The Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to conserve native species and habitats through restoration, research, and education. Here, we describe some of our projects working with the Conservation Research Program at IAE. The Conservation Research Program conducts research and montioring of native species and ecosystems in order to determine population trends and effective methods for restoration and management, conducts research on invasive species in order to determine effective control methods, and develops plans for the management and restoration of native ecosystems.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Getting LoCo in Joco


In our latest conservation research news, we recently took a trip to Josephine County to monitor Lomatium cookii, common name, Cook’s desert parsley. We had a wonderful group of 6 volunteers who worked very hard to help us complete all of the monitoring of this sensitive species that is endemic to a few areas in Josephine County. Thanks to all our volunteers for their hard work! Some days were hot, but we had a swimming hole on the Illinois River to jump into at the end of the day to cool us off!

Our work involved observing differences in population dynamics over time as well as accounting for growth of the species as a whole. At the Rough And Ready site we conducted a population census where our crew and volunteers counted over 2,000 plants! We are also grateful to the Siskiyou Field Institute for their accommodations, and a special visit from John Wayne himself who is known to frequent the ranch.

Denise, Emma, [John Wayne], Connor, Sara, and Ceci (from left)

We completed all our monitoring goals and had time to visit a nearby fen with a healthy population of Darlingtonia californica, or the California pitcher plant. It was a great tangent in the work week when we were all a little Lomatium-ed out!

LOCO flower 1.jpg
An healthy example of Lomatium cookii.

Stay tuned for future posts on Kincaid’s lupine monitoring and a trip to Willapa Bay!

Dream Team 2015

Greetings from Table Rocks

It’s been a crazy month filled with field work, lots of laughs, and a bit of poison oak (more on that in a blog to come)! Traveling back to a few weeks ago however we started our field season at Table Rocks. Table Rocks is a geological formation outside of Medford, OR, resulting from millions of years of geologic activity. The sedimentary rock that forms the Payne Cliff formation was deposited approximately 40 million years ago. The combined forces of erosion and uplift formed the Rogue valley and the Klamath mountains approximately 10 to 20 million years ago. Approximately 7 million years ago, lava flows flooded the ancestral Rogue River Valley and formed a hard cap over the Payne Cliff formation. Since then, the Rogue River has meandered through the Rogue Valley to erode most of the hard volcanic cap. The remnants are only a few monoliths including the Table Rocks formation.

Getting ready to find some Limnanthes!

The Rogue River Valley where the rocks are located has been an area of importance for Native Americans, specifically the Takelma people who inhabited the region approximately 15,000 years ago.  Not only were the rocks an area of spiritual importance, but they depended upon the various amount of natural resources around the area such as camas bulbs, acorns, willow shoots, and iris leaves just to name a few. Currently, Table Rock is a popular area for recreation and education after being dedicated as a nature preserve by the Nature Conservancy in 1979. It is also still an important cultural location for the Takelma people who conduct various tribal ceremonies at the site. Not only do the rocks provide an excellent backdrop for environmental education, a representation of the rich historical culture, and a great place to spend an afternoon, but they are also home to Limnanthes pumila ssp. pumila (dwarf woolly meadowfoam), a sensitive species, which is endemic to Table Rocks.  

Vernal pools on Table Rocks, pictured above, are prime habitat for Limnanthes pumila.

Conserving this species is integral to the Table Rock region because of its endemism to those two geologic formations, which also supports other endangered species such as the vernal pool fairy shrimp. Monitoring in recent years has shown a decrease in overall L. pumila presence. This may be due to an increase in non-native species such as Poa bulbosa (bulbous bluegrass) and Taeniatherum caput-medusae (medusahead), which often outcompete surrounding native species. Some of the decline in dwarf woolly meadowfoam may also be attributed to increased use of the area for recreation, which will be important to keep track of in future years in order to successfully conserve this endemic species. Our monitoring of L. pumila included collecting plant community data both along transects and in established plots. We assessed the percent cover of the meadowfoam as well as other plants occupying the plots. The conservation of this species will allow land managers to make informed decisions, enhance recreation opportunities, and preserve habitat for future ecological generations.

Keep posted for our next trip down to Josephine County in the serpentine soils!
Dream Team 2015

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Welcome 2015 IAE/NPSO Interns!

