Winter litter disturbance facilitates the spread of the nonnative invasive grass Microstegium vimineum (Trin.) A. Camus
We investigated the impacts of winter litter disturbance on the spread of the nonnative invasive plant Microstegium vimineum (Trin.) A. Camus through experimental removals. We hypothesized that light penetration through the litter layer facilitates the spread of M. vimineum in forested systems. Our objective, therefore, was to quantify M. vimineum spread following litter removal. Linear spread and cover expansion from established M. vimineum patches was documented for one growing season under intact, undisturbed hardwood canopies within plots receiving one of two treatments. Treatments included litter removal (hereafter "removal") and no litter removal (hereafter "undisturbed). After one growing season, plots receiving the removal treatment experienced a spread of M. vimineum 4.5 times greater than plots receiving the undisturbed treatment (P < 0.0001 ; 1.66, and 0.37 m expansion, respectively). Cover expansion (measured as percent cover in 0.5 m2 blocks at 0.5, 1, 1.5, and 2 m from established M. vimineum) averaged 16, 4, 0, and 0%, respectively, for the undisturbed treatment and 87, 64, 31, and 9%, respectively, for the removal treatment. Differences existed in cover expansion between treatments at the 0.5, 1, and 1.5 m distances (P < 0.0001, P < 0.001, and P = 0.01, respectively). Our results suggest that winter litter removal as a result of harvest activities, floodwater scour, or animal activities can drastically increase M. vimineum spread and may enhance potential ecological impacts of invasions by increasing M. vimineum percent cover. Previous studies have shown that M. vimineum responds to canopy removal with dramatic increases in biomass. This study suggests one mechanism facilitating rapid expansion of M. vimineum following site disturbance, and indicates that M. vimineum can experience rapid growth in response to site disturbance even in the absence of canopy removal.