RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A University of Richmond biology professor, Carrie Wu, and her students partnered with conservation experts at the Virginia Department of Conversation and Recreation to help with the management of an invasive marsh plant in the Chesapeake Bay.
Phragmites australis, also known as the common reed, is a non-native, aggressive wetland grass that is found along the East Coast and across the United States.
“This plant can grow to about 15 feet tall and resembles bamboo,” Wu said in a release. “It changes water dynamics in wetlands and forms dense monocultures, which is harmful to native vegetation and can negatively impact property values.”
But alongside the invasive, non-native species is a closely related, native species that conservationists are trying to preserve, the Phragmites americanus. The two species are hard to tell apart, but thanks to a simple genetic test, and a more than ten-year project performed by Wu and her students, identifying and removing the invasive species is easier than ever.
“They collect tissue samples of the plants and then extract and analyze the DNA to determine if the plant is the native or non-native species. This project, which first started in 2011, has expanded to include georeferencing and spatial analysis to pinpoint specific locations of the plants,” the release said.
The students in this year’s class collected samples of the plants earlier in September, and the data will assist the Department of Conversation and Recreation in managing the land.
“Because relatively few native populations are known to remain in the mid-Atlantic region, the ability to confidently distinguish between the invasive and native forms has important implications for management practices,” Wu said. “This project immerses students in interdisciplinary scientific work that has an immediate impact in the community.”