, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 90-107

Rates, patterns, and impacts ofPhragmites australis expansion and effects of experimentalPhragmites control on vegetation, macroinvertebrates, and fish within tidelands of the lower Connecticut River

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Abstract

Phragmites expansion rates (linear at 1–3% yr−1) and impacts of this expansion on high marsh macroinvertebrates, aboveground production, and litter decomposition fromPhragmites and other marsh graminoids were studied along a polyhaline to oligohaline gradient. These parameters, and fish use of creeks and high marsh, were also studied inPhragmites control sites (herbicide, mowing, and combined herbicide/mow treatments).Phragmites clones established without obvious site preferences on oligohaline marshes, expanding radially. At higher salinities,Phragmites preferentially colonized creekbank levees and disturbed upland borders, then expanded into the central marsh. Hydroperiods, but not salinities or water table, distinguishedPhragmites-dominated transects. Pooled samples ofPhragmites leaves, stems, and flowers decompose more slowly than other marsh angiosperms;Phragmites leaves alone decompose as or more rapidly than those of cattail. AbovegroundPhragmites production was 1,300 to 2,400 g m−2 (about 23% of this as leaves), versus 600–800 g m−2 for polyhaline to mesohaline meadow and 1,300 g m−2 for oligohaline cattail-sedge marsh. Macroinvertebrates appear largely unaffected byPhragmites expansion or control efforts; distribution and densities are unrelated to elevation or hydroperiod, but densities are positively related to litter cover. Dominant fish captured leaving flooded marsh wereFundulus heteroclitus andAnguilla rostrata; both preyed heavily on marsh macroinvertebrates.A. rostrata andMorone americana tended to be more common inPhragmites, but otherwise there were no major differences in use patterns betweenPhragmites and brackish meadow vegetation. SAV and macroalgal cover were markedly lower within aPhragmites-dominated creek versus one withSpartina-dominated banks. The same fish species assemblage was trapped in both plus a third within the herbicide/mow treatment. Fish biomass was greatest from theSpartina creek and lowest from thePhragmites creek, reflecting abundances ofF. heteroclitus. Mowing depressedPhragmites aboveground production and increased stem density, but was ineffective for control.Phragmites, Spartina patens, andJuncus gerardii frequencies after herbicide-only treatment were 0.53-0.21; total live cover was <8% with a heavy litter and dense standing dead stems. After two growing seasonsAgrostis stolonifera/S. patens/J. gerardii brackish meadow characterized most of the herbicide/mow treatment area;Phragmites frequency here was 0.53, contributing 3% cover. Both values more than doubled after four years; a single treatment is ineffective for long-termPhragmites control.