Influence of litter removal and mineral soil disturbance on the spread of an invasive grass in a Central Hardwood forest

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Soil and litter disturbances within Central Hardwood forests may facilitate exotic plant species invasion of interior forest areas. Microstegium vimineum is an annual exotic grass that has become common throughout the Southeastern United States. Three replicates of three different mineral soil and litter disturbance treatments, plus a control with no disturbance, were established on the leading edge of M. vimineum patches prior to seed fall. All patches were located in areas with similar forest canopy structure and slope in three Central Hardwood forest stands prior to seed fall. At the beginning of the following growing season, each individual M. vimineum seedling was mapped within the treatment plots. The mean number of M. vimineum individuals that established within each treatment did not differ significantly from the control. The distance at which 90% of the individuals had spread, and the overall mean distance spread were significantly farther for the litter removal treatment than the control. The farthest individual seedling from the boundary of existing patches in both the litter removal and the mineral soil disturbance and litter removal treatments were significantly farther than the control. The individuals that spread the farthest are of most concern due to the large number of viable seed that a single M. vimineum plant can produce. These results suggest that disturbance of the litter layer may increase the spread rate of M. vimineum and facilitate its invasion of new habitats, and that leaving litter layers intact may slow the spread of M. vimineum.

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