Washington State Magazine

Summer 2002

Summer 2002

In This Issue...


The pull of rowing :: Because rowing is more timing and rhythm than just strength, top athletes sometimes become frustrated. They must learn to be patient and accountable to their teammates. by Pat Caraher

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Photographs of WSU crew by Robert Hubner }

Is nothing sacred? :: Never heard of C4 photosynthesis? Now you have. It's rare, it's cool, it could help feed the world. And WSU plant scientists just rewrote the textbook on it. by Mary Aegerter

Pants that fit...In search of a cure for misfits :: "The more I sewed," says Carol Salusso, "the more I got frustrated with the fact that the patterns didn't fit me." So she began designing her own. by Andrea Vogt

A Titan's Tale :: Bill Nollan didn't like not understanding. So he drove his athletes and his students ever harder. As if their lives depended on it. by Bill Morelock

Field Notes

Ukraine: Witnesses to an Uncertain Revolution :: How do you offer a reasonable criticism of America's consumer culture to an audience waiting desperately for basic goods that we take for granted? by Paul Hirt

Ukraine: Mining Every Opportunity for Hope :: There are many toasts, to friendship and Ukraine and its women, who maintain what is left of its social fabric. story & photos by Tim Steury



Tracking the Cougars

Cover: Washington State University varsity crew members Dorothea Hunter, Emily Raines, and Jaime Orth bend their backs to the oars on the Snake River. Read the story here. Photograph by Robert Hubner.

Spartina (English cordgrass). Sally Hacker

Spartina (English cordgrass). Sally Hacker

Who you gonna call? Cordgrass busters Tabitha Reeder and Sally Hacker.

Who you gonna call? Cordgrass busters Tabitha Reeder and Sally Hacker. Megan Pethier

An English import invades Puget Sound

by | © Washington State University

A classic case of good intention gone bad, English cordgrass (Spartina anglica) was introduced to Washington around 1962 to stabilize dikes and provide forage for cattle. The U.S. Department of Agriculture imported seeds from England, and a WSU extension agent planted the seeds near Stanwood in the Stillaguamish Estuary.

English cordgrass has since infested large areas around Stanwood, particularly Port Susan Bay, Skagit Bay, Admiralty Inlet, and Saratoga Passage. It has also spread, with disastrous environmental effect, to other parts of Puget Sound, including Camano Island, Whidbey Island, and the San Juan Islands.

Due to its tenacity, its rapid growth rate, and its ability to spread via seeds and fragments, cordgrass has been very difficult to control. Despite nearly a million dollars and four years of effort, English cordgrass in Puget Sound has been reduced by only about 13 percent. WSU biologist Sally Hacker and graduate students Eric Hellquist and Tabitha Reeder are working with state personnel and county weed control crews to refine the focus of control efforts and gather data on cordgrass invasions. Funding for their research comes from the National Sea Grant Program with help from Washington Sea Grant Program. In addition, Hellquist’s work has been supported by the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, Betty W. Higinbotham Trust, and WSU College of Sciences.

Because the extent of English cordgrass invasion in Washington was not known, Hacker, Hellquist, and University of Washington scientist Megan Dethier conducted surveys and analyzed data from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington State Department of Agriculture. They found that English cordgrass has invaded 73 sites covering some 3,300 hectares, occurring primarily in mudflats and low-salinity marshes.

As cordgrass spreads, it converts salt marshes and open mudflats into dense cordgrass monocultures that do not offer the types of food and living conditions needed by oysters, clams, worms, and micro-crustaceans. The loss of these species affects others in the food chain such as birds and fish. Additionally, floating mats of dead cordgrass can smother some plants and animals.

“This species is amazing,” says Hacker, “because it can invade four very different habitats.”

Because of environmental and commercial effects of English cordgrass invasion, state and county agencies began removing some of the thick mats and widely dispersed propagules in 1997. Removal is a labor-intensive process of digging small clumps or mowing and applying herbicide to large clumps. The large clumps are very tenacious, and in order to kill them, workers must mow and spray repeatedly for about five years.

Each WSU researcher is tackling specific questions about the invasion. Hacker’s research targets factors that influence invasive success and effectiveness of control efforts.

Reeder maintains framed plots to learn how much the cordgrass has grown in the past year. Some of her plots have been previously treated to remove cordgrass. Her data so far show that one or two years of treatment only slightly reduces regrowth. However, if the dead thatch, called wrack, is anchored in place, it reduces canopy regrowth by 50 percent and eliminates new flowers and seeds.

At the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, where the reserve staff has to control Spartina each year, Hellquist is assessing soil and habitat characteristics. At other sites around the sound, he is investigating how English cordgrass interacts with native vegetation and how native vegetation returns to areas where cordgrass has been removed.

Hellquist also works with Biological Sciences faculty member Ray Lee and graduate student Brian Maricle to quantify levels of sulfide, a naturally occurring soil toxin. Spartina can grow in physical conditions that are considered harsh even for intertidal plants, and they would like to understand the range of conditions it inhabits.

Lee and Maricle are also studying a relative of English cordgrass that has invaded in Puget Sound and in Willapa Bay and Gray’s Harbor on the coast. Smooth cordgrass (S. alterniflora) was introduced accidentally by the oyster industry in Willapa Bay and is a serious threat.

Smooth cordgrass has an interesting connection to English cordgrass. From its native habitat in eastern North America, it was introduced to England where it hybridized with a native species, small cordgrass (S. maritima). About 1892, this infertile hybrid underwent a natural process in which its chromosome number doubled and became a fertile species, English cordgrass (S. anglica). This new species quickly spread across nearby marshes and currently covers about 10,000 hectares in England.

Upcoming studies will focus on seed production hotspots and effects of timing of herbicide application on seed production. “The resource managers and field crews are working very hard,” says Hacker, “but this will require a long, concerted effort—we’re battling a difficult invader.”

Categories: Agriculture | Tags: Invasive weeds

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