Utah’s Recent Pinyon Migrations and the Prospects for Climate Change

Utah’s Recent Pinyon Migrations and the Prospects for Climate Change
Packrat Fossil Midden
City of Rocks
Copyright © 2009 Julio Betancourt

In the late 1970’s, springtime in the American West warmed abruptly by 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the valleys, double that higher up. Our average onset of Spring now comes a week earlier across the West. If these are the first signs of climate change, even longer growing seasons will trigger not just earlier blooms but also northward plant migrations.

The past provides us with lessons about plant migrations. A thousand years ago, one-needle pinyon hopped from the Raft River Mountains in Utah to City of Rocks, Idaho. Across Utah, two-needle pinyon leaped over the Uintas to Flaming Gorge. We know this from radiocarbon dates on pinyon pine needles taken from ancient nest heaps of packrats preserved in caves. According to Dr. Julio Betancourt of the U.S. Geological Survey, who uses these packrat middens and tree rings to reveal past plant migrations, these recent advances by Utah’s two pinyon pines followed the Medieval Climate Anomaly, a period from 900 to 1300 AD marked by warming in Europe and severe drought in Utah.

Utah’s Recent Pinyon Migrations and the Prospects for Climate Change
Packrat 7000 year old Midden
Joshua Tree Natl Park
Copyright © 2009 Julio Betancourt

Droughts figure prominently in Dr. Betancourt’s view of tree migrations. Droughts trigger bark beetle infestations, wildfires, and tree dieoffs, opening up niches for regeneration. When the drought abates, the resident tree species typically return. With long-term warming, however, other species can move in from lower elevations or further south. Dead trees now abound on Utah’s landscape, and Dr. Betancourt thinks that we are on the verge of a new spate of tree migrations.

This go around, which species retreat or advance will depend on new factors, including human fragmentation of the landscape and accelerated dispersal of native and non-native species that hitch rides with us. To conserve ecological goods and services associated with some species, Dr. Betancourt argues, we will have to manage for these plant migrations.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy and © Copyright 2009 Julio Betancourt

Text: Julio Betancourt USGS NRP Tucson: Biotic Response to Climate Variability
Faculty and Staff > Julio Betancourt

Additional Reading:

USGS National Research Program: Tucson AZ
http://wwwpaztcn.wr.usgs.gov/home.html

Climate Change and the Great Basin, Jeanne C. Chambers, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Reno, NV, 2008,

A Database of Paleoecological Records from Neotoma Middens in Western North America, USGS/NOAA North American Packrat Midden Database, http://esp.cr.usgs.gov/data/midden/ (Accessed 27 August 2009)

Carnivorous Plants in Utah

Common bladderwort
(Utricularia macrorhiza)
Courtesy US Forest Service
Photographer: Barry Rice

Carnivorous plants stoke the imagination and spawn Hollywood films. They have bizarre adaptations to aid in the absorption of nitrogen in the nutrient poor environments in which they live. Venus Fly Traps are perhaps the most famous, their moving lobes snapping shut like a purse around the insect prey to be digested. The far more numerous Pitcher plants produce a simple pit trap. Butterworts and sundews both deploy sticky hairs to ensnare prey. There are other carnivorous plant types, but here in Utah we have only 3 species of Bladderworts in the genus Utricularia.

Our three species are denizens of the water, and as such are scattered among the ponds, lakes and sluggish creeks of the state. Their finely divided leaves efficiently capture sunlight. Bladderworts are often found floating freely on the water surface. Despite their aquatic nature, bladderwort flowers are showy and held above the water surface to attract pollinators with their yellow loveliness.

Bladders that trap prey for
(Utricularia macrorhiza)
Courtesy US Forest Service
Photographer: Barry Rice

How can an aquatic plant be carnivorous? The plants produce bladder-like utricles along the underwater stem that look much like cancerous growths. These hollow bladders have tiny hair-like extensions that respond to motion. When stimulated by any wee swimming creature, the hairs cause the flattened bladder to inflate, sucking in both water and prey.

Of all the carnivorous plants, Bladderworts are the easiest to grow … a warm aquarium and some pond mud is all that is needed to keep a Bladderwort happy and healthy. So next time you visit one of our natural ponds or lakes, look for these carnivorous plants. You may even hear the faint crackling sound of the utricles closing as you lift them from the water.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US Forest Service, Photographer Barry Rice http://www.sarracenia.com/
Text: Michael Piep, Utah State University: Intermountain Herbarium http://www.herbarium.usu.edu/

Additional Reading:

Southwest Colorado Wildflowers, Photos of Utricularia: Enlarged Photo Pages/utricularia.htm http://www.swcoloradowildflowers.com/Yellow%20Enlarged%20Photo%20Pages/utricularia.htm

Utricularia – The Bladderwort, Carnivorous Plants Online – Botanical Society of America http://www.botany.org/carnivorous_plants/utricularia.php

Dyer’s Woad

Dyer’s Woad in blossom
Courtesy of and
Copyright © 2009 Brad Kropp
As found on bugwood.org

In early May, pale yellow carpets some hillsides of Northern Utah. The plants are a non-native known as Dyer’s Woad. This Asian member of the cabbage family has been cultivated as a dye and medicinal plant in Europe and Asia for 2000 years. Dyer’s Woad produces a glorious blue dye, but the process is tricky. No synthetic dye equals the color and characteristics of woad dyes.

