Little is known about the effects of grazing by birds on seasonally flooded Australian wetlands. Grazing by Black Swans Cygnus atratus (Latham) has an obvious visual impact in Little Broadwater, an ecologically important wetland on the Clarence River floodplain on the east coast of Australia. We measured the impact of grazing by swans in this wetland from March to September 2007 by comparing the structure and biomass of marsh vegetation (emergent and submerged macrophytes) in sites from which swans had been excluded and sites to which they had access. In grazed sites, after 135 days, the mean above-sediment biomass of the dominant sedge Eleocharis equisetina C. Presl was 52% less than in ungrazed sites. This difference was mostly because of the loss of leaf biomass above the waterline in grazed sites where biomass had been reduced by 99% compared with ungrazed sites. This created more habitat for other birds such as wading birds (e.g., Royal Spoonbills Platalea regia Gould) and dabbling ducks (e.g., Grey Teal Anas gracilis Buller). Where water levels can be artificially manipulated, local wetland managers could attempt to restore the flood pulse to wetlands that are large enough to sustain Black Swan populations to retain a variety of other waterbirds that require open water.
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We are very grateful to T. Harrison, the landholder at Little Broadwater. For technical assistance, we thank J. Brandoni, M. Delaney, M. Delmee, M. Dougherty, M. Foley, P. Hirst, C. Johns, H. McNee, A. Roeder, L. Roose and C. Rossini. We thank D. Bell and D. Ryder for reviewing drafts of the manuscript, and S. Hurlbert for reviews and valuable comments and advice, and two anonymous reviewers who commented on the submitted manuscript. The research was undertaken as part of an Australian Research Council Linkage grant to the University of New England.
Guest editors: F. A. Comín & S. H. Hurlbert / Limnology and Aquatic Birds: Monitoring, Modelling and Management
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Smith, A.N., Vernes, K.A. & Ford, H.A. Grazing effects of Black Swans Cygnus atratus (Latham) on a seasonally flooded coastal wetland of eastern Australia. Hydrobiologia 697, 45–57 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-012-1169-y
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