Friday, March 28, 2014

URSP Student Diana Prado Researches The Effects of Manual Mowing on Native Herbaceous Plant Communities

Can manual mowing reduce the occurrence of invasive alien plant species in meadows? We have reason to think that it can, but we need to develop the data to prove it. We will conduct our research over the growing season (May through September) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. 

This project is ecologically important because meadows in our area are declining rapidly. Human development has eliminated the fires that create these ecosystems. When there is a forest fire, the land returns as meadow before it can be a forest again as part of the succession process. Another human aspect that is endangering meadows is the introduction of exotic invasive species. For example, the Occoquan Bay meadow is spotted with Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica ) and Calorie Pare(Pyrus calleryana) among many other exotic invasive species. These invasive species outcompete the native ones, sometimes displacing them completely. Despite the plight of meadows, most governmental funding for restoration goes toward forest restoration even where meadow restoration would be more appropriate. This research will complete two important tasks for meadow restoration is we are successful: It will provide a cheaper and herbicide-free alternative for meadow restoration and it will create the opportunity for community involvement in the meadow restoration work.

This semester, we are trying to gather our team of “green reapers.” This is an experiment in itself. We are trying to create a group of about ten inexperienced volunteers to help us mow this meadow under very tough conditions. They will need to face the intense summer heat, rise at dawn, battle bugs and stick with it all summer.

Another interesting aspect of our volunteer search is the demographics. Most active environmental work involves educated middle class Americans. We want to see if we can encourage people from other demographics to get involved. One example are latinos. I am a latina, born and raised in Lima, Peru. Many of my latino friends are having a hard time just getting by, so they don’t participate in active environmental work. But we want to see if we can encourage them and reach a very large group of people that has generally been uninvolved in the environmental restoration movement. Once this team is formed, we will begin our management experiment and research.