Vast swaths of Pennsylvania forests were clear-cut circa 1900 and regrowth has largely been from local native plant communities, but a team of researchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences has found that invasive, non-native plants are making significant inroads with unconventional natural gas development.
The spread of invasive non-native plants could have long-term negative consequences for the forest ecosystem in a region where the ubiquitous woods provide timbering revenue, wildlife habitat and ecotourism, warns team member Dr. David Mortensen, professor of weed and applied plant ecology.
In recent years, he and other researchers at the University have been tracking the ecological impact of hundreds of well pads, access roads and pipelines built to extract gas from the Marcellus shale.
“Studies have shown that when invasive plants such as Microstegium vimineum (Japanese stiltgrass) move into an area, it changes the plant community, and native plants tend to decline,” Mortensen said. “Soon we will see a ripple effect in the forest ecosystem that will affect organisms that depend on the native plants. Ultimately, economic factors such as timber harvests may be affected, and wildlife and bird communities likely will change.”
This most recent Penn State study documents that non-native plants are rapidly invading Pennsylvania’s northern forests and establishes a link between new invasions and shale gas development activity.
Read the full story from the PA Environment Digest here.