Study looks at re-planting Erie’s wild rice

by Jeff Helsdon | September 6, 2022

A research group is examining the viability of planting wild rice to fill the spaces left when phragmites was removed from certain Lake Erie marshes, such as Long Point and Rondeau.

Rebecca Rooney, a professor at the University of Waterloo’s Wetlands Lab, has been part of a team that has been looking at the impacts of vegetation on native plants and wildlife since 2014. When a large-scale effort started to eliminate phragmites in 2016, there was already base data to use.

Phragmites removal, which has been led by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, has been very successful in Long Point and Rondeau, two of the most important waterfowl-staging areas. While high water levels contributed to the success, Rooney and her team noticed something missing.

“We weren’t getting the native vegetation we were hoping,” she said. “Part of that was the high-water levels.”

Phragmites persist

It also became apparent that phragmites seeds in recently treated areas were leading to small-scale growth, which was re-treated. Other invasives, such as European frogbit and Eurasian milfoil in the deeper areas, as well as purple loosestrife also took hold.

Before phragmites took over, much of the treated deeper areas was originally filled with wild rice, providing food and habitat for waterfowl, fish, and invertebrates. Now Rooney and her team are planting test plots of wild rice in water more than 30 cm deep and other native plants such as vervain, sedges, rushes, milkweed, and asters in shallower areas.

“We need to not only remove phragmites but find what is best to put in to resist newly established (phragmites) plots,” Rooney said. “The goal of this study is to help find what native plants will give us the best resistance to keep other invasive plants out.”

Long Point Waterfowlers, the non-profit OFAH affiliate that runs hunting in the Long Point area, contributed to the research.

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