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Description of Rich Montane Seeps and Effects of Wild Pigs on the Plant and Salamander Assemblages
- Rossell, C. Reed, Clarke, H. David, Schultz, Mary, Schwartzman, Edward, Patch, Steven C.
- The American midland naturalist 2016 v.175 no.2 pp. 139-154
- Sus scrofa, adults, canopy, fauna, flora, habitat destruction, habitats, hardwood forests, herbs, juveniles, larvae, national parks, salamanders and newts, shrubs, surface water, surveys, swine, trees, wetlands, Great Smoky Mountain region
- Rich Montane Seeps are rare wetland communities endemic to high elevations of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Comprehensive data on the flora and fauna associated with these communities are lacking. Recent surveys indicate the rooting by nonnative wild pigs (Sus scrofa) may be affecting these communities. This study describes the abiotic and biotic features of Rich Montane Seeps across the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), investigates the effects of wild pigs on plant and salamander communities, and examines habitat attributes that influence pig disturbance. In our study a Rich Montane Seep was defined as any wetland with sheet flow occurring in hardwood forests above 1067 m. Pig disturbance and habitat attributes were measured in 1-m² plots placed at 5 m intervals along a transect located on the longest axis of each seep. Habitat attributes measured included plant cover, plant richness, surface water, substrate, down woody debris, and shrub and tree densities (sampled in 3 m diameter circular plots). Salamanders were also sampled in each 1-m² plot, identified to species when possible, and classified as larva, juvenile or adult. Thirty-five seeps, representing 24 drainages, were sampled. Rich Montane Seeps were characterized as small, linear wetlands with an open canopy, dense herbaceous vegetation, and few trees or shrubs. One hundred eighty species of plants (132 herbs, 35 shrubs, and 13 trees) and 10 species of salamanders (97 adults, 204 juveniles, 14 larvae) occurred in seeps, including eight plant species and three salamander species of conservation concern. Forty-nine percent of seeps and 54% of drainages had evidence of pig disturbance. Disturbance within seeps varied from 0-96% (mean = 21%). Wild pigs negatively affected plant cover and plant richness. Wild pigs also had a negative effect on salamander surface density, but to a lesser extent than on plants. Amount of pig disturbance was negatively associated with slope. These results strongly suggest wild pigs are threatening the ecological integrity of Rich Montane Seeps across their range by negatively affecting the plant and salamander communities, particularly in seeps occurring on flat terrain.