Effects of Mowing and Prescribed Fire on Plant Community Structure and Function in Rare Coastal Sandplains, Nantucket Island, MA, USA

  • Helen Mills PoulosEmail author
  • Rachael S. Freeman
  • Jennifer M. Karberg
  • Karen C. Beattie
  • Danielle I. O’Dell
  • Kelly A. Omand


Coastal sandplains provide habitat for a suite of rare and endangered plant and wildlife species in the northeastern United States. These early successional plant communities were maintained by natural and anthropogenic disturbances including salt spray, fire, and livestock grazing, but over the last 150 years, a decrease in anthropogenic disturbance frequency and intensity has resulted in a shift towards woody shrub dominance at the expense of herbaceous taxa. This study quantified the effects of more than a decade of dormant season disturbance-based vegetation management (mowing and prescribed fire) on coastal sandplain plant community composition on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, USA. We used time-series plant cover data from two similar sites to evaluate the effectiveness of disturbance management for restoring herbaceous species cover and reducing woody shrub dominance. Our results indicate that applying management outside of the peak of the growing season has not been effective in maintaining or increasing the cover of herbaceous species. While management activities resulted in significant (P < 0.01) increases in herbaceous species immediately after treatment, woody species recolonized and dominated treated sites within 3-years post treatment at the expense of graminoids and forbs. These results highlight the difficulties associated with directing ecological succession using disturbance-based management to maintain rare, herbaceous species in coastal sandplain systems that were once a prevalent landscape component under historically chronic anthropogenic disturbance. Further experimentation with growing season disturbance-based management and different combinations of management techniques could provide insights into management alternatives for maintaining herbaceous conservation targets in coastal sandplains.


Coastal sandplains Prescribed fire Mowing Resilience Nantucket New England 


Author Contributions

RF, KB conceived and designed the experiments and oversaw field management activities. RF, DO, KO oversaw the vegetation data collection and data management. HP, JK analyzed the data and wrote the paper. HP, RF, JK interpreted the results. HP, JK, RF, KB, DO, KO contributed to editing of the paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

267_2019_1233_MOESM1_ESM.docx (70 kb)
Supplementary Information


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of the EnvironmentWesleyan UniversityMiddletownUSA
  2. 2.Nantucket Islands Land BankNantucketUSA
  3. 3.Nantucket Conservation Foundation, Inc., Science and Stewardship DepartmentNantucketUSA

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