Feral hogs are fascinating, in any sort of numeric capacity. When not sparking internet memes or building pigloos, those rascally swine have been hogging coastal marshes — and according to a recent study from Duke University, it's causing even greater problems for coastal climate resiliency:
Feral hogs reduce resilience in southeastern US salt marshes by dismantling an essential marsh cordgrass-ribbed mussel mutualism. Mussels usually double plant growth and enhance marsh resilience to extreme drought but, when hogs invade, switch from being essential for plant survival to a liability; hogs selectively forage in mussel-rich areas leading to a 50% reduction in plant biomass and slower post-drought recovery rate. Hogs increase habitat fragmentation across landscapes by maintaining large, disturbed areas through trampling of cordgrass during targeted mussel consumption.
As a result of this ravenous mussel habit, coastal marshes with large feral hog populations recover from natural disasters three times slower than regions where the shellfish are allowed to thrive. North Carolina Public Radio, which reported on the paper, adds some further context to what that means:
Silliman's research suggests that marshes disturbed by hogs can take an extra 80 to 100 years to recover when hit by a natural disaster, like a drought. There's also a possibility that disturbed marshes may never recover from disasters.
Coastal marshes along North Carolina provide valuable economic and environmental benefits.
"Marshes act as natural seawalls, dampening and baffling incoming waves, as well as reducing storm surge and flooding," said Silliman. "They're [also] incredible pollution sponges. They soak up the carbon from the atmosphere."
Feral hogs, man. If you need an AR-15 to scare 'em off, does this now mean that AR-15s are good for climate change?
Feral hog invasions leave coastal marshes less resilient to climate change [Celeste Garcia / North Carolina Public Radio]
A large invasive consumer reduces coastal ecosystem resilience by disabling positive species interactions [Marc J. S. Hensel, Brian R. Silliman, Johan van de Koppel, Enie Hensel, Sean J. Sharp, Sinead M. Crotty & Jarrett E. K. Byrnes / Nature]
Image: Richard Bartz, Munich Makro Freak / Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 2.5)