Growing up on PEI, I was always told not to walk on the dunes. This is because the Marram Grass that holds these protective structures together is very sensitive to foot traffic. But what about the rest of our native wildlife? Don’t other plants deserve our consideration when it comes to choosing where to step?
It turns out that Marram Grass is, as expected, not the only PEI plant sensitive to trampling damage. Although a plant that you’ve stepped on may not be killed, its fitness can still be negatively impacted. The plant may incur significant damage that prevents it from growing as large as it otherwise would have. The plant may also have trouble producing as many seeds as it otherwise would have. Trampling may be a limiting factor for moss biodiversity. Mosses do not take tramping well in most cases and are severely impacted by foot traffic. Lichens are also significantly impacted by even low-frequency foot traffic. Two lichen species are registered as at risk on PEI, the White-rimmed Shingle Lichen, 𝐹𝑢𝑠𝑐𝑜𝑝𝑎𝑛𝑛𝑎𝑟𝑖𝑎 𝑙𝑒𝑢𝑐𝑜𝑠𝑡𝑖𝑐𝑡𝑎, and the Wrinkled Shingle Lichen, 𝑃𝑎𝑛𝑛𝑎𝑟𝑖𝑎 𝑙𝑢𝑟𝑖𝑑𝑎. These sensitive species are often found in forested places, which makes watching your step in the woods extra important. Finding the right foothold could be make or break for some of our most imperiled species!
No plant, mushroom, or lichen appreciates being stepped on…. Or do they?
No NATIVE plant we should say! Certain invasive plant species can benefit significantly from trampling. They do not benefit on an individual basis, but instead benefit from being dispersed by foot traffic. As you can see in this picture, seeds or root pieces are often caught in between the treads of our boots. Plants like Garlic Mustard, Mugwort, Yellow Flag Iris, and others can be easily transported from place to place by our boots. When we finish a day in the field or are moving to a new area, PEIISC staff always clean our boots. We use a simple boot brush with a pick (often marketed as a “hoof pick” for horses) to get in all the nooks and crannies of our boots.
Bring along a boot brush on your next outing. Before you return home from hiking, biking, running, or walking, it is important to check and clean your footwear for any seeds or plant fragments present. Doing this is especially important if you’ve been in an area with a known invasive species infestation (which includes, unfortunately, most of our ditches). This is a simple and effective way to prevent the spread of invasive species!
By cleaning our footwear and being mindful of where we step, we can both help native plants thrive and prevent invasive plants from spreading. Try it out next time you’re out and about!