Joyce Maschinski

Joyce Maschinski

Joyce Maschinski is the conservation ecologist leading the South Florida conservation program at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

The Wilderness Act at 50: Adapt, Move, or Die

Asclepias welshii, a species of milkweed native to Arizona and Utah, in situ.

 

Asclepias welshii, a species of milkweed, in situ. Asclepias welshii, a species of milkweed native to Arizona and Utah, in situ.

 

Editor's note: Tomorrow marks the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act. To commemorate the anniversary, we asked a small group of Island Press authors to reflect on the influence of this law to date and how its role may or should change as we move into an uncertain future. We are sharing the series through the end of this week. We celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act, which preserved areas where motorized transport and construction are minimal or absent and where some of nature’s rare jewels have been spared the blade of development. With climate change the very organisms these areas were designed to protect may not be able to survive within the boundaries of the wilderness area. Rare plants residing within wilderness areas and elsewhere have been the foci of our work, thus we’d like to address several concerns raised by Christopher Solomon in his article, “Rethinking the Wild.”

Prescribed fire can be an important process to support plants that rely on fire. Prescribed fire can be an important process to support plants that rely on fire.

 

We agree that “hands off stewardship” has led to several dire conditions affecting rare plants and their communities. We see invasive plants muscling in, usurping space normally occupied by natives. We see the impacts of fire suppression that threaten water supply, understory diversity, and forest health, while creating dangerous conditions for hot, uncontrollable wildfires and insect outbreaks. We agree that one serious consequence of climate change may be that plants find themselves in spaces that no longer can sustain them due to shorter growing seasons or less available water. If their existing space becomes inhabitable, plants have three options: to adapt, to move or to die. Studies by Loarie et al. (2009) project that from 2000 to 2100 the average global velocity of temperature change will be 420 m/year. Compare this to 5.9 m/ year recorded during the last glacial maximum. Quite a change! For the rose growing in the wilderness without supplemental water and T.L.C., this could spell disaster.  Adaptation is unlikely to occur that rapidly. Natural dispersal is unlikely to reach that far and that fast.  And death would be certain.

Argemone pleiacantha, also known as the southwestern prickly poppy, is native to Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Mexico. Argemone pleiacantha, also known as the southwestern prickly poppy, is native to Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Mexico.

 

Dedicated plant conservationists insist that doing nothing to protect rare plant species facing threats of changing climate is unethical and untenable. Recently reviewed options include ex situ conservation, inter-situ conservation, increasing the resilience of the existing population through population augmentation or improving the habitat conditions (like removing invasive species and decreasing canopy cover in fire suppressed forests), building new populations or reintroducing within historic range or moving the species outside of its historic range. All of these options have pros and cons.  See Plant Reintroduction in a Changing Climate for in-depth discussion. The most controversial option, assisted migration, can be ameliorated through a careful scientific approach and careful evaluation before actually moving any species. An important new tool, the Southwest Experimental Garden Array (SEGA) is now available for this purpose. SEGA is a National Science Foundation-funded instrument designed to separate environmental effects from genetic-based effects using a common garden research approach. In using SEGA, scientists will be able test the abilities of species to move in a controlled setting and be able to determine appropriate plant genotypes for use in restoration projects; plants that will be better adapted for a changing climate. Wilderness areas will undergo change. Although their inhabitants may require human assisted migration, the wilderness areas themselves cannot move. We will simply have to enjoy them in their transformed state.

Photo credit: Flock/bandada by Flickr.com user Rafael Edwards

Conservation Efforts for the Rare Lakela’s Mint, Dicerandra immaculata

This unique member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) is found only in Indian River and St. Lucie County.  It is a short-lived perennial with showy pink flowers that bloom in the fall that are pollinated by bees.  Lakela’s Mint is one of six species...

This unique member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) is found only in Indian River and St. Lucie County.  It is a short-lived perennial with showy pink flowers that bloom in the fall that are pollinated by bees.  Lakela’s Mint is one of six species of Dicerandra, each of which are endemic to only Florida and have their own unique minty aroma arising from a particular mixture of essential oils that are produced in glandular capsules on their leaf surfaces. The entire range of Lakela’s Mint is only a one-half mile wide by three mile long area in remnant scrub habitat, most of which has been converted to housing, commercial development, roads or railways.

