Abstract Detail


Soper Gorden, Nicole [1], Roberts, Shaelyn [2].

Effects of site preparation method on early plant establishment and soil characteristics in a small prairie meadow.

Prairies are one of the most endangered biomes in North America, with an estimated 90% of native prairies lost to agriculture, urban development, invasive species, and other habitat disturbances. Long-standing efforts focus on maintaining remnant prairies and restoring degraded prairies. Other efforts work towards establishing large prairies in new areas. There is less research on establishing prairie sites from scratch than on reestablishing prairie remnants, and most of the best practices involve expensive site preparation methods and large equipment more suitable for large sites. While there is a lot of advice for establishing small prairie sites, not much of it has published research to support it. At Mars Hill University, we are working to establish a small (~1 acre) prairie site for teaching, research, and recreation purposes. Since funding and resources are limited, we began by establishing test plots at the site to determine which site preparation method is best to remove competition by existing vegetation, including several invasive species: smothering with black plastic, smothering with clear plastic, or burning. Plots were prepared in spring of 2021 and planted in summer of 2021 with a mix of 80 native prairie species seeds and seedlings of native prairie grasses. Plant species have been surveyed in each plot once a month on an ongoing basis, looking for establishment of native species, re-invasion by invasive species, and soil characteristics. We found that the burned plots had a significantly higher soil pH and lower soil moisture than either of the two plastic treatments. This corresponded with a lower species richness in burned plots. Plots smothered by clear plastic had significantly higher species richness than any other treatment. Re-invasions have so far been too infrequent to analyze but will continue to be monitored. Additionally, early data from a parallel project have found a higher diversity of invertebrates present in the clear plastic plots. All plots will continue to be surveyed for at least another full year as perennial seeds continue to germinate. Thus far, however, our results suggest that smothering sites with clear plastic may be the best site preparation method for establishing small prairies, despite the literature’s clear bias towards using fire instead. We will be using our results to expand our prairie area beyond the initial test plots in the next few years. We hope our final results will provide clear guidance on the differences that may exist between establishing large prairie sites and establishing small prairie meadow sites.

1 - Mars Hill University, Biology, 100 Athletic St, Campus Box 6671, Mars Hill, NC, 28754, United States
2 - Mars Hill University, 100 Athletic St, Mars Hill, NC, 28754, United States

plant diversity
invasive species
small sites

Presentation Type: Poster
Number: PEC022
Abstract ID:924
Candidate for Awards:None

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