Sandplain Grasslands and Shrublands

Diverse sandplain grassland at Katama on Martha’s Vineyard

Annie Weiler planted more than 40,000 seeds of native and non-native species into plots at Herring Creek Farm on Martha's Vineyard.

A scrub oak bottom, an important feature in coastal sandplains

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Sandplain grasslands and shrublands support a disproportionate share of the rare and threatened fauna of the northeastern United States. They are maintained by periodic disturbances, particularly fire, which was widespread before European settlement and during the late 19th century decline of agriculture in New England, but which has been largely eliminated in recent decades. I investigate how combinations of prescribed burning, mechanical land clearing, mowing and seeding with native sandplain plants can maintain sandplain ecosystems and promote the conservation and restoration of native plants. In partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), we designed and maintain several long-term research manipulations on Martha’s Vineyard. In 2007 this TNC-MBL partnership embarked on a new experiment to create sandplain grassland from old agricultural land on Martha’s Vineyard in an experiment at Herring Creek.




Tom Chase, Betsy Von Holle, Annalisa Weiler, Matthew Pelikan
William Patterson III, Richard McHorney, Elizabeth Loucks
Leia Crosby


In press. Von Holle, B., C. Neill, E. F. Largay, B. Ozimec, S. A. Clark, J. Oset and K. Lee. Biogeochemical legacy of the introduced N-fixing tree. Robinia pseudoacacia, in Cape Cod Forests. Oecologia.

2007. Neill, C. The challenge of managing disturbance regimes, terrestrial communities and rare species in a suburbanizing region: the Northeastern U.S. coastal sandplain. Biological Conservation 136: 1-3.

2007. Neill, C., B. Von Holle, K. Kleese, K. R. Ivy, A. R. Collins, C. Treat and M. Dean. Historical influences on the vegetation and soils of the Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts coastal sandplain: Implications for conservation and restoration. Biological Conservation 136: 17-32.

2007. Neill, C., W. A. Patterson, III and David W. Crary, Jr. Responses of soil carbon, nitrogen and cations to the frequency and seasonality of prescribed burning in a Cape Cod oak-pine forest. Forest Ecology and Management 250: 234-243.

2006. Lezberg, A. L., K. Buresch, C. Neill and T. Chase. Mechanical land clearing to promote establishment of coastal sandplain grassland and shrubland communities. Restoration Ecology 14:220-232.

2003. Peterson, G. G. and C. Neill. Using soil d13C to detect the historic presence of little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) grasslands on Martha’s Vineyard. Restoration Ecology 11:116-122.








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