds needs to balance the positive effects on vegetation structure and negative effects of nest trampling. In the UK, populations of Common redshank <i>Tringa totanus</i> breeding on saltmarshes declined by >50% between 1985 and 2011. These declines have been linked to changes in grazing management. The highest breeding densities of redshank on saltmarshes are found in lightly grazed areas. Conservation initiatives have encouraged low-intensity grazing at <1 cattle/ha, but even these levels of grazing can result in high levels of nest trampling. If livestock distribution is not spatially or temporally homogenous but concentrated where and when redshank breed, rates of nest trampling may be much higher than expected based on livestock density alone. By GPS tracking cattle on saltmarshes and monitoring trampling of dummy nests, this study quantified (i) the spatial and temporal distribution of cattle in relation to the distribution of redshank nesting habitats and (ii) trampling rates of dummy nests. The distribution of livestock was highly variable depending on both time in the season and the saltmarsh under study, with cattle using between 3% and 42% of the saltmarsh extent and spending most their time on higher elevation habitat within 500 m of the sea wall, but moving further onto the saltmarsh as the season progressed. Breeding redshank also nest on these higher elevation zones, and this breeding coincides with the early period of grazing. Probability of nest trampling was correlated to livestock density and was up to six times higher in the areas where redshank breed. This overlap in both space and time of the habitat use of cattle and redshank means that the trampling probability of a nest can be much higher than would be expected based on standard measures of cattle density. <i>Synthesis and applications</i>: Because saltmarsh grazing is required to maintain a favorable vegetation structure for redshank breeding, grazing management should aim to keep livestock away from redshank nesting habitat between mid-April and mid-July when nests are active, through delaying the onset of grazing or introducing a rotational grazing system.
Project description:We studied the long-term dynamics of plant communities after bio and phytoremediation of oil-polluted soils. Nine plots located in European Northeast and treated using various bioremediation methods were monitored from 2002 to 2014. Geobotanical descriptions (relevés) of each plot were performed in 2006 and 2014, and Grime's theoretical CSR (competition-stress-ruderality) framework was used to assess the vegetation state and dynamics. We observed a clear shift of communities from pioneer (where ruderal species were prevalent) to stable (where competitor species were dominant) states. However, the remediation type did not significantly impact the vegetation recovery rate. After 12 years, all methods led to a 55-90% decrease in the oil content of the soil and a recovery of the vegetation cover. The plant communities contained mainly cereals and sedges which significantly differed from the original tundra communities before the oil spill. The control plot, treated only by mechanical cleaning, had minimum oil degradation rate (50%) and vegetation recovery rates, although, in CSR terms, its vegetation assemblage resembled the background community. Cereals (Agrostis gigantea, Deschampsia cespitosa, Phalaris arundinacea, and Poa pratensis), sedges (Carex canescens, Carex limosa, and Eriophorum vaginatum), and shrubs (Salix) were found to be the most effective species for phytoremediation, exhibiting high community productivity under the harsh northern conditions.
Project description:We used 116 years of floral and faunal records from Mandarte Island, British Columbia, Canada, to estimate the indirect effects of humans on plant communities via their effects on the population size of a surface-nesting, colonial seabird, the Glaucous-winged gull (Larus glaucescens). Comparing current to historical records revealed 18 extirpations of native plant species (32% of species historically present), 31 exotic species introductions, and one case of exotic introduction followed by extirpation. Contemporary surveys indicated that native species cover declined dramatically from 1986 to 2006, coincident with the extirpation of 'old-growth' conifers. Because vegetation change co-occurred with an increasing gull population locally and regionally, we tested several predictions from the hypothesis that the presence and activities of seabirds help to explain those changes. Specifically, we predicted that on Mandarte and nearby islands with gull colonies, we should observe higher nutrient loading and exotic plant species richness and cover than on nearby islands without gull colonies, as a consequence of competitive dominance in species adapted to high soil nitrogen and trampling. As predicted, we found that native plant species cover and richness were lower, and exotic species cover and richness higher, on islands with versus without gull colonies. In addition, we found that soil carbon and nitrogen on islands with nesting gulls were positively related to soil depth and exotic species richness and cover across plots and islands. Our results support earlier suggestions that nesting seabirds can drive rapid change in insular plant communities by increasing nutrients and disturbing vegetation, and that human activities that affect seabird abundance may therefore indirectly affect plant community composition on islands with seabird colonies.
Project description:Marine oil spills continue to be a global issue, heightened by spill events such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest marine oil spill in US waters and among the largest worldwide, affecting over 1,000 km of sensitive wetland shorelines, primarily salt marshes supporting numerous ecosystem functions. To synthesize the effects of the oil spill on foundational vegetation species in the salt marsh ecosystem, Spartina alterniflora and Juncus roemerianus, we performed a meta-analysis using data from 10 studies and 255 sampling sites over seven years post-spill. We examined the hypotheses that the oil spill reduced plant cover, stem density, vegetation height, aboveground biomass, and belowground biomass, and tracked the degree of effects temporally to estimate recovery time frames. All plant metrics indicated impacts from oiling, with 20-100% maximum reductions depending on oiling level and marsh zone. Peak reductions of ~70-90% in total plant cover, total aboveground biomass, and belowground biomass were observed for heavily oiled sites at the marsh edge. Both Spartina and Juncus were impacted, with Juncus affected to a greater degree. Most plant metrics had recovery time frames of three years or longer, including multiple metrics with incomplete recovery over the duration of our data, at least seven years post-spill. Belowground biomass was particularly concerning, because it declined over time in contrast with recovery trends in most aboveground metrics, serving as a strong indicator of ongoing impact, limited recovery, and impaired resilience. We conclude that the Deepwater Horizon spill had multiyear impacts on salt marsh vegetation, with full recovery likely to exceed 10 years, particularly in heavily oiled marshes, where erosion may preclude full recovery. Vegetation impacts and delayed recovery is likely to have exerted substantial influences on ecosystem processes and associated species, especially along heavily oiled shorelines. Our synthesis affords a greater understanding of ecosystem impacts and recovery following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and informs environmental impact analysis, contingency planning, emergency response, damage assessment, and restoration efforts related to oil spills.