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Sunday, June 25, 2017

TED Talk tech notes 1: Discovering Eco-Restoration

This adds to a TEDx talk I gave at the Northbrook Library on May 20, 2017.
That actual talk can be seen at:

The post covers the first few minutes (22 slides) of this 17 minute (80 slide) talk.
On August 6, 1977, a dozen of us newly authorized volunteer stewards
gathered our first rare seed. 
For the record, we gathered smooth phlox on land owned by the U.S. Coast Guard. The following week we planted those seeds in Bunker Hill, Miami Woods, and Wayside forest preserves. Experts told us it wouldn't work. Rare prairie plants are too weak to compete with dense weeds, they claimed. But the effort turned out to be dramatically successful. (Yet we saw no sign of that success until scores of phlox plants started blooming - five years later.)

We might have looked kind of random.
But decades later, books would record
that we helped launch a community with a mission
that would that would have its influence from coast to coast, and across continents.

The "community" and the "mission" will be recurring themes in this TED talk. The dedicated volunteers of the North Branch Prairie Project - along with the expert mentors and agencies that adopted and empowered us - established a model that would be widely publicized, copied, and improved upon over the next few decades.
In time, the seeds we gathered and planted came
to symbolize something new about this planet:
we hold the future of its ecosystems in our hands. 

Indeed, one of the biggest "controversies" and challenges to this new vision was around symbols and concepts. Does nature mean: just let things go? Some people argued that "whatever happens without human meddling" is "nature." But some of us were pointing out to the "Nature Preserves Commission" and "The Nature Conservancy" that what they thought they had "preserved" was seriously degrading. It gradually became accepted that the millions of years of heritage embodied in biodiversity is now utterly dependent on the precautionary foresight and action of people who care.

We now know that the natural richness
of an ancient prairie Nature Preserve
like this one at Somme – without skilled care …
This photo of Somme Prairie may be pretty at a glance, but it does not show richness very well. There are twenty to twenty-five species of rare plants in the average random quarter-meter of the Grade A prairie here.

… would get blotted out and replaced entirely, by invasive brush.    
This photo actually shows a high quality prairie that was entirely replaced by brush. This prairie - "preserved" in a Cook County forest preserve - was the subject of a study by early ecologist hero Victor Shelford. For his haunting 1959 paper, see:
When I visited the site in the 1980s, I could not find a single prairie plant beyond a few nodding onions in the mowed right of way of 1st Avenue.
In recent years, John Kolar has been trying to restore this prairie.

Or, to look from a little more hopeful angle, this invasive-choked woods,
thanks to years of good work by generous stewards, could be and was …
This photo is typical of the original oak woodlands of the Somme preserves. The oak woods species that remained here were largely in scattered small areas with more light - on the edges of mowed trails or former pastures.

My greatest disappointment on how the final TED talk was edited is in these two slides. The contrast between the photo above and the one below should kick off the rest of the talk. "Health can come back!" - is the message. The contrast between these two slides should tell the story. But in the TED talk, the former slide was shown long before, as if that big oak were a part of the overgrown prairie. Oh, well.

… restored with the diverse plants and animals that for eons constituted oak woods biodiversity, its ecosystem services, and its very “nature.” 
Here I have to apologize again (though for the last time) for a slide in which conventional "beauty" stands in for "biodiversity." In fact, the biodiversity of this restored (or, to put it more accurately, "in the process of restoration") area is barely hinted at by the few species obvious here (oaks, hickories, Joe-Pye-weeds, pale-leaved sunflowers, and a few others). More than a hundred species of grasses and wildflowers (perhaps more than 200 in the area shown here) would emerge if we could watch this scene closely throughout the growing season. Add to that many hundreds of species of butterflies, beetles, birds, salamanders, snakes, walking sticks, mushrooms, soil biota, etc. etc. We'll get to more of that later.

