In the Fall of 2013, Chew Crew introduced a long-term monitoring plan aimed at documenting the composition and distribution of vegetation at our Tanyard Creek site. This plan was developed by Dr. Elizabeth King, an assistant professor in the Odum School of Ecology, with the assistance of her graduate student, Ryan Unks, Dr. Jon Calabria, an associate professor in the College of Environment and Design, and Dr. Eric MacDonald, an associate professor in the College of Environment and Design. Previously, any assessment of environmental changes on site were visual observations along with footage from three time-lapse cameras around the site. With this monitoring plan, we have a method to quantitatively measure the impact of grazing, such as how individual species respond to repeating grazing by goats or how ground layer composition changes as light levels increase due to the removal of shrub cover. Monitoring is occurs during our weekend-long event known as Botany Blitz before and after a grazing session..
Botany Blitz established eighty two-meter-by-two-meter “quadrats”, which are clustered in twenty groups of four. The quadrat clusters were randomly located within the exclosure and within each group of four, one quadrat was excluded from grazing by goats. Within each quadrat, Chew Crew volunteers collected baseline data pertaining to plant species presence and the number, diameter, and height of woody stems.
Baseline site conditions were established in the Fall of 2013 by students in Prof. Calabria’s Applied Landscape ecology class with the guidance of botanical experts Evelyn Wenk, an ecologist with the U.S. Forst Service Southern Research Station, Carmen Champagne, a naturals and program leader at Sandy Creek Nature Center, and Brian Harding, a plant pathology graduate student. Prof. Calabria’s students collected data that showed more than half of the vegetation on site were non-native and, of those non-natives, 40% of them were designated as Category 1 invasives by the Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council. Category 1 invasive species refers to plants that will cause a “serious problem” to Georgia’s natural areas. Seven percent of the non-natives were designated as Category 2 which considers them as causing “moderate problems.” Approximately 18% of the non-natives were listed under Category 3 resulting in “minor” problems to Georgia’s environments. One hundred percent of the shrubs were classified as non-native, as were a majority of the vines and non-grass herbaceous plants. There was a dominant population of native trees over non-native trees, likely due to the fact that most of the large tree canopy had established before non-native invasions. Vegetative data shows that non-native plant species dominate the shrub and ground layer, inhibiting native tree seedlings from establishing.
The first official Botany Blitz event took place in 2014 when the quadrats were completed. Quadrats were designed and built by the Material Reuse Program Coordinator, Chris McDowell. With the exception of miscellaneous hardware, all of the materials used in construction were salvaged from university construction and demolition waste.