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Simulated Herbivory and Vegetation Dynamics in Coal Slurry Ponds Reclaimed as Wetlands

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Abstract

The biodiversity of coal slurry ponds can be inhibited, at least in part, by dense stands of Phragmites australis. In this study, we demonstrate that species richness can be increased in coal slurry ponds if the dominant species (P. australis and Typha latifolia) are removed and that underwater herbivory simulated by cutting will kill emergents. The study was conducted in the greenhouse and the field in both flooded and drawndown conditions. Stems of plants of P. australis and T. latifolia were cut in a greenhouse and the cut plants of both species showed a decline in survivorship (25 and 42% survival, respectively) whereas all uncut plants survived. In a reclaimed coal pond at Pyramid State Park, Illinois, neither P. australis nor T. latifolia survived cutting underwater, but all of the uncut plants survived. Regrowth measured as total biomass of stems was less among flooded versus freely drained plants (0.3 and 2.6 g biomass, respectively). Cut versus uncut plants, combining freely drained and flooded, had less below-ground biomass (99.4 and 254.4 g, respectively). In the greenhouse study, oxygen levels in rhizomes subsequent to cutting were measured using an oxygen electrode and millivolt meter. Oxygen levels in P. australis were lower in cut versus uncut plants both in flooded (15.0 vs. 16.3% ambient O2, respectively) and freely drained conditions (14.5 vs. 15.0%, ambient O2, respectively). Similar responses to cutting were demonstrated by T. latifolia. In an unreclaimed coal slurry pond with monospecific stands of P. australis, plant species richness increased in cut plots as compared to uncut plots (29 vs. 2 species, respectively) between March and September, 1995. This study demonstrated that species richness can be increased in coal ponds by mechanical cutting and this potentially by herbivory; however, the additional species were mostly exotics.

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