Date of this Version
The Journal of Wildlife Management 84(4):739–748; 2020
In North America, wild pigs (Sus scrofa; feral pigs, feral swine, wild boars) are a widespread exotic species capable of creating large‐scale biotic and abiotic landscape perturbations. Quantification of wild pig environmental effects has been particularly problematic in northern climates, where they occur only recently as localized populations at low densities. Between 2016 and 2017, we assessed short‐term (within ~2 yrs of disturbance) effects of a low‐density wild pig population on forest features in the central Lower Peninsula of Michigan, USA. We identified 16 8‐ha sites using global positioning system locations from 7 radio‐collared wild pigs for sampling.Within each site, we conducted fine‐scale assessments at 81 plots and quantified potential disturbance by wild pigs. We defined disturbance as exposure of overturned soil, often resulting from rooting behavior by wild pigs.We quantified ground cover of plants within paired 1‐m2 frames at each plot, determined effects to tree regeneration using point‐centered quarter sampling, and collected soil cores from each plot. We observed less percent ground cover of native herbaceous plants and lower species diversity, particularly for plants with a coefficient of conservatism ≥5, in plots disturbed by wild pigs.We did not observe an increase in colonization of exotic plants following disturbance, though the observed prevalence of exotic plants was low. Wild pigs did not select for tree species when rooting, and we did not detect any differences in regeneration of light‐ and heavy‐seeded tree species between disturbed or undisturbed plots. Magnesium and ammonium content in soils were lower in disturbed plots, suggesting soil disturbance accelerated leaching of macronutrients, potentially altering nitrogen transformation. Our study suggested that disturbances by wild pigs, even at low densities, alters short‐term native herbaceous plant diversity and soil chemistry. Thus, small‐scale exclusion of wild pigs from vulnerable and rare plant communities may be warranted.
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