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The effects of mute swan grazing on a keystone macrophyte.

By Matthew T. O'Hare, Richard A. Stillman, Jo McDonnell and Laura R. Wood

Abstract

1. This study describes the early summer foraging behaviour of mute swans (Cygnus olor) on the River Frome, a highly productive chalk stream in southern England in which Ranunculus penicillatus pseudofluitans is the dominant macrophyte.\ud \ud 2. A daily maximum of 41 ± 2.5 swans were present along the 1.1 km study reach during the study period (late May to the end of June). The river was the primary feeding habitat. Feeding activity on the river at dawn and dusk was much lower than during daylight, but we cannot rule out the possibility that swans fed during the hours of darkness.\ud \ud 3. The effects of herbivory on R. pseudofluitans biomass and morphology were quantified. Biomass was lower in grazed areas and swans grazed selectively on leaves in preference to stems. A lower proportion of stems from grazed areas possessed intact stem apices and flowering of the plant was reduced in grazed areas.\ud \ud 4. A model, based on the swans' daily consumption, was used to predict the grazing pressure of swans on R. pseudofluitans. The model accurately predicted the number of bird days supported by the study site, only if grazing was assumed to severely reduce R. pseudofluitans growth. The proportion of the initial R. pseudofluitans biomass consumed by a fixed number of swans was predicted to be greater when the habitat area was smaller, initial R. pseudofluitans biomass was lower and R. pseudofluitans was of lower food value.\ud \ud 5. We concluded that the flux of N and P through the study reach was largely unaffected by swan activity. The quality of R. pseudofluitans mesohabitat (the plant as habitat for invertebrates and fish) was significantly reduced by grazing which also indirectly contributed to reduced roughness (Manning's n) and by inference water depth. Wetted habitat area for fish and invertebrates would also be lowered over the summer period as a consequence of the reduction in water depth. It was estimated that, while grazing, an individual swan may eat the same mass of invertebrates per day as a 300-g trout.\ud \ud 6. There is a need to manage the conflict between mute swans and the keystone macrophyte, R. pseudofluitans, in chalk streams, and the modelling approach used here offers a potentially useful tool for this purpose.\u

Topics: Zoology, Ecology and Environment
Year: 2007
DOI identifier: 10.1111/j.1365-2427.2007.01841.x
OAI identifier: oai:nora.nerc.ac.uk:5637
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