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Carex kobomugi
Carex macrocephala
Dune Conference
Other Research

Research Activities in Louise Wootton's Lab

Invasive organisms are becoming an increasingly important problem around the world.  As humans move around the globe, they often carry seeds, plants and animals with them, either accidentally or intentionally. When introduced into a new area, these species may find the new habitat unsuitable for them and die.  But sometimes the species is able to thrive in its new habitat and starts to spread rapidly.  Freed from the predators and parasites of its native habitat, the exotic species is often able to outcompete native organisms that use the same resources, but which have the native predators and parasites to deal with.  When this happens, we say that the exotic species has become invasive.

In my laboratory, my students and I are focusing our research effort on invasive plants in New Jersey's fragile coastal dune ecosystems.  Acre for acre, these ecosystems are the most valuable ecosystem in New Jersey1.  When exotic species invade they may change the dunes in ways that mean that they can no longer provide vital services for New Jersey like flood protection or creating a reservoir of sand for our beaches.   They may also not provide the necessary food or habitat for the other organisms which live in or around the dunes.

Our research currently focuses on two closely related species of sedge.  Carex kobomugi, the Asiatic Sand Sedge, and Carex macrocephala, the large headed sedge.  As well as working to provide an inventory of the areas affected by these species, we are working to understand how they spread, and what their effects are on the plants and animals that are usually found in the coastal dune ecosystem.

In addition to studying these plants and the damage they are doing, we are also working with DEP, NPS, FWS and a host of communities, community groups and non-profit agencies to remove the sedge from these critical habitats.   We are also working to ensure that restoration of these communities after treatment follows best practices for building sustainable, resilient native communities.  In these days of increasing ecological and environmental stress (climate change, rising sealevels, increased frequency of high energy storms etc.) it is vital that restorations maximize inter- and intra-species diversity.  Monitoring both the success of the removal and the effectiveness of the restoration efforts is another important component of our work.

Effective sustainability efforts depend on a well informed and supportive public.  We are thus working to create a variety of innovative and effective educational tools that teachers can use to bring environmental messages to their students while still meeting state and national core content standards.  Two examples of these projects are the integrated curriculum that we've created using Phragmites australis  as a focus for a series of lesson plans aimed at middle school students which we hope will increase the students' awareness of the problems caused by invasive species and the water conservation lesson plans that we've developed for teachers within the Barnegat Bay Watershed. 


1. NJ DEP Report:  Valuing New Jersey’s Natural Capital: An Assessment of the Economic Value of the State’s Natural Resources. 2007.

Last updated July 9, 2007.