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Grazing management in saltmarsh ecosystems drives invertebrate diversity, abundance and functional group structure


Hilary Ford, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Environment Centre Wales, Deiniol Road, Bangor, LL57 2UW, UK. E-mail:


Abstract.  1. Saltmarsh conservation management often involves livestock grazing to maximise plant diversity and provide suitable breeding habitat for over-wintering coastal birds. The effect of grazing on invertebrates is rarely quantified, but results from limited studies of terrestrial and coastal grasslands demonstrate greater abundance and species richness in un-grazed grassland.

2. The impact of short sward (<8 cm) cattle grazing on the ground dwelling invertebrate community was assessed on an English inter-tidal upper salt marsh using pitfall traps. Abundance, species richness, functional group structure, abundance of coastal specialists, environmental factors that influence invertebrate habitat choice and food web composition were compared for grazed and un-grazed marsh.

3. In total, 90 000 invertebrates were sampled. Predatory, zoophagus and detritivorous Coleoptera were significantly more abundant on the un-grazed marsh. In contrast, predatory Hemiptera and Araneae were significantly more abundant on the grazed marsh. Sheet weaver spiders were significantly more abundant on the grazed marsh, foliage running hunters and space web builders more abundant on the un-grazed marsh. Most inter-tidal coastal specialist species exhibited clear habitat preference for the grazed marsh. Total species richness was not significantly different between grazing treatments.

4. Linear direct gradient analysis showed that two environmental variables influenced by grazing intensity, soil temperature and vegetation height, significantly explained the composition of invertebrate functional groups. Larger bodied invertebrates dominated the un-grazed food web.

5. We conclude that both short sward cattle grazed and un-grazed saltmarsh habitat should be maintained to maximise invertebrate abundance and diversity and provide suitable habitat for coastal specialists.