By Danielle Leng
Dr. Janet Morrison, Professor and Chair of the Biology Department has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology (NSF-DEB) program.
Morrison’s research focuses on the effect that populations of non-native plant species and dense white-tailed high deer populations have on native plant populations in forests. She is specifically looking at garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and Japanese stilt-grass (Microstegium vimineum), two co-occurring invasive species in eastern United States.
Funding from the NSF-DEB grant allowed Morrison to begin her field experiment, composed of 240 plots that span across six different suburban forests. In the winter and spring of 2013 after receiving the grant, Morrison and student workers put up fences in half the plots to exclude deer. Each plot will have different treatments; they will have garlic mustard seeds added, Japanese stilt-grass seeds added, both added, or neither added.
Over the next five years, these plots will be observed by measuring garlic mustard and Japanese stilt-grass population growth, changes in the herb-layer of the plant community, and deer herbivory. At the end of her experiment, all invasive plants will be removed from her site.
Many TCNJ research students will be involved in following this staged invasion by collecting data in the plots, giving them a solid research experience. During their time working with the experiment, the undergraduate students will go on to developing their own research.
From Morrison’s experiment, two questions will be addressed: do invasive plants facilitate each other’s invasions, and what promotes their invasiveness? Understanding the structure of these suburban forests and the role of invasive plants will contribute to conservation groups and local agencies that manage suburban forests to conserve native biodiversity.
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