The Northern Great Plains Inventory & Monitoring Network surveyed 14 long-term monitoring plots in Wind Cave National Park (WICA) in 2012 as part of an effort to better understand the condition of plant communities in the park. We measured plant diversity and cover, looked for the presence of exotic species that are of concern to park management, and evaluated the amount of human and natural disturbance at all plots. This effort was the second year in a multiple-year venture to document the current status and long-term trends in plant communities in WICA. At the end of five years, there will be an in-depth report describing the status of the plant community. In this report, we provide a simple summary of our results from sampling in 2012.
We found that Wind Cave National Park has a high diversity of native plants. Dry conditions in 2012 tended to reduce plant diversity compared to 2011, but species richness was still within the range of natural variability for mixed-grass prairie. We found 2 rare plants in our surveys: nylon hedgehog cactus and buff fleabane. Average cover of exotic species was moderate, with 6 of 14 sites having greater than 10% exotic cover. Kentucky bluegrass was the most widespread and abundant exotic species. Japanese brome and/or cheatgrass were present at most sites and have the potential to alter ecosystem structure and function. In some but not all cases, disturbance correlated with higher exotic cover. To retain ecological integrity in WICA and the high diversity of native plants, it is important to continue efforts to reduce the cover of invasive plants. Continued monitoring efforts will be critical to track changes in the condition of the vegetation communities in WICA.
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