Plant Ecology

, Volume 161, Issue 1, pp 89–110

Nonequilibrium dynamics of sedge meadows grazed by cattle in southern Wisconsin

  • Beth Middleton

DOI: 10.1023/A:1020361021072

Cite this article as:
Middleton, B. Plant Ecology (2002) 161: 89. doi:10.1023/A:1020361021072


Equilibrium theory predicts that after disturbance, ecosystemseventually regain the structural and functional properties characteristic oftheir predisturbance condition. This study tested this idea by examining theeffects of cattle grazing and exclusion on the long-term structuralcharacteristics of sedge meadows in southern Wisconsin. To compare structuralchanges in mean percentage cover and height, repeated measures analysis wasconducted on two sedge meadows over a twenty year period from 1977 to 1997. Onesedge meadow was recovering from cattle grazing (cattle excluded in 1973) andthe other was a reference area (nearly undisturbed). Both of these study siteschanged structurally from 1977 to 1997, supporting non-equilibrium theory.Additional observations were made in a heavily and lightly grazed sedge meadowthat were surveyed in 1977. As based on the positions of subunits in anordination graph produced using Non-Metric Multidimensional Scaling (NMS), therecovery sedge meadow became less structurally similar to the grazed and moresimilar to the reference site over the 20 year study. However, from theperspective of mean maximum height in another NMS analysis, the recovery sedgemeadow became less similar to the reference site over time likely because by1997, a shrub carr of Cornus sericea had developed in therecovery sedge meadow that had been dominated by graminoids and forbs in 1977(mean maximum height: 1977 vs. 1997; 0 vs. 47 cm). Seedlings ofCornus sericea were invading the grazed sedge meadows andin the recovery sedge meadow (cattle excluded 4 years earlier) in 1977. A shrubcarr did not develop in the reference sedge meadow. Changes in the referencesite were relatively minor over this time interval; certain species eitherincreased or decreased in dominance, e.g., Carex strictaincreased in cover (1977 vs. 1997, 20 and 28 mean percentage (%) cover,respectively). A few short-term species of the recovery sedge meadow followedthe tenets of equilibrium theory. These became less common or disappeared4–9 years after cattle exclusion including Asterlanceolatus, Calamagrostis canadensis,Poa compressa, Solidago altissima andVerbena hastata. Some of these species were eaten andlikely spread by the cattle. This study suggests that the progression of sedgemeadow to shrub carr may not be an inevitable outcome of succession but insteadcan be a consequence of past cattle grazing history. Also, because the recoveryand the reference sedge both changed structurally over time, the tenets ofnon-equilibrium theory were supported by this study.

Carex strictaCattle grazingCornus sericeaDisturbance dynamicsFenShrub carrSuccession

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Beth Middleton
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Plant BiologySouthern Illinois UniversityCarbondaleUSA