Livestock as a potential biological control agent for an invasive wetland plant
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Invasive species threaten biodiversity and incur costs exceeding billions of US$. Eradication efforts, however, are nearly always unsuccessful. Throughout much of North America, land managers have used expensive, and ultimately ineffective, techniques to combat invasive Phragmites australis in marshes. Here, we reveal that Phragmites may potentially be controlled by employing an affordable measure from its native European range: livestock grazing. Experimental field tests demonstrate that rotational goat grazing (where goats have no choice but to graze Phragmites) can reduce Phragmites cover from 100 to 20% and that cows and horses also readily consume this plant. These results, combined with the fact that Europeans have suppressed Phragmites through seasonal livestock grazing for 6,000 years, suggest Phragmites management can shift to include more economical and effective top-down control strategies. More generally, these findings support an emerging paradigm shift in conservation from high-cost eradication to economically sustainable control of dominant invasive species.