about south river federation

(You Can't Predict Everything - How Restoration Sites Recover)


By Kirk Mantay, July 29th, 2015

There I stood, with a group of scientists standing on a Church Creek shoreline, looking at a diminutive, brownish plant in the water in front of us. It's alive, its leaves waving in the current, but what is it? Its shape, habitat, and location in Church Creek tell the scientists that it can be only one of two related species - a treasured native plant (endemic to the watershed, but lost in recent decades) or a dreaded European cousin. But it appears to be neither, casting this biological orphan into categories of other native relatives - from "undocumented," to "rare" to the basic "uncommon." We will have to wait a few weeks until the plant flowers, allowing us to know its identity for sure.mystery SAV

What is interesting is that this Church Creek habitat was built for the local native plant, Redhead Grass. Redhead Grass is a treasured Chesapeake Bay native, once found throughout the South River watershed but now extremely rare. Scientists, including those at the Federation, don't know what the implications are of a native but rarer cousin of Redhead Grass literally taking root at the site. It's wonderful news - but we don't know what it means, except that ducks likely deposited the seeds last winter while feeding on aquatic invertebrates on the restoration site, and that growing conditions are favorable for underwater grasses. Luckily, both of those are great news in and of themselves!

Nearby, Federation project sites are host to other unintended but welcomed native guests like Square-Stemmed Monkey Flower, Barnyard Millet, Water Horehound, and the wonderful looking but awful-sounding Devil's Beggarticks (a wildflower). It's all true - short term and long term plant responses to our restoration projects are wild, native, and.....many times surprising.

This summer, Federation interns are conducting unprecedented field surveys to determine how fish and summer-breeding frogs survive in degraded urban sites and how - and why - those species thrive after the restoration of site hydrology has occurred. It may sound like common sense, but the restoration process involves construction after all, and our native fish and wildlife are sensitive to disturbance. The findings, still preliminary, provide more surprises - that some tadpoles who aren't supposed to survive the winter, sometimes do. That frogs have an easier time colonizing restoration sites than fish do. That in the absence of fish, gray tree frog tadpoles rule.                                                                                                                                                                                                           

These hundreds of hours of scientific field study, conducted at 19 sites across the South, Severn, and Rhode River are providing the very beginning of our collective understanding of what urban watershed recovery truly "looks like," and which species of fish and wildlife seem to benefit. Some results could have been predicted. Others are very big surprises. We can't wait to tell you about the next surprises we find.

devils beggarticks wiki commons

   Devil's Beggarticks