Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Jessica A. Hartshorn
The spread of invasive plants is ecologically and economically detrimental to native ecosystems, animals, and humans. Recreation is one factor that may influence plant dispersal. The impacts of recreation on invasive plant spread are multifaceted and include the physical act of spreading and transporting seeds and vegetation to new areas on clothes, pets, and equipment, as well as the social aspect of outreach and education. Therefore, I used a multifaceted approach to assess the impact of human trafficked areas where recreational activities frequently occur on four known invasive plant species in the Clemson Experimental Forest (CEF) in South Carolina: Microstegium vimineum, Ligustrum. sinense, Lespedeza cuneata, and Lonicera japonica. To address the ecological component, I quantified the distribution of these species along transects at recreation trails in the CEF. To address the social component, I distributed a survey to CEF trail users that assessed their knowledge of, and attitude towards, common invasive plants.
Increasing distance from trailhead and trail edge was correlated with a decreased percent cover of M. vimineum, L. sinense, and L. cuneata but not L. japonica. Increases in litter and canopy cover significantly decreased the percent cover of M. vimineum but not L. sinense, L. cuneata, or L. japonica. This supports previous research demonstrating a positive relationship between areas of increased disturbance (i.e., trailheads) and invasive plant spread, but also suggest areas of future research regarding canopy and litter cover effects on invasive plants.
My research on social awareness indicated that survey participants were knowledgeable about the status of plants from the CEF as either native or invasive. Most participants reported an awareness of invasive plant impacts, a belief in personal responsibility for the prevention of invasive plant spread, and a desire to purchase native plants for their own use, with Extension services often being the educational delivery method that led to a desire to participate in behaviors that help curb invasive plant spread.
Together, these results demonstrate a link between increased disturbance at recreational areas and invasive plant distribution and spread. Future research should aim to better understand the effects of microclimates, seeds banks, propagule pressure, residence time, and other environmental factors on invasive plant response to disturbance.
Additionally, research that looks at plant purchase motivations for varying property size owners’ and the ability of these owners to properly identify known invasives, creating invasive education that engages the non-traditional audience, factors that may be inhibiting ecologically friendly plant production in the horticulture industry, and how to better engage minorities in ecological decision making may have a positive impact on mitigating spread by empowering forest users and landowners to contribute positively to the resources they enjoy.
Strickland, Crystal, "Assessing Recreational User Impacts, Motivations, and Knowledge on the Spread of Invasive Plant Species in a Managed, Multiple-Use Forest Ecosystem" (2023). All Theses. 4071.