Mazama Pocket Gopher

Mazama pocket gophers are an important component in South Sound prairies. While still found in Thurston and Pierce Counties, they are globally rare and considered threatened with extinction by the State of Washington.
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Cascadia Prairie Oak Partnership brings together professional conservationists and restorationists from throughout the Northwest. If you would like to reference scientific papers about prairies or network with the professional conservation community please contact Hannah Anderson.


When fungi help wildflowers and butterflies

How are fungi related to butterflies? Certain species of fungi help wildflowers survive and butterflies need wildflowers for food and shelter.  Recent findings by Sasha Porter (Master’s of Environmental Studies, The Evergreen State College), and Sarah Hamman (Center for Natural Lands Management) have shown that  introducing mycorrhizal fungi to roots of native prairie plants can increase the survival and number of flowers produced. Thus, this kind of fungi could improve our ability to establish plants in the prairies and help the survival of important animals, such as butterflies, that depend of these plants.

Close-up of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) connecting to the roots of a host plant. Photo credit: Yoshihiro Kobae. Mycorrhizal fungi are organisms that live in the soil and form symbiotic (mutually beneficial) associations with the roots of over 80% of all terrestrial plant species. These fungi are not photosynthetic and cannot fix carbon like plants do. They acquire carbon compounds (photosynthetically-derived sugars) from plant roots, and in exchange, they provide additional nitrogen, phosphorus and water from the soil through microscopic root-like structures called ‘hyphae’. Hyphae act as extensions of the plant’s root system, increasing the surface area in contact with the soil, giving the plant greater access to soil resources.  This symbiosis can be extremely beneficial to plants growing in harsh environmental conditions.  

In addition to improving plant nutrition, mycorrhizal fungi provide pathogen resistance to their host plants. This resistance can arise from mycorrhizal fungi out-competing pathogenic fungi or by activating the plant’s defense mechanisms Mycorrhizal fungi can also affect the structure and composition of the rhizosphere (the root system and microbes found in the surrounding soil) in ways that increase the plant’s resistance to disease.

Not all mycorrhizal fungi are equal. The composition of the fungal community influences if and how benefits are bestowed to the host plant. Most mycorrhizal fungi can colonize the roots of any plant species. However, researchers have found that different fungal species/communities affect host plants differently. So, it’s important to make sure the mycorrhizal treatment used in any restoration project is beneficial to the target plant species.

Sasha Porter and Cara Applestein treating the soil with mycorrhizal fungi before sowing the plugs with nine native plant species. As part of her master’s thesis and working with CNLM on a project supported by the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s Nursery Research Program, Sasha studied how treating the soil with two different sources of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), a type of fungus that colonizes roots of herbaceous plant species, affected native plant growth and field establishment. Using a previously cultivated ‘native’ AMF mix (grown from roots harvested from native plants at Joint Base Lewis-McChord), a horticulturally-sourced ‘generic’ AMF mix, and an untreated ‘control’, she grew replicates of nine prairie plant species in the greenhouse for nine months before transplanting them into prairie sites in fall 2014. Of the nine species, five did not have enough surviving plants in any treatment to conduct analysis. For the remaining species (Dodecatheon pulchellum, Festuca roemeri, Micranthes integrifolia, Silene douglasii), she measured survival, growth and number of flowers of the outplanted seedlings with a CNLM monitoring crew in spring 2015.

Our CNLM Conservation Science Crew planting the inoculated plugs out at Tenalquot prairie. Overall, Sasha found positive impacts of AMF inoculation on all measured variables for wholeleaf saxifrage (Micranthes integrifolia). This important nectar-producing plant highly benefited from the fungi: 80% of the treated plants survived, vs. only 40% of untreated plants. Also, surviving treated plants were three times more likely to flower than the untreated plants. Finally, interestingly, the ‘generic’ treatment generated more flowers than the ‘native’ treatment for wholeleaf saxifrage. For the other three species, adding AMF to the soil did not impact survival or flowering. However, previous research has shown that the benefits of AMF may not be immediately apparent; sometimes the fungi act as a sort of ‘insurance’, providing resources to the plant when it is under stress.

Restoration efforts are dependent on plants surviving in the wild to improve habitat. Mycorrhizal treatments might be able to increase the survival of the transplanted prairie plants, as well as support the recovery of rare fauna, such as the Taylor’s checkerspot, by providing more nectar-producing flowers. Future studies will analyze the effects of mycorrhizal treatments on other hard-to-grow native plants to define if these treatments can be implemented on a broad scale to facilitate prairie restoration. 


Susan Waters joins CNLM to aid in the recovery of native pollinators 

A Taylor's checkerspot on a lomatium flower. Susan joined the Center for Natural Lands Management in August 2015 as a Rare Species Ecologist. Her work at CNLM will focus on the recovery of native butterflies and pollinators throughout the South Sound Prairies. Susan’s work will include helping with the recovery and reintroduction of endangered Taylor’s checkerspots with the goal of defining habitat requirements and creating conditions necessary for re-establishment and persistence of multiple populations of this special butterfly. She earned her BA in Ecology from Hampshire College, her MEd in Secondary Science Education at the University of Massachusetts, and her doctorate in Ecology from the University of Washington.

Susan Waters, CNLM's new Rare Species Ecologist.Susan has been involved in ecological research in prairie-oak ecosystems since 2008, when she first encountered the spring blues and yellows of Camas and native buttercups as a newcomer to the Northwest. Susan's interests in ecology and restoration are centered on the importance of species interactions---the interactions between organisms, which affect the structure of ecological communities.

Susan’s recent research focuses on a key ecological interaction: pollination. Pollination is necessary for reproduction of more than 85% of Earth’s plant species, and plant communities are intimately interlinked with their pollinators.  As a pollination ecologist, Susan explored how two globally Mining bee on a slender cinquefoil.important agents of change, invasion of exotic plants and climate change, are influencing our South Sound Prairies. First, she investigated how exotic plant species influence the way pollinators respond to native plants. She found that having high densities of exotic flowers surrounding a native plant can increase or decrease how often pollinators visit native flowers (depending on the native plant species and conditions of the site) affecting how much seed a native plant can produce. Second, she explored how exotic plants blooming earlier, due to climate change, altered the interactions between pollinators and native plants (which are not expected to shift their blooming dates earlier to the same degree as exotic species). She found that when exotic plants bloom earlier, the amount of seed produced by native plants increases or decreases dramatically depending on the native plant species.

Yellow-faced bumblebee on lupine. Photo by Will Petersen.In addition to her prairie-based work, Susan founded and currently directs Seattle’s Urban Pollination Project (UPP), a citizen science initiative in Seattle. UPP collaborates with gardeners in urban community gardens, and asks whether urban land use around the gardens affects bumble bee diversity, and ultimately, the amount of food that can be produced in those gardens. UPP’s goal is to determine whether specific areas of Seattle could benefit from restoring bumblebee-nesting habitat, leading to improved local food production through increased pollination.

Bumblebee moth foraging at Wold Haven Prairie.Susan’s incorporation to the CNLM-South Sound Prairies Program comes at a critical time. The populations of many bees and butterflies have declined over the last 30 years so much so that the White House recently released the Pollinator Research Action Plan and developed the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators to support the recovery of many pollinator species. While CNLM has been working collaboratively with federal and state agencies for more than 10 years creating and restoring habitat for native pollinators, we are very excited to have Susan on board so we can continue to support native pollinators and ensure that our prairies remain healthy and with beautiful native blooms during each spring.