Monday, August 19, 2013

Five new species of monkeyflowers added to the ranks of the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants

Carson Valley monkeyflower (Erythranthe carsonensis)
Last year I had the privilege of naming and describing five new species of monkeyflowers in the Garden’s scientific journal Aliso (30: 49-68, 2012). Four of these monkeyflowers have now been added to the California Native Plant Society’s (CNPS) Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants and one will soon be reviewed for its possible inclusion in the Inventory. Plants in the CNPS Inventory are assigned ranks in an effort to categorize their degree of rarity and concern of threat or endangerment. For example, a CNPS Rare Plant Rank of 2B.3 means that the plant is rare in California, but more common elsewhere (2B), and is not very threatened in California (0.3). The four monkeyflowers that have been added to the CNPS Inventory were assigned a rare plant rank of 1B which means they are not only rare in California but throughout their range. In addition three of the monkeyflowers have a threat rank 0.1 which means they are seriously threatened and one has a threat rank of 0.3 which means it is not very threatened in California. In doing field work for my research I wanted to asses the conservation status of these monkeyflowers because many of them are known to be naturally rare and are therefore of conservation concern. In my field work I surveyed and searched for new populations and provided more detailed information on their geographic range. To learn more about the conservation status of these elusive little plants I recorded information on the quality of their habitat (e.g. abundant non-native plant species would indicate poor habitat quality), signs of disturbance (e.g. trash, road cuts, vehicle trespass, trampling by humans or grazing animals), current use of the area, and current status of the population. This is important because if a species is known to be restricted to a small geographic area then chances are that some degree of disturbance (e.g. development, cattle grazing, and impacts from recreation) could have a significant impact on the long term viability of the species. The information I recorded was published and used in their assessment for ranking in the CNPS Inventory.
Santa Lucia monekflower (Erythranthe hardhamiae)

The CNPS Inventory serves as a State-wide source of information on California’s rare and endangered plants and is an important resource for scientific research, conservation planning, and effective enforcement of environmental laws that deal with plant conservation. It is essential to much of the work I do in evaluating the status of rare plants in California and identifying geographical areas and species to survey. This past year (2012) Garden Scientists described seven new plant species native to California and all seven of these have been added or are being considered for addition to the CNPS Inventory. This brings to light a couple of very important things: one is that we still have much to learn about the flora of California. Since the second edition of The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California was published in 2012 at least 14 new taxa native to California have been newly described! Even though my research has focused on describing and exploring plant diversity in California, the rate at which we continue to learn about and add new species to our native flora still astounds me. Second is that many of these newly described species in California have been found to be rare, and endangered throughout their range.

This shows us that it is critical to gather as much information as possible prior to developing land or changing land use. Balancing our use of the land with protection of natural resources is a difficult task, but in order to do this effectively we need information on what occurs there and its significance. The work we do here at the Garden in conservation and research aims to provide this information in the interest of education on the value and significance of California’s native flora.

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