Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Oplismenus Menaces the Mid Atlantic

Oplismenus hirtellus (L.) P. Beauv. subsp. undulatifolius (Ard.) U. Scholz
Flatbed scan of a herbarium specimen (Uebel, 1,651C) collected at Liberty Reservoir, Baltimore County, Maryland, USA on 26 Sep 1997
     A dangerous-to-a-local-ecosystem invader with pretentions of beauty, even possible ornamental use as a "naturalizing" ground cover, is quickly spreading throughout the parks and woodlands of the Mid-Atlantic from Maryland through northern to western Virginia including the Washington DC region.[1] This relatively new invasive species seems to have arrived in the early 1990s, perhaps even the late 1980s. a time that allows for its early efforts at over-coming the odds of successful establishment. Armed with a scientific, generic (genus) name that is daunting, the name Oplismenus, comes to us from the ancient Greek hoplismenos meaning 'armed' referring to due morphological feature of a glume with awns. (Chase, 1910)      

    Today there is a chance to reign in its spread before it replaces major parts of the ecosystems of the Chesapeake Bay region. Dr. Marc Imlay and is band of weed warriors is seeking funding to quash the invasion before it becomes so big as to be unstoppable. The land managers know they can contain it and "weed" it out now; that they have a fighting chance to stop the spread, or at least to surely slow it down enough to mitigate and limit the ecological harm it may cause as it replaces the native species in the food web that occupy unique niches in the present ecosystem.. Doing something now costs far less than waiting to try to control it once everyone knows there is a problem. With invasive species, by the time the every one feels or sees the problem, the costs of control, containment or eradication exceed the resources available. The weed warriors seek 3 million dollars to eradicate the expansion and reduce the acreage under attack. Smaller amounts of funding mean smaller reductions of this pest, and a resulting limited reduction in effect control. Of course any reduction is better than none, but they know that they could get it all now even as they watch it spread to that point of no return while we dither and say perhaps there is no problem at all.

EDDMapS shows the current distribution.  Marc Imlay, a relentless weed warrior, told me in 2006 [Nov 27, 2006 New Invasive; Early Detection; Rapid Response] that "Paul Peterson at the Natural History museum identified the grass as Oplismenus hirtellus subsp undulatifolius. He published a note on this grass in 1999 along with Charlie Davis, Ed Uebel and Rob Soreng, when it was found to be a new record for North America. Ed Uebel discovered it in Patapsco Valley State Park, (MD) and another site several miles north of the park, occurring in small to medium sized patches. It is native to southern Europe and southeastern Asia. It certainly sounds like it has the potential to be another invasive since it is stoloniferous, has seeds that stick to clothing, and appeared to be spreading according to Ed Uebel." I note that in that posting the nursery industry's variegated ornamental species was suspected as having mutated and escaped, a premise which since has been dismissed as information from genetic testing has confirmed a distinct difference.
(Talley & Ramsey, 2009)

    The spread of this non native grass has reached the mountains and woodlands of the Shenandoah and shows no signs of slowing down. Folks say that this Oplismenus from Japan can "eat" Japanese stilt grass, (a major invasive species, Microstegium vimineum (Trin.) A. Camus), for breakfast and keep covering the forest bottoms in a dense carpet creating a biological desert. At first there was controversy as to whom to blame, and taxonomic lumpers and splitters trying to decide exactly "which of what" was invading. The apparent genetic plasticity found in the literature for the last two centuries of the species world wide is a likely indicator of potential invasive tendencies, but the recourse to absolute science has a tendency to hold up any action until the end of the play. So for a decade or so the species wandered taxonomically and ecologically in the wilderness of inattention. Searches through the scientific literature since the early 19th century suggested that the genus was remarkably prone to interspecific crosses. In other words this was a plant that could adapt easily and readily to the north side of a mountain as well as the south side and produce quickly seemingly different species based upon location and morphology. The point is that the genus can survive in a wide range of ecological conditions.

    The genus Oplismenus is globally dispersed and has challenged categorization since its first mention by that great naturalist and botanist, Ambrose-Marie-François-Joseph Palisot de Beauvois, around 1810. An aristocrat who travelled to West Africa, caught in military actions between the French and British, forced to leave due to illness for Haiti; he continued his collecting with a strange aside into the politics of slavery. Once more finding his collections burned and this time forced to leave because of the revolution, unwilling as an aristocrat to return to revolutionary France, he set out for the United States. Destitute he arrived in Philadelphia, joined the circus as a musician and began "…curating the private botanical collection of Charles Willson Peale. He joined the American Philosophical Society, contributed to its Transactions, and resumed his collecting with the sponsorship of the French Attache, Paul Adet, a scientist in his own right. Palisot's collecting trips in the United States ranged from the Ohio River in the west to Savannah, Georgia in the south. He made several valuable discoveries, including that of a new species of rattlesnake, and he passed several months among the Creek and Cherokee Indians. He was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society, to which he communicated a part of his observations. Palisot finally received word from Paris that his citizenship had been restored, and began planning his return to Europe, especially the freighting of his collections. Dogged by misfortune, these collections were lost in a shipwreck off Nova Scotia in 1798. Palisot returned to France in the same year." [2]

    To say that the taxonomy has been a little less than clear is to not do justice to the two centuries of expert discussion. Ursula Scholz describes the contortions of taxonomy clearly showing the pathway to the present epithet. She writes that "…historical consideration of the genus proves clearly how difficult the separation of the species from one another is. This was made especially evident through the very objective research methods of Davey & Clayton. From that one may doubtless conclude that through a classical systematic approach no fully satisfying results can be expected." [3]  (Scholz, 1981)

    As usual this problem can be boiled down and thus simplified to: who cares? For most people one grass is the same as another as long as it green. Few people are willing to pay more to clean weed a park; a place they see was "wild" already and suitable for weeds and other scary things. A few suggest that those who love wild natural areas should bear the financial burden of maintaining what they love so much. For them natural areas are a resource to be protect only when it is generating economic value directly to them individually. A natural resource that is not being exploited is simply wilderness waiting for human labor to turn it into something worth while. The dumping of our biological refuse onto unmanaged lands is not seen as a problem but rather one of the principle uses of untamed, unmanaged, undeveloped landscapes. If the land has not been shaped for a better use, why pay money to remove just another plant that someone does not like? And finally there is the group that believes that whatever problem may or maynot happen, we will deal with it when the time comes if the problem is big enough we shall overcome somehow, but in the meantime we have present problems of enormous cost that need dealing with on a more urgent basis than removing one somewhat aggressive species from the woods. So the question remains: Who cares? -our modern version of Cui bono
     Do you?


[1] EDDMapS. 2011. Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System. The University of Georgia - Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. Available online at http://www.eddmaps.org/; last accessed January 4, 2011.

[2] Palisot de Beauvois  From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palisot_de_Beauvois

[3] Scholz, U. 1981. Monographie der gattung Oplismenus (Gramineae). Phanerogamarum monographiae Tomus XIII. J. Cramer, Vaduz, Germany. 217 pp. With 46 figures and 2 tables. Englush translation by Anthony McIntyre, Spencer Atkins, and Felix Tweraser. Published by A.R Gantner Kommandit community, FL-9490 VADUZ; © 1981 A.R. Gantner Verlag K.G., FL-9490 Vaduz; Printed in Germany by Strauss & Cramer GmbH, 6945 Hirschberg 2
ISBN 3-7682-1292-0
"The genus Oplismenus was not always unanimously defined.  Palisot de Beauvois (1810) identified seven species in addition to the type species O. africanus. Persoon (1805) had previously put these together as two species groups: “Spic. composita, spicul. compressis secundis” . Valid combination changes of these species that Persoon quotes from Panicum, are first found in Palisot de Beauvois, Essai d’une nouvelle Agrostographie: 53 (1812). They are as follows: O. bromoides, O. burmannii, O. compositus, O. elatior, O. helvolus and O. hirtellus. In addition, the species O. foliaceus and O. undulatiflolius were named. The designation of “foliaceus” is clearly due to a typographical error in which O. loliaceus is named a synonym, as only Panicum loliaceum Lam. appears in the index of the Agrostrograph.

