Plant Community Composition and Biomass in Gulf Coast Chenier Plain Marshes: Responses to Winter Burning and Structural Marsh Management
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Many marshes in the Gulf Coast Chenier Plain, USA, are managed through a combination of fall or winter burning and structural marsh management (i.e., levees and water control structures; hereafter SMM). The goals of winter burning and SMM include improvement of waterfowl and furbearer habitat, maintenance of historic isohaline lines, and creation and maintenance of emergent wetlands. Although management practices are intended to influence the plant community, effects of these practices on primary productivity have not been investigated. Marsh processes, such as vertical accretion and nutrient cycles, which depend on primary productivity may be affected directly or indirectly by winter burning or SMM. We compared Chenier Plain plant community characteristics (species composition and above- and belowground biomass) in experimentally burned and unburned control plots within impounded and unimpounded marshes at 7 months (1996), 19 months (1997), and 31 months (1998) after burning. Burning and SMM did not affect number of plant species or species composition in our experiment. For all three years combined, burned plots had higher live above-ground biomass than did unburned plots. Total above-ground and dead above-ground biomasses were reduced in burned plots for two and three years, respectively, compared to those in unburned control plots. During all three years, belowground biomass was lower in impounded than in unimpounded marshes but did not differ between burn treatments. Our results clearly indicate that current marsh management practices influence marsh primary productivity and may impact other marsh processes, such as vertical accretion, that are dependent on organic matter accumulation and decay.
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