TRU receives funding for invasive species research

Biological sciences prof Lauchlan Fraser and his team received $300,000 from province

Professor Lauchlan Fraser and his team will be working alongside various groups, including the Nicola Watershed Community Round Table, in researching invasive species in the Laurie Guichon Memorial Grasslands. (Wade Tomko/The Omega)

The provincial government has provided TRU with $300,000 over the next three years for invasive species research. The money will go to Lauchlan Fraser, a biological sciences professor and his research team to help manage invasive species in the Laurie Guichon Memorial Grasslands near Merritt, B.C.

An additional $120,000 will be going to the TNRD for the management of invasive species. This comes after B.C. Natural Resource Minister Doug Donaldson announced $861,500 in grants to the Okanagan and Thompson-Nicola regions to deal with invasive species.

In total, the multi-year funding program will see more than $7.7 million distributed across the province to 34 regional invasive species organizations, local governments, environmental groups and researchers, as well as the Invasive Species Council of B.C.

Though Fraser will work with a number of TRU faculty researchers, graduate students and external organizations, his team’s research will mainly look at how to manage spotted knapweed and cheatgrass in the Laurie Guichon Memorial Grasslands.

“[The grasslands] are inundated with invasive species,” Fraser said. “Specifically knapweed, which is a big issue there, but so is cheatgrass. So we have targeted specific research projects to look at means of controlling knapweed and we have paired our trials with spraying.”

Spraying pesticides, which has long been a tactic used by municipalities as well as the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure in clearing weeds from the sides of highways can be somewhat effective, Fraser said, yet little is done in the post-spraying process to prevent the reintroduction of these species.

“One of the issues is that you spray knapweed and walk away and then suddenly it is inundated with cheatgrass because these are invasive plants and they love disturbance and they love open spaces,” he said.

Over the summer, Fraser and two of his students, Jeff Fooks and Rachel Whitehouse, will be conducting a set of trials in the grasslands to see what methods work best in controlling these invasive species.

Tests on both soil bio-amendments and grazing management will be conducted, says Fraser. For the soil bio-amendment portion of the trials, the team will see if ash will help control spotted knapweed and provide a fertilizer for native grasses. After that, the team will look at reseeding the area using agronomics.

Spotted knapweed causes many problems in the area as the chemicals it releases can make the surrounding soil inhospitable for native species. (Superior Natural Forest/Flickr)

“Agronomics use some non-native, cultured grasses and there is some controversy over using agronomics because they are non-native, but many people in the industry really like agronomics because they are cheap, they’re very easy to access, they germinate very well and they grow quickly,” Fraser said. “There is a lot of positives, but the potential negative is that they persist and reduce the potential for native species to come in and grow and they reduce the biodiversity of the site.”

The team will also be looking at how grazing cattle in the area may be used to help fight the spread of invasive plants.

“We are looking at ways that we can actually use cattle, positively, to help control invasives. If a site is overgrazed, that does tend to increase the potential for invasive species,” Fraser said. “There are certain management techniques that could be applied to not only control invasives, but help reduce them and eliminate them.”

Specifically, Fraser wants to bring cattle in when knapweed is most vulnerable. This period is usually around early July, right before it has flowered and is at a point where it is more palatable for cattle. Fraser also wants to look at multiple grazing management strategies throughout the year as well.

In addition to various research trials taking place on the site, Fraser and his team will also be providing signage so that hikers can better understand the aim of the research and why it’s so important.

Research is slated to start later this summer. Currently, Fraser and his team are mapping out the area where they’d like to test. The group will also be working along the Nicola Watershed Community Round Table, a Merritt organization devoted to maintaining the area’s biodiversity and engaging in strategic resource management.