The 2023 Ontario Phragmites Working Group Meeting

The  Annual Ontario Phragmites Working Group Meeting took place virtually on Wednesday January 25th, 2023

This event was offered alongside our Annual Ontario Invasive Plant Council Conference which occurred on Wednesday January 18th, 2023.

The 2023 OPWG Meeting Theme was Building Resilient Communities!

We showcased people working together towards healthy ecosystems and biodiversity in a changing climate to foster coordinated action towards the management of Invasive Phragmites.


CLICK Below to Download the Event Agenda

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Rebecca Rooney

Dr. Rebecca Rooney is an Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo and carries out research in wetland ecology. She is a world expert on biomonitoring and wetland assessment. Her research supports the implementation of wetland policy, invasive species management, and the protection of species at risk. She tackles fundamental questions around how communities assemble and what defines them, including the relative importance of biological interactions, environmental conditions, and landscape factors. Her pioneering work on the response of invasive Phragmites to herbicide-based control and the recovery of native plant and animal communities after Phrag removal has been instrumental in supporting our efforts to control Phragmites in Ontario. 

Native vegetation recovery following Phragmites suppression – lessons from long-term monitoring

Too few invasive species management programs have the luxury of long-term monitoring, which limits our ability to practice adaptive management and learn from past efforts to improve on best practices. The unprecedented nature of the Emergency Use Registration to suppress Phragmites australis with glyphosate-based herbicide in Rondeau Provincial Park and the Long Point peninsula on Lake Erie necessitated a high standard of monitoring rigor. A positive outcome form this rigorous monitoring is that it has allowed us to track both the success of the herbicide (applied via helicopter and ground methods to P. australis in standing water) and the fate of the vegetation community over the six years since suppression efforts began. We will provide an update on the outcomes of this long-term monitoring program, which has continuously tracked changes in vegetation composition in small plots since 2016. We will highlight research questions arising from the monitoring program that we believe represent the next steps in wetland restoration after P. australis suppression.


Science Update

Overview of the first four years of biological control of introduced Phragmites in Ontario

Michael McTavish, University of Toronto, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Introduced Phragmites (Phragmites australis australis) is one of the most invasive plants in North America. Classical biological control (i.e., introducing natural enemies from the target weed’s native range) is promising as an effective, affordable, and host-specific option to supplement existing management approaches. A petition to release two European stem boring moths, Archanara neurica and Lenisa geminipuncta, as biocontrol agents for introduced Phragmites was approved in Canada in 2019. The first biocontrol program using A. neurica and L. geminipuncta began in southern Ontario in summer 2019. The objectives of this program are to develop and test core methods to rear, release, and monitor the biocontrol agents, and to establish nurse sites of both species in Ontario to support subsequent redistribution of the insects at a larger scale. Since 2019, over 17,000 insects have been released at thirteen sites across southern Ontario using a variety of release methods and insect life stages (e.g., eggs, larvae, pupae, moths). Monitoring has continued at all release sites and has detected promising preliminary evidence of biocontrol agent overwintering, reproduction, and impact. This presentation will provide an overview of the first four years of the Phragmites biocontrol program including rearing, release, monitoring, and preliminary feeding damage.

Biological control of invasive Phragmites australis: first-year releases and plans for long-term plant community monitoring

Claire Schon, University of Waterloo

Phragmites australis is a highly invasive grass and a dominant species in many wetlands across southern Ontario. Moth-based biological control is an emerging and promising tool for the management and long-term suppression of P. australis. It is expected that the introduction of natural predators will reduce the competitive ability of P. australis by limiting plant physiology, growth, and reproduction. Suppression of P. australis through biological control should allow for plant communities to recover. Two stem-boring moth species, which are natural predators of P. australis in Europe, were approved for Canadian release in 2019. However, the efficacy of natural enemies in suppressing invasive P. australis in Canada has not previously been tested in the field. First, we plan to contrast the extent of damage inflicted by each moth species, and second to contrast the damage inflicted by the moths when released as eggs compared to larvae. Following biological control agent release at two sites in southern Ontario, we documented the damage to P. australis inflicted by both moth species, including measurements of stem density, flowering density, moth larval damage density and plant response, species richness, canopy light interception, and standing biomass. Within the first year of moth releases, we observed significant damage to P. australis stems surrounding the moth releases. Many moth-attacked plants died, while those that survived were much shorter and typically did not flower. We will discuss plans for long-term monitoring of P. australis and the surrounding vegetation community following biological control agent release. Moth-based biological control offers a new frontier in invasive P. australis management, with the potential to complement and support our existing management tools in an effective and sustainable integrated pest management framework.

