Friday, August 6, 2010

PS 98-74: Collaboration in conservation: A method for volunteer-scientist teams to monitor plant community composition long-term in a private old-growth forest

Erin J. Fleming1, Nelson F. Galvis1, Bette A. Loiselle1, and Julia F. Nerbonne2. (1) University of Missouri - St. Louis, (2) University of Minnesota


To date, most studies on the management of invasive species have been done in reserves or national parks. Few published studies demonstrate how scientists and local communities might collaborate to develop science-based management programs in private forests. Here, we present an example of such collaboration. The Congregational Summer Assembly (CSA) is a mixture of common and privately owned lots within old-growth beech-maple forest in Michigan. The community is trying to conserve the forest and, thus, is interested in ecological variables that should be considered when designing a long-term ecosystem based management plan.

 In this base-line study we developed methods for volunteer-scientist teams to monitor 1) the abundance of established invasive species, 2) native species abundance, 3) local environmental conditions and 4) impacts of anthropogenic disturbances on the forest community composition. In July 2009 we constructed 30 permanent plots (20 m x 20 m), within which we counted and identified to species adult and juvenile trees. We counted and identified to species herbaceous plants and tree seedlings in five 2 m x 2 m quadrats nested within each plot. We measured environmental variables (% canopy, % bare soil, % woody debris and distance from road or building) in each quadrat.


The CSA forest is under stress from anthropogenic disturbance and invasive species. Long-term monitoring of forest community composition could augment the efficacy of efforts to control invasive species at the CSA. The floristic quality index value (FQI), a unitless measure of species per area, calculated for the CSA is 30 (based on 1.2-ha). FQI values calculated for the CSA in 2009 can be compared with those measured in later years to evaluate whether the plant community composition improves over time with management.

Of 69 species found in plots, 9 were non-native, 3 of which were invasive. Invasive garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and myrtle (Vinca minor) were the dominant understory species. Garlic mustard remains the priority for eradication efforts. With the exception of garlic mustard no invasive species were found in plots further than 20 m from roads and buildings. A volunteer-based monitoring program for early detection of “founder” populations of invasive species could be effective in controlling invasive species. The CSA acquired funds for the summer of 2010 to build demonstration plots to educate the community on invasive species removal. This study provides a template for scientists to collaborate with private communities interested in science-based management programs that promote conservation.