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, July 25, 2014

Let's hear it for the birds

After the long hours of staring at the ground, it's nice to give that neck a stretch and look up! In this weeks' blog, I (Amy) want to give a shout out to those little flying machines that have been serenading us with sweet melodies during our long work days.
American goldfinches perched near a field site in Corvallis, OR. Photo credit: Emma Macdonald

I came to IAE as a long time bird enthusiast. By spending time working with plants and plant communities, I have become even more aware of the strong connection between plant communities and bird diversity. Much of the work done here at IAE, such as clearing invasive species and opening up meadow habitat, improves habitat quality and increases plant species diversity. These improved plant habitats are also important nesting and foraging grounds for many species which are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation. Working in these unique areas provides an opportunity to hear (and occasionally see) birds that are less common in more urban spaces. To give you an idea of how many species can be heard during any given day, here is a bird list that I made on May 7th:
common yellowthroat

American crow
American goldfinch
American robin
barn swallow
Bewick's wren
black-capped chickadee
black-headed grosbeak
brown creeper
brown headed cowbird
common yellowthroat
lazuli bunting
great blue heron
house wren
lazuli bunting
northern flicker
orange-crowned warbler
pacific-slope flycatcher
purple finch
red-breasted nuthatch
red-winged blackbird
rufous hummingbird
savannah sparrow
savannah sparrow
song sparrow
spotted towhee
violet-green swallow
warbling vireo
western tanager

These birds were all heard at our Sidelcia nelsoniana sites at Tyee Wine Cellars. Tyee is just outside of Corvallis, and has committed 246 acres of wetland habitat into a Wetland Reserve Program. The program is a part of a conservation easement in cooperation with U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Science that protects wetland habitat for 30 years. This site has become a plant and bird haven. Birders have spotted over 150 different species on their property. You can visit Tyee and hike the 1.5 mile loop around Beaver Pond.

Now to test the birder in you. Do you know who this bird is?

Photo credit: Emma Macdonald

It's a western tanager! He certainly is a stunning little songbird and easy to distinguish by his bright red head and yellow body. Unfortunately, you can't always get a look at them! The song of the western tanager is a three part melody and can sound similar to the American robin. One way to tell them apart is that the tanager's song is shorter and more gruff. They also have a very distinctive call note which sounds like "piterick". Have a listen to these two songs and see if you can tell the difference.

In all that we do, it is important to look at the big picture and to remember the interconnection between all species and processes. IAE's research and restoration plays a part in preserving the diversity of ecosystems, from the ground all the way up to the birds!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Calochortus coxii- Crinite Mariposa Lily

Members of the genus Calochortus, more commonly known as mariposa lilies, are often considered overlooked gems of forested and grassland ecosystems. These diminutive lilies are found along the North American Pacific coast, from Southern Canada to Central America. Species can vary greatly in both appearance and habit.
Calochortus coxii. Photo credit: Emma MacDonald
Calochortus coxii, also known as Cox's or Crinite (hairy) mariposa lily, is endemic to a 10 mile serpentine ridge line in Douglas County, Oregon. No more than 30 cm tall, this lily is white with pink and lavender striping near the base. The lily's inside appears to be yellow due to the yellow and white crinite hairs which line the inside of the petals and give this flower its name.
Close up of inner petal hairs. Photo credit: Emma MacDonald

Calochortus coxii has been listed as an endangered species by the state of Oregon, a Species of Concern by the Fish and Wildlife Service, and is a Bureau Sensitive Species by the Bureau of Land Management. This plant remains federally listed as a "Species of Concern," which excludes it from some protective measures ensured by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Through existing policies created by the state and BLM, the lily has received some protection from further habitat loss on public lands. However, this protection is superseded by federal regulations which allow exploratory mining operations and development.

Calochorus coxii is threatened by various aspects of human land development.  Canopy encroachment due to fire suppression, noxious weed invasion, logging, land development, and grazing have all diminished available C. coxii habitat.  A proposed plan to construct a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) pipeline through Bilger Ridge, one of the largest remaining populations, could further impact and fragment remaining habitat of this rare endemic.

IAE's Conservation Research Program, in collaboration with the Roseburg District BLM, has been monitoring C. coxii since 2011.  Using a combination of long-term monitoring plots and surveys of historic habitat, we have been able to document the current status and extent of the largest populations on BLM land and monitor population trends over time.  Our research has indicated that C. coxii populations have been steadily declining since the initiation of these long-term studies. Carefully executed canopy thinning has been shown to increase the number of flowering individuals in some parts of the population. However, this treatment must be conducted in a way to prevent damage to habitat as well as to prevent the further spread of invasive weeds.  Continued monitoring of this species over time will enable us to understand long-term population dynamics and to document threats to this unique serpentine endemic.  To read more about our research, please see the 2013 report:  Survey and evaluation of population trends, 2013 report

While our studies take place on public lands, cooperation and collaboration with local private landowners has been vital to the success of our monitoring. Through the years, the Institute has created relationships with land owners adjacent to our study sites. Our mutual respect and concern for the land has brought us together. One such local ranching resident fondly refers to us as "Earth Babies". Through these friendships we have learned a little bit more about the area and the concerns of local residents; some are worried about potential gas pipeline construction through or under their property. Some residents have also taken an interest in our study and have learned to identify the C. coxii on their own property. With any luck, we might be able to prove there's a little Earth Baby in all of us.
Westward view from Bilger Ridge. Photo Credit: Erin Gray

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Snapshots of the season

This month has been a busy one! With all of the projects that we have to tackle, there just isn't time to write about each one. So for this week's post, here are some snapshots from our busy month of surveys and monitoring. We may talk more about some of these projects later on--but for now, enjoy the pretty pictures!

Astragalus mulfordiae: Population dynamics and the effect of cattle grazing in the Vale District, BLM

Astragalus mulfordiae with seed pods. Photo credit: Amy Comstock

View down the road near one of our remote field sites in Vale, Oregon. Our crew was in Vale for 4 days monitoring the effects of cattle grazing on an endemic population of Astragalus mulfordiae (Mulford's milkvetch).
Photo credit: Amy Comstock 

The crew searching for plots.
From left to right: Erin Gray, Tara Callaway, Emma Macdonald, and Scott Orr. Photo credit: Amy Comstock 

Sidalcea nelsoniana: Testing propagation methods for recovery efforts of Nelson's checkermallow

Sidalcea nelsoniana (Nelson's checkermallow). Photo credit: Scott Orr

Peter Moore (Restoration Ecologist with IAE) laying down transects to monitor plantings of S. nelsoniana at one of our 6 field sites near Corvallis, OR. For this study, S. nelsoniana were planted using 3 different methods (seeds, rhizomes, and plugs) in order to compare propagation rates. Photo credit: Scott Orr

Rows of S. nelsoniana plug out plantings. Photo credit: Scott Orr

Lomatium cookii: Monitoring population trends of Cook's desert parsley in Josephine County

Lomatium cookii (Cook's desert-parsley) in flower. Photo credit: Emma Macdonald 

Working with one of our volunteers to measure L. cookii. This population is located in the Illinois Valley, OR, and is monitored in order to track population dynamics and trends. From left to right: Denise Giles-Johnson, Maressa, Amy Comstock.
Photo credit: Emma Macdonald

All of the volunteers and IAE crew posing with a cardboard cutout of John Wayne. John Wayne has connections with the Siskiyou Field Institute, which is where we stayed while in Selma. From left to right back: Tom Kaye, Emma Macdonald, Marcia Locke, Wanda Manning, Sandy Poinsett, Bets Stover, Jackie Shaw, Mark Darrach, Scott Orr, Ian Pfingsten, Clay Gautier. From left to right front: Tara Callaway, Gale Baker, Denise Giles-Johnson, John Wayne, Amy Comstock, Marisa Wampler. Photo credit: Tom Kaye

Monday, July 14, 2014

Managing and monitoring Lomatium cookii in the Illinois River Valley (aka driving ourselves LOCO in Cave Junction)

Lomatium cookii, or Cook’s desert parsley, is a native parsley endemic to wet grassy meadows and along vernal pools of Southwest Oregon. Many of the largest federally managed remaining sub-populations are located in the Illinois River Valley in Josephine County.  Lomatium cookii has been listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the state of Oregon due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Several sub-populations occurring on publicly owned lands have now been listed as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). However,  previous mining and land development have permanently disturbed the hydrological patterns of many of these meadows. Currently, these remaining populations are still threatened by illegal off-road vehicle use, as well as proposed mining operations on these lands.

Denise Giles-Johnson and Tara Callaway hiking to L. cookii study sites in Illinois Forks Valley State Park. Photo credit: Emma MacDonald
We are currently working on several studies in the Illinois River Valley, looking at different aspects of Lomatium reintroduction and recovery on federal and state managed lands. Our first trip aimed to collect data for two projects; one concerning population monitoring and demographic modeling of existing native populations, and the other assessing the efficacy of population augmentation efforts. Several extant populations of L. cookii in the Illionois Valley are included in this study including; French Flat (ACEC), Reeve’s Creek,  Rough and Ready Creek (ACEC), and Indian Hill. For further information on these projects please see our previous blog entries from 2012 and  2011. To learn more about developing reintroduction techniques for L. cookii in the Illinois River Valley, please read our 2013 report.

Denise Giles-Johnson monitors community diversity and  estimates percent coverage within a meter squared plot at Illinois Forks State Park. Photo credit: Emma MacDonald
In the spring of 2014, in a joint effort between the BLM and the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department, we initiated a study to test the efficacy of several methods of removing invasive grasses in L. cookii  habitat. Annual and perennial invasive grasses are a major threat to this rare species, and appropriate habitat management will be key as we look towards recovery of the species. Experimental plots were established in both occupied and unoccupied habitat and baseline data recorded, including community composition of all plots and detailed demographic data for each L. cookii in the occupied plots. Upon approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (pending), these plots will be treated with grass specific herbicide in the fall (when the L. cookii has senesced). Monitoring will be repeated in 2015 to assess the efficacy of treatments on invasive grasses, and  L. cookii.

Morning view from Deer Creek Center, our beautiful home-away-from-home. See more about Deer Creek  here. Photo credit: Emma MacDonald