Here in the CR department we are starting to wake up from our winter hibernations, shake the dust off, and get to work preparing for our 2015 field season. We are excited to have Emma MacDonald back again for another season with us as our biological technician and crew leader. We are also eager to  welcome our new batch of NPSO interns in April: Sara Newman, Connor Whitaker, and Cecilia Welch.
Sara graduated from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado with a degree in Environmental Studies and a minor in Psychology. In 2014 Sara was a rangeland conservation intern with the Columbine Ranger District in Southwestern Colorado. Through this internship she created and implemented a revegetation plan for the Hermosa Creek watershed. Sara has also worked as a senior field guide for Open Sky Wilderness Therapy, a holistic wilderness therapy program out of Durango, CO.
Sarah Newman
Connor received a degree in Biology from  St. Mary’s College of Maryland. For his senior thesis project Connor studied the effects of deer grazing on native plant communities. During the summer of 2014 Connor worked as an invasive plant technician and research aide for the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory of Colorado. As such, he studied and mapped the spread of invasive species within the laboratory’s property as well as assisted with native species revegetation efforts.
Charles Connor Whitaker
 Cecilia comes to us with a degree in Biological Aspects of Conservation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Cecilia has held several biological research technician positions with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Montana State University, working on a variety of projects such as chemical ecology research, pollination studies, plant-soil relationships, and invasive grasses. In 2014 Cecilia worked with the Big Sky Watershed Corps of Montana as a member of the Americorps. Through this position she gained familiarity with many natural resource management issues and interagency collaboration within the Yellowstone and Shields River watersheds.
Cecilia Welch
Cecilia Welch
 And now here are a few thoughtful words of advice from this year’s crew lead, Emma, a former NPSO intern herself:
You guys are about to have an amazing summer! We get to work in some of the most beautiful and tucked away spots in Oregon with some really rare and neat plants. Some of the plants we work with are endemic to one county or even just a single ridgeline in the entire world. Through this internship you will also make a lot of great friends out of coworkers, supervisors, members of the community, and even our executive director and members of the board. These acquaintances will hopefully be lasting connections within the tight-knit community of ecological conservation within the Pacific Northwest. If this crew is any anything like last year’s, you’ll find yourself hanging out with your coworkers on the weekends and even after the field season ends.
That being said, field work isn’t for the feint of heart. Some days will be long, hot, and stressful to boot. But don’t worry, we know all the best swimming holes and snack stops along the way to keep our brains from hard boiling.
Here’s a couple tips I picked up (sometimes the hard way) from my experiences last year:
  • Always pack an extra fork
  • Embrace the farmer’s tan, there’s no way to avoid the inevitable
  • Just because you’ve never had it before, does not make you immune to poison oak
  • Don’t pick up hitchhikers in Cave Junction
  • When in doubt, pack extra
  • Take lots of pictures!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A goodbye to our crewmates, Tara and Emma

It's official! The temperatures have plummeted and plants have senesced for the year, so the field season has come to a close. For the permanent staff here at IAE, one of the greatest (and hardest) parts of our job is getting to know, (and then say goodbye to) the phenomenal people that serve as our seasonal field crew. The Institute for Applied Ecology relies on interns, seasonal staff and volunteers to complete projects in the field, greenhouse and office. The Conservation Research Program usually enlists 1-2 crew leaders, 2-4 IAE/NPSO interns, and 1 high school ASE intern, who are invaluable to the program, especially during the busy field season. With the ending of the field season, we have said goodbye to our remaining seasonal additions, Tara Callaway and Emma MacDonald.
Emma MacDonald monitoring Calochortus coxii. Photo credit: Erin Gray

Emma "Southwind" MacDonald was one of two 2014 IAE/NPSO interns that began in early April. Emma quickly proved herself as an important part of the 2014 CR Crew, with an honest, hard-working attitude that will make you smile. She had recently graduated from Portland State University with a B.S. in Environmental Science and Management as well as a minor in Biology and was looking to gain plant conservation experience. Having been a Wilderness Park Ranger at Olympic National Park the prior summer, she came to IAE with extensive backcountry experience and a strong enthusiasm to learn as much as she could about plants. During her time at IAE, she has helped on over fifteen field projects, conducting research in all corners of the state.  Emma's love for the natural world was contagious and she was an excellent naturalist inspiring interest in all of nature's curiosities- including but certainly not limited to- fungi, mammal tracks, plants and birds. She will be remembered for her excitement for strange looking insects, particularly one named Jebediah (see photo below), and her sassy sense of humor. Emma  will be missed extremely because of her spunky personality, and positive 'can-do' attitude (even when poison oak is touching her face!). We wish her luck in her future endeavors and look forward to hearing about all the great adventures she will go on!

IAE interns, Amy and Emma, holding their new friend, Jebediah, whom they found in eastern Oregon. Photo credit: Erin Gray 
It is also that sad time of year when we have to say goodbye to our 2014 Crew Leader, Tara Callaway. Tara came to us with a B.S. in Biology from Northern Illinois University as well as an M.S. in Plant Biology from Western Washington University. Tara also worked for the National Park Service as a naturalist/interpretive ranger at both Joshua Tree and Mount Rainier National Parks. She is an avid outdoorswoman and spent many weekends this summer climbing at Smith Rock and elsewhere. Aside from leading many of our field projects (including coordinating supplies, rental cars, overnight accommodations, and wrangling interns and volunteers), Tara also analyzed heaps of data and wrote  many of this year's reports.

Tara also made it to the winner's podium at our first ever IAE Field Olympics last August. At this grueling competition of physical ability and mental stamina Tara's mean haggis hurling abilities and speed in the relay race landed her second place overall. Her strong arm comes from all her rock-climbing adventures as well as a summer of whipping the interns into shape (no interns were actually harmed ((by Tara)) during the 2014 field season).
The prestigious winner's podium at the 2014 IAE Field Olympics. Photo Credit: Stacy Moore.
Tara's strong will, levelheadedness, positive outlook, and ability to persevere for the sake of the project made her a superb crew leader. One particular memory is from one of our trips to Roseburg to monitor Kincaid's lupine. Vague directions took us down an unmarked driveway, which led us to the property of some very unfriendly residents. As the interns were imagining all the horror movies they had seen with a similar beginning, Tara calmly explained to the suspicious residents that we were lost and we'd be on our way. Tara wins a gold medal for getting us out of that one. We will also miss Tara's Midwestern vocabulary lessons. No one here will ever refer to changing into pajamas ever again, this office "gets baggy" instead.

Tara running the gauntlet at the IAE Field Olympics. Photo credit: Chris Johnson.
Even though the 2014 field season is over, many great memories were made that will rank this among the best jobs ever! We were all fortunate to spend a summer outside rain-or-shine, hiking around the hills and mountains of Oregon searching for rare and endangered plants.
Taking in the views at Cape Arago. From left to right: Denise, Tara, Suzanne, Emma, Erin and Amy
Photo credit: 10-sec timer on Canon camera.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rubus bartonianus (Bartonberry)

Rubus bartonianus in the wild.Photo
credit: Mark Turner. To see more amazing wildflower
photos, please visit Mark's website.
Say hello to one of our newest species of interest here at IAE, Rubus bartonianus (Bartonberry, RUBA). This diminutive little berry is a member of the genus Rubus, which encompasses a wide variety of aggregate fruiting berries such as blackberries, raspberries, marionberries, and salmon berries (to name just a few). Rubus bartonianus grows exclusively on the steep talus slopes and rocky river banks of Hell's Canyon, along the Snake River and it's tributaries. Currently, this plant is endemic to just 45 river miles!  Rubus bartonianus has seen habitat reduction due to damming, fire, rock slides, livestock grazing, and competition with the exotic Rubus ameniacus (aka Himalayan blackberry). It's shrinking habitat range has led to it being considered "imperiled" as well as a federal species of concern. 

Untreated RUBA seeds. Photo credit: Erin Gray
Through our efforts we hope to explore the best methods for germinating and propagating R. bartonianus seeds, which can then be out-planted in historical R. bartonianus habitat along the Snake River. Currently, it is unknown what the optimal conditions are for R. bartonianus to germinate. Many Rubus species require scarification and/or stratification of the outer seed shell before they can germinate. In the wild, many of these species rely on birds to eat them for this process to happen. The strong acids in the animal's stomach effectively scarify the hard outer shell, leaving the actual seed intact after passing out of the digestive system. In lieu of force-feeding a bunch of birds these seeds and waiting for nature to do its business we are looking into other ways to recreate this scarification. We are currently exploring three different scarification treatments: sulfuric acid, bleach, and mechanical sanding. 

Adding sulfuric acid to a batch of RUBA seeds.
 Photo credit: Emma MacDonald
Burning off the outer shell with sulfuric acid.
Photo credit: Emma MacDonald

After chemical scarification, the seeds still
have their burned outer shells, which must
be mechanically scraped off.
Photo credit: Emma MacDonald 
Up-close view of a scarified seed.
 Photo credit: Erin Gray

Intern Emma MacDonald with Dr. Sugae Wada at the
National Clonal Germplasm Repository. Photo credit: Erin Gray.

We are also trying to determine the optimal cold and warm stratification periods for this species. Many Rubus species have been seen to germinate better and faster after enduring a warm stratification followed by cold. Naturally, these conditions are met as the maturing seed endures a warm summer and early fall; then a cooler, wetter period through winter. To find R. bartonianus's optimal warm and cold periods, we are subjecting treatments to 30 days of warm followed by 120, 90, and 60 day cold-stratification periods.

Some of the seeds undergoing warm stratification have already
begun to germinate! Photo credit: Emma MacDonald
Once stratified, the germinated seeds will be planted in the greenhouse until they are ready to be taken back to Hell's canyon for reintroduction. Our main goal for this project is to determine the best method(s) for propagating Rubus bartonianus.We hope to use this information as well as the products of our experiments to replant R. bartonianus in the wild and maintain the species historic range within the Snake River Valley.  Funding for these efforts was provided by the Vale District Bureau of Land Management, and we thank botanist Roger Ferriel for his support.  Thank you to Dr. Kim Hummer and Dr. Sugae Wada, at the USDA ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, who have offered their expertise in germination of Rubus species and use of their laboratory facilities.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Goodbye, Good Luck, and Good Riddance (just kidding)

As the field season comes to a close, we say goodbye to our Conservation Research interns Amy Comstock and Suzanne Joh. The Institute for Applied Ecology relies on our interns and seasonal staff  to complete field work on time (before the plants senesce), enter data, propagate plants in the greenhouse, and write blogs and articles about their experiences. Our interns are an invaluable asset to the organization and each year we have difficulty saying goodbye.

Entering data for Fritillaria gentneri. Photo credit: Emma MacDonald 
As one of the 2014 IAE/NPSO interns, Amy Comstock has been a Jill-of-all-trades, helping out anywhere the Conservation Research Program needed things done. We began our field season in April, and have worked our way through over fourteen field projects as well as mountains of data entry and organization.

The interns kicked off the field season by monitoring the endangered and endemic Erigeron decumbens (Willamette daisy) at multiple sites in the Willamette Valley. Other projects included the removal of invasive Brachypodium sylvaticum (false-brome) at Maxfield Meadows and propagation of Rubus bartonianus (Bartonberry) seeds under various germination conditions. The interns conducted population monitoring of Fritillaria gentneri (Gentner's fritillary), Lomatium cookii (Cook's desert parsley), Sidalcea nelsoniana (Nelson's checkermallow), Lupinus oreganus (Kincaid's lupine), Astragalus mulfordiae (Mulford's milk-vetch), Cordylanthus maritimus ssp. palustris (Point Reyes bird's-beak), Limonium californicum (California sea lavender) and Frasera umpquaensis (Umpqua green gentian).

Looking for Lomatium cookii in all the wrong places.
Photo credit: Emma MacDonald

Amy's cheery personality, positive attitude, and (lack of) pop culture knowledge really pulled our crew together and made long car rides out to our study sites much more enjoyable. Amy Comstock will be leaving us to start graduate school at Oregon State University in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society (FES). This self-proclaimed "Bird Nerd" will be focusing on nesting habits of Purple Martin populations of western Oregon. Before school starts, Amy will be taking a well-deserved respite from us continuously asking "Hey Amy, what bird is that?"

