Saturday, June 24, 2017

A new metric of floristic botany

Astronomers are not want to utilize relative measures: astronomical units, a measure of apparent brightness magnitude adjusted for distance, serves as an example. If cosmology can advance with such relative units, why not floristic botany? 

Introducing the Steyermark

Julian Steyermark (1909-1988) collected over 130,000 numbers of vascular plant specimens, as noted in the Guiness Book of World Records His maximal collection number I found is 132,006 (ref 1).  I therefore propose a unit of floristic botany, the Steyermark (StyM), set equal to 132,006 gatherings.

Floristic exploration depends on field work.  Voucher specimens are requisite for field work, hence for floristic documentation.  Gathering, processing, data entry, labeling and mounting of specimens is work, tedious work.  Once prepared, a specimen nowadays needs to be imaged before it is filed.   Any given botanist, however equipped and dedicated, contributes a finite number of specimens.   Their, and thus my magnitude, are finite.

Two California botanists of note of note are mentioned here: Robert Folger Thorne (1920-2015) collected ca. 63,000 numbers (G. Wallace, pers. comm.).  John Thomas Howell (1903-1994) gathered ca. 55,000 numbers.  

Accordingly:  Thorne =0.477 StyM, while Howell=0.407 StyM.  Many active California botanists have reached the 0.10 to 0.12 StyM range.  This author is 0.16 StyM, but not likely to graduate beyond 0.2!  

We can also set a relative measure of floristic inventory: specimens per unit area (ref 2).  For the western U.S.A., let us here take this to be 90% percentile of collection density as determined on a county basis: 5.55 specimens/square kilometer.  Given this, only 3,797,482 additional herbarium specimens are needed - ~28 StyM.   Presently, the western U.S.A. is at a density equal to much less.

Hay bailing has its value.

1     1.) Ann. Missouri Bot. Garden 76: 652-790. 1989.   Phytoneuron 2014-53: ISSN 2153 733X

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ackerson Meadow acquisition adds only 4 vascular plants to the Yosemite National Park Flora?

In 2015, Yosemite National Park moved to acquire 415 acres at Ackerson Meadow, adjacent to the western Park boundary in Tuolumne County (in the vicinity of Mather and the road to Hetch Hetchy). This acquisition was facilitated by a donation of the owners to the Trust for Public Land, and then by conveyance to the National Park Service.

Ackerson Meadow is a rare feature in the Sierra Nevada: a mid elevation (~4000 feet) non-forested setting supporