Livestock as a potential biological control agent for an invasive wetland plant


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.





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Publication Info

Silliman, BR, T Mozdzer, C Angelini, JE Brundage, P Esselink, JP Bakker, KB Gedan, J van de Koppel, et al. (2014). Livestock as a potential biological control agent for an invasive wetland plant. PeerJ, 2. p. e567. 10.7717/peerj.567 Retrieved from

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Brian Reed Silliman

Rachel Carson Professor of Marine Conservation Biology

Brian Silliman is the Rachel Carson Distinguished Professor of Marine Conservation Biology. He holds both B.A. and M.S. degrees from the University of Virginia, and completed his Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University. In recognition of his research achievements, Silliman was named a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America in 2023, Distinguished Fulbright Chair with CSIRO in 2019; a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences in 2015; a Visiting Professor with the Royal Netherlands Society of Arts and Sciences in 2011; and David H. Smith Conservation Fellow with The Nature Conservancy in 2004.  He has also received several awards, including the Young Investigator Award from the American Society of Naturalists (2006), a Young Investigator Grant Award from the Andrew Mellon Foundation (2007), and a NSF Career Grant Award (2011). Dr. Silliman has published 25 book chapters and over 200 peer-reviewed journal articles, and co-edited five books: Marine Community Ecology and ConservationMarine Ecosystem Restoration: Challenges and New HorizonsHuman Impacts on Salt Marshes: A Global PerspectiveEffective Conservation: Data not Dogma, and Marine Disease Ecology. His teaching and research are focused on community ecology, food webs, conservation and restoration, global change, and evolution and ecological consequences of cooperative behavior.

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