Effects of regular salt marsh haying on marsh plants, algae, invertebrates and birds at Plum Island Sound, Massachusetts

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2008-10
Authors
Buchsbaum, Robert N.
Deegan, Linda A.
Horowitz, Julie
Garritt, Robert H.
Giblin, Anne E.
Ludlam, John P.
Shull, David H.
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Coastal wetlands
Haying
Orchestia
Salt marsh
Shorebirds
Spartina
Stable isotopes
Abstract
The haying of salt marshes, a traditional activity since colonial times in New England, still occurs in about 400 ha of marsh in the Plum Island Sound estuary in northeastern Massachusetts. We took advantage of this haying activity to investigate how the periodic large-scale removal of aboveground biomass affects a number of marsh processes. Hayed marshes were no different from adjacent reference marshes in plant species density (species per area) and end-of-year aboveground biomass, but did differ in vegetation composition. Spartina patens was more abundant in hayed marshes than S. alterniflora, and the reverse was true in reference marshes. The differences in relative covers of these plant species were not associated with any differences between hayed and reference marshes in the elevations of the marsh platform. Instead it suggested that S. patens was more tolerant of haying than S. alterniflora. S. patens had higher stem densities in hayed marshes than it did in reference marshes, suggesting that periodic cutting stimulated tillering of this species. Although we predicted that haying would stimulate benthic chlorophyll production by opening up the canopy, we found differences to be inconsistent, possibly due to the relatively rapid regrowth of S. patens and to grazing by invertebrates on the algae. The pulmonate snail, Melampus bidendatus was depleted in its δ13C content in the hayed marsh compared to the reference, suggesting a diet shift to benthic algae in hayed marshes. The stable isotope ratios of a number of other consumer species were not affected by haying activity. Migratory shorebirds cue in to recently hayed marshes and may contribute to short term declines in some invertebrate species, however the number of taxa per unit area of marsh surface invertebrates and their overall abundances were unaffected by haying over the long term. Haying had no impact on nutrient concentrations in creeks just downstream from hayed plots, but the sediments of hayed marshes were lower in total N and P compared to references. In sum, haying appeared to affect plant species composition but had only short-term affects on consumer organisms. This contrasts with many grassland ecosystems, where an intermediate level of disturbance, such as by grazing, increases species diversity and may stimulate productivity. From a management perspective, periodic mowing could be a way to maintain S. patens habitats and the suite of species with which they are associated.
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Author Posting. © The Author(s), 2009. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Springer for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Wetlands Ecology and Management 17 (2009): 469-487, doi: 10.1007/s11273-008-9125-3.
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