Native grasses and native wildflowers are declining, especially along roadside right-of-ways because of intensive mowing and herbicide management practices. Roadside right-of-ways undergo regular disturbances such as mowing, maintenance, and road developments that affect soils, groundwater, surface hydrology, and vegetation composition. We investigated species richness and percent coverage within plant communities along highway right-of-ways to determine if reduced mowing increased native plant coverage. The study was conducted using 10 research plots situated along Highway 25 in Oktibbeha and Winston counties, Mississippi. Each research plot consisted of three different treatments as follows: one that included greater than four mowings per year, one mowing only in fall, and one mowing only in fall with a supplemental native wildflower seeding. Using line transect sampling, we detected 277 plant species, which included native and nonnative forbs, legumes, grasses, rushes, sedges, and woody perennials (vines, shrubs, and trees). Total percent coverage of native and nonnative plants within different growth form categories did not differ among treatments (F2,96 = 0.45, P = 0.83). However, coverage differed between uplands and lowlands (F1,96 = 18.22, P ≤ 0.001), between years (F1,96 = 14.54, P ≤ 0.001), between fall and spring seasons (F1,96 = 16.25, P ≤ 0.001), and interacted between years and seasons (F1,96 = 24.08, P ≤ 0.001) and seasons and elevations (F1,96 = 5.00, P ≤ 0.001). Nonnative agronomic grasses exhibited the greatest coverage (> 90%) in all treatments. Percent coverage of each plant growth form was greatest in lowlands. Our research showed an increase of native grasses and wildflower species along roadsides with a reduced mowing regimen. We concluded that the timing and intensity of mowing for the duration of our study had little effect on the species composition of plant communities. However, one mowing per year retained agronomic plant coverage for erosion control and soil stabilization during roadside maintenance. Specific proactive management implementations can include native plantings, selective herbicide use to decrease nonnative grasses, continual mowing from roadside edge to 10 m, and only one mowing in late fall, but with an extension of the boundary to reach beyond 10 m from the roadside edge to suppress the invasion of woody plants, which could lead to lower long-term maintenance costs.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences| College of Forest Resources
Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology| Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture
Forest and Wildlife Research Center
Native plants, nonnative invasive plants, northeastern Mississippi, reduced mowing, right-of-ways, roadsides, plant communities
Entsminger, E. D., J. C. Jones, J. W. Guyton, B. K. Strickland, and B. D. Leopold. 2017. Evaluation of Mowing Frequency on Right-of-Way Plant Communities in Mississippi. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management 8 (1):125-139. Pre-Published on February 16, 2017. Available: http://fwspubs.org/toc/fwma/8/1 Published online on June 8, 2017 Available: http://fwspubs.org/doi/pdf/10.3996/062016-JWFM-051 and http://fwspubs.org/doi/abs/10.3996/062016-JWFM-051