Six years after we began our mission, politics in Springfield
 eliminated the entire budget of the Illinois Nature Preserves System. 
Suddenly without staff to protect approximately 100 important preserves, 
the commissioners asked us to organize a volunteer program. 
Within a year, little fellowships like the one at Somme were protecting 
more than 60 preserves. This network flourished quickly, 
because some people cared a lot.

Here the TED talk here lingers on the above slide for a summary of the beginning of the Volunteer Stewardship Network, sponsored by the The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC).

A principled and courageous agency, the INPC was semi-neutered in August 1982, when Springfield bureaucrats triumphed by firing director George Fell and his entire staff. Seeing this in the works, TNC had already hired me (for northeastern Illinois) - and after the firing temporarily took on the other field reps (who had different sorts of roles in the other parts of the state).

The "1979-1980 Report" of the Commission lists 79 preserves at that time. (There were about 100 in August '82 when the dedicated INPC staff was fired.) It also lists 142 "Areas of Commission Concern." Even that number pales beside the 610 surviving areas of high quality listed by the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory (INAI). The job taken on by TNC and the new "stewards" of the pioneering "Volunteer Stewardship Network" was to protect the nature preserves and publicly owned INAI prairies, wetlands, and woodlands in the six counties of northeastern Illinois.

To review the personal stories of some early volunteer leaders, see

The history of the early volunteer network is featured in "Miracle Under the Oaks: the revival of nature in America" by New York Times science writer William K. Stevens.

The account below covers the Volunteer Stewardship Network in the six-county Chicago region. So far as I know, little came of attempts to expand volunteer recruitment in the rest of the state at that time.

Soon, we volunteers were being coached and inspired by some of
the region’s most-respected ecosystem scientists and creative conservation officials.
Prairie expert, Prof. Robert F. Betz wears the beard. Roland Eisenbeis, forest preserve Superintendent of Conservation, has the pipe in his mouth. Eisenbeis told us to listen to Betz, coordinate with FPD-staff prairie-expert Chuck Westcott (a student of Dr. Betz), and go to work.

A much longer list of professors, conservation professionals, and expert amateurs came together to be part of the Volunteer Stewardship Network. Some of the most important mentors were the Morton Arboretum's Ray Schulenberg, Floyd Swink, George Ware, and Gerould Wilhelm; the Forest Preserve District's Paul Strand, Ralph Thornton, and Kelly Trease; Chicago Academy of Science's William Beecher and Doug Taron; Illinois Nature Preserves Commission's George Fell and Jerry Paulson; Audubon's Alan Anderson and Judy Pollock; Illinois Herpetological Society's Ken Mierzwa; and many many more.

Eisenbeis supported us. But others on his staff sometimes worked to sabotage us. The photo above shows a meeting called by Eisenbeis after the Maintenance Department (a supervisor of which stands, back to the camera, in the foreground, above) unexpectedly mowed all the prairies we were restoring (and Eisenbeis had committed to protect) in 1978. Also in this photo are the Chief Forester (obscured, right) and me, taking notes, on the left. We reached a good consensus.

We cut invasive brush, we pulled aggressive weeds
and safely conducted controlled burns.
Volunteer leaders trained and learned rapidly, year after year. For controlled burns, we were trained by staff of the Illinois Department of Conservation and INPC (Marlin Bowles and Fran Harty) and The Nature Conservancy (many years of intensive training workshops). During the '80s and early 90s, expert volunteer teams did a large part of the region's ecological burning - over eight counties. None of our fires ever got out of control or did damage to any adjacent property (neither through fire, smoke, nor any other impact). We may not have worn what are now considered proper uniforms or had fancy equipment. But we were energetic, well-organized, smart, fast, and careful.

In time, many brush patches that had looked like this …    
Typical partly-surviving grasslands and oak woods went through decades when they were grazed by farm animals. Most species survived in reduced numbers but then, in many cases, were wiped out, ironically, when conservation agencies bought the land and "left it to nature". In the absence of (what is now seen as natural) fire - trees and shrubs (alien and 'native') killed off the understory. Here the "brush" is buckthorn, but "native" ash, basswood, maple, and others can do the same.

… became natural prairies once again. We volunteer stewards became known
for public lands ecosystem restoration. Press coverage was great.
People in surrounding states (and soon countries) sought our support and guidance. Some of us were hired by conservation agencies to head up new programs.
But there would never be remotely enough paid folks
to do all the needed work – with all the needed care
The diverse grassland in this photo replaces dense brush. After cutting the trees and shrubs, we gathered seeds (spring, summer, and fall), prepped them for planting (in a dozen separate mixes according to wetness, shade, and weediness), and broadcast them (that is, in this case, the early successional mesic prairie mix) here and in other areas that were in the early years of restoration. We seeded for many seasons - later with the later-successional "turf" mix. About half of Somme Prairie Grove was burned every year - for decades - before rich biodiversity like this gradually triumphed. Common weeds were the first species to flourish after removal of the brush.

One bit of the magic of the Illinois Nature Preserve law was that conservationists could advocate that a ecological gem be "dedicated" into the system by any agency that owned it. Once dedicated, the woodland or prairie was legally protected from exploitation or maltreatment; only later did conservationists come to realize that expert care was also needed. Yet little restoration was done by the many agencies that owned preserves but did not have staff experts in ecological land management. In those days, it was not difficult for a bright, energetic person to learn more than people with no training - and who may have had little interest.
I chose the place we now call Somme Prairie Grove as the preserve
where I’d be volunteer steward. 
Other people could best tell the restoration story with reference to other sites, which they know as I know Somme. I hope they will.

I initially focused on Somme because the local library's TED series seemed like a good opportunity to find more local volunteers. But even for a broad general audience, my intimate relationship with this challenging site seemed to help me figure out how to tell the story.

Somme Prairie Grove benefitted from persistence. But it often went begging, as my job as Illinois Nature Conservancy's Director of Science and Stewardship required me to spend most of my time on hundreds of other important natural areas. I stuck with Somme in part because I didn't want to lose touch with what it's like to be an individual steward. Often I felt like a "bad parent" - as "my site" was neglected on the basis of state-wide challenges - budgets, staffing, regulations, media, other sites, etc. etc.

But whenever I could get free, I was at Somme, pulling invasive weeds, gathering seeds, noticing failures and successes, struggling with off-road-vehicle challenges and development proposals, and trying to figure out many levels of priorities.

At Somme, we did some good – learned some lessons – and were credited
with some discoveries. We thought we were restoring prairie. Some experts
encouraged us to cut back all the trees, to expand the precious prairie
to a more sustainable size. But, as we cut, we found scattered oaks –
and rare non-prairie plants and animals. We began to suspect that we were
uncovering a poorly understood and even more endangered ecosystem –
the oak savanna.  In time, research at Somme and many sites confirmed
our suspicions. This was really fun – kind of like eco-archeology,
or finding grimy Rembrandts at garage sales.
At first, Somme Prairie Grove was called "Somme Woods Prairie." In time, we came to know that it was not mostly prairie. This work is experimental. We need to be constantly testing and learning. Some of us started to realize that by limiting our conservation vision to prairies and woods, we were missing an important element. The oak savanna is a fire-dependent grassland with scattered and clumped trees. As we experimented with how to manage and understand it, we reached out and in time organized North America's first "savanna conference" - drawing pretty much all the experts that existed. (North Branch leader Karen Rodriguez had landed a job with U.S.E.P.A. and, with federal sponsorship, pulled together this important conference.) Federal and state agencies and conservation organizations needed to re-write their standards and manuals and revise their priorities to take account of what we were learning about fire-dependent oak ecosystems.

