In addition to the well-studied impacts of defecation and defoliation, large herbivores also affect plant and arthropod communities through trampling, and the associated soil compaction. Soil compaction can be expected to be particularly important on wet, fine-textured soils. Therefore, we established a full factorial experiment of defoliation (monthly mowing) and soil compaction (using a rammer, annually) on a clay-rich salt marsh at the Dutch coast, aiming to disentangle the importance of these two factors. Additionally, we compared the effects on soil physical properties, plants, and arthropods to those at a nearby cattle-grazed marsh under dry and under waterlogged conditions. Soil physical conditions of the compacted plots were similar to the conditions at cattle-grazed plots, showing decreased soil aeration and increased waterlogging. Soil salinity was doubled by defoliation and quadrupled by combined defoliation and compaction. Cover of the dominant tall grass Elytrigia atherica was decreased by 80% in the defoliated plots, but cover of halophytes only increased under combined defoliation and compaction. Effects on soil micro-arthropods were most severe under waterlogging, showing a fourfold decrease in abundance and a smaller mean body size under compaction. Although the combined treatment of defoliation and trampling indeed proved most similar to the grazed marsh, large discrepancies remained for both plant and soil fauna communities, presumably because of colonization time lags. We conclude that soil compaction and defoliation differently affect plant and arthropod communities in grazed ecosystems, and that the magnitude of their effects depends on herbivore density, productivity, and soil physical properties.
- simulated grazing