Woad had arrived in Utah by 1932 as a seed contaminant. Now it is a noxious weed. Woad has a number of unique abilities that contribute to its vigor. Being a biennial plant, it spends the first year of life as a rosette of leaves, building reserves. In its second year, those reserves allow a woad plant to send forth a tall, lanky stem covered with pale yellow flowers that ultimately yield up to 10,000 seeds per plant.

Although Dyer’s Woad is not toxic, few animals relish it either. The seeds have chemicals that inhibit germination and root elongation in other plants, giving woad a competitive edge. Woad causes millions of dollars in losses each year, so control is a major issue. Herbicides and mechanical removal are best used against the rosettes, but nature has provided a native fungus that views woad as dinner. This rust fungus is very effective at eliminating or severely reducing seed production. Plants infected with the rust fungus are misshapen, wrinkly, and covered in dark spots. Those spots brim with rust spores. Therefore, when removing woad, leave the sickly plants to infect yet more woads.

Dyer’s Woad with rust
Courtesy of and
Copyright © 2009 Brad Kropp
As found on bugwood.org

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Credits:
Photos: Brad Krupp, Utah State University, Bugwood.org
Text: Michael Piep, Utah Native Plant Society

Additional Reading:

Resources:
Intermountain Herbarium: http://herbarium.usu.edu/

Washington Weed Board: http://www.nwcb.wa.gov/weed_info/Written_findings

/Isatis_tinctoria.html

References:
Edmonds, J. 2006. The History of Woad and the Medieval Woad Vat. http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-history-of-woad-and-the-medieval-woad-vat/4928037

Shaw, R.J. 1989. Vascular Plants of Northern Utah. Utah State University Press, Logan, Utah. http://www.usu.edu/usupress/books/index.cfm?isbn=1417

Welsh, S.L., N D. Atwood, S Goodrich & L.C. Higgins. 2008. A Utah Flora, 4th Ed. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. http://www.amazon.com/Utah-Flora-Stanley-L-Welsh/dp/0842525564

Censuses and Surveys

Wolf with Radio Collar watches biologists FWS Digital Library, Photo by William Campbell
Wolf with Radio Collar
Photographer: William Campbell
US FWS

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

This year’s Census is the 23rd national headcount in United States history.

Census results affect the allocation of all kinds of government financial and program resources. The Census also determines the distribution of seats in
the state and federal House of Representatives.

It is also important to know the number and whereabouts of different wildlife species. This information is used for a number of management purposes– for instance, monitoring the status of endangered species or determining hunting or fishing quotas.

Mountain Lion with Radio Collar
Photographer: Claire Dobert
Courtesy US FWS

Counting wildlife isn’t as easy as counting people. You can’t mail
animals a survey with a self-addressed stamped envelope and you don’t necessarily know where to find them at any given point in time.

True censuses of animals are rare for in most cases a complete count is either too expensive or too difficult to undertake. Only animals conveniently and visibly grouped in a particular location can be censused– such as fish in a fish hatchery, or large animals along a certain migration route.

Setting a waterfowl capture net
Courtesy US FWS

Instead, biologists define an area of interest, then sample at random locations within that area. Samples usually consist of a number of transects or randomly selected quadrants. Counts from these samples are then extrapolated to an entire habitat or study area.

Along with selecting a sampling method, you have to figure out how you are going to effectively count an individual occurrence. This can be extremely tricky. Especially if your animal is reclusive or nocturnal. According to Dr. Eric Gese, a specialist in predator ecology at Utah State University, biologists use tracks, scats, scratches, burrows, hair samples –even roadkill counts as proxies for individual animals.

FWS Biologist Tracking a Black Bear
Photo by John & Karen Hollingsworth,
Courtesy US FWS

Capturing, marking and recapturing animals is one of the most reliable–albeit expensive– ways to do a direct count of animals. Captured animals are marked with ear tags, radio collars, dyes or even radioactive isotopes. In a future program I’ll describe an example of how one scientist tracks and counts large and elusive predators in the wild.

Thanks to Utah State University’s College of Natural Resources for supporting the development of this Wild About Utah topic.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.
Credits:
Images: Courtesy US FWS Digital Library
Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading:

Gese, E. M. 2001. Monitoring of terrestrial carnivore populations. Pages 372–396 in J. L. Gittleman, S. M. Funk, D. Macdonald, and R. K. Wayne, editors., Carnivore conservation. Cambridge University, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Video: Biologists track hibernating bears for research, KSL Broadcasting Salt Lake City UT, 27 March 2010, http://www.ksl.com/index.php?nid=647&sid=10166167

American Black Bear, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, wildlife.utah.gov/publications/pdf/bearnew.pdf

(tracking) Black-footed Ferrets, Wildlife Review Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, wildlife.utah.gov/wr/0804ferrets/0804ferrets.pdf