Grazing and burning are commonly applied practices that can impact the diversity and biomass of wetland plant communities. We evaluated the vegetative response of wetlands and adjacent upland grasslands to four treatment regimes (continuous idle, fall prescribed burning followed by idle, annual fall cattle grazing, and rotation of summer grazing and idle) commonly used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Our study area was Grays Lake, a large, montane wetland in southeastern Idaho that is bordered by extensive wet meadows. We identified seven plant cover types, representing the transition from dry meadow to deep wetland habitats: mixed deep marsh, spikerush slough, Baltic rush (Juncus balticus), moist meadow, alkali, mesic meadow, and dry meadow. We compared changes in community composition and total aboveground biomass of each plant cover type between 1998, when all units had been idled for three years, and 1999 (1 yr post-treatment) and 2000 (2 yr post-treatment). Analysis using non-metric multidimensional scaling indicated that compositional changes varied among cover types, treatments, and years following treatment. Treatment-related changes in community composition were greatest in mixed deep marsh, Baltic rush, and mesic meadow. In mixed deep marsh and Baltic rush, grazing and associated trampling contributed to changes in the plant community toward more open water and aquatic species and lower dominance of Baltic rush; grazing and trampling also seemed to contribute to increased cover in mesic meadow. Changing hydrological conditions, from multiple years of high water to increasing drought, was an important factor influencing community composition and may have interacted with management treatments. Biomass differed among treatments and between years within cover types. In the wettest cover types, fall burning and grazing rotation treatments had greater negative impact on biomass than the idle treatment, but in drier cover types, summer grazing stimulated biomass production. Our results illustrate the spatial and temporal complexity of the transition between dry meadow and wetland habitats, and variable interactions among plant communities, treatments, and annual wetland conditions.
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Vol. 27 • No. 3