Suzanne came to us as part of the Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering (ASE) program through the Saturday Academy. This program aims to connect high school students with local scientific and engineering companies to provide them with professional work experience. These students then create and present a synopsis of the summer's efforts at a culminating symposium held at the University of Portland campus.

Suzanne counting Cordylanthus 
maritimus ssp. palustris in Coos Bay.
Photo credit: Amy Comstock
 Over the course of her eight week internship with the Conservation Research Program at IAE, Suzanne assisted us with field research for our projects on Erigeron decumbens, Lupinus lepidus var. cusickii, Cordylanthus maritimus ssp. palustris, Frasera umpquaensis and Lupinus oreganus. She was also our invaluable tech support for all of our cell phone and mp3 player problems. Suzanne was a superstar intern, braving fire and ice (on our trips to Eastern Oregon and Coos Bay, respectively) in the pursuit of ecological research. Getting to know her over these past eight weeks has been a real pleasure.We wish her luck as she begins her junior year of high school. For more information on the ASE program please visit their website.

Beating the heat in Unity, Oregon. Photo credit: Tara Callaway
While we have to say goodbye to these two, we get to keep the company of Emma MacDonald, IAE/NPSO intern extraordinaire, and Tara Callaway, our fearless crewleader, for a while longer.  Stay tuned for more adventures in conservation research!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Frasera umpquaensis (Umpqua green gentian)

Figure 1: Frasera umpquaensis. 
Photo credit: Denise Giles-Johnson.
Our field season is slowly coming to a close as the mercury rises and plants begin to senesce. Luckily, we have managed to get a little relief from the heat as we study Frasera umpquaensis  in the Cascade foothills near Cottage Grove, Oregon. Also known as the Umpqua green gentian, this plant is endemic to northern California and southern Oregon, west of the Cascades. Typically found between 4,500 and 6,500 feet in elevation, F. umpquaensis is a cold-loving species which naturally occurs in areas with relatively long and cold winters.

Frasera umpquaensis
Photo credit: Denise

F. umpquaensis is a long-lived species which has the potential to live up to 80 years! It's longevity makes it susceptible to a lot of environmental change including disturbance periodicity, canopy closure, and changes in forest community composition, as well as short and long term climate cycles. Some of the most common causes of population decline are habitat destruction, genetic isolation, and low recruitment rates. Habitat destruction and alterations have divided this species into small and isolated remnant populations. IAE's research focuses on factors associated with recruitment and survival, such as plant vigor, litter depth, and microclimate temperature.

One of our long-term study sites for F. umpquaensis is Elk Meadows, which is located along the Calapooya divide, near Cottage Grove, Oregon. These meadows are nestled into secondary growth forests comprised of white, Douglas, and grand firs. Research on plants in this area indicates that the populations in north-facing areas, which receive less intense solar radiation and longer snow cover duration, are more successful. Additionally, individuals that were germinated in the greenhouse and were exposed to longer cold treatments were found to be more robust than those that were grown in warmer temperatures. This research shows the direct effect that microclimate temperature has on plant vigor, seedling success and plant recruitment.

Figure 2: Frasera umpquaensis being propagated in the greenhouse.
Photo credit:  Denise Giles-Johnson.
One of the ways that IAE studies the effects of microclimate conditions on plant growth and recruitment is by using a tool called Solar Pathfinder. Commonly used to install solar panels, this instrument estimates the annual solar radiation for a particular location. By aligning the Solar Pathfinder properly and taking a photo directly above the Pathfinder's face, you can estimate the sun's annual path across the horizon as well as average solar radiation per month. The reflection on the Pathfinders face shows the area that will receive direct sunlight (see the red outlined portion of figure 3). The Solar Pathfinder Assistant (a computer program) takes this photo and calculates the area of open canopy, and then extrapolates this information across the entire year using the known solar pathway and radiation intensity for that location's latitude and longitude. 

  Figure 3: Left: Taking an image of the Solar Pathfinders' reflection for later analysis. Right: Tracing open canopy in the image to compute total annual solar radiation. Photo credit: Emma MacDonald

Climate change plays a role in all systems and certainly has an impact on fragile species such as F. umpquaensis. Monitoring changes in survivorship and recruitment will help us to track population trends and determine the best methods for future management to protect populations found in these cooler microclimates as well as promote connectivity to reduce genetic isolation of these populations.