The case of O. undulatiflolius is more complicated. In text S. 54 O. undulatifolius – like the other speciesl – is listed as nomen nudum. In the Index s. 168 “Panicum undulatifolium And (Ard.)” is listed as a synonym for O. burmannii, and “Panicum undulatifolium ? L.” is listed as a synonym of O. undulatifolius. As no Panicum undulatifolium exists this combination is invalid (Niles & Chase 1925; Becherer 1929).

The type species of the genus O. africanus was described, illustrated, and nameed as a separate species next to Panicum hirtellum L. and Panicum loliaceum Lam. by Palisot de Beauvois. No voucher specimen is cited. Two specimens can, however, be studied, as they were well known to Palisot de Beauvois and have comments on them: “types de la Flora d’ Oware et de benin” (G) and “dedit Palisot de Beauvois” (LE). Both plants are similar in their habit (very delicate), they are however, relatively strongly differentiated in their inflorescence characteristics.  The specimen 1 from Geneva corresponds to the depiction in the Flore d’oware et de Benin and should therefore be considered the lectotype. The specimen 2 from Leningrad is intermediate between O. hirtellus subsp. fasciculatus and subsp. setarius.

Like Palisot de Beauvois, R. Brown also tightly circumscribed his genus Orthopogon (Greek origin: όρθός straight, πώγων beard) and only compiled species under it that have awns in the outer three glumes and whose spikelets are pressed together from the sides. He lists Orthopogon compositus (= Panicum compositum L.) and three further species that he described, Orthopogon aemulus , Orthopogon flaccidus and Orthopogon imbecillis.

The genus Oplismenus is described with similar circumscriptions by Roemer & Schultes (1817), Raddi (1823), Nees von Esenbeck (1829 and 1841) , Bentham & Hooker (1883), Domin (1915), Hitchcock (1913 on following pages), Koidzumi (1925) and Honda (1924 and 1930). In contrast to this circumscription, which we consider to be Oplismenus s. str., are the interpretations of Kunth in Humbolt, Bonpland & Kunth (1816) and Kunth (1833), Desvaux (1831 and E. Fournier (1816) who sxpanded the genus to include the genus now known as Echinochloa as a section of Oplismenus.  Even so Sprengel (1825) also recognized Orthopogon. Later however, like the earlier Poiret (1816) and after him Steudel (1854), Sprengel reduced Orthopogon to a section of Panicum, while Trinius, in earlier works (1820) accepted Orthopogon s. str. Mez (1917 and 1921) accepted Oplismenus (s. str.), but added to it some species that belong in different genera.

Schechtendal (1961-62) divided Oplismenus into two sections, base on characterisics of the awns. Species Oplismenus sect. Orthopogon (= sect. Oplismenus) have strong, red-gold, smooth awns, whereas members of Oplismenus sect. Scabrista have delicate, whitish, scabrous awns. This division appears sensible as the make-up of the awns is an important criterion, both in physiological as well as in dispersal.

Davey & Clayton (1977), in their study of some of the species of the genus, adopted new interpretations. They analyzed the species O. compositus, O. hirtellus, O. undulatifolius O. aemulus , O. imbecillis, O. rariflorus and O. setarius according using discriminate analysis (Cooley & Lohnes 1971). They compared all the species and attempted to separate them. They concluded that some species are easy to separate when one considers them within individual geographical regions, such as America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. When comparisons included specimens from multiple regions, however, they found some species to be non-separable species, O. hirtellus, O. compositus and O. undulatifolius. They concluded that there were no distinct boundaries between these three species”



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