Sunday, December 21, 2014

Continued Herbarium Specimen Growth for California in 2014

The Consortium of California Herbaria provides entry into the records attendant to herbarium specimens of the California flora.

One year ago, December 20 2013, there were 1,868,758 records.  Today, December 21, 2014, there are 1,985,750 records.  A nearly 7% increase!!

Over the period, there were 22 posted updates, totaling 116,922 specimens. That works out to an average growth of 338 specimens per day. That is, based on a typical specimen pile, half a herbarium cabinet per day!

The trajectory of increase is strongly suggestive that the catalog of the California flora is as yet incomplete, but getting there...

There is no direct estimate of the number of California specimens in herbaria. Totaling the numbers reported in Fuller & Barbe (1972), 4,229,874 specimens were reported in their canvas of California Herbaria (which I tallied directly). They did not report any breakdown based on geographic origin of the specimens. Let’s however just guess 50% -- or ca. 2.1 million California specimens in 1972 -- were local. Allowing for growth in California collections in the 1970s-2010s -- say of 1 million specimens (too many ??) -- that would yield a rough estimate of about 3 million total specimens from our state.

Accordingly, the close of 2014, records are closing in on a two-thirds rate of data capture.

Fuller, T.C. and G.D. Barbe/  1972.  List of California Herbaria and Working Collections.  Botany Labratory, Div. Plant Industry, Dept. Food & Agriculture, 1220 N Street, Sacramento, CA.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Few California botanists with huge collector experience

Herbarium specimens are important units of biodiversity documentation.  Gathering herbarium specimens consumes the botanist’s time:  large plant presses are heavy, gathering material in the field can be arduous; gathered material requires organizing; blotters need changing; record keeping requires effort; dried material needs to be sorted and stored; material is field id’d;  some specimens often require hours of study to label; labels require data-basing and printing; photos add to processing requirements.  All of this adds up to limit the number of specimens a field botanist can be reasonably be expected to gather(1).

Perhaps 20% o the world flora is undescribed.   For California, my estimate is that that proportion is about 10%.  Herbaria are known to contain specimens of unknown species(2); specimens are often not equally distributed within geographic regions(3).    Description of new species generally requires a minimum number of diagnostic specimens(4).  Even though we have ~2 million vascular specimens records on-line for California, we need more.

Collector prowess develops over several decades of field activity, and is a direct function of the number of encounters a field botanist enjoys with a particular taxonomic group.    In this post, I identify that the number of botanists whom develop extensive prowess with the California flora are very few individuals, and suggest that mechanisms that keep field botanists active will be required to fully document the endemic-rich California flora.

How many plants does a collector see in a lifetime?  Data from the Consortium of California Herbaria (see the figure) suggest that, as experience increases (measured by collection number), the number of encounters decreases in rapid curvilinear fashion.  In these data, very few specimens are contributed by collectors with collection numbers >10,000 (assuming that collection number and prowess/experience are directly related).

The significant feature I want to emphasize here is this:  if detection of rare or unusual species requires extensive experience with a flora, then very few botanists have gained extensive experience with a flora as rich as the California flora.  This pattern is exactly suggested by Bebber et al. “Big hitting collectors make massive and disproportionate contribution to the discovery of plant species”(5)

A larger fraction of individual botanists exhibit some or moderate experience, but are they as probable to gather specimens of novelties?  For California, there are but a handful – several dozen – botanists whom collection numbers exceed ~20,000.    Going forward, mechanisms that allow botanists to gain field extensive experience will be required to document the last of our endemic flora.

1.  Whitfield, J.  Nature 484:436-438.  2012.
2.  Bebber et. al.  Proc. National Acad. Sci. USA 107(51):22169-22171.  2010.
3.  Taylor, D.W.  Phytoneuron 2014-53:1-6.  2014.
4.  Shevock, JR; Taylor, DW.  pp. 91-98: Conservation & Management of Rare & Endangered Plants, T.S.        Elias (Ed.).  1987.

5.  Bebber et. al.  Proc. Royal Soc. B:279, 2269-2274.  2012.

A set of 30 random numbers up to 55,000 was selected, and those numbers queried in the CCH database for number of specimen records.  The number of collectors of those records could not be directly determined because of inconsistent collector names (combinations of collector initials, full names, abbreviations, and collections by committees).   However, the the number of specimens is likely to be a close proxy for the number of collectors.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Flora of Yosemite National Park - 2014

The known vascular flora of Yosemite National Park numbers approximately 1,800 species.

That is, exactly 1,790 species or infrataxa of vascular plants, based on the 4 April 2014 updated Consortium of California Herbaria specimen database.  Various unofficial and official NPS publications place the tally of the Yosemite flora at 1375 (1) 1400 (2), 1452(3), 1500 (4), to 1545 species (5).  Other guesstimates are of similar magnitude (6).   In my now somewhat outdated flora for the region (7), 1680 taxon records were reported for Yosemite in 2010, based on 20,445 specimen records.

Presently, I have records for 33,289 herbarium specimens from within the present day boundary of Yosemite National Park. 

