Not only do feral hogs cause harm to crops and landscaping, they also inflict significant damage upon native plant communities, according to a new Texas AgriLife Extension Service publication.
“Feral hogs root pastures and grasslands, consume native vegetation and have a negative impact on water quality,” said Jared Timmons, AgriLife Extension wildlife assistant and one of the authors of “Feral Hogs Negatively Affect Native Plant Communities.”
Feral hogs cause significant ecological damage by their rooting, which turns over soil and damages native plant communities, possibly leading to greater erosion.
The purpose of the new 10-page publication is to educate people on the ramifications of this additional damage and actions that can be taken to mitigate it. The information and principles contained in the publication apply to riparian areas throughout Texas and relate to improving water quality.
Researches from Rice University and Texas A&M University used fences to exclude feral hogs from some areas of the Big Thicket National Preserve while leaving other areas unfenced to allow them access. They discovered that fenced plots had more large-seeded trees such as oaks, less non-native tree species and higher plant diversity.
Timmons said such study results can be explained by the disturbance created by feral hogs and consumption of native large seeds such as acorns and nuts, therefore allowing non-native species a chance to invade.
Feral hogs also compete with native wildlife to consume these seeds and this may produce a disproportionate effect on seed abundance and future tree population. This can have a negative effect on riparian areas that consist of native grasses, forbs, shrubs and largely of trees such as oaks and hickories.
“Corral traps are very effective at trapping large numbers of feral hogs at one time,” said Blake Alldredge, AgriLife Extension wildlife associate and publication co-author. Snaring or hunting may also be necessary to reduce feral hog numbers.
Alldredge added that excluding hogs from environmentally sensitive areas such as riparian forests will allow the soil to remain undisturbed by feral hogs and allow new saplings to establish and grow.
Timmons said riparian areas provide many positive “ecosystem services” that benefit humans, including floodwater retention, groundwater recharge, water filtration, erosion protection, wildlife habitat, and providing for greater recreational opportunities. He noted that excluding feral hogs from these areas increased the diversity and survival rate of native tree species, adding that study data showed large-seeded-species saplings were more than twice as abundant in areas where feral hogs were excluded.
High plant diversity is important in every ecosystem as it helps increase ecosystem productivity, provides a buffer from floods and other natural disasters and supports numerous species of wildlife.
The publication may be downloaded from the Texas AgriLife Bookstore website at http://agrilifebookstore.org/. Other materials on feral hogs and feral hog management may also be found on the website.