Friday, October 31, 2014Register
 Invasive Spotlight

 [Photo: James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org]
[Photo: James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org]

Chinese Tallow
Triadica sebifera

Description: Chinese tallow is a medium-sized, deciduous tree that grows from 15-18 meters (50-60 feet) tall and 1 meter (3 ft) in diameter. The bark is reddish brown, with long drooping branches. The leaves are simple, dark green, heart shaped, and turn yellow and red in the fall. The flowers are yellowish, dangling spikes about 8 inches long. The Chinese tallow yields thousands of 1 cm long, three-lobed fruits which are dark blue to purplish in color and split open during the fall and winter to reveal popcorn looking seeds inside.

Life History: Chinese talllow is monoecious (male and female reproductive parts found on the same tree) and becomes reproductively active at 3 years of age. Flowers grow from March through May and fruits ripen from August to November. Each tree can produce up to 100,000 seeds annually which are dispersed by birds and water. The Chinese tallow reproduces sexually but can propagate through cuttings, stumps and roots.

Habitat: Chinese tallow invades wet areas near streams, swampy areas, and other low-lying alluvial areas on both fresh and saline soils. Although it prefers wet areas, this tree can also invade upland, well-drained areas, as well. This species is both shade tolerant and flood tolerant. The Chinese tallow prefers mean air temperatures of 15-30 degrees C (59-86 degrees F), but can tolerate temperatures as low as -12-15 degrees C (5 to 10 F).

Distribution: Triadica sebifera is native to China and Japan. It is currently distributed in the US in the southeast and Gulf Coast states including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Status: Chinese tallow was introduced in the US in the 1700s in South Carolina. It was intentionally spread throughout the Gulf Coast in the early 1900's for its usefulness in making soap and other household items, but more recently has been spread through ornamental plantings. The Chinese tallow tree is considered a noxious weed. It aggressively invades habitats and can convert native habitat to monospecific tallow forests in a short period of time. Chinese tallow is allelopathic and its leaves create soil conditions that are unfavorable for native species. Because it is highly shade tolerant, it can also shade out grassy prairie species.

Resources:

Chinese Tallow, Species Spotlight Page

The Nature Conservancy, Element Stewardship Abstracts

USGS, National Wetlands Research Center

US Forest Service, Weed of the Week

Texas Invasives


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 Coastal Prairie: Attwater's Prairie Chicken NWR

The coastal prairie stretches along the coasts of Texas and Louisiana from Corpus Christi in the south to Lafayette, LA at its northeast extent. Coastal prairies are at the southern end of the tallgrass prairie and can be differentiated from the upland prairie by rainfall and soil type. Coastal prairies receive approximately 142 cm, or 56 inches, of rain each year. Ordinarily this amount of rainfall would lead to forest cover types, but the underlying claypan soil inhibited root penetration by larger, woody species allowing the coastal grasslands to thrive. Fire and grazing by elk, bison and antelope also aided in keeping the forest at bay. Historically, the coastal prairie covered 3.8 million hectares (9 million acres), but due to habitat loss coastal prairie now occupies about 100,100 hectares (~250,000 acres). Only 100 hectares of coastal prairie are located along the Louisiana coast with the balance remaining in Texas.

The major purpose of the Attwater's Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge (established in 1972) is to maintain and restore coastal habitat to aid in the recovery of the endangered Attwater's prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido attwateri). The refuge is located near Sealy, TX (60 miles west of Houston) and consists of 10,528 acres of coastal prairie habitat. In addition to habitat management, the refuge operates an extensive captive breeding program in conjunction with several nearby universities and zoos.

 [Figure: Attwater's Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, Houston Advanced Research Center]
[Figure: Attwater's Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, Houston Advanced Research Center]


Management
Habitat management consists of annual controlled burns, usually on 2000-3000 acres at a time. Grazing by bison and cattle is also implemented to maintain and restore prairie plant communities. Refuge staff also works to restore old fields to prairie lands by planting seeds harvested from virgin prairie remnants. In addition to the use of fire and grazing for management of invasive species, herbicides are used to control species like Macartney rose (Rosa bracteata) and Chinese tallow (Triadica sebiferum).

Biodiversity on the Refuge
In addition to the Attwater's prairie chicken (APC), 264 species of birds and 50 species of mammals reside in the refuge. Grasses consist of typical prairie species such as switchgrass, Indiangrass, little bluestem and big bluestem, in addition to several coastal specific species such as prairie nymph (Herbertia lahue var. cerulean) and tuberous grasspink (Calopogon tuberosus)

Threats to the Refuge and to Coastal Prairies
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has identified invasive species such as Macartney rose and Chinese tallow as an important threat to the biodiversity of the APC Wildlife Refuge. They have combated these species through controlled burns and sustainable grazing management and the use of herbicides. Coastal prairies, in general, are threatened by intense urbanization of the Texas and Louisiana coasts. Additionally, conversion of these lands to rice fields is both a historical and continuing threat to this habitat.

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 Endangered Spotlight

Photo: Copyright, Lynn McBride, The Nature Conservancy
[Photo: Copyright, Lynn McBride/The Nature Conservancy]

Attwater's Prairie Chicken
Tympanuchus cupido attwateri

Description: The Attwater's prairie chicken is a medium-sized member of the Grouse family (Tetraonidae). It is 43 cm (17 inches) long, has a 70 cm (28 in) wingspan and weighs 0.7-0.9 kilograms (1.5-2.5 pounds). The bird is brown, with prominent black barring and a black rounded tail. Males have a yellowish orange comb over each eye and two large orange air sacs on their neck which inflate during courtship displays. The Attwater's prairie chicken is a subspecies of the greater prairie chicken found on more northern prairies, but is smaller and darker in color.

Life History: Attwater's prairie chickens beging mating in early March on leks, or "booming grounds." Booming grounds are the areas where males gather and create loud booming sounds utilizing their colorful air sacs. Nesting begins in early March with nests located close to the booming ground in mid to tall grasses. The clutch size ranges from 4-15 and chicks hatch in late April to early May. Prairie chickens feed on plants (foliage and seeds) and insects, and diet varies based on seasonal availability. These birds live to be 2-3 years, on average.

Habitat: The Attwater's prairie chicken exclusively exists in the coastal prairie habitat. Optimale habitat consissts of well-drained prairie grasslands with varying types of cover. The prairie chicken requires a mixture of short (less than 10 inches), medium (10-16 in) and tall grasses (16-24 in); short grass or bare ground for courtship, feeding and mating, medium grass for roosting and feeding, tall grass for nesting, loafing and feeding. Areas of dense grass cover are generally not preferred but may be used for shade or cover from predators.

Distribution: Historically, the Attwater's prairie chicken was found throughout the Texas, Louisiana coastal prairie. Tympanuchus cupido attwateri is now limited to three populations; the Attwater's Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado County, TX, the Texas City Prairie Preserve in Galveston County, TX, and a private ranch in Goliad County, TX

Status: The Attwater's prairie chicken was listed as a federally endangered species in 1967. Habitat loss (over 97% of suitable habitat), due to conversion of prairie lands to urban and agricultural lands, is the primary reason for the decline of this population. A captive breeding program was started in 1993 and a recovery plan was published by the USFWS in 2007. There are currently 90 Attwater's prairie chickens remaining in the wild with an additional 157 in captivity. This is a mere .02 % of the once 1 million birds that roamed the coastal prairie, pre-settlement. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is working with private landowners to create safe harbors for the prairie chickens and their coastal prairie habitat.

Resources:

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Atwatter's Prairie Chicken, Habitat Needs

USFWS, Attwater's Prairie Chicken NWR

USFWS, Attwater's Prairie Chicken Recovery Plan


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