Building scientific and management capacity to respond to invasive Phragmites (common reed) in Minnesota

Project manager: Dan Larkin

Funded by: Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources


Invasion by non-native Phragmites appears to be accelerating in Minnesota, though no systematic efforts to understand distribution or implement control efforts have been conducted. The risk that Phragmites will spread rapidly and be difficult to control in Minnesota likely depends on whether multiple genetic strains are present, overcoming the barrier to seed production, and whether seed has the opportunity to ripen given the length of the growing season. This project will map invasive Phragmites statewide, assess its reproductive potential, and develop management protocols for responding to different invasion scenarios.

To address this, a collaborative network will help collect data on invasive Phragmites presence in Minnesota. Tissue samples will be collected and analyzed by partners at the Chicago Botanic Garden to genetically confirm non-native status (Minnesota still boasts high abundance of native Phragmites, unlike regions along the Atlantic coast where the native subspecies has been almost entirely displaced). Researchers will identify whether it is sexually reproductive by collecting seeds and conducting seed viability tests. Knowing whether it can spread by seed (sexually) or just clonally is important; once viable seeds start spreading by wind and water, eradication and control is much more difficult and expensive. Researchers will also look for patterns that indicate climate or temperature sensitivity that may be limiting seed production.

Researchers will create response plans to help AIS managers, agencies, and other entities respond to different Phragmites invasion scenarios. These will be customized based on the age and size of the invasion, how it’s reproducing, and where it is located in relation to sensitive ecological resources – for example, responses to an invasion in a large wetland complex, wild rice waters, or a drainage ditch will vary.

Phragmites is a highly invasive wetland grass that can have strong negative impacts on biological diversity, wildlife, habitat quality, and recreation. In Minnesota, it is a cryptic invasion because native Phragmites is present as well.

Project start date: 2017

Estimated project end date: 2019

Progress and updates: