During the summer of 2018, ENV students, James Johnson and Nadine Swinford worked with Dr. Kristy Hopfensperger investigating the potential relationship between coarse woody debris (downed logs) and the prevalence of garlic mustard. Garlic mustard is an invasive forest herb found throughout the eastern United States. It can readily outcompete native vegetation, alter nutrient cycling, and create changes throughout the entire food web.
We collaborated locally with Great Parks of Hamilton County and studied these dynamics at Trillium Trails Wildflower Preserve. James and Nadine contributed to our third and final year of a multi-institution pilot study aimed at identifying trends with garlic mustard throughout the U.S. Along with 8 other colleges and universities, we have found more frequent and larger garlic mustard rosettes (first year growth) closer to coarse woody debris. Some locations have also identified strong trends with the coarse woody debris changing the soil moisture and nearby nutrient content.
We look forward to analyzing this year’s collective data from all institutions and planning our next steps, which will include an in situ field experiment. Through this project, James and Nadine gained ecological field skills in experimental design and sampling soil and vegetation parameters, laboratory skills with soil analyses, and experience in data analysis and communicating their research at the Heather Bullen Celebration of Research.