Biological Invasions

, Volume 8, Issue 5, pp 1073–1089 | Cite as

Temporal Changes in Native and Exotic Vegetation and Soil Characteristics following Disturbances by Feral Pigs in a California Grassland

  • Trisha A. Tierney
  • J. Hall. CushmanEmail author


Invasive species that increase prevailing disturbance regimes can profoundly alter the composition and structure of ecosystems they invade. Using both comparative and manipulative approaches, we investigated how native and exotic vegetation and soil characteristics at a coastal grassland site in northern California changed through time following disturbances by feral pigs (Sus scrofa). We quantified these successional changes by comparing pig disturbances of varying ages (2, 14, 26+, and 60+ months) during the spring and early summer of 2001. Our results indicate that species richness of native plants increased slowly but steadily through time following disturbances, whereas richness of exotic species rebounded much more rapidly. Percent cover of native perennial grasses also increased steadily through time after pig disturbance, whereas the cover of exotic perennial grasses, annual grasses and forbs initially increased rapidly after disturbance and then remained the same or subsided slightly with time. The cover of native forbs and bulbs either increased weakly through time following disturbance or did not change substantially. Pools of ammonium and nitrate in the soil did not change greatly through time following pig disturbance. Net mineralization rates for ammonium and nitrate also varied little with age since disturbance, although we did find that nitrate mineralization was greater at intermediate ages in one study. Neither organic matter content or particle size varied significantly with disturbance age. In summary, we have shown that native and exotic plants from different functional groups vary greatly in how they recovered from pig disturbances. Exotic taxa were generally able to rapidly colonize and persist in pig disturbances, whereas native taxa usually exhibited a slow but steady rebounding following pig disturbance. Given our results, and those of others from nearby sites, we suggest that the health of coastal grasslands may be enhanced substantially by eliminating or greatly reducing the size of feral pig populations.


biological invasions bunchgrasses coastal grasslands colonization disturbance age feral pig disturbances native and exotic vegetation northern California plant functional groups soil nitrogen Sus scrofa 


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© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologySonoma State UniversityRohnert ParkUSA

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