Researcher effects on the biological structure and edaphic conditions of field sites and implications for management

Abstract

Field studies are necessary for understanding natural processes in spite of the human-induced disturbances they cause. While researchers acknowledge these effects, no studies have empirically tested the direct (e.g., harvesting plants) and indirect (i.e., trampling) effects of researcher activities on biological structure and edaphic conditions. We leveraged field studies in Alabama and California to monitor the recovery of tidal marshes following research activities. Researcher effects on animals, plants, and sediment conditions remained prevalent almost one year after the disturbance ended. For instance, trampled plots had 14%–97% lower plant cover than undisturbed plots after >10 months of recovery. Researcher effects also impacted plant composition, leading to increased subordinate species abundance. We encourage field researchers to adopt strategies that reduce their scientific footprints, including reducing field visits, limiting field team size, and considering ways to limit potential environmental impacts during study design.

Description

© 2024 The Authors. Ecosphere published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of The Ecological Society of America. cc-by

Keywords

disturbance, ecological memory, manipulative studies, sustainable science, tidal marsh, trampling, wetland management

Citation

Rinehart, S.A., Dybiec, J.M., Richardson, P., Walker, J.B., Peabody, J.D., & Cherry, J.A.. 2024. Researcher effects on the biological structure and edaphic conditions of field sites and implications for management. Ecosphere, 15(1). https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.4750

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