Now – not just prairies - but savannas and woodlands
that had been choked with buckthorn …
In one Somme area that had looked like this, we just burned and seeded - without cutting the buckthorn. For a couple of years only the small buckthorns were top-killed by fire. But after a few years, even the older trunks were dying. Little came up from the "seed bank". But we began to broadcast local seed, we kept burning; and richness returned impressively until "The Moratorium" ended the burning for a few years. (See these notes, Part 3, for more on 'moratorium'. See Part 4 for the graph of results.)

These days our treatment for a woods like this is to cut and herbicide all the large brush and pole trees, spend a year foliar-spraying brush seedlings and re-sprouts, then broadcast local seed, and burn annually or biennially for a few years.

... began to regain their richness and health.
Hundreds of species of formerly-vanishing plants once again supported …
This photo shows success, but it's a preliminary and limited success. None of those pencil-pole-trees in the background will develop noble arms like the old tree in the foreground. (Indeed, most such lower branches will probably be fire-pruned in time.) If we didn't have higher priorities, we'd have thinned many of those skinny pole trees. Similarly, if we'd had time, we'd increase the amount of seed we gathered (and broadcast)(especially of conservative species) from many local sites. The few plant and animal species that now dominate in this photo have among them scores of other species, here and there, less visible because they're less common, or merely shorter. We suspect that even visually in a photo like this, the dominants will over time yield much of their space to more diversity. Our monitoring seems to show it gradually happening.  But the return to as-full-health-as-it-can-recover still seems far away.

… thousands of species of animals that are rare or uncommon in the modern landscape.    
We have reason to believe that many species were lost from Somme Woods (including the woodland lady-slippers, the gray tree frog, many snake species, the wolf, of course, and many others). Somme Prairie Grove has five snake species. Somme Woods (across the street) has none - despite nearly 40 years of restoration and some (now) similar habitats.

Some ecologists have estimated that a thriving ecosystem has ten species of animals for each species of plant. With about 500 species of native plants, that would mean 5,000 species of animals, if the ecosystem was whole. Yet, at the Somme preserves, at least some species that were barely hanging on in small numbers in odd corners are now already thriving once again (see below).

Most of those thousands are insects.   
For example: when entomologist Dr. Ron Panzer studied Somme in the early eighties, he suggested that the savanna ecosystem may not survive, because he failed to find savanna indicator-species like the Edward's hairstreak butterfly. When Dr. Panzer repeated his survey after a few years of brush cutting and burning, he found many hairstreak species, with Edward's now becoming the commonest.

What about conservation-significant ants, beetles, bees, walking sticks, and so many others? No one has ever studied them. In areas like this, with pockets of remnant ecosystem and large expanses of "Grade C remnant" restoration in process, the assumption is that much survives. Some additional expert studies are under way at Somme. But many more are dearly needed.

But many are species that the average visitor would be inspired by. 
For example, before we started ...  
When we started our restoration of Somme Woods (the part of the Somme preserves east of Waukegan Road), no tanagers could be found there. In fact, when we begged a well-respected birder to start monitoring there, he checked the site out and (kind of angrily) complained that we had wasted his time. "What's the point of monitoring when there are no birds there?!" he said.

He wasn't convinced it that important change was likely, nor that it was worth it to sample the "before." Scarlet tanagers do especially well in open oak woodlands. A "mere" two decades later, multiple pairs of tanagers nest here every year. We even see them foraging among the natural shrubs and wildflowers - now that they're thriving.

... none of these birds built their nests or raised their young in the deteriorating Somme Woods.    
Indigo bunting, male. These bunting were common in the savanna areas but completely absent from Somme Woods when restoration began. Now they can be heard singing in most of the "under restoration" areas - among much denser trees than we'd imagined likely.

Indigo bunting, female carrying material for nest.

Eastern bluebird is another species that has expanded from the savanna to the open woods.

Now – year after year – all these species nest at Somme.
Hummingbirds nest in trees - but spend much of their time catching insects and drinking nectar from flowers. Unlike the slow-dispersal of most frogs, snakes, plants, and even most insects, most bird species will find good habitat unaided, it it's restored. As large "Grade C" areas are restored, one high priority that's still in its infancy is the development of practical methods of restoring the animals of good and high-quality communities.

