Does introduced fauna influence soil erosion? A field and modelling assessment.
Pigs (Sus scrofa) are recognised as having significant ecological impacts in many areas of the world including northern Australia. The full consequences of the introduction of pigs are difficult to quantify as the impacts may only be detected over the long-term and there is a lack of quantitative information on the impacts of feral pigs globally. In this study the effect of feral pigs is quantified in an undisturbed catchment in the monsoonal tropics of northern Australia. Over a three-year period, field data showed that the areal extent of pig disturbance ranged from 0.3-3.3% of the survey area. The mass of material exhumed through these activities ranged from 4.3 t ha-1 yr-1 to 36.0 t ha-1 yr-1. The findings demonstrate that large introduced species such as feral pigs are disturbing large areas as well as exhuming considerable volumes of soil. A numerical landscape evolution and soil erosion model was used to assess the effect of this disturbance on catchment scale erosion rates. The modelling demonstrated that simulated pig disturbance in previously undisturbed areas produced lower erosion rates compared to those areas which had not been impacted by pigs. This is attributed to the pig disturbance increasing surface roughness and trapping sediment. This suggests that in this specific environment, disturbance by pigs does not enhance erosion. However, this conclusion is prefaced by two important caveats. First, the long term impact of soil disturbance is still very uncertain. Secondly, modelling results show a clear differentiation between those from an undisturbed environment and those from a post-mining landscape, in which pig disturbance may enhance erosion.