In 2008, NYSDOT made major changes to its mowing practices. These changes were primarily driven by the need to reduce fuel consumption, optimize crew times and funding availability. Since then we have noticed a secondary benefit from these mowing changes. Natural regeneration of wildflowers, specifically milkweed (Asclepia spp.) is occurring within the NYSDOT roadside right of way (ROW). Recognizing these observed changes in vegetation composition and presence of monarch larvae on milkweed plants within the ROW, NYSDOT wanted to know if, and how, a modified mowing regime impacts plant communities and pollinating insects.
In 2019, a formal study began to determine if and how insect abundance, diversity, and function vary in highway rights-of-way managed under a control vs. experimental mowing regime. The control regime follows the current NYSDOT mowing management practices described in NYSDOT Vegetation Mowing Policy Transportation Maintenance Instruction #14-10. The experimental regime modifies the mowing to be completed every two years after October 1st or a plant-killing frost. As a related objective, we are also examining if and how noxious and invasive terrestrial plant abundance, regeneration, and spread vary under the control and experimental conditions.
Using 30 paired highway segments across upstate New York, we have been monitoring for these objectives. In this proposed presentation, we will share preliminary results from the project to date. Specifically, we will highlight findings to date exploring how the experimental mowing treatment impacts pollinating insect abundance and diversity, habitat quality for pollinating insects, and plant functional diversity. We will also reflect on the collaboration process between NYSDOT and RIT that has enabled 4 years of successful monitoring to date, sharing lessons learned. Project information is preliminary and not yet approved by NYSDOT. This project will continue for another year; data and analyses are not final results. While we are submitting for a podium presentation, we are open to other presentation formats to accommodate the ICOET Planning committee’s needs.