Warning: This is a long one
Hey ho, it’s already been eight months here in wonderful Colorado. So what have I been up to since the last post? Let’s think.
At the end of August I went on a river survey for Sclerocactus glaucus, Colorado’s Hookless Cactus, on the Gunnison River with the Montrose field office. That was three days and two nights of beauty, fun, and discovery. S. glaucus is endemic to Colorado and is currently listed as threatened. Our aim for the river trip was to find and map new populations. The more plants we know exist, the closer we are to delisting this species. This species actually has an interesting taxonomic history. Originally known as Unita Basin Hookless Cactus, S. glaucus has recently been divided into three distinct species. Based on phylogenetic studies, common garden experiments, and morphological characteristics, what was once considered one species is now S. glaucus (Colorado Hookless Cactus), S. brevispinus (Pariette Cactus), and S. wetlandicus (Unita basin Hookless Cactus). After this distinction all three species were recognized by the USFWS and each remain listed as threatened with the same protections as before the split.
The river trip proved fruitful. We found several new populations of considerable size. S. glaucus is starting to prove more abundant than previously thought. These surveys in combination with our five long-term demographic monitoring plots are crucial in working towards delisting. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures on this trip. The Gunnison River traverses through some truly beautiful landscapes, including Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We surveyed farther north on the Gunnison, obviously not in the park, however, the whole trip was utterly enjoyable. I was happy to be invited and glad we were able to find several additional populations.
Early in September we returned to Montrose to monitor another listed species, Eriogonum pelinophilum (Clay-loving Buckwheat). This species is listed as Endangered, and also endemic to Colorado, specifically the Montrose and Delta area. It exhibits edaphic endemism growing only on the Mancos shale soils in the area. We have five monitoring plots across the species range, three of which were established in 2012, two in 2013. Despite the short length of the study, trends are visible. Longer data sets will reveal more accurate trends, however, at present populations are stable or increasing in number. This trend holds true for total population number and number of reproductive individuals.
Our plot’s sampling objectives range from detecting a 5% change in population density to 20% with 90% to 99% confidence. In total, when compared to the year the plots were established, four of the plots show a significant increase in mean population density and one shows no significant difference. These results are promising, considering the various levels of protection and exposure to threats at each site.
Another project I’ve been working on is creating estimated total population graphs with 95% confidence intervals for each monitoring plot for every species we monitor. Below is one said graph for E. pelinophilum. When only monitoring a portion of a population, as we do for each monitoring plot, the gathered data is meant to be used to make inferences of the whole population (the whole monitoring plot). Thus, I thought it would be advantages to calculate the estimated total number of individuals, stems, and so on at each of our plots.
Estimated population total for Eriogonum pelinophilum individuals at all study sites with 95% confidence intervals
I’ve also been working hard to organize all of our monitoring data. This is something the interns before me started by compiling data from every year for each species into one excel workbook, instead of having one workbook for each year for each plot for each species. I’ve been checking all our calculations, creating the est. population total graphs, reformatting all the excel workbooks into one format for the sake of consistency, and reorganizing how raw data is entered into the workbooks in order to make analysis easier. I’m happy I’ve been able to accomplish these tasks. Having different interns every so often can make consistency in data organization difficult, especially when only using excel. So, I have also written a guide in each species’ workbook for how to add and analyze the data for future interns/employees. I’ve also been writing explanations for some of the formatted calculations within every workbook. It can also be difficult to try and decipher how someone before you analyzed data, especially when there are no clear explanations or directions. While this work is not as exciting as field work, I do still enjoy it. There is something I find very rewarding in being organized. Perhaps that sounds crazy. I enjoy the efficiency that stems from organization.
In mid-September I was able to join our fisheries biologist for a day of educational outreach up near Kremmling, CO. This was a lot of fun! Together with Carol, and several other people from the National Operations Center and Kremmling field office, we met a 7th grade class at a private ranch (who allows this activity each year) to learn about stream health and the scientific method. We broke into groups and each performed a series of experiments in the stream in order to measure stream velocity at various depths, on the surface, and around a curve. We also talked about water quality, stream structures, and a little about stream vegetation. Most of the kids in my group were interested and participated in the activities, it was great to see. We stressed the scientific method during each experiment, and it was fun to see what their hypotheses were and why. Two highlights of the trip for the kids were the water proof paper their worksheets were printed on, as well as feeding time for the fish stocked in this stream. As I said, we were on a private ranch, and the owner has the stream stocked and fed. Several kids were able to identify the fish. It was impressive, given my lack of knowledge in this area.
At the end of September we spent a day monitoring Penstemon debilis up on the face of the Roan Plateau. This species is, again, a Colorado endemic only existing on the Roan Plateau. More specifically, it resides on white shale talus slopes, making for steep and erodible conditions. Our plot was established in 2004 and has been monitored yearly (excluding 2006) since. Given the nature of this environment, we count stems instead of individuals. The stems grow from underneath the talus, rising through the rocks, making it very difficult to determine individuals without displacing the rocks and destroying the habitat. Compared to 2004, 2015 showed no significant change in stem number. However, statistically significant changes have been noted over the span of the study. Most of the plants had already gone to seed, but we did see a few still in flower. Penstemons are so beautiful.
Estimated population of P. debilis stems at Anvil Points with 95% confidence intervals
View from P. debilis monitoring site. Heck, there could be some P. debilis over there, but it’s too steep to find out
Last, but not least, we have been making some seed collections. This has not been our primary objective, but together with the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens we have been able to make eight collections this year. Carol and I just made two collections last week, Frasera speciosa and Carex uticulata. They were opportunistic. We set out to check on another population of Phacelia but were unable to access that exact location. So, after some brief scouting we found these two species still with plenty of seed. It is great having Carol. I’m not sure I would have been able to make the identification of the Frasera since it was all in seed with no flowers.
Sorry I don’t have more pictures of the plants I’ve been working with or their locations. I tend to forget to take pictures when I’m out in the field.
I have also been exploring on my free time. My parents and brother recently visited. We saw a fair amount of Colorado while they were here, spent some time in Rocky Mountain National Park. Needless to say, they loved it all. You just can’t get views like these in Illinois. Then my sister and our good friend came for a visit. We enjoyed a mix of nature and city exploration. We explored the Botanic Gardens, some, went to an amazing drag show, and enjoyed some live music. I also took them to Rocky Mountain National Park, and one of my favorite restaurants in Golden. They were very sad to leave. I also flew up to Seattle to meet up with my boyfriend. We explored the Olympic peninsula and Olympic National Park. Wow! We were able to enjoy the coast and the mountains all in one day. That whole area is so beautiful, I could get used to the Pacific Northwest. In early October he flew out here and we hiked Conundrum Hotsprings near Aspen, CO. This is a very popular trail, but luckily not busy when we went. The combination of going later in the season and backpacking in on Sunday to Monday meant there were only about 20 people up there in total, maybe less. Starring up at the stars in the warmth of the spring with the chill of fall in the air was unbelievable. I also got to fly home to be there for a surprise celebration for my two very close friends on the night the one proposed to the other. I can’t believe more of my friends are getting married, but I’m so happy I could be there to surprise her! I also most recently got to enjoy the start of the Halloween season here in Denver by going to the Zombie Crawl in Denver, and making it out in time at one of Denver’s haunted escape rooms. I’m looking forward to enjoying the rest of fall as well as winter here in Colorado.
My brother and I at the top of Mt. Quandry
My brother above Emerald Lake, RMNP
My sister and I at Dream Lake, RMNP
My boyfriend on the Olympic Peninsula coast, WA
Olympic mountains, Olympic National Park, WA
Conundrum Hotsprings, Aspen, CO
The happy couple and me
Denver Zombie Crawl
All my best,
CO BLM State Office