Potted Specimens Potted specimens of Lakela’s Mint flowering in the greenhouse at BTG.

 

Lakela’s Mint likely once occurred as one large contiguous meta-population within this area, but is now fragmented into five small, reproductively isolated colonies, each of which continues to decline in plant number due to overgrowth of competitive plant species and continued developmental pressure.  The current estimate is that there are less than 10,000 individuals remaining. Partnering with St. Lucie County and Indian River County biologists, and with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of Florida, Bok Tower Gardens has worked since 2002 to help conserve this species. Conservation efforts have included surveying each population annually to track the rate of increase or decrease in the remaining number of plants of this species, collecting seeds or cuttings from each population to preserve both seeds and living specimens in the Center for Plant Conservation’s National Collection, introducing a new population onto protected county property, augmenting a small population with additional plants and collecting quarterly demographic data on two populations.

Bok Tower Gardens Staff & Volunteers Bok Tower Gardens staff and volunteers recording demographic data on Lakela’s Mint in Indian River County.

 

Based on data collected in early 2012, the forecast for the species looks promising. The introduced population is growing steadily.  Seeds and specimens from all historically known sites, including some which are now extirpated, are now represented in the National Collection, so the unique genetic diversity of each will not be lost.  Demographic data has been collected for a full five years on Lakela’s Mint, allowing a greater understanding of its response to events such as hurricanes and droughts, its average lifespan and lifecycle, and the amount of seedlings which naturally recruit each year and survive to become reproductive adults.

Lakela Flowering specimen of Lakela’s Mint in the greenhouse at BTG.

 

Although it will take years of continued efforts to truly understand and conserve, this species now has a good chance of persisting a little while longer.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Resilient Design Can Ameliorate Extreme Storm Impacts

Variable climate patterns are predicted to be the new norm in today’s changing climate.  No longer can we rely on our normal precipitation levels or temperatures.  Models foretell increased storm frequencies and intensities as sea surface...
Variable climate patterns are predicted to be the new norm in today’s changing climate.  No longer can we rely on our normal precipitation levels or temperatures.  Models foretell increased storm frequencies and intensities as sea surface temperatures climb.  The impacts of climate change affect all of us and our planet’s rare fauna and biota.  Yet we often don’t appreciate the immense responsibility we hold until we’ve had personal experience with an extreme event. Working to build resilience to overcome the impacts of climate change is one of the goals of plant reintroduction and habitat restoration.  And thankfully our experience has been that our efforts do help make a difference.  Working with many land manager partners, Samuel J. Wright, a Field Biologist working with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, has conducted 18 reintroductions of the federally endangered beach jacquemontia (Jacquemontia reclinata) into 12 sites evaluated as appropriate habitat within the historic range of the species.  One such reintroduction at Delray Beach in February 2005, coordinated by local Palm Beach, Florida (USA) landscaper Rob Barron, represents a reintroduction to a restored coastal strand habitat (Fig 1).  Because this species thrives in sunny open locations inland from the foredune, this reintroduction had a high probability of success.

Fig . 2 Storm surge impacts included sand deposition and damage to vegetation.

On November 4th, 2005, one week after Hurricane Wilma hit south Florida, Wright observed severe impacts of storm surge (Fig 2). Immense sand deposits buried some transplants and the entire sidewalk adjacent to the restoration site. All nearby trees and shrubs had brown leaves and dieback from wind and salt spray. A single event killed 48 of 133 transplanted beach jacquemontia. Thanks to the good topographic design of the restored site, the remaining living reintroduced plants and even some that had been buried thrived in the next six storm-free years. By 2011, a sea of beach jacquemontia could be seen at the site, flowering prolifically and helping stabilize the dunes (Fig 3).

Fig 3. Beach jacquemontia covers the dunes.

The importance of good site design and selection cannot be overstated for those hoping to create sustainable reintroduced rare plant populations.  Plant Reintroduction in a Changing Climate: Promises and Perils provides guidelines for site selection that are intended to improve the probability of reintroduction success.  Although one never can predict the impacts of extreme events, imagining that they may occur and using best reintroduction practice may help ensure a higher probability of population persistence.  We are continuing to track this beach jacquemontia reintroduction, as we are certain our opportunities to learn about resilience and sustainability in the face of climate change will continue to unfold.