This concludes the technical notes on the first quarter of the TED talk. Notes on the second quarter will be published in a week or so.

A "more for a broader audience" set of notes on this TED talk is at:

In the meantime, other good references include:
"Miracle Under the Oaks: the revival of nature in America" by William K. Stevens
"Force of Nature: George Fell, founder of the natural areas movement" by Arthur Melville Pearson

Photo credits:
Lisa Culp Musgrave took all those outstanding bird, dragonfly, and salamander photos.
Larry Hodak took the photo of Prof. Betz, Eisenbeis, etc. mentoring us.
Gloria Fountain took the photo of the "Somme Prairie Grove" sign and people.


  1. Hello. I've been working on the restoration of a mesic prairie near Dayton, Ohio for a long time. Our latest emerging issue is Canada goldenrod. Do you have experience dealing with this in a remnant?

    1. In my experience with remnants, Canada and/or tall goldenrod is uncommon because it can't compete with diverse conservative species. The weedy goldenrods usually only flare up where there are niches un-filled by diverse conservatives (the species typical of quality prairie).

      Sometimes, burning a prairie that hasn't been burned in a while then opens temporary spaces for aggressive species.

      We have sometimes "surgically scythed" tall goldenrod when it's seemed aggressive - to tip the balance in favor of more conservative species. Sometimes that's seemed to work, and sometimes it hasn't.

      In my experience, the tall-goldenrod-stage doesn't last. In time, with frequent burning, the conservatives win out (if they're there, or if they can be seeded in).

      On the other hand, if you can't burn frequently, tall goldenrod often succeeds to brush.

    2. My experiences are with a restoration and not a remnant. I have found cutting back tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) only temporarily reduces the vigor of this species. After repeatedly cutting tall goldenrod for a few seasons I quickly decided that pulling it out of the ground roots and all with the help of a shovel was better in my situation. Removing it roots and all solved the problem instead of only temporarily favoring other plants. Tall goldenrod does not have deep roots. I have not removed Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) from this restoration yet because there is only one plant in it. In contrast, with field thistle (Cirsium arvense) I chop the rosettes off with a hoe at the base in spring then pull or cut it later to keep it shaded by taller vegetation. This takes repeat cutting a number of times each season for a few years, but has been working well. I need to do this with field thistle because the roots are very deep. The park district where I volunteer had sprayed the thistles, but they always ended up damaging the native plants just as much as (or more than) the thistles. Often all that returned after broadcast spraying an area was a monoculture of thistles. I have included a link below to a picture of my work. This area was dominated by thistles and tall goldenrod. I have mostly eliminated the thistles, but as you can see from the photo I am still working on the tall goldenrod. Since my work controlling these two over dominating species I am now getting a nice succession of blooms. The photo only shows wild bergamont (Monarda fistulosa) blooming because that was when the picture was taken. Other species that would be seen earlier in the year include shooting stars, golden alexander, white false indigo, butterfly and common milkweed, pale purple coneflower, etc.

      Chris Helzer also has a post about this topic on his blog “Prairie Ecologist.”

    3. I should also mention the tall goldenrod was selectively cut the previous year below the highest green leaves with a machete around flowering time. This probably helped a little as can be seen in the left of the photo, but removing the plants roots and all made a much bigger impact for the effort expended.

      I had sown rope dodder (Cuscuta glomerata) in this area hoping it would attack the tall goldenrod and reduce its dominance. This appears to be working in a different older restoration where tall goldenrod is also a problem. However, the rope dodder has not appeared in the area shown in the photo mentioned in the previous comment. This is likely because burning has not occurred recently in this area. Rope dodder appears to need a burn in order to germinate.

