Collaborative BioBlitz in the Milpitas Special Interest Area

Arroyo Seco bushmallow (Malacothamnus palmeri var. lucianus, CNPS List 1B.2). Photo by Mike Splain.

On April 15, 2017 the Ventana Wilderness Alliance (VWA) partnered with CNPS Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz chapters for its first-ever BioBlitz in the Milpitas Special Interest Area (SIA). This area was designated by the Los Padres National Forest in 2005 to preserve the natural and cultural resources of the upper Arroyo Seco and San Antonio watersheds.

The Milpitas SIA is located on the eastern slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains where one can find the largest valley oak savannah on public land. Surrounding ridges feature diverse chaparral, five tree oaks species, and six conifer species. The regional diversity is nurtured by numerous springs, wetlands, seeps, and streams which complement towering rock outcrops. This abiotic complexity facilitates a wide range of plant habitats—and much more.

Humans have occupied this area for thousands of years and evidence still remains in the form of rock art, midden remnants, and bedrock mortars. Over this time of Native America occupation, plant assemblages were shaped, in part, by active Salinan management including seed and bulb harvesting and the ignition of periodic fires that promoted the growth of food and fiber plants.

To adequately understand and better protect this diverse and sensitive place, land managers and scientists continue to collect data on the variety of habitats. We contributed to this data with our recent BioBlitz.

Goldfields and owl’s clovers on Wagon Cave Plains. Photo by Amy Patten.

Naturalists from VWA and CNPS joined forces to documented as many species in the SIA as possible. While the scenery was grand the search was challenging—including looking for insects under logs, scrutinizing mammal tracks for species ID, and scrambling steep hillside to photograph wildflowers. All challenges aside, participants were treated to a “superbloom” that included carpets of goldfields (Lasthenia sp.), owl’s clover (Castilleja sp.) and sky lupines (Lupinus nanus). VWA/CNPS members Mike Splain, Deanna Giuliano, Dave Nelson, Kate Cunningham, and John Libby helped participants track down rare endemics, including Arroyo Seco bushmallow (Malacothamnus palmeri var. lucianus, CNPS List 1B.2), Butterworth’s buckwheat (Eriogonum butterworthianum, CNPS List 1B.3), and Santa Lucia fir (Abies bracteata, CNPS List 1B.3). Other unusual sightings included naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflora), harlequin lupine (Lupinus stiversii), dwarf brodiaea (Brodiaea jolonensis) and bitter root (Lewisia rediviva var. minor).

Once back from the field, all of our team’s observations (including 179 plant species) were entered into iNaturalist, a publicly accessible database of natural history observations. Once in the database, citizen scientists in the iNaturalist community review observations to generate research-grade data.

Citizen scientists collecting data on Santa Lucia Fir, Abies bracteata. Photo by Amy Patten

BioBlitz observations provided a valuable snapshot of regional biodiversity, phenology, locations of species of concern, and data on the spread of invasive plants. These data will be shared with the US Forest Service to guide research and management decisions. Plans for future BioBlitz events and targeted monitoring are already in the works.

Interested in participating in future citizen science projects? Contact me!

Amy Patten
CNPS Santa Cruz Chapter and Ventana Wilderness Alliance

Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Update: the CNPS De-Extinction Project

LA_with_Calochortus_for web.jpg

Our L.A. de-extinction search rewarded other rare plant citings as well:  here is a beautiful Plummer’s mariposa lily (Calochortus plummerae— CRPR 4.2) growing amidst Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) in the Jarupa Hills.

In early May, a team from the Rare Plant Program went down into the urban wilds of the greater Los Angeles area in search of plants presumed to be extinct. Amidst the piles of trash, stealthy homeless encampments, fields of invasive weeds, cookie-cutter stucco houses, and mining lands, it could seem like a search for a needle in an inhospitable haystack. Yet, the CNPS De-extinction Project is far from that.

Conceived in 2015, the goal of the De-extinction Project is to locate populations of plants that have not been seen in many years, whose habitats may have been significantly altered or destroyed, and now have been given a California Rare Plant Rank of 1A in the CNPS Rare Plant Inventory (Plants Presumed Extirpated in California and either Rare or Extinct Elsewhere). These plants are only presumed to be extinct, as some factors— such as the viability span of the seed bank for a particular plant and the vicissitudes of weather patterns over time—contribute to the possibility of regrowth and thus, rediscovery. There is also simply a lot of ground to cover to effectively search for these plants in possible habitats so that locating these plants can become an issue of sheer person power available for the search, as well as good old-fashioned luck!

CNPS is no stranger to rediscovery. In 2009, our Executive Director Dan Gluesencamp rediscovered the Franciscan manzanita (Arctostaphylos franciscana) on a traffic island near the Golden Gate Bridge. In 2016, Steve Schoenig, currently a Rare Plant Treasure Hunt (RPTH) volunteer and former Coordinator of the RPTH, rediscovered the Serpentine Canyon monkeyflower (Erythranthe pericaulis) deep in the heart of the Plumas National Forest. In the early days of the CNPS Rare Plant Inventory, rediscoveries were more common as the Inventory itself helped catalog which plants most needed searching for. Over the years, as more habitat has been destroyed, rediscovery has become less common and the need to fine tune our searches more essential. Once a species is rediscovered, our state has another chance to conserve and protect it, and the plant will often be given a ranking of 1B.1—rare in all of its range and still vulnerable to the highest degree of threats.

In order to enhance our chances of locating these plants, CNPS Rare Plant Botanist Aaron Sims did extensive research on the historical occurrences of all 1A plants in the Inventory as of 2015. He did analyses of which plants were the most likely to be found, based on factors including intactness of habitat near or around historical occurrences as well as dates last seen, and created a prioritized list of targets for rediscovery. With each plant target, Sims also generated exact locations around which to centralize our search, concentrating our resources to focus on the greatest possibility of success.

With this data in hand and more than just a little hopefulness, Rare Plant Program botanists scoured several sites in the greater L.A. area for two 1A plants the second week of May. We can’t divulge details of the outcome just yet, but the hunt was successful in many ways. Several areas of semi-intact habitat were found for these species, despite the ubiquitous sprawl. We will report back as soon as we know more.

The CNPS De-extinction Project is currently seeking out other 1A plants in other areas of the state. We also hope to return to the L.A. area throughout the summer to continue our search for these plants and deepen our search to include other elusive plants presumed to be gone in this densely-developed place. Interested to join in the hunt? Let us know by sending us an email!

Catherine Curley, Assistant Botanist/Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Coordinator

Citizen Science with Mary Ellen Hannibal

Mary Ellen Hannibal

As human animals, we’re drawn to the natural world. The impulse to observe, touch, and understand begins at birth. It’s no wonder then that, throughout human history, laypeople—philosophers, gardeners, and vagabonds alike—have contributed to the most meaningful scientific knowledge we have. As Joseph Campbell said, myth is nature speaking, and the goal of human life is to align with nature.

While we now have a professional discipline we call “science,” everyday citizen scientists are needed now more than ever. As an organization founded by citizen scientists more than 50 years ago, CNPS is acutely aware and appreciative of this reality. Without the observations, painstaking work, and passion of thousands of people over decades, contributions like the Manual of California Vegetation and the Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants would not be as rich or even possible. The work continues today through Rare Plant Treasure Hunts, chapter field trips, the Important Plant Area Initiative, and more. That’s why Mary Ellen Hannibal’s new book, Citizen Science: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction has been especially meaningful to many of us. We caught up with Hannibal recently to discuss her latest work and the personal experiences that inspired its content.

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