The invasion of prairies by woody species is a worldwide conservation concern. Fire is frequently used to inhibit this invasion. However, there is little documentation of the effect of fire in wetland prairies, which are also threatened with encroachment of woody species. The present study investigated wetland species responses to experimental burning, hand-removal of woody species, and mowing with removal of cut material. The possible ecological mechanisms responsible for individualistic responses of species, including direct mortality, ability to resprout, and release from competition are considered. We also evaluated these treatments as tools for meeting restoration objectives of reducing the abundance of woody species, reducing or preventing spread of non-native pest species, and increasing or at least maintaining native species' abundance. After two years of treatments (1994 and 1996) three patterns emerged.
1) Woody species: Burning and hand-removal caused the greatest reductions in cover of woody species. Mowing with removal of cut material, however, did not reduce the cover of woody species compared to controls. As woody plant cover decreased, plant mortality increased, indicating that treatments influenced woody plant cover at least partially through mortality.
2) Native herbaceous species: Burning significantly decreased inflorescence production of Deschampsia cespitosa, the dominant wetland prairie grass. In contrast, burning, along with mowing, significantly increased flowering of Juncus tenuis. Flowering and cover of all native graminoids combined, however, showed no significant responses to treatments. Burning and hand-removal significantly promoted the cover of native forbs as a group, with Lotus purshiana and Veronica scutellata showing the greatest increases. 3) Non-native herbaceous species: Burning and hand-removal significantly reduced the cover of non-native forbs as a group and particularly reduced the cover of Hypericum perforatum. The number of inflorescences of non- native grasses (Holcus lanatus and Anthoxanthum odoratum) increased with hand-removal and mowing. Overall, no treatment was clearly superior in fulfilling the restoration objectives. Burning was effective in reducing woody cover and did not promote abundance of non-native herbaceous species. Burning, however, reduced the flowering of the key native grass, Deschampsia cespitosa. Hand-removal of woody species was also effective at reducing woody cover and promoted the abundance of some native species, but it sometimes increased the cover of non-native herbaceous species. Because mowing with removal of cut material was ineffective in reducing woody cover and tended to promote non-native herbaceous species, this treatment is not recommended as a management tool.