Friday, February 20, 2009

Small mammals control invasive plant colonization

My research was published in the most recent issue of Ecology. Very little is known about the role of small rodents in New England tidal marshes, a heavily researched ecosystem. Yet I found that these small rodents, mice and voles primarily, had an astonishingly large effect in tidal marsh plant communities.

Phragmites australis, the common reed, and Typha angustifolia, cattails, are major nuisance species in New England tidal wetlands, which are already heavily degraded by tidal restriction and land reclamation. Both plant species propogate clonally, can takeover entire communities, and disrupt wetland hydrodynamic processes. In my research in New England tidal marshes, I found that rodent herbivory has a strong effect on colonization and establishment of Phragmites and Typha in brackish and fresh tidal marsh systems. In caged areas, where rodents were excluded, plant species composition was drastically changed and Phragmites and Typha clones were established within three years, whereas these nuisance species were consumed by rodents in uncaged areas. This research tells us that small mammal populations are a necessity for New England tidal marshes in order to maintain healthy communities of native plants.

Read the research abstract here.

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