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.

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.