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Garlic mustard, a biennial forb native to Europe, has invaded native ecosystems in forested regions in the United States. In anticipation of a biological control program being implemented in the United States for this plant, a garlic mustard monitoring program was initiated. The objective of this study was to characterize garlic mustard populations and the associated plant communities and their response to environmental conditions in Minnesota hardwood forest ecosystems. Additionally, we developed a baseline for long-term studies to determine future benefits and impacts of biological control agents on plant communities infested with garlic mustard, should they be released. To monitor garlic mustard populations, we used a nationally standardized protocol in which data were collected on garlic mustard population density and cover, garlic mustard plant heights and silique production, insect damage to garlic mustard, cover of the associated plant community, and litter cover. We also collected data on available photosynthetically active radiation in the understory. The results underscore the variability in garlic mustard population dynamics. At only 6 of 12 sites did garlic mustard densities follow the predicted two-point cycles due to their biennial life cycle, with the first- or second-year life stage dominating in any given year. Available light did not differ strongly among sites, but shading by adult plants is implicated in keeping the populations of first-year plants low. Sites with greater garlic mustard cover had lower native species richness and cover than sites with lower garlic mustard cover. Absent biological control agents, garlic mustard is currently experiencing very little herbivory in Minnesota with an average of 2% of leaf area removed by herbivores. Our work shows the importance of pre-release monitoring at multiple sites over multiple years to adequately characterize populations. Without control, garlic mustard will likely continue to have negative impacts on northern forests.
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