The floating mat fens of the Tanana Flats in interior Alaska are productive wetlands near the urban center of Fairbanks. Airboat traffic has created a network of trails through the floating vegetation mats. We established protected areas along established trails, which allowed for measurement of plant community resistance to airboat traffic and resilience following cessation of traffic. The fen plant community was resistant to airboat traffic for two growing seasons, but productivity declined dramatically by the third year. Woody plants, grasses, and most forbs were eliminated in new airboat trails. Aboveground biomass and species diversity in plots protected from airboat traffic re-grew to undisturbed levels after four years. However, woody plants and many forbs did not re-grow in protected areas. Fen vegetation was therefore not resilient following cessation of traffic, as re-grown communities differed in both plant community composition and canopy structure. The loss of woody vegetation in particular has ramifications for possible alterations of ecosystem function. Airboats also reduced the amount of live belowground biomass and changed the vertical distribution of live roots.
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Vol. 29 • No. 1