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Citation. Farrior, C. 2005. The Effects of Social Trails on Soil Compaction and Vegetative Cover in Forest and Prairie Ecotypes. PennScience 3:30-34.
Abstract. Social trails are a well documented phenomenon in many natural areas and national parks . Created by foot traffic through natural areas by park patrons, these trails are not made by a park service or trail making organization. They are unplanned and usually unnecessary. This study examines the effects of such trails on soil compaction and plant performance. Two tests were used to determine the impact of different rates of trampling on plant performance and plant community structure. Soil bulk density measurements, (the mass of soil per unit volume) and vegetative percent cover were quantified in two different ecotypes with eight different rates of trampling, from 0 passes (control) to 100 passes per week. These effects were examined in a grass and sedge dominated prairie, and a deciduous forest. The experiment lasted four weeks and was carried out from mid-July to mid-August 2004. The results showed that trampling had no statistically significant effect on the compaction of soil in either ecotype. However trampling did have a significant effect on the plant community composition. Trampling significantly changed the percent cover of plots in both the forest and prairie. From comparison data, it was found that lower rates of trampling are less damaging in the forest than in the prairie, while high rates of trampling are less damaging in the prairie than the forest.