    4. I have included links to images of rope dodder. The first image is of rope dodder parasitizing a patch of tall goldenrod. The second image is of rope dodder parasitizing sawtooth sunflower (Helianthus grossesseratus) along with tall goldenrod. The one plant rope dodder likes even more than tall goldenrod is sawtooth sunflower. The rope dodder will attach to various other plants, but these most vigorous composites are what are most preferred. The rope dodder seed was sown four years ago and the area has probably been burned twice. After each burn the rope dodder patches have grown larger.

      Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum) and prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) are not heavily impacted because their stems are relatively short and there leaves are large. Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) stops the rope dodder with perfoliated leaves. It is my belief that rope dodder caused these traits to become so pronounced in these Silphiums through natural selection. The one Silphium that will unfortunately be heavily impacted by rope dodder is rosin weed (Silphium integrifolium). Rosinweed does not have any of the previously mentioned defenses and will probably be restricted to habitat too dry for the rope dodder if rope dodder is present. Other plants that are parasitized to a small degree include wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), common mountain mint (Pycnanthmum virginianum), various composites, and to a lesser degree other species.

  2. Thanks Steve and James for your response and insights.
    The tall/Canada goldenrod here in sw Ohio seems to have the ability to take over thick stands of native grasses and forbs on restored sites. It doesn't do that, at least to the same degree on sections of original prairie. The diversity is generally higher on the restored sections too. The site is relatively big, 112 acres, so pulling isn't really an option.
    The burn rotation has been increased to burn half the site each year instead of a quarter. I hope this helps, but the lep and bird folks think too much burning damages rare species. Am going to try some mowing test plots at different times in goldenrod invested areas this summer.

    1. Dave, what you write looks good to me. You're trying various approaches. I'd encourage you to try to keep careful records and write up your results.

  3. At the same location where the image I had posted on the above link was taken mowing was also used. The mowing was done in the areas I could not finish hand cutting with a machete. The mowing was only done once a season around flowering time. My hope was to merely reduce seed set. The mowing was done relatively high. The cut was made below the lowest green leaves of the tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima), but still above many species like nodding onion (Allium cernuum) and the basal leaves of foxglove beardtounge (Penstemon digitalis). What I found was taller species that were able to hold their own against the tall goldenrod like wild golden glow (Rudebeckia lacinata) were getting cut back really hard. Even mid-height species like Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohioensis) and wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) were cut back more than I preferred.

    The following season I decided to dig up the tall goldenrod one or a few stems at a time instead of hand cutting them. It is slow, but I was finding I could do about a half an acre per year just by myself working a few hours a week. Instead of mowing, in the second year I asked the park district to cut back the tall goldenrod patches I could not finish with brush cutters and leave other things uncut. This worked well for stopping seed set, but still only slightly reduced the vigor of the tall goldenrod in the following season. The site where I am working is incredibly fertile which makes the tall goldenrod exceptionally robust. The height and density of the tall goldenrod makes it difficult for anything else to compete. A wetter or much drier area would not have as much of a problem.

    I am including the above to explain the different stages I went through before arriving at my current solution. Each situation is different. My situation was a planting from plugs that had been over taken by tall goldenrod, but not to the point that nothing but tall goldenrod was present. In remnants with pure stand of tall goldenrod repeated scything throughout the season for a few years might be chosen. In previously disturbed sites mowing, targeted field cultivation, or herbicide application might be preferred for pure stands. The best method is really dependent upon the situation, site, options available to you, and personal preferences.

  4. Steve and James,
    Thanks again for your insights, and thanks for this blog. Its good to have a connection to others working on this stuff. Several years ago I took a trip to Somme Prairie/savannah, very impressive.

