CoastWatchers Aid in Beachgrass Search

 

Comparison of beachgrass species.
Comparison of beachgrass species including new hybrid.

The search continues for the new hybrid beachgrass that may be spreading on the Oregon coast. CoastWatch volunteers are helping researchers at Oregon State University map the range of the new hybrid, the offspring of two invasive beachgrass species.

To sharpen the observational skills of volunteers, two in-person events are planned for this summer. At these trainings, you'll learn how dunes are built, why beachgrasses matter, and how to identify common dune plants including the non-native beachgrasses and their hybrid. Dress for the weather and bring water and snacks. The hybrid is easiest to identify between late June and mid-July, so these trainings take place at the perfect time to enable volunteers to join the search in areas where it's highly likely that undiscovered hybrid patches await.

On Tuesday, June 21, a field trip will begin at 1 p.m. at the main parking lot near the bathrooms off Sunset Beach Road at Sunset Beach Recreation Site. The training will last 90 minutes, which will include searching for new hybrid beachgrass patches. Time will also be dedicated to a brief beach cleanup. Staff from new CoastWatch mile adopter Lewis and Clark National Historic Park (Mile 330) will be at this training. This mile is the western terminus of the Fort to Sea Trail, which begins six miles away, at Fort Clatsop.

On Saturday July 9, a field trip will begin at 11 a.m. at the main parking lot near the wreck of the Peter Iredale at Fort Stevens State Park. The training will last 90 minutes to two hours, which will include searching for new hybrid beachgrass patches.

As a result of dune surveys led by researchers and community scientists, 117 patches of the hybrid have currently been found--much more than previously realized just a year ago! On iNaturalist alone, the hybrid beachgrass mapping project has nearly 1,000 observations, including 33 of the hybrid, from 599 different people. These hybrid beachgrass patches, which range in size from just a few square meters to patches that run along the foredune for nearly a kilometer, are located across a 155-mile stretch from Pacific City, Oregon to Ocean Grove, Washington.

Research led by Rebecca Mostow, a PhD candidate at Oregon State University, suggests that the hybrid may exceed its parents in traits important for dune-building, such as stem height and stem density, which may lead to greater sand capture and produce taller and perhaps wider dunes. This means that the hybrid has the potential to influence dune shape and coastal protection from extreme storms and sea level rise, and may affect snowy plover habitat and other aspects of beach and dune ecology. Many more hybrid beachgrass patches are likely to be found if searches continue in coastal dune areas, especially near Fort Stevens, Oregon and Long Beach, Washington.

The leader for the trainings is Risa Askerooth, another member of the team conducting this research. Risa is carrying on Rebecca Mostow's work.  Rebecca, who will defend her thesis based on her studies of the beachgrass hybrid in September, implemented the hybrid beachgrass mapping project on iNaturalist with CoastWatch beginning in 2020. As a Master’s student at Oregon State University, Risa studies the ecology of the new, hybrid beachgrass on coastal dunes as part of Dr. Sally Hacker’s research group. After earning her B.S. in Environmental Science at Western Washington University, Risa has been drawn to studying invasive species management and native species conservation. In particular, she is interested in sustainable resource and land management, and engaging stakeholders in the process. Risa’s past work experiences have included invasive plant control in Hawaiian forests, fish monitoring in a Great Lakes estuary with NOAA, and assisting with the creation of a digital atlas of the Salish Sea region.

Rebecca provided background on beachgrass and the efforts to trace the new hybrid in an information-packed webinar for CoastWatch, which is now available on the CoastWatch YouTube channel:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhQOlsddcNI.

For more on the beachgrass survey and other citizen science projects, contact Jesse Jones, CoastWatch volunteer coordinator, (503) 989-7244, jesse@oregonshores.org.