Tall Timbers’ Experimental Wiregrass Plots Remapped

Bruce and TJ

Anthony “T.J.” Laucevicius, an intern from Gallaudet University in Washington DC, spent most of his summer with the Fire Ecology Program by remapping experimental plot of wiregrass (A. stricta  var. beyrichiana), established by Dr. Bruce Means in 1981, when Means was the Tall Timbers’ research director. At that time, a total of 160 plants were transplanted from places where land was being cleared for right-of-way expansions in the local area. In 1999, Dr. Means hired Trina Cassels Mitchell to remap the plots, and during the summer of 2018, T.J. mapped them again, for a 37-year perspective on wiregrass reproduction and growth.

We have learned a lot from the remapping. Although wiregrass reproduction and lateral expansion is slow, it has steadily filled in the area in between the original rows of plants, helped by periodic burns in the “lightning season” (April‒July), which is required for wiregrass to flower. Its population has quadrupled, and its rate of lateral spread appears to be about one meter per decade. Wiregrass clumps continue to grow in diameter until they begin to break up into individual clones, which then each take on the circular shape and continue to grow. They also showed evidence of competitive exclusion, meaning that initially dense bunches of seedlings tend to self-thin over time, ultimately resulting in the 4‒6 wiregrass tussocks per m2 that has been widely observed in nature. The results suggest that, although wiregrass is slow, it does have the capacity to reclaim ground over time, if soil disturbance is excluded and frequent fire, including some April‒July burns, is maintained. T.J. is an author on a paper submitted to the journal Ecological Restoration recording the results of this case study.

T.J. Laucevicius and Dr. Bruce Means at the wiregrass plots Means established in 1981.

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