Connecting Plants and People

Steven Blackwell, Desert Botanic Garden

Seeds are as diverse and beautiful as the plants from which they derive. However, due to their size and scale their details are often overlooked. Using macrophotography techniques the Seed Photography Lab (SPL) at the Desert Botanical Garden creates magnified, high-resolution digital images of seeds that can yield valuable information for researchers. These images can provide visual evidence to support taxonomic studies or to broaden the understanding of the seed biology and ecology of a species. Current projects include imaging seeds of Arizona cactus taxa and documenting seed and embryo morphology to create a better understanding of the dormancy mechanisms of rare species. Just as importantly, these images also have the ability to engage the public by capturing the innate beauty and diversity of seeds. The macrophotography system consists of professional-grade digital photography equipment, advanced imaging software, and precision hardware. Together these components allow for the capture of highly detailed images throughout the depth of the seed resulting in images that are both scientifically valuable and aesthetically compelling. These images are stored in the Desert Botanical Garden’s web-based living collections management system at livingcollections.org/dbg and are available for use by researchers and the public anywhere in the world. Using high-resolution imaging technology can enhance the value of seed collections and provide a valuable resource to both plant researchers and the public.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, October 8, 2020

Joe Davitt, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research

In this video, Joe outlines the process for making short informative videos using commonly available technological resources such as your smart phone. He describes the tools available to CPC Network members seeking to create content for CPC Rare Plant Academy or our upcoming online course series, including: assistance storyboarding, video editing, animation, and voice over. Most of all, this video is very fun and full of orchids.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, October 14, 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

Amy Byrne, The Morton Arboretum

A 2019 study by Griffith, et al. showed that gardens must collaborate to conserve genetic diversity, especially for exceptional species whose seeds cannot be conventionally seed banked. This process of capturing the genetic diversity of exceptional species in ex situ collections requires a tailored strategy for each species, emphasizing the need for a coordinated effort by botanic gardens. By working through networked consortia, botanic gardens can implement innovative solutions to safeguard these species in a changing world, in high conservation value “metacollections”. We highlight a new initiative to conserve genetic diversity of exceptional species through a coordinated effort of gardens, using the metacollection model: the Global Conservation Consortium for Oak (GCCO). We outline the challenges and provide solutions for conserving this iconic group of exceptional trees, and provide recommendations that can guide conservation efforts for other exceptional plant groups, especially large, long-lived trees. With our many CPC partners, we are working to grow a diverse, coordinated network of institutions and experts who will advance our goal in preventing the extinction of the world’s exceptional species.

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Date Recorded: 
Friday, October 9, 2020

Anne Frances, NatureServe; Amanda Treher, NatureServe;
Wesley Knapp, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program

Plants that occur in only one to few locations globally are most at-risk of extinction. Research on the extinct plants of North America shows that 64% of extinct plants were known from one site. Single site endemics generally face higher threats than plants known from many locations--including demographic stochasticity (from small population sizes) to the risk that one event can affect the entire global population. The first step in preventing the extinction of single site endemics is to identify which taxa are truly known from such a restricted geography. Using NatureServe's Element Occurrence data on rare plants, we developed a preliminary list of 109 plant taxa known from very few locations. The list needs to be analyzed to determine which taxa are taxonomically valid, and of those, which are actually single site endemics. This presentation will outline the importance of conserving single site endemics, the steps and challenges to vetting the list, and the percentage of single site endemics that are currently held in ex situ collections and protected under the US Endangered Species Act. The presentation will conclude with ideas on how to share data to better protect these species.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Thursday, October 8, 2020

Mincy Moffett, Jr., Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Conservation Section

State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs) are multi-year strategies in which every U.S. state and territory assesses the health
of its wildlife and lays out steps for conserving it over the long term. These plans establish a framework for conservation
efforts that aim to protect species before they are endangered, with each plan custom-fitted to its jurisdiction’s unique
needs and priorities. One of the eight (8) required elements for a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service approved plan is the
identification of Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) within each jurisdiction.
Unfortunately, most states have not included plants among their SGCN, with only 18% (8 of 56) of states/territories
doing so in the 2005 plan, and 34% (19 of 56) in the 2015 revision. Among the states/territories within the SePPCon
footprint, 17% (3 of 17) included plants in 2005, and 53% (9 of 17) in 2015. Reasons given for this include: 1) state
wildlife agencies charged with the development of SWAPs not having regulatory authority for plant conservation; 2)
agencies not having botanical technical expertise on staff; and 3) plants being excluded from the federal definition of
‘wildlife’ under the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program and, therefore, ineligible for direct funding. One goal of
SePPCon (and a future Southeastern Plant Conservation Alliance [SEPCA]), will be to encourage and support the
inclusion of plants as SGCN in SWAPs by all regional members. The next SWAP revision for most states is due in 2025,
with preparations beginning in the next few years.

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

April Punsalan, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

April Punsalan describes work that Jason Ayers has done with the South Coastal Program in South Carolina protecting and restoring wetland ecosystems.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Jeremy Frencha and Brittney Viers, Quail Forever/Southeastern Grasslands Initiative

The southeastern region of the U.S. was one of the most diverse grassland regions of North America, yet more than 99% has been lost due to such factors as conversion to row crop agriculture, forest succession, and wetland drainage. Reversing the decline in grassland biodiversity will require a regional effort with a multitude of partners. Our objective is to use NRCS-RCPP (Regional Conservation Partnership Program) funds to conduct a multifaceted conservation program that will complement existing efforts, especially near protected landscapes. This RCPP is led by the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture (CHJV) and the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). Our RCPP includes efforts needed to recover populations of grassland bird species deemed in need of conservation attention by Partners in Flight, as well as the native biodiversity associated with the historic grassland landscapes of the Interior Low Plateaus ecoregion of Tennessee and Kentucky. Habitat improvements for the bird species of concern, which are more dependent on vegetation structure than on species composition, can be accomplished by opening up suppressed native grasslands with removal of woody cover and prescribed fire, reconversion of cropland or fescue pastures to native grasses, increasingforb-to-grass ratios, changing grazing intensities, and altering haying regimes. We are also focusing on imperiled grasslands simply in need of management practices to restore them back to their natural conditions. This strategy will be employed in cases where higher native plant diversity is important to maximize benefits to a wider variety of organisms. Three species of grassland-breeding birds were designated as priorities for the CHJV in the 2016 Landbird Conservation Plan: Northern Bobwhite, Henslow's Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark. The CHJV region supported an estimated 6.5 million-acres of native grasslands (prairies, savannas, barrens, glades) at the time of European settlement, but nearly all of it has been lost or degraded due to conversion to row-crop agriculture or non-native pasture grasses, succession to woodlands and forests, and urban development. As a result, it is critical that we work with NRCS and other partner agencies and organizations to implement farm bill programs that favor grassland restoration, either through biodiverse focused conservation practices or establishing native warm season grass pastures that mutually benefit livestock and native grassland species.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Carol Denhof, Longleaf Alliance

The Longleaf Pine was once the dominant tree species in the south, covering over 90 million acres from Virginia to Texas. Over the last 400 years, the abundance of this species has decreased due to non-sustainable timber harvest, clearing of land for agriculture and development and exclusion of fire. As this ecosystem was diminished, many of its associated plants and animals have become federally threatened or endangered, state-listed or, at best, rare. At the low point in the 1990’s, it was estimated that less than 3 million acres remained. Today, because of the work of The Longleaf Alliance and our partner NGOs, state and federal agencies, and private landowners we are making progress, and now estimate the extent of the resource at 4.7 million acres. An increasing number of landowners that are restoring longleaf to their lands are becoming interested in using a whole ecosystem approach to longleaf restoration. In addition to the traditional interest in longleaf timber production, they have come to appreciate the value in managing forests that support plant and animal diversity as well as the overall health of the ecosystem. Having this diversity in place is essential to achieving their objectives as landowners. It also contributes to true restoration of the South’s great longleaf forest. With the majority of longleaf-suitable lands existing on private lands, the importance of engaging these landowners to support ecosystem restoration and conservation is more important than ever. It is also important to work in partnership with other groups to reach long-term restoration goals. The Longleaf Alliance is working in conjunction with other partners that are members of the Longleaf Partnership Council (LPC) to achieve the restoration goals established by America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative. Restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem and the species associated with it is a high priority for all 33 members of the LPC. The LPC has set an ambitious goal of increasing the acreage of longleaf pine to 8 million acres by 2025. Members include federal agencies including US Forest Service (USFS), US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Department of Defense, state agencies, NGO’s, and private landowners.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020