Long-term vegetation changes in experimentally grazed and ungrazed back-barrier marshes in the Wadden Sea

Daan Bos, Jan P. Bakker, Y de Vries

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Vegetation succession in three back-barrier salt marshes in the Wadden Sea was studied using a data set comprising 25 years of vegetation development recorded at permanent quadrats. The effect of livestock grazing on succession was assessed by comparing quadrats v here grazing was experimentally prevented or imposed. We studied changes at the species level as well as at the level of the plant community. Special attention is given to effects on plant species richness and community characteristics that are relevant for lagomorphs (hares and rabbits) and geese. Inundation frequency and grazing were most important in explaining the variation in species abundance data. The three marshes studied overlap in the occurrence of different plant communities and the observed patterns were consistent between them. Clear differences in frequency and abundance of plant species were observed related to grazing. Most plant species had a greater incidence in grazed treatments. Species richness increased with elevation, and was 1.5 to 2 x higher in the grazed salt marsh. Grazing negatively influenced Atriplex portulacoides and Elymus athericus, whereas Puccinellia maritima and Festuca rubra showed a positive response. The communities dominated by Elymus athericus, Artemisia maritima and Atriplex portulacoides were restricted to the ungrazed marsh. Communities dominated by Puccinellia maritima. Juncus gerardi and Festuca rubra predominantly occurred at grazed sites. As small vertebrate herbivores prefer these plants and communities for foraging, livestock grazing thus facilitates for them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-54
Number of pages10
JournalApplied Vegetation Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May-2002


  • correspondence analysis
  • exclosure
  • goose
  • hare
  • livestock
  • salt marsh
  • species richness

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