Leveraging priority effects to resist biological invasion: Marsh organs

Jersey Allyson Fontz, University of Waterloo

Biodiversity in wetlands is threatened due to the spread and invasion of non-native plants such as Phragmites australis subspecies australis. There has been successful P. australis suppression using a glyphosate-based herbicide, in coastal marshes in Long Point, Ontario. These areas recovered their vegetation passively such that restoration post-herbicide suppression relied on the seed bank or propagule spread from nearby donor sites to revegetate a treated area. Unfortunately, initial recovery was delayed by secondary invasions with species like Hydrocharis morsus-ranae (European frog-bit). One of the reasons that passive restoration failed to support immediate recovery by native vegetation is that the propagule density of native species (either from surrounding marsh or the remnant seed bank) is insufficient compared to the propagule density from non-native species, including P. australis. In cases where native species are propagule-limited, active restoration may support the recovery of diverse plant communities through supplementation of native propagule sources and by harnessing priority effects to give native species a competitive advantage of non-native plants. Priority effects dictates that a benefit is conferred to the first species that arrives first – this can be through mechanisms such as resource preemption. My objective is to test whether active seeding of treated marsh would ameliorate restoration outcomes after P. australis suppression. I will test the effect of 1) seed mix diversity and 2) seeding density on measures of restoration success, such as floristic quality, the abundance and richness of native vs. non-native species, and the standing crop biomass of plants. I used a marsh organ to simulate lower water levels, as Lake Erie water levels are projected to continue dropping over the next 3-4 years. I crossed the seed density and seed diversity treatments in a two-factor ANOVA design. At the end of the growing season, I collected, identified, and enumerated the marsh organ plants. I hope that the results of my work will help develop seed prescriptions that can be used in marsh restoration that will maximize biotic resistance to P. australis reinvasion or other invasive wetland plants, safeguarding your investment in invasive plant management and promoting successful recovery of native plants.

A Novel Approach for Invasive Plant Management

Grace Lew-Kewal, University of Waterloo

Herbicide treatment is widely used for suppressing invasions of Phragmites australis in wetland environments but is limited by available application methods. Large-scale treatments that require use of machinery can damage wildlife habitat, whereas less destructive methods like backpack spraying are infeasible in remote locations. Aerial applications via helicopters provide a low-impact alternative, but their wide boom width creates unacceptably extensive non-target effects when treating small but dense patches of P. australis. There is an urgent need for a method that can effectively and precisely apply herbicides to P. australis in wetlands which will minimize crushing and over-spray damage to wetland fauna and native vegetation. We aim to evaluate the efficacy of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to apply imazapyr to invasive P. australis and assess the accuracy by quantifying non-target effects on surrounding vegetation. Vegetation at two wetlands in southern Ontario will be surveyed using Before/After and Control/Impact (BACI) sampling principles in a spatially replicated design. Remotely sensed images will be used to classify P. australis pre- and post-treatment to determine changes in density and distribution. Point-intercept transect sampling in the field will support the classification analysis and provide context to the extent of drift and non-target effects. I will summarize baseline data collected in August 2022 and discuss the approach used to apply herbicides with a UAV, completed in September 2022. The results of this work will inform the Pest Management Regulatory Authority of the safety and feasibility of UAV-based herbicide application, which will contribute to their assessment for this technology to be implemented across Canada.

Use of Phragmites stalks as pollinator homes

Dave Hunter, Owner & Founder of Crown Bees

Dave Hunter shifted a native bee hobby in 2008 into an industry that is helping alter how pollinate our yards and crops. His company strongly believes in collaborating with science, peers, and the myriad of agencies caring about pollinators. Their bee-safe products are designed to work with the bees and be simple for the human to begin partnering with nature. 

In particular, he’s begun moving the industry away from wood trays for bee nesting towards using phragmites. The bees vastly approve of this decision! 

Community Engagement

Invasive Phragmites Eradication for the Health of the Water and Wetlands

Nicole Carpenter, Georgian Bay Forever

Georgian Bay Forever (GBF) is a registered environmental charity dedicated to scientific research and public education on Georgian Bay’s aquatic ecosystems. Our mission is to protect, enhance and restore the aquatic ecosystem of Georgian Bay by taking action, funding accredited research, and educating communities on water levels, water quality and ecosystems. Georgian Bay is home to some of the most diverse wetland ecosystems in all of the Great Lakes. Invasive Phragmites poses a significant threat to the health of these wetlands. GBF has been involved in invasive Phragmites management for ten years and we have seen significant changes in our time. Our work began in 2013 with the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority to develop a community action plan for the invasive Phragmites infestation along the Collingwood shoreline. By 2016, GBF had substantially grown the area in which we were educating, training, and removing Phragmites with communities across Georgian Bay. Over this time, we became increasingly aware of the need for expanded efforts toward invasive Phragmites eradication. In 2019, we developed a 5-year community-based eradication plan for over 500 stands originally identified across the shorelines of southeastern Georgian Bay including Tay Township, Township of Georgian Bay, and Township of the Archipelago. The strategy involves collaborating with volunteers, municipalities, Indigenous communities, and other groups around Georgian Bay.

