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Synergistic Effects of Fire and Grazing on Wetland Ecosystems

PIs: Betsey Boughton, Patrick Bohlen, Pedro Quintana-Ascencio, David Jenkins, John Fauth


Project Summary

Understanding the impact of agricultural management on the structure and function of wetlands embedded in agricultural landscapes is critical for sustaining ecological functions and minimizing impacts of agriculture on water resources and aquatic communities.  These functions are especially important in regions, such as the rangelands of south Florida, where wetlands comprise a significant part of the agricultural landscape and thus are critical to interconnections between agricultural production, natural communities and downstream ecosystems.  The goal of this project is to understand the interactive impacts of major ecosystem drivers (i.e., pasture intensification, grazing and prescribed fire) on the ecosystem services provided by wetland ecosystems in subtropical grazing lands.



This conceptual diagram illustrates the three major management drivers affecting wetlands on FL ranches, the main ecological characteristics of wetlands, and the agronomic and ecological wetland “products” valued by society.  The project uses a replicated experiment on whole wetlands to examine the independent and interactive effects of the three major management drivers on wetland structure and function, and will assess the contribution of wetlands to production and conservation goals on cattle ranches.


Wetlands chosen for this project have an average size of will be 0.5 - 1.5 ha.  The layout of the fire and grazing treatments are shown in the figure below.  The improved pasture wetlands are in the center portion of the ranch and the semi-native areas are on the outer edges of the ranch to the east, west, and south (photo is oriented north-south).



A few interesting findings:


Current Work

The original project was funded from 2006-2009.  We are continuing to maintain the wetland treatments of fencing and fire so we can study the long-term effects of these management regimes.  Every fall, plant community composition is monitored.  We encourage visiting researchers to conduct research within the experimental wetlands.  Currently, visiting researchers are taking advantage of the experimental wetlands to measure methane flux and microbial water quality.


Selected Recent Publications

Boughton, E.H., Quintana-Ascencio, P.F., Nickerson, D., Bohlen, P. 2011. Management intensity affects the relationship between non-native and native species in subtropical wetlands. Applied Vegetation Science 14: 210-220.


Kelly, S.L. 2012. Phylogenetic community structure of aquatic beetle assemblages in a multi-wetland experiment. MS Thesis, University of Central Florida.


Windes, K. M. 2010. Treefrog (Hyla squirella) responses to rangeland management in semi-tropical Florida, USA. MS Thesis, University of Central Florida.


Medley, K.A., Boughton, E.H., Jenkins, D.G., Fauth, J.E., Bohlen, P.J., Quintana-Ascencio, P.F. In prep. The relative importance of local and regional drivers on wetland communities depends on surrounding land use intensity. Target journal: Oikos.


Katie Windes

Katie Windes conducting treefrog research using PVC refuges in the trees near experimental wetlands.

Strip burning 123b. Strip burning

In 2008, the burning of twenty wetlands was conducted for the first time (10 grazed and 10 fenced). Burning grazed wetlands was sometimes difficult due to lack of fuel.  Wetlands were burned again in 2011, and 2013/2014.


wetland sampling

Kim Medley and Bri Kaiser collecting plant biomass in the Fall of 2008.