Land Management

Demonstration: Racetrack Hill Meadow Plots

Native grasses and wildflowers have persisted in Virginia for generations. Over the course of geologic time, these plants have evolved in response to the unique pressures exerted by the climate, soils, and community of species characteristic of the areas where they occur. As a result, they are typically more robust to local environmental conditions, and will outperform non-native species in resistance to drought, insects, and disease. However, some non-native grassland species (e.g., autumn olive Eleagnus undifolia, wavyleaf basketgrass Oplismenus hirtellus, and tree-of-heaven Ailanthus altissima) can outcompete natives. These species become invasive when they proliferate widely (sometimes even forming large monocultures), and displace native species. The invasion of non-native species reduces local biodiversity and ultimately the resiliency of the entire meadow ecosystem.

Landowners that want to control invasive species and improve the health of their meadow should know which management practices are the most effective. Toward addressing this information need, VWL established nine half-acre meadows on SCBI property in collaboration with the Field Ecology Lab and with support from a Smithsonian Women’s Committee Grant. By tracking how biodiversity and species assemblages change in these meadows in response to different management practices, VWL hopes to gain insight into the methods that can improve the overall condition and health of native meadows.

Nine plots were initially prepared by either tilling (4 plots), applying herbicides and then tilling (4 plots), or taking no action (1 control plot), and then all were seeded with the same meadow mix. Every year since their establishment, the plots receive one of four treatments (mowing, herbicide application, prescribed burning, or manual weed removal), which reflect several common practices for managing grasslands. Then, at the height of the growing season (June-August), surveyors record the diversity and abundance of plant species in each plot.

VWL’s role and goal. Ultimately, VWL seeks to develop or improve management guides for landowners, in order to empower the community to conserve native biodiversity at home.

Partners and Primary Investigators:
Amy Johnson – Virginia Working Landscapes
Bill McShea – SCBI Field Ecology Lab






Virginia Working Landscapes
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
1500 Remount Road
Front Royal, Virginia 22630