Well known for a fall spectacle of maturing wild rice (Zizania aquatica) and migrant waterbirds, the tidal freshwater marshes of the Patuxent River, Maryland, USA, experienced a major decline in wild rice during the 1990s. We conducted experiments in 1999 and 2000 with fenced exclosures and discovered herbivory by resident Canada geese (Branta canadensis). Grazing by geese eliminated rice outside exclosures, whereas protected plants achieved greater size, density, and produced more panicles than rice occurring in natural stands. The observed loss of rice on the Patuxent River reflects both the sensitivity of this annual plant to herbivory and the destructive nature of an overabundance of resident geese on natural marsh vegetation. Recovery of rice followed 2 management actions: hunting removal of approximately 1,700 geese during a 4-year period and reestablishment of rice through a large-scale fencing and planting program.
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Vol. 71 • No. 3