SePPCon 2020

Clayton Meredith, ABQ Bio-Park

In a partnership between the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC), NatureServe, and ABQ BioPark, conservation status assessments and comprehensive species action plans are being developed for select medicinal plant taxa. This effort is part of a larger collaboration between zoos, gardens, and aquaria and the IUCN SSC, which aims to build a more robust Red List, thereby strengthening the first component in the Assess-Plan-Act model. A recent assessment of the conservation status of the genus Trillium in North America demonstrates the potential outcomes of such partnerships and the role public gardens can play in conservation initiatives. In 2019 this collaborative effort sought to generate IUCN Red List assessments, update NatureServe global ranks, and develop a comprehensive conservation plan for the genus Trillium. Through the assessment process, major threats to the genus and areas where additional research is needed were identified. Overabundance of white-tailed deer and habitat degradation caused by feral pigs are the most pervasive threats to the genus, but minor threats were identified at a regional scale which warrant investigation in other parts of the genus’ range. The southern Appalachian region is the center of Trillium diversity and is also at the confluence of several major threats to the genus. However, threats can be further distinguished based on habitat type and impact with respect to reproductive biology, which allows for targeted conservation initiatives. This approach maximizes the efficiency of these plans and allows for resources to be used effectively to promote plant conservation. This supra-species level approach has the potential to streamline conservation initiatives and build partnerships for large scale programs reducing extinction risk for large numbers of species simultaneously.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Dr. Matt Estep, Appalachian State University Jennifer Rhode Ward, University of North Carolina at Asheville

Many plant species are being driven towards rarity due to exploitation for food, medicine, or the nursery trade. Land managers in the Smoky Mountain National Park are particularly concerned about two plant species: cutleaf coneflower / Sochan (Rudbeckia laciniata), and ramps (Allium tricoccum). Both of these species are traditionally foraged for food and ceremonial use by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and parklands will soon open to limited collection by EBCI members. To ensure the health and vitality of these species, a combination of demographic and genetic data are being collected. These will be used to assess baseline genetic diversity and prioritize populations for conservation. Developing novel molecular tools for monitor imperiled plant species is one avenue towards safeguarding their futures, as these tools can be used to identify problematic reductions in genetic diversity over time.

Date Recorded: 
Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Laramie Smith, University of Georgia Dr. James Affolter, State Botanical Garden of Georgia and Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia

As the herbal supplement and alternative health industries grow, foraging for wild medicinals is becoming a more common and profitable phenomenon. In addition to the financial incentive to harvest non-timber forest products (NTFPs), there is a cultural push to “return to the land.” These motivations have raised the prevalence of abusive foraging habits, such as poaching or over-harvesting, increasing the threat to certain useful plant species. Our project draws upon the literature and experiences of two stakeholder populations—foragers, and professionals in the field of resource management and conservation—to garner insights about how to improve our response to foraging abuses of threatened but profitable plant species native to the Southeast. We interviewed members from both populations and compiled a summary of their responses; compared current conservation rankings and practices to determine how well they reflected economic factors affecting plant populations; and conducted three case studies on potentially threatened native medicinal plants, assessing both alternative acquisition methods and potential therapeutic substitutes. While the project is on-going, initial results reveal three themes: conservation practices and policies do not adequately address plants that are at risk due to targeted collection for economic benefit; stakeholder populations (resource managers and foragers) do not interface effectively or frequently, but there is potential to work together based on a shared value set; viable alternatives exist for many threatened native medicinal plants, but these are understudied and only folklorically known. This pilot study suggests that foragers might already have the ideal tools for combating harvesting abuses within their own communities. If the foraging community and environmental regulators work in partnership, it should be possible to develop an interactive environmentalism that establishes a productive balance between use and preservation, economy and conservation. This could lead to a more integrated conservation model than those currently in place.

Date Recorded: 
Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Kendall McDonald, Tara Littlefield, Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves

The Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves (OKNP) is the natural heritage and natural areas program for Kentucky. OKNP maintains the Kentucky rare species database, and acquires and manages natural areas and nature preserves that host high quality communities and rare species. In 2019, OKNP created the Kentucky Forest Biodiversity Program (KFBP) in order to more efficiently address conservation concerns of Kentucky’s forests such as a conservation status of forest medicinal plants and other species of conservation concern, forest health, floristic quality, and increases in invasive species. OKNP conducted forest assessments at long term monitoring sites in approximately 20% of Kentucky’s counties. 20% of counties will be surveyed each year, completing the state wide inventory after 5 years (2019-2023). The KFBP focuses on surveys of rare and conservative forested plant species, forest community diversity and structure, herbaceous diversity, forest medicinal plants/species of commercial concern, invasive species and other threats. With creation of new partnerships, OKNP was able to increase staff and resources to make the KFBP possible. By leveraging existing resources of several statewide projects, creating an efficient data collection standard and building a larger database for all species and communities (biodiversity database), OKNP was able to create a more comprehensive program that addresses core biodiversity questions of Kentucky’s forests and meets the data needs for various partners throughout the state.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Matt Candeias, In Defense of Plants

Plants are undeniably the most important organisms on Earth and yet, so few people pay them much attention unless they are attractive or useful in some way. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “plant blindness,” and it is one of the largest hurdles to overcome if we desire a healthier planet. For the first time since they conquered the land, plants are experiencing unparalleled rates of extinction. Faced with an uncertain future defined by massive and rapid environmental change, we can no longer afford to ignore the botanical world. To succeed in saving plants, it is important to inspire people to care about them. To do so, I believe that we must let go of utilitarian speaking points forged decades ago and instead, foster a new-found respect for plants as living, breathing, fighting organisms upon which all other forms of life depend. This, I feel, is the role of science communication. Our society does not suffer from a lack of scientists, it suffers from a lack of understanding and appreciation of science. We must strive to take our scientific understanding of the world and share this knowledge with more than just our colleagues. Distilling scientific discoveries, often only shared within the academic community, into narratives centered around biology, ecology, and evolution can inspire the public to look at plants in a whole new light. Though these narratives are often stories of doom, gloom, and hopelessness, we must remember to also showcase conservation success stories. People need to understand that there is something worth fighting for. Plant-based conservation stories are not only interesting, they also have the power to connect people with a variety of biological interests because plants influence all forms of life on Earth. From microbes to megafauna, botany is a common thread in the narrative of life. Finally, we need to engage the public with more than just words. People need to have a stake in healthy plant communities and what better way to invoke a sense of stewardship than to let people play a role in conservation. This talk will explore my experiences with science communication through the In Defense of Plants blog and podcast including some lessons I have learned over the years.

Date Recorded: 
Monday, March 2, 2020

From the SePPCon 2020 conference, three inspiring videos:

The Southeastern Grasslands Initiative Dr. Dwayne Estes, Southeastern Grasslands Initiative Featuring Dwayne Estes, SGI Director, and Theo Witsell, SGI Chief Ecologist. Filmed and edited by Pamela Pasco.

This 15-minute video takes you on a journey across the Southeast and through time, to learn more about the habitats that have been largely erased from society’s collective memory: the incredibly diverse native grasslands of the Southeastern United States. Be introduced to the concept of an “old growth grassland,” characterized by hundreds of native grasses, sedges, wildflowers, and shrubs, as well as dozens of species of birds and countless insects. You’ll learn why the myth of the squirrel that could travel from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River is just that: a myth that has been debunked by recent ecological and historical research. Get introduced to the complicated and diverse mosaic of forests, woodlands, wetlands, and grasslands that once existed across the South. You’ll discover that while Southern grasslands may not be as vast as their Midwestern cousins, what they lack in size is made up for by their astounding diversity. These include treeless prairies, open oak woodlands and pine savannas, rocky glades, high elevation grass balds in the Southern Blue Ridge, and open wet meadows, fens and bogs. Learn about the importance of conservative grassland species, such as the May Prairie Aster, discovered in 2008, which occurs only in a single 10-acre prairie remnant and nowhere else in the world. These conservative species can only grow in high quality grasslands, indicating sites of conservation value. Discover the grasslands that are hidden “in plain sight” throughout the Southeast, and find out the surprising sites on the landscape that still host many grassland plants and pollinators such as the Monarch butterfly.  Witness an unplanned grassland loss that occurred in real time during filming of this video, and learn why our native grassland remnants of just 1 to 20 acres are critical–not only as habitat for rare species such as the Northern Bobwhite-- but also to any hope we have of restoring our native grassland heritage. You’ll see that native grasslands in the Southeast are still yielding amazing discoveries of new plant and animal species each year. Find out the surprising ways in which agricultural practices have been kind to our grasslands, and be assured that there is cause for hope.

Longleaf for the Long Run Carol Denhof, President, Longleaf Alliance

The Longleaf Pine was once the dominant tree species in the southern United States, covering over 90 million acres from Virginia to Texas. Over the last 400 years, this species’ abundance has decreased due to non-sustainable timber harvesting, clearing of land for agriculture and development, and exclusion of fire. However, the overall decline of this ecosystem has been halted due to a coordinated effort by landowners and partners in the southeast to restore this iconic Southern forest that is among the most biologically diverse habitats in North America. The Longleaf Alliance (LLA) works in partnership with private landowners, federal and state agencies, other NGOs, and industry to guide the restoration, stewardship, and conservation of the longleaf pine ecosystem. This outreach video, produced by Abel Klainbaum for LLA, is intended to raise awareness of this unique native ecosystem in the general public. The information presented, through the shared perspectives of four active members of the longleaf community

Piedmont Prairie Initiative Rua Mordicai, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Science Applications Rickie White, Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association Carrie Radcliffe, Atlanta Botanical Garden Jim Affolter, State Botanical Garden of Georgia Jennifer Ceska, State Botanical Garden of Georgia Dr. Johnny Randall, North Carolina Botanical Garden Alan Weakley, North Carolina Botanical Garden Dwayne Estes, Southeastern Grasslands Initiative Julie Tuttle, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill

The Piedmont is home to one of the fastest-growing urban megaregions in the country, stretching from Raleigh-Durham to Atlanta and into Birmingham, AL. Historically, much of the region was covered in grasslands, including pine-oak savannas and open treeless prairies, maintained by frequent fire and grazing by bison and elk. Most Piedmont residents don’t know that the thick upland forests they see today were very different before European arrival. This is one of the major barriers to bringing grasslands back to the region. The Piedmont Prairie Partnership is a group of non-profit, state, and federal agencies working to bring back Piedmont Prairies in an area from Virginia down to Alabama. Late in 2019 to early 2020, the partnership created two videos to help tell the story of the past, present, and future of prairies in the Piedmont.

Date Recorded: 
Monday, March 2, 2020