Red River Gorge, KY

Red River Gorge, KY

Friday, August 7, 2015

2015 Summer Research: Wintercreeper and Arthropods

Wintercreeper forms dense monocultures on the forest floor. 
Summer always tends to fly by, and before you know it classes have begun and the field research season is nearly at an end! It's valuable to spend time reflecting on research as things wind down, so the focus of this post will be the first of three projects I've spent time on this summer. 

It's well known that invasive plants can be detrimental to native plant and animal communities. For example, invasive plants like broomsedge and wintercreeper can outcompete native grasses and flowers, reducing plant biodiversity. They can also reduce the quality of the habitat for animals, such as ground nesting birds, small mammals, and even insects. These invasive plants are able to grow and reproduce very rapidly, thus potentially altering local biodiversity of native organisms quite quickly. However, this is a broad statement - how some invasive plants specifically affect local biodiversity is often unknown! This is especially true of wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), an invasive evergreen vine which can form dense mats within the understory of forests, and is widely marketed by the horticulture industry and used in landscaping. 

Top: a wintercreeper dominated plot.
Bottom: A removal plot.
My friend and colleague at Transylvania University, Dr. Sarah Bray, has been studying the effects of wintercreeper on soil microbial communities. Last year, her ecology class spent some time collecting insects within wintercreeper removal plots and comparing those communities to those found within wintercreeper dominated plots. One of those students, Caitlin Raley, was interested in continuing this research and was awarded a summer stipend from the Kenan Fund for Faculty and Student Enrichment at Transylvania University to that end. 

Since June, Caitlin has collected arthropods via pitfall traping and sweep netting on a weekly basis from wintercreeper dominated and removal plots at the Arboretum Woods in Lexington, KY. There are a ton of arthropod samples to sift through, and Caitlin is in the process of identifying all of them! I haven't been able to find a published study on arthropod communities associated with wintercreeper that comparable to Caitlin's, so it will be very exciting to see what she finds! She is initially focusing her investigation on the spiders captured over the course of the summer, and plans to present that portion of her research at the Kentucky Academy of Science meeting this November. 

Caitlin installing pitfall traps in wintercreeper dominated plots.
Next time: Restoring native grassland habitat by removing invasive grasses with herbicides!


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