Effects of Leaving Slash in Place Following Ashe Juniper Thinning from Texas Hill Country Grasslands
The Edwards Plateau of Central Texas exemplifies the global phenomenon of indigenous woody plant encroachment into grasslands. The present study in Blanco County investigates a grassland management technique where felled Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei) trees are left in place after cutting. This method, coined 'The Juniper Blanket’, has anecdotally shown to stabilize the soil, reduce erosion, and provide favorable conditions for grass growth as well as desirable woody species. Treatment plots (n = 18) consisting of Ashe juniper removal, Ashe juniper blanket, and control plots were established in both a woodland as well as a grassland setting and monitored from March 2017 to March 2018. This study compared species richness (S), Simpson’s Index of diversity (D), and Shannon’s index of diversity (H) calculated from percent cover in the treatment areas. In addition to monitoring plant assemblage, soil moisture and the soil seed banks was examined. Following four months of observation, no taxa emerged from the soil seed bank. Trends in soil moisture were generally higher under the Ashe juniper blanket plots as compared to both the Ashe juniper removal plots and the control plots in the woodland. Biodiversity measures (S, D, H) all increased where the Ashe juniper blanket was applied in the woodland (p ≤ 0.05). However, these trends were not seen in the grassland plots. These findings suggest that the juniper blanket method may be an effective method of restoring or converting juniper woodlands to grassland communities in the Edwards Plateau.