Friday, June 6, 2008

The Robins Island Plots Thrive…

In order to track the progress of our various test plantings throughout the region we typically schedule monitoring visits at least monthly throughout the growing season. Sometimes, especially during late summer when we can begin to lose plants to stress, it is useful to monitor more often, if possible.

Last week we made our second monitoring visit to the Robins Island test plots that looked so good in April. If you remember my last post on this site I mentioned that these plots were the best that I have ever seen in over 15 years of work in the Peconic Estuary. However, as they say in the investment commercials “past performance is no guarantee of future results” or some such thing.

Having said this, I could not have been happier with what we observed on May 29th. The day was perfect for monitoring. The sun was shining and there was a slight breeze, not enough to produce a chop in the lee of the island, but just enough to keep the “noseeums” away.

As we approached the plots we could clearly see the dark circles against the tan of the surrounding sand. I was relieved that they were still there. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you want to look at it there is literally nothing on the bottom at this site except for what we planted; No algae, no crabs, no whelks, no anything...just as we like it. In areas like this our plots normally experience the “oasis effect” (I think I just made that up) meaning that any crab, whelk or moonsnail in the area eventually arrives and rips or plows out the grass looking for food. For some reason, this does not happen here.

Given the water clarity I could almost count the shoots from the boat, but that would clearly not be accurate enough for our work. What was apparent from above was that the plots contained many flowers indicating that there will likely be a nice seed set this summer.

In my mind the flowers are a mixed blessing. On one hand they indicate how well the site is performing. On the other hand they also mean that the site will lose shoots after seeds are released some time mid summer.

For those who don’t know a certain number (about 10%) of vegetative shoots typically develop into reproductive shoots, set seed and die. This appears to be initiated some time during the winter or very early spring and no one really knows what causes an otherwise normal shoot to differentiate. What is clear however is that as a result of this process the shoot density after flowering always drops proportional to the amount of flowering.

As usual Steve handled the counting as he has the most skilled and experienced of us. When there are flowers we count them separately so we can account for the eventual loses and we also want to calculate flowering percentage.

Based on the numbers from April to May the plots have shown an 8% drop when the reproductive shoots are included. Mean flowering percentage was 15.8% which will translate into an approximately 30 shoot loss per plot by mid summer. However, we also expect additional lateral shoots to form in the coming weeks so this number COULD be overcome be increases in additional vegetative shoots.

We also checked on the Hog Neck Bay plots on the same day. They looked good, but not as good as Robins Island. Check back for an update on these plots soon.


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