The increase in the documented park flora originates from both new database records and from additional collections made in 2010 and afterwards. 

The range of estimates cited above cover 76% to 85% of the known flora – the magnitude of these underestimates bear no correspondence to date: i.e. the most recent formally NPS estimate published in 2011 is at 85%.  Old underestimates of the Yosemite flora are not surprising: by way of example, the Wikipedia article on Yosemite (accessed 5 May 2014) records 130 non-native plants in the Park.  There are specimen records for 226 species: an underestimate by nearly a factor of 2.

The current checklist as posted as a public document to Google Docs as:
Checklist of Vascular Plants Yosemite National Park.xlsx

2.  Natural Resource Statistics (, accessed 5 May 2014.
3.  Vegetation Species List (, accessed 5 May 2014.
5.  Moore, P. and B.E. Johnson.  2011.  Vascular Plant Iventory for Yosemite National Park.  Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/SEIN/NRTR-2011/427
6. ‘Yosemite Wildflowers’ 2014.  Barry and Judy Breckling.  High County Apps.

7.  Taylor, D.W.  2010.  Flora of the Yosemite Sierra.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Additions to the Santa Cruz County Plant Checklist – No. 1 - Jacobaea maritima (Asteraceae)

Jacobaea maritima (L.) Pelser & Meijden subsp. bicolor (Willd.) B.Nord. & Greuter
(=Senecio cineraria DC.)

Sparingly established on the sea bluffs along West Cliff Drive.   Two small colonies are known: one colony is on the bluff face near the junction of Santa Cruz Avenue and West Cliff Drive.  This site is likely the site vouchered by J.H. Thomas 4570A, August 12 1954  “Coastal bluffs about one block west of fishing pier” (RSA185824).

A second larger colony of about 100 various sized plants occurs at “Santa Cruz; West Cliff Drive, just east of the intersection with Farr Avenue, growing on the lip of the coastal bluff”, Dean Wm. Taylor 21458, October 23, 2013 (JEPS).

This attractive shrubby composite is commonly cultivated as “Dusty Miller”.  The taxonomy used here is name based on Taxon 57(3):893-906. 2008.  Subspecies bicolor based on (Willd.) B.Nord. & Greuter - Willdenowia 36(2): 712. 2006.

Thomas 4570A was the first California record.  Specimens labeled as Senecio cineraria are known from 4 other California Counties: Humboldt, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Riverside, the most recent collection obtained in 2010.  This taxon is not treated in the revised Jepson Manual

The Santa Cruz station was not reported in:  D. Neubauer  2013.  Annotated Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Santa Cruz County, California.  California Native Plant Society.

Collectively, the available reports indicate that Jacobaea maritima is capable of persistence in cool, equable coastal California settings and should be considered sparingly introduced.  Persistence is indicated by the 60 year record for Santa Cruz.  At both locations, the plants grow on very steep bluffs directly above cliffs fronting the ocean, and are not under cultivation.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Yosemite Rare Plants are encountered less-frequently than common plants

Accepting the assumption that a herbarium specimen is randomly gathered (a tenuous proposition), then we can determine if “rare” plants are encountered less often compared to “common” plants (rare plants defined as being on the CNPS list).

In the central Sierra Nevada region centered about Yosemite (Tuolumne, Mariposa, Madera and Mono Conties), with a total of 70,966 herbarium specimens to analyze, the results is that: yes, rare plants are collected less often as compared to common plants.

The difference is significant (using the non-parametric Kolmogorov-Smirnov two-sample test) at p=0.003.  Box plot below...

Those rare plants with the but a single specimen are:
Botrychium paradoxum
Carlquistia muirii
Cuscuta jepsonii
Potamogeton praelongus
Streptanthus gracilis
Viburnum ellipticum

The most frequently collected “rare” plants are (a.. >70 total specimens)
Agnorhiza elata
Astragalus kentrophyta var. danaus
Bolandra californica
Carex congdonii
Ceanothus fresnensis
Diplacus pulchellus
Erythranthe filicaulis
Erythranthe laciniata
Hulsea brevifolia
Lupinus spectabilis

Perhaps being infrequently collected does not diagnose rarity: there are 464 non-rare species in the Yosemite region which have been collected only once.  

Monday, February 3, 2014

2 Million Herbarium Specimen Records for California

Continued efforts to database California vascular plant records in herbaria have narrowed in on the 2-million mark.  As of 31 January 2014, the Consortium of California Herbaria offer up 1,909,005 records.  Major non CCH records are: Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria 29,142 records, and MO-Tropicos 33,098 records.  

A total of 1971,246 specimen records.

Since 2006, the addition of records to the CCH database has averaged 480 records per day, and is trending upwards.  Hard to keep up with...

Taxonomic and floristic studies of the California flora are now greatly facilitated by these riches of data.  The challenge now is not so much data acquisition, but is rather data analysis.  Differences between data providers contributing to CCH need to be standardized.  Nomenclature, which generally reflects the “as filed” taxon name for each specimen, needs attention.   Many CCH data providers use different formats for date, different names for collectors, many have missing data such as the collection number.   Maturation of the herbarium specimen data for California is awaited with baited breath...