Interactive effects of pasture management intensity, release from grazing and prescribed fire on forty subtropical wetland plant assemblages.
Pasture management intensity, livestock grazing and prescribed fire are three widespread agricultural practices that affect small, isolated wetlands, but few studies have investigated their individual and interactive effects. Pasture management intensity refers to the degree of human alteration of grassland, ranging from intensively managed pastures planted with introduced forage, fertilizer/lime additions and artificial drainage to semi-natural pastures with mixed native and non-native vegetation, no fertilizer/lime additions and little or no artificial drainage. We examined individual and interactive effects of these three agricultural practices on individual, isolated wetlands using a replicated, full-factorial experiment on 40 entire wetlands in south Florida, USA. Wetlands were embedded in two pasture management intensities: intensively managed and semi-natural. After three years of treatment initiation, vegetation of wetlands released from grazing and unburned embedded in semi-natural pastures had significantly lower evenness and coefficient of conservatism scores compared to wetlands released from grazing and burned, grazed unburned wetlands and grazed burned wetlands in the same pasture management intensity. For wetlands embedded in intensively managed pastures, evenness and coefficient of conservatism scores did not differ among treatments. Release from grazing increased abundance of the native, weedy herb, Eupatorium capillifolium. Grazing interacted with prescribed fire to affect shrub abundance and non-native richness; relative abundance of shrubs and non-native richness were greater in wetlands released from grazing and burned and did not differ among burn treatments in grazed wetlands. Interactive effects, especially three-way interactions, were uncommon and not as important as differences between the two pasture management intensities. Synthesis and applications. Vegetation diversity and floristic quality of wetlands embedded in intensively managed pastures resisted common restoration management techniques such as release from grazing and prescribed fire, at least in the short term. In contrast, removing all top-down disturbances from wetlands embedded in semi-natural grasslands can negatively affect vegetation species diversity and floristic quality. Future studies should examine how intensity and seasonality of grazing and prescribed fire affect wetland vegetation, and track long-term responses to evaluate lag effects.