The Wade Tract Preserve Plant Ecology

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Plant species richness on the Wade Tract is phenomenal with nearly 400 species recorded on the Tract. Most species occur in the rich ground cover dominated by grasses and forbs. Voucher specimens of all vascular plants on the preserve have been actively collected beginning with the efforts of Drs. R.K. Godfrey and L. Anderson. Their work has been supplemented by various technicians and students, and currently only 1-3 new species are added each year, indicating that the current species count is close to the real total. The totals include:

  • Click on photo to view larger image353 perennials, 8 biennials, 32 annuals, and 4 plants with varied life history traits.
  • Over 40% (167) are composites (Asteraceae), legumes (Fabaceae) and grasses (Poaceae).
  • Over 40% (35/80) of the families are represented by a single species.
  • 16 species are on the Georgia DNR species of special concern list
  • 11 species within the preserve are of a non-native origin

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Wiregrass is dense in many areas and surrounded by species such as braken fern, blazing star, runner oak (shown flowering below and to the right), black-eyed-susan, and bluestem grasses. The biomass can accumulate up to 5,400 lbs/acre (6,000 kg/ha) dry weight following a growing season burn the previous year. There are some upland areas that lack wiregrass, and it’s uncertain whether these are the result of past human disturbance or natural variation in ground cover composition. An absence of wiregrass coupled with sparse or non-existent longleaf pine overstory lead to low fuel loads and can make areas prone to hardwood encroachment. The dynamic, small-scale relationships between ground cover species, small-scale disturbances (e.g., tortoise burrows, tip up, fallen logs), and prescribed burns needs additional study.

The floristics of the small, seasonally wet areas and their changes with burning also need better documentation. A seasonal wetland and a small stream bordered by titi lie in western sections of the Tract. In some years, the titi is not top-killed by fire. Also, there is a small ephemeral wet site near the northern boundary near the center road. Areas associated with eastern boundary are also seasonally wet.

Click on photo to view larger imageBoth animal mediated and other small scale patch disturbances play important roles in ground cover dynamics. These disturbances include:

  • Animal
    • Mediated Disturbances: Gopher Tortoise Mounds: 25/acre
    • Pocket Gopher Mounds: 132/acre
    • Ant Mounds: 8/acre
  • Others:
    • Large Logs: 14/acre
    • Stump Holes: 60/acre
    • Stumps: 45/acre

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