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Vegetation of Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana-Recent plant communities with comparison to a three-decade-old survey

October 11, 2011

Shifts in plant community composition and structure can affect the quality of habitat for wildlife species. Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Louisiana was established in 1937 with a primary goal of providing habitat for wintering waterfowl species. A large freshwater impoundment constructed on the refuge to improve waterfowl habitat value was completed in 1943. About 10 years after construction was completed, staff at the refuge became concerned that emergent vegetation cover was increasing in the impoundment over time while open water areas, which are critical as foraging and resting areas for waterfowl, were decreasing. To document vegetation change over time, we collected information on plant community species composition for comparison to similar data collected in 1973. A total of 84 sampling plots was established in 2006 within the impoundment to coincide as closely as possible to plots sampled in the earlier study. Plant species composition and cover were recorded at each plot in the summers of 2006 and 2007. Change between sampling events separated by more than three decades was determined by comparing the frequency of occurrence of 20 species identified in 1973 to their frequency in 2006 and 2007. Interannual variation was determined by comparing plot data between 2006 and 2007. In plots dominated by emergent vegetation, it was found that Bacopa caroliniana, Eleocharis equisetoides, Leersia hexandra, Panicum hemitomon, and Sagittaria lancifolia were significantly less frequent in 2006 and 2007 than in 1973. The frequency of Brasenia schreberi, Cabomba caroliniana, Nitella gracilis, and Nymphoides aquatica was significantly lower in 2006 and 2007 than in 1973 in plots dominated by floating-leaved plants, submersed plants, or open water. In 2007, Hydrocotyle sp. and Sacciolepis striata were more frequent than in 1973 in emergent vegetation plots, and Utricularia sp. was more frequent in submersed or open-water plots. We documented interannual variation by an increase in species richness, the Shannon diversity index, and evenness of species distribution within plots in 2007 compared to 2006. The total cover by species did not differ between years, but the frequency of seven species was greater in 2007 compared to 2006 while the frequency of unvegetated surface was lower. Results indicated that the occurrence of some species varied between both 2006 and 2007 and 1973, but the lack of complete data from the 1973 study limits confidence in this conclusion. The interannual variation documented between 2006 and 2007 may be due to several factors, including a response to weather conditions or to recovery from the impacts of Hurricane Rita, which impacted Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge in the fall of 2005 and likely raised salinity levels in the impoundment. More information is needed to determine if the interannual variation identified in the plant communities of Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge between 2006 and 2007 was unusual or represents normal variation.