Mute swans (Cygnus olor) are poorly studied despite their potential to impact submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). We measured vegetation characteristics (i.e., percent cover, shoot density, and canopy ht) of SAV beds in controls (unfenced), 2-year exclosures, and 1-year exclosures at 18 sites in the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, USA, to quantify the impact of herbivory by mute swans on SAV during 2003 and 2004. Mute swan herbivory had a substantial adverse impact on percent cover, shoot density, and canopy height of SAV. At the end of the study mean percent cover, shoot density, and canopy height in the controls were lower by 79%, 76%, and 40%, respectively, as compared to those in 2-year exclosures. During 2004, percent cover, shoot density, and canopy height increased by 26%, 15%, and 22%, respectively, between early and late seasons of SAV growth in exclosures, but they decreased by 36%, 41%, and 18%, respectively, in the controls. Paired mute swans predominantly occupied 6 of 7 moderate-depth sites (0.76–0.99 m), and these sites experienced less (i.e., 32–75%) SAV reduction. All (n = 7) shallow water sites (0.50–0.75 m) were predominantly occupied by mute swan flocks, and percent cover reduction of SAV was as high as 75–100% at these sites. Mute swan flocks also predominantly occupied 3 of the 5 deep-water sites (≥1 m) and 1 of 7 moderate-depth sites, wherein we recorded considerable (i.e., 77–93%) SAV reduction. Thus, considering that flocks are more detrimental to SAV as compared to paired mute swans, we recommend that initial emphasis primarily be placed on controlling mute swans in flocks and secondarily on pairs.
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Vol. 71 • No. 5