SePPCon 2020

Melissa K. McCormick, Dennis F. Whigham, Rachel Rock-Blake, Hope E.A. Brooks

North American Orchid Conservation Center (NAOCC) and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC)

Orchids are widely threatened and endangered worldwide, but efforts to conserve and restore them has been limited by not knowing about the pollinators and fungi they need to grow and reproduce. The absence of appropriate mycorrhizal fungi can limit where orchids grow, but little is known about how the abundance and diversity of appropriate mycorrhizal fungi can affect orchid growth and population dynamics. Light availability is also expected to affect population dynamics, but with orchid life stages occurring predominantly above- or below-ground it seems reasonable to hypothesize that different life stages would be driven by above- or below-ground factors. In particular, emergent, green, above-ground stages would be most impacted by light, while seed, protocorm, and dormant stages would be most affected by mycorrhizal fungi. We hypothesized that the distribution, abundance, and emergence of the globally rare temperate, terrestrial orchid, Isotria medeoloides, would be driven at least partly by their mycorrhizal fungi. We combined the use of specific PCR primers, quantitative real-time PCR, and spatially nested soil samples to measure the distribution and abundance of mycorrhizal fungi that associate with I. medeoloides and measurement of light availability and orchid growth in three distinct studies. We found that I. medeoloides distribution and emergence were affected by the distribution and abundance of their mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. In contrast, plant growth during the growing season and the likelihood of flowering the subsequent year were more affected by light availability. We conclude that orchid conservation and studies of the drivers of orchid population dynamics need to consider both the mycorrhizal fungi and light resources they require.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Dr. Pamela S. Soltis, Founding Director of University of Florida Biodiversity Institute, Distinguished Professor and Curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History

We are living in a new geological era, termed the Anthropocene, in reference to human impact on our planet. This impact has led to extinction rates that are 1000 times higher than background extinction and the view that we are currently witnessing the Sixth Mass Extinction – this one caused by human activities. Climate change is forcing plants to respond to altered temperatures, precipitation, community structure, and more. Although some plant species are able to tolerate these alterations, others are being pushed closer to extinction. Successful conservation requires a multi-pronged approach, with data and tools from diverse sources. The world’s herbaria house nearly 350 million specimens, collected over centuries, and together these specimens hold immense information about plant species habitats and distributions. Through digitization of natural history specimens, this information is becoming increasingly available for modeling, computation, and other analyses. These digitized herbarium data have much to offer the field of plant conservation. For example, ecological niche modeling of rare species can help forecast future distributions and clarify potential future threats. Development of phylogenetic diversity indices for geographic regions of interest can also help identify areas that should be prioritized for conservation based on the distributions and evolutionary history captured regionally. Examples from the Florida flora will be presented to illustrate these new applications for “old” data.

Date Recorded: 
Monday, March 2, 2020

Carrie Sekerak, Deputy District Ranger, Ocala National Forest

Carrie Sekerak presents on the state of the isolated wetlands of Ocala National Forest. She describes the current issues faced in isolated wetland management, and gives a snapshot of best practices being applied. 

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Dr. Johnny Randall, North Carolina Botanical Garden

The infamous Venus flytrap, Dionaea muscipula, found across North Carolina and into South Carolina, has been seen to be declining in recent years. It is currently under review for federal listing, is ranked G2 on NatureServe, and considered vulnerable by RedList. Threats to this charismatic plant include poaching, trampling, and changes in fire and hydrology. Dr. Randall of the North Carolina Botanical Garden is conducting a double-pronged conservation effort, collecting and banking seeds by maternal line, and doing genetic analysis across the populations. Results from the genetic data suggest four distinct clusters that closely match phylogeographic areas.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Wesley M. Knapp, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program

Preventing extinction is the lowest bar for conservation success we can set and the roll of ex situ conservation efforts in preventing extinction is becoming more significant. Continued work to document the extinct plants of North America north of Mexico has resulted in the discovery that up to 7 plants are extinct in the wild (EW). While these extinct plant taxa have no naturally occurring populations, they are still found in ex situ collections at botanical gardens. These collections may have issues in having full conservation value. Many collections were taken from few or single individuals and not necessarily intended to prevent the extinction of a species, but now represent the last known individuals. Some species reported as present in seed banks or botanical gardens are incorrectly identified. Additionally, botanical gardens having the last known individuals of a species are not necessarily aware of the significance of these collections. Evidence suggests a species has gone extinct while at a botanical garden because the specimen was destroyed before the significance of the collection was recognized. A prioritization of ex situ conservation efforts, using the best data is critical to prevent future extinction events. Single site global endemics or species of extremely narrow geographic distributions are the most susceptible to extinction. I will discuss a collaboration with NatureServe to identify global single site endemics that we hope will help prioritize seed banking and ex situ collections for these species following best practices to ensure quality/genetic diversity of collections. Additionally, an ongoing collaboration with the North Carolina Botanical Garden to prioritize the rarest plants in North Carolina for ex situ conservation efforts has already seen significant results.

Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Dr. James Luken, College of Science, Coastal Carolina University

Marginal land now devoted to growing harvested crops may be better suited to other land uses such as biodiversity enhancement and carbon sequestration. However, farmers are not encouraged to explore the development of these opportunities due largely to subsidized federal crop insurance (FCI). This study examined FCI outcomes from 2013- 2017 in 69 Coastal Plain counties of North Carolina and South Carolina. The loss ratio (total crop indemnities paid/total insurance premiums paid) was used to identify 21 counties with high-risk agriculture. Then an index of conservation opportunity was calculated for each county using the loss ratio, insurance subsidy and an estimate of natural capital (i.e., renewable or nonrenewable natural resources the can provide benefits to humans). Where marginal farmland is surrounded by forest and natural capital is high, the index will identify counties currently supported by FCI that more quickly and completely incorporate the full range of ecological dynamics and biological diversity when farming is abandoned. The top 10 counties for conservation opportunity, with the exceptions of Scotland County, NC and Marion County, SC., were located in the outer Coastal Plain or coastal zone where natural capital is high. Transitioning land use from harvested crops to biodiversity enhancement or carbon sequestration will require bold changes in agricultural policies and subsidies so that income streams to farmers are maintained while novel ecological targets are met.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

R. Todd Engstrom, Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy

The Miccosukee gooseberry (Ribes echinellum) was discovered in on private land in Jefferson County, Florida, in 1924. A second population was located in McCormick County, South Carolina, in 1957, but this is a study of the Florida population only. The species was classified as federally threatened in 1985. A portion of the Florida population was monitored from 1992 to 2001 by The Nature Conservancy and intermittently from 2010 to 2016 for the USFWS. Florida Natural Areas Inventory ecologists mapped the general distribution of Ribes in Jefferson County in 1985. A resurvey of the same area in 2016 determined that gooseberry still occurs to the same extent 31 years later. Ribes appears to thrive in tree fall gaps. Some of the most productive plants, in terms of the number of fruit produced, and some of the densest patches of gooseberry occurred along trunks of large fallen trees. Fruit production in the gooseberry is rare (median number of clumps with fruiting stems was 1.4% for the two subpopulations from 1992-2001), but the species is still common in the small area where it was first described. In 2010 I estimated that there were 8600 gooseberry clumps in the two largest subpopulations, but how clumps relate to genets is unknown. The population trend of gooseberry in one of the two largest subpopulations indicated by transects declined by 14.2% from 2011 to 2013, and nearly every transect in the subpopulation declined from the 10-year average collected from 1992 to 2001. Recent genetic studies revealed low genetic variation suggesting an increased risk of extinction or population decline, and another recent study indicates that seed predation by a mouse could have a significant negative effect on seed dispersal. One hypothesis for local declines of Ribes is rapid growth of extremely dense stands of laurel cherry (Prunus caroliniana).

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Butler Conservation Fund (land owner), USFWS (affiliate), Cecelia Dailey, M.S. Candidate, The Citadel; Dr. Richard D. Porcher, Dr. Joel Gramling, Dr. Jean Everett, Dr. Timothy Callahan, Michael Kunz, April Punsalan, Dr. John Nelson, Keith A. Bradley, Dr. Brian Scholtens, Dr. Jay F. Bolin, Peter Schafran, Steve Bowling, Dana Beach, Jonathan Keyser, Nathan Platt, and Kevin Lloyd Hill.

Butler Conservation Fund of Great Neck, NY owns 2 tracts of land on the Black River, SC with diverse habitat and several rare plants. The two most spectacular are Carolina bogmint, Macbridea caroliniana (blooming July-September) and silky camellia, Stewartia malacodendron (found blooming in April and October). The diminutive Isoetes hymenalis (quillwort) was discovered on a powerline cut and an old road, and identified using DNA Flow Cytometry. A Collinsonia sp. (thought to be C. tuberosa) is growing twice as large as typically observed, indicating that the location might be nutrient-rich or calcium-rich, found near the Stewartia site. Educating about threatened plants (especially the less-than-spectacular), gaining insight into their communities and biogeography, and providing management recommendations is a part of Dailey’s job for the Butler Conservation Fund. A large population of Macbridea caroliniana (Carolina bogmint) was discovered in 2019 and Dailey performed a seed collection project separated by maternal line for UNC Chapel Hill Botanical Garden, and USFWS for propagation and study of seed biology at Bears Bluff Fish Hatchery greenhouse. Plants grown will be installed for public access, with education signage. This disturbance-loving species is usually found in light gaps in the swamp, mowed areas, and ditches, but the Black River hosts the only population known to be managed with fire. Dailey has applied for a USFWS grant to document populations in South Carolina, collect seed, and study the habitat including plant community, groundwater, and soil attributes. The pink-striped flowers are large for a mint, an exciting floral display in the summer heat. Dailey has also found a white flowering plant (a rare variation). Stewartia malacodendron discovered was reported by Porcher to be the largest he’d seen in his 50-year career, found on a slope in a patch of remnant levee formed by the Black River. Study of the population and propagation by rooting is underway. With saucer-sized white flowers and purple stamens pointed toward the sky, this native understory shrub has innate beauty to the human eye. The Butler Conservation Fund working in association with Dana Beach (retired head of the Coastal Conservation League) hosts canoe trips and group events. Creation of hiking trails and additional plans for public access are progressing through 2020. Challenges and successes of private land conservation will be discussed.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Juliet Rynear, Florida Native Plant Society Executive Director

The Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) is working with private landowners to help conserve critically endangered plant species. Two of our projects represent the importance and value of this work: the Warea Partnership Project and the TorreyaKeepers Project. Warea amplexifolia (clasping warea) is a federally-listed endangered plant species endemic to central Florida and only 2 large populations remain (greater than 500 plants). The largest population resides entirely on private lands and many of those are small parcels that resulted from a failed subdivision in the 1960’s. By partnering with private landowners, FNPS has been able to assist in land management (population and habitat monitoring, fuel reduction and prescribed fire). FNPS has also acquired and assisted in the acquisition of parcels for conservation by working with local land trusts, private foundations, and nonprofit organizations. The Florida Panhandle is home to the most endangered conifer in North America: Torreya taxifolia (Florida torreya). Torreya taxifolia is a Federally Endangered tree that only occurs in the ravines east of the Apalachicola River in Liberty and Gadsden counties. Since the 1950’s, Torreya taxifolia populations have declined to fewer than 1,000 mature trees, as the species is infected with a deadly fungal pathogen. Most known trees are on State lands, including Torreya State Park which is named after this iconic species. FNPS is working to: 1) reach out to property owners in the known range of Torreya taxifolia, 2) document and monitor confirmed trees, 3) collect genetic material, and 4) advise on best management practices.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Brenda L. Wicchman, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program

Chris Stoehrel U.S. Forest Service, Cherokee National Forest

Caitlin Elam Tennessee Natural Heritage Program, Division of Natural Areas

Some of the rarest wetlands in the southeastern United States are the non-alluvial wetlands of the Blue Ridge region. Many of these wetlands are current conservation areas or priorities and these wetlands, colloquially known as bogs, harbor many rare and endemic plant species as well as globally rare plant communities. Targets for conservation priority have traditionally been the lower reaches of these systems which contain the concentrated rare species occurrences, while not considering the sources of hydrology, the headwaters. We will discuss a non-profit, federal, and state partnership approach to enhancing the resiliency of these systems through holistic ecosystem protection in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020