Status of exotic grasses and grass-like vegetation and potential impacts on wildlife in New England


  • Stephen Destefano

    Corresponding author
    • United States Geological Survey, Massachusetts Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA
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  • Associate Editor: Kuvlesky



The Northeastern section of the United States, known as New England, has seen vast changes in land cover and human population over the past 3 centuries. Much of the region is forested; grasslands and other open-land cover types are less common, but provide habitat for many species that are currently declining in abundance and distribution. New England also consists of some of the most densely populated and developed states in the country. The origin, distribution, and spread of exotic species are highly correlated with human development. As such, exotics are common throughout much of New England, including several species of graminoids (grasses and grass-like plants such as sedges and rushes). Several of the more invasive grass species can form expansive dense mats that exclude native plants, alter ecosystem structure and functions, and are perceived to provide little-to-no value as wildlife food or cover. Although little research has been conducted on direct impacts of exotic graminoids on wildlife populations in New England, several studies on the common reed (Phragmites australis) in salt marshes have shown this species to have variable effects as cover for birds and other wildlife, depending on the distribution of the plant (e.g., patches and borders of reeds are used more by wildlife than expansive densely growing stands). Direct impacts of other grasses on wildlife populations are largely unknown. However, many of the invasive graminoid species that are present in New England have the capability of outcompeting native plants and thereby potentially affecting associated fauna. Preservation, protection, and restoration of grassland and open-land cover types are complex but necessary challenges in the region to maintain biological and genetic diversity of grassland, wetland, and other open-land obligate species. © 2013 The Wildlife Society.