  5. Dodder can be effective. Early actions to help keep it from getting established might have helped prevent it a little bit: do not over compact the soil while clearing it; get in a cover crop so there is not much window of bare exposed ground for those wind-blown seeds to land on, and early root competition. I have seen it (goldenrod) flux in a prairie remnant where thick buckthorn was removed. hydrology helps the remnant plants especially if it is ground-fed seepage water linked to soil cation axchange. But another big issue, in any area where a lot of brush or woody plants have been cut, is the rotting roots of the woody plants, the fungi that feed on the rotting roots, and the possible symbiotic relationship between these fungi and the goldenrod that may be subsidizing the goldenrod in recently cleared areas where the woody roots are rotting away. My guess would be the 'eventually fades away' part begins after the roots have decomposed over several years and the rotting root/fungus subsidy ends.

    1. Many of the things you mention are good advice. The area where I have been working, Henry Terada Park in Schaumburg, was tilled prior to planting. This was the first mistake. I would have been better to kill the weedy lawn and leave the dead vegetation in place. The second mistake was planting only plugs without interseeding. Fast growing field thistles, which likely survived the tilling, and tall goldenrod quickly established in the bare soil. The tall goldenrod was eliminating almost everything that had been planted by creating dense shade.

      I was not involved at all with the project for the first five years. However, after seeing the direction it was going I decided to work on it so it would not be a total loss of tax payer dollars. More importantly, this area is right in the middle of town and I did not want people to think that native landscaping was just a monoculture of tall goldenrod. If it were not for the above two aspects of the project I would not have worked on it at all because there are remnant ecosystems in need of effort that are a much higher priority.

      The one thing you mentioned that I have not seen evidence to support is “…the fungi that feed on the rotting roots, and the possible symbiotic relationship between these fungi and the goldenrod that may be subsidizing the goldenrod …” Tall goldenrod still dominates patches in restorations that are now a few decades old. Many restorations with tall goldenrod issues were former crop fields which probably were not occupied by woody species for thousands of years since after the ice age when the climate was much wetter and colder.

      I think the “eventually fades away” part seen in remnants is the natural predator prey dynamic at work. As the population of tall goldenrod explodes, so do the things that eat it (like rope dodder) until a rebalancing occurs and the tall goldenrod becomes less dominating and is taken over by more conservative plants. As with most problems of native plants taking over restorations, the question becomes what eats it and do we need to put effort into getting the predators/parasites established so the restoration moves toward the naturally more diverse state found in remnants.

      Rope dodder appears to be a big piece of the puzzle. If you want to see rope dodder at work you can visit Spring Valley Nature Center in Schaumburg. I collected seed of rope dodder that was still extant in the drainage and spread the seed into tall goldenrod and sawtooth sunflower patches in the restoration areas. There is a definite lag time as the rope dodder population builds. So far the trajectory looks good, it will still be awhile before things stabilize and I will know if the desired effect has been achieved.

    2. Well, predation (herbivory) is one thing to keep an eye out for. According to this article the expected response would be reduced flowering and stunted growth of the goldenrod as it is put under stress by herbivores. Don't know if that's what I've seen in the field often, and certainly I know of some stands that have been around a long time -- usually old farm fields with very eroded topsoil. I will say there is not much in the way of goldenrod invasion in the beautiful Somme Prairie Grove, where grasses and diverse wildflowers were seeded and burns done regularly over decades. The sunflower situation in some areas may be another matter.... time will tell.

    3. My experience watching rope dodder is that once a certain level of stem coverage has occurred, the stem dies. This is not ideal for the rope dodder because if the stem of the host dies then the rope dodder is unable to produce seed. Consequently, rope dodder seeks out the most robust individuals. It is interesting that this is the opposite of how the predator/prey relationship often occurs where the weakest individuals are attack. The result of seeking out and reducing the vigor of the strongest competitors should have the result of driving diversity by allowing other species the resources they need to survive. As I said previously, “So far the trajectory looks good, it will still be awhile before things stabilize and I know if the desired effect has been achieved.” I think the effect of rope dodder will be positive in areas with diverse native species where invasive species are being controlled (like Somme Prairie Grove). In contrast, if no management is occurring the result of the rope dodder may be to only make more habitat available to another invasive species like reed canary grass.