The goal of this plan is to confidently leave the responsibility of Phragmites management to communities by training individuals about identification, mapping, monitoring and proper removal of invasive Phragmites. Each summer we provide employment opportunities to local students who perform education outreach activities with the public, learn proper removal protocols, and learn the importance of invasive species management in protecting freshwater ecosystems. GBF focuses on hosting community cuts and training workshops which help increase awareness each year. In our ten years of management, we have provided education and training to over 60 community groups, cottage associations, Indigenous communities, municipalities, conservation groups and hundreds of individuals. Since 2019, we have been actively cutting over 200 sites a year, hosted 34 community cuts and had 247 volunteers dedicate over 2000 hours to invasive Phragmites management. Currently, the overall number of sites under management has increased, as well as those put in the control stage (i.e., eradicated or on their way toward eradication). Across southeastern Georgian Bay, we have 962 sites under management, with a total of 80% control. One of GBF’s best success stories is seen in the Township of the Archipelago which having 97% control and solely managed by volunteers, provincial park staff and marine patrollers trained by GBF. Honey Harbour and Cognashene, Township of Georgian Bay, are another extraordinary success story. 249 stands of invasive Phragmites have been recorded here. GBF staff, volunteers and the local cottage associations have spent many summers removing Phragmites from the shoreline. Today, 161 of these stands are eradicated and 82 are currently under treatment putting these regions at 98% control. All of these success stories are a result of many years of hard work and dedication by communities, volunteers and Georgian Bay Forever.

Long Point and St. Clair Regions Phragmites Management Program

Hamsha Pathmanathan, Canadian Wildlife Service

The spread of invasive Phragmites throughout the Great Lakes region has altered coastal wetlands, impacted wildlife and produced persistent challenges for land managers. In the ecologically significant Long Point Region of Ontario, Phragmites had spread to an estimated 1,600 ha, displacing native vegetation and degrading coastal wetlands that provide critical habitat for federally listed Species at Risk (SAR). Management of Phragmites in Ontario was limited by the lack of a registered herbicide and the large number of SAR in the region created uncertainty and risk, particularly on federal lands. In 2016 the province of Ontario, Nature Conservancy Canada and other partners initiated a collaborative effort to address Phragmites in Long Point. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency issued an Emergency Registration of the herbicide Roundup Custom, which enabled the management of Phragmites in wetlands according to Ontario Best Management Practices (BMP). To date, more than1,900ha of Phragmites has been managed throughout the Long Point region. CWS has treated approximately 600ha of Phragmites at two NWAs in the Long Point Region and expects to complete primary treatment of Phragmites in 2023. Ecological monitoring of both the herbicide and the effectives of the management program indicates that the BMP is safe, effective (>97% efficacy) and results in the re-emergence of native vegetation. These results are also being observed in the use of the area by wildlife and SAR. In 2022, CWS initiated management of Phragmites at the St. Clair NWS near Chatham Ontario – a Ramsar designated wetland home to 20 federally-listed SAR. This project uses the now-registered herbicide Habitat Aqua and other BMPs, to address a smaller but still significant infestation of this invasive species. This presentation will review the site-specific challenges of expansion with new stakeholder involvement, and the application of lessons learned.

First Nations Engagement, Knowledge, and Perspectives

Panelists: Elder Lorenzo Whetung, Elder Tom Cowie, Elder Kim Muskratt and Danalynn Williams

Facilitated by: Kayla Wright, Director of Relationships & Engagement at 4 Directions of Conservation Consulting Services. 4 Directions is a leader in conservation ecology and Indigenous engagement planning in Canada; providing assistance to Indigenous communities with regulatory advice, negotiation and technical reviews or audits related to development projects that could have a detrimental impact to Indigenous Rights.

Province-wide Project Updates

Aquatic Extermination Permitting

Tom Cowan, Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks

Jacob Kloeze, Nature Conservancy of Canada

Habitat Aqua Update

Brad Hayhoe, BASF

Roadway Management Update

Speaker TBC

Green Shovels Update including genetic testing, Phragmites fund, and Phragmites guidebook

Sarah Rang, Invasive Species Centre

Colin Cassin, Invasive Species Centre

Eric Cleland, Nature Conservancy of Canada

Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative Update

Samantha Tank, Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative