Category Archives: Science

SPP Plant Profile: Puget Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea)

SPP Plant Profile: Puget Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Basic Information:

Balsamorhiza deltoidea, or Puget balsamroot, is late spring flowering perennial with showy sunflower like flowers. The distinct leaves of this species are basal, wide, and spear shaped. The flower stems can be up to 3 feet tall, and it is found in open, grassy areas, at low to high elevations from Southern British Columbia to Northern California.

Ecological Importance:

Considered critically imperiled but globally secure in Canada, only eight natural populations containing roughly 1,600 mature plants are thought to remain north of the border. These remaining populations are declining due to development and continued habitat degradation from competition with invasive species. There are 15 reported populations in the state of Washington. Evidence suggests that five of these populations may have been extirpated. A recent study by researchers at the University of Puget Sound* has shown that Puget Balsamroot appears to be incapable of self-pollination, and is dependent on pollinators for reproduction. However, decreases in pollinator species like bumblebees and honey-bee populations and increasing fragmentation and degradation of suitable habitat limits the natural reproduction of this and many other species.

Fun Facts:

Puget balsamroot is well known for its traditional culinary and medicinal uses. This includes its use as chicken feed by early settlers on Vancouver Island, suggesting that it was common in the area during that time period. The roots of Puget balsamroot are edible raw and when cooked have a sweet taste.  Young shoots can also be eaten raw, and seeds eaten raw or cooked. The roasted root can be used as a coffee substitute and seeds can be ground into a powder and made into bread. Medicinally, a decoction of the roots was used in the treatment of coughs and colds.

Puget balsamroot flowering on the prairie.

 

Taylor's checkerspot butterflies and Puget balsamroot. Photo by R. Gilbert.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To donate to SPP and support endangered prairie plant conservation, please click here.

*This study can be found at: http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.3955/046.085.0220

Spring and Cold Moisture Storage at Shotwell’s Landing and Stafford Creek Corrections Center

Spring and Cold Moisture Storage at Shotwell’s Landing and Stafford Creek Corrections Center

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

The snow, hail, and lumpy rain falling around here the last few weeks may make you think it’s still winter, but spring has arrived at Shotwell’s Landing and Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC). Seeds sown in late December and early January are germinating, undaunted by the unseasonably cool temperatures and higher than normal precipitation. Our propagation plan includes two sowing “seasons.”  The majority of seed sown last fall and winter were left to stratify in situ. Twenty percent of our seeds go through cold moisture storage (CMS), and then are sown in the spring. The CMS process involves imbibing seeds in water and placing them in a refrigerator for 15-90 days. This process broadens the temperature range at which the seeds will germinate.

At SCCC, Castilleja hispida, Viola adunca, and Lomatium utriculatum seeds sown in December are showing signs of life. A recent trip to account for germination of Castilleja hispida shows that certain seed lots are producing as high as 70% germination. Close attention is paid to which seed lots are showing faster or more germination, and what types of nursery practices are increasing germination rates. At Shotwell’s, Castilleja levisecta, Erigeron speciosis, and Eriophyllum lanatum are also germinating at high rates. All seeds sown have been kept in hoop houses to control moisture levels for optimal germination during this soggy La Niña winter.

25 species have been placed into CMS, the process starts with an ingenious “seed bubbling” system constructed from recycled materials. This system is used to soak seeds for 24-48 hours before placement in CMS. Previously, seeds had been soaked in standing water, which in cases led to the seeds over-imbibing with water. The new system soaks the seeds in running water, allowing for more oxygen flow and lowering tannic acid buildup in the soak water.

In the coming weeks the second “season” of sowing ensues at Shotwell’s with the seeds that are currently in CMS. This work will be done by SPP and Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM) staff, our tireless volunteers and Department of Corrections community work crews.

Close-ups of studies for identifying the cotyledon of seedlings from 2011 plants.  Photos by Carl Elliot.

 

To donate to SPP and support the restoration of native prairies in Washington state, click here.

Inmates Participate in Egg Mass Surveying at West Rocky Prairie

Inmates Participate in Egg Mass Surveying at West Rocky Prairie, 2.28.12

By SPP Graduate Research Associate Andrea Martin

When Julie Tyson, a biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, took me and the two inmate frog technicians that are raising endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs (OSF) at Cedar Creek Correctional Center (CCCC), and two officers out to look for OSF egg masses, I was afraid I would walk right past them, or worse, step on one.

Lucky for all us egg survey newbies, Julie found the first one. It became pretty obvious that they would be hard to miss. The egg masses are very dark, and float at the surface of the shallow water in wetland areas like West Rocky Prairie. West Rocky Prairie, also known as Beaver Creek, is just 13 miles south of Olympia, and less than a mile from Millersylvania State Park. The site is one of a handful of areas in Western Washington where the endangered frogs lay eggs every season.

Oregon Spotted Frog season is now upon us, and the site of the nearly-black gelatinous spheres is the first sign of the reproduction of the endangered species. Soon, a few hundred OSF eggs will be brought into CCCC and several other institutions, and the rearing process will begin.

In total, we found 19 egg masses.  Thirteen were found on the West side of Beaver Creek, of these, 10 were new. On the East side, where our group was the first to survey of the year, we found six.  Several of the egg masses had freeze damage because of the erratic late-winter/early spring weather. It’s likely that the frogs have stopped laying for now until the weather warms a bit; Julie estimated that the most recent egg masses we found were 2-3 days old.

In addition to the OSF egg masses, the inmates, officers and I found many Northwest Salamander egg masses, which are gelatinous, but solid as a baseball. Despite the freezing weather, and threat of snow, the inmates really enjoyed the opportunity to get outside the prison walls, and to learn more about the project they are working so hard on.

This will be the 4th season that inmates at CCCC have raised endangered frogs. Both of the inmates who will be responsible for feeding the frogs, keeping them warm and safe and recording all the changes they will go through in their life cycle are veterans of the rearing process. They were new, however, to the first step of finding the eggs.

The inmates’ participation in the egg surveying at West Rocky Prairie shows a new level of trust and desire to collaborate between SPP and its partners. The frogs that are raised at CCCC are the biggest and healthiest of all of SPP’s rearing partners, due in large part to the amount of time and attention the inmate frog technicians are able to give to the animals. The frog rearing program at CCCC has been highly successful, and its importance has been recognized by SPP’s partners, other scientists, and the prison community. This contribution was a major factor in the decision by the Department of Corrections to allow the inmates to participate on Tuesday.

 

To donate to SPP and support the rearing of the Oregon spotted frog in Washington state, click here.

SPP Plant Profile: Golden Paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta)

SPP Plant Profile: Golden Paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Basic information: Castilleja levisecta is an endangered perennial herb that can grow up to 20 inches tall and is covered with soft, sticky hairs.  Occurring in open grasslands in the Puget Trough, the species used to be common from British Columbia to the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  Now only a few populations remain, mostly in the area of the San Juan Islands and in the Puget Sound prairies.  Similar to other prairie species, populations have declined due to loss of habitat to agriculture, residential, and commercial uses.  The suppression of fire disturbance, a vital component of the prairie ecosystem, has also led to the decline of populations (see previous post on Prairie Fires).  The U.S. and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are actively reintroducing this species that nearly went extinct within the last two decades.

Ecological Importance:

Golden Paintbrush is relatively short-lived, with individual plants only surviving for 5-6 years.  Although it tends to grow in clumps from one to fifteen stems, it seems to reproduce only through seed.  As mentioned in previous posts, paintbrush species are hemi-parasitic.  Studies have shown Golden Paintbrush that were established with Roemer’s Fescue (Festuca roemeri), were more successful after outplanting than those established alone or with Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum).  Other studies have shown that Castilleja levisecta grown in a greenhouse with Eriophyllum lanatum were larger than with other host species.  Pollinators of Golden Paintbrush are currently being studied, but previous research described a species of bumblebee (Bombus californicus) as an active pollinator.

Fun Facts:

Paintbrush species are known to actively absorb selenium, which is a mineral that is toxic in high concentrations.  This is an unexplored use of paintbrush for reclamation of areas contaminated with selenium.  The dense growth nature of Castilleja levisecta may make it the most useful for this purpose.

SPP Plant Profile: Spring Gold (Lomatium utriculatum)

SPP Plant Profile: Spring Gold (Lomatium utriculatum)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Basic Information:

Lomatium utriculatum, or Spring Gold, grows in upright clumps with mostly basal leaves. Leaf blades are dissected into very narrow, fern-like ornate leaves. Flowers are small and bright yellow, and clustered in open umbels. Spring gold grows in meadows, woodlands, open and rocky areas from California to British Columbia. A spring flowering perennial, it has a persistently blooming flower, often flowering from as early as January to late July.

Ecological Importance:

Lomatium utriculatum has been found to be the primary nectar sources of Taylor’s checkerspot (Euphydryas editha taylori) butterflies in certain locations. Where it is not present, Taylor’s checkerspots use wild strawberry (Fragaria spp.) instead. In restoration efforts, planting of important nectar source species, like Spring Gold, near larval host plants such as Harsh Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) is important because Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies do not move a long distance when foraging or laying eggs.

At the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area, in south Thurston County, Lomatium utriculatum has also been found to be an important nectar species for mardon skipper (Polites mardon) butterflies.

Fun Facts:

Lomatium is in the carrot family, and the root is edible raw or cooked. It can also be dried and ground into a power or roasted as a vegetable. Young leaves and shoots can also be eaten raw or cooked as greens. Historically, a decoction of the plant was used as a wash for swollen or broken limbs. The root of the plant is analgesic and stomachic; it was chewed or infused as a treatment for headaches and stomach upset.

Inmate Frog Technicians Experiment with Cricket Rearing

Inmate Frog Technicians Experiment with Cricket Rearing

by: Inmate Frog Technicians at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

Editor’s note: Below is a message from our frog technicians at CCCC, who are currently experimenting with raising crickets to feed to the endangered Oregon spotted frogs being reared at their facility.

On 10/16/11, we received 65 over-winter frogs from a handful of sites. When received, frogs were about as big as dimes. Now they have grown to the size of half-dollars. They are doing very well, very good coloring, spotting on top and red on bottom.

When frogs were received, four frogs looked very bad and have since died. I don’t know what exactly was wrong with them, all I know is they would not eat and were very thin because of it. Except for that, everything has been going very smoothly.

We have now started a new cricket project. We have always bought our crickets from Fluker Farms to breed, but we have been unable to breed multiple generations with them.  Recently we got Jamaican Black Crickets from Woodland Park Zoo and we feel that we could breed a generation of these crickets.  What we hope to do is cross-breed European crickets with these Jamaican Black Crickets and try to get the long life span from the Jamaican but the easier edibility of the European House Crickets we buy from Flukers.

We are going to get 2500 European crickets (5 weekers) and 2500 Jamaican crickets (5 weekers) and raise them side by side, do everything the same between the tanks, food, water, temperature, etc. We are hoping to see which cricket is a more efficient candidate for our cricket project. And also see which crickets we can raise generations from.

In a totally separate experiment, we want to get 500 of each style crickets and raise them together in one tank, hoping to cross-breed these two crickets, getting traits from both.   We’ll see if that may be the best candidate for our cricket program.

Cricket Traits:

European House Cricket: The more popular of the cricket species, these crickets can grow up to 2cm in length. They are more extensively fed to reptiles. Easily digested.

Jamaican Black Cricket: These crickets grow fast and get bigger, probably reaching 3-4cm in length. In my experiences these crickets live longer and are easier to breed, but might be harder for the frogs to eat when they get too big.

To donate to SPP and support the rearing of the Oregon spotted frog in Washington state, click here.

SPP Plant Profile: Early-Blue Violet (Viola adunca)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Early-Blue Violet (Viola adunca) Photo: Rod Gilbert

Basic information:

Viola adunca, or early-blue violet, is a short perennial with short slender rhizomes. Leaves are alternate, heart shaped to ovate. The flowers of this viola are blue to deep violet, but can often be whitish at the base. Flowers have 5 petals, and bloom from April to August. Fruit are born in capsules with three valves, and the explosiveness of the splitting of the capsules often makes seed collection tricky.

Ecological Importance:

The Mardon skipper (Polites mardon) butterfly depends on Viola adunca as a spring-flowering nectar source. The small orange butterfly is found on two South Sound prairies, and is listed as a State Endangered Species and is a Federal Candidate Species. Zerene fritillaries (Speyeria zerene) also use Viola adunca, but as a larval host. Three subspecies of the Zerene Fritillary are listed on the U.S. Endangered Species List, including the Oregon Silverspot which is classified as threatened in California, Oregon and Washington.

Studies have found that Viola adunca are poor competitors, and are easily displaced by invasive species. Non-native grasses increase thatch density and vegetation height, compete for resources and reduce open space for germination and thus reduce Viola adunca populations. Experiments also show that fire stimulates germination in Viola adunca, and fire could be used to increase Viola adunca populations and provide more area for nectar and larval hosting for butterflies.

Early-Blue Violet (Viola adunca) Photo: Rod Gilbert

Fun facts:

Violet leaves contain more vitamin A than spinach, and a half-cup of leaves has more vitamin C than four oranges! Now, don’t go out and start eating, Viola adunca is a very important larval host and nectar source for threatened butterflies. Another reason to limit consumption: its rhizomes, fruits and seeds are poisonous. Adunca means hooked, and other common names include the hooked-spur violet and the western dog violet.

SPP Plant Profile: Roemer’s Fescue (Festuca roemeri)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Festuca Roemeri, Roemer’s Fescue

This is the first installment in a new series of pieces we are calling our plant profiles. Over the coming months we will highlight one of the 40 species of prairie or riparian plants that are grown at Stafford Creek Correctional Facility. This is intended to give you an idea of what we are growing, focus on the conservation importance of each species, and offer a few fun facts about each species.

Basic Information: Roemer’s fescue is a bluish, gray-green tufted bunch grass that grows from British Columbia (southeastern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands), and west of the Cascade Mountains in Washington, Oregon and Northern California. These areas are typically temperate, with maritime influence. Roemer’s fescue grows from sea level to about 2500 ft. The species is also found in thin-soiled windswept shorelines on the islands of the Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Straits of Georgia.

Ecological Importance: A foundation species of the prairies of the Pacific Northwest, Roemer’s fescue is predominately found in the glacial outwash prairies of the South Sound and those which have a history of anthropogenic burning.  Its quick growth makes this fescue an effective ground cover, but its bunch grass nature allows for the growth of other important prairie species, including associated species common camas (Camassia quamash), field woodrush (Luzula campestris), spike goldenrod (Solidago spanthulata), early blue violet (Viola adunca) and prairie lupine (Lupinus lepidus) to name a few.

Who is this Roemer guy anyway? Roemer’s fescue is named for Swiss physician, professor of botany and entomologist Johann Jakob Roemer (1762-1819). Roemer was best known for one of the greatest achievements in the history of Swiss entomology, the Genera insectorum Linnaei et Frabricii. Roemer also published the 16th edition of Carlos Linnaeus’ Systema Vegetabilium.

Fescue in the teaching gardens at The Evergreen State CollegeFescue plugs

Fescue plugs

 

December Butterfly Update

December Butterfly Update

By Inmate Butterfly Technicians at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

Editor’s note: Below is a message from our butterfly rearing technicians at MCCCW, who are currently raising a surrogate species in preparation for their work with the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly.

During this holiday season, even though we miss our families, we are fortunate to be a part of this unique experience of rearing butterflies.  On a daily basis we clean, care for, observe, and interact with this delicate and necessary part of our environment.  We continue to learn and prepare for the crucial project ahead – captive rearing of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly.

It is an amazing feeling to come out to the greenhouse every day and know that we are working toward making an important change for our environment.  We are extremely lucky to be at the start of this project.  We are anticipating the arrival of the Taylor’s checkerspot in February.

To donate to SPP and support the rearing of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly in Washington state, click here.

 

 

Inmate Technicians Attend Annual Species Recovery Conferences

Inmate Technicians Attend Annual Species Recovery Conferences

By Graduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

For the first time in the history of the SPP, inmate technicians were able to attend annual species working group meetings. DOC administrators at both Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) and Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) were generous in their support and were able to arrange for the inmates to travel to the event.

The Taylor’s checkerspot meeting was held on November 10th at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, and the two inmates who attended learned about species recovery efforts, reintroduction site assessments, genetic taxonomy work, and other ongoing research. The inmates were well received by the community and took copious notes on everything that was said.

The Oregon spotted frog meeting was a week later, at Blakely Tree Farms in Tumwater, and inmates were able to listen to detailed captive rearing reports from each of the four rearing institutions. Then they were able to share information of their own with colleagues they had heard about but never met, and techniques were learned by both sides. Additionally, release data, monitoring effort reports, and other research projects were discussed by various experts.

In both cases, the inmates involved were enthusiastic about attending and were able to get a sense of the larger effort going on outside the walls. The connections they formed with the conservation community can only help them feel more a part of the larger body of work, and more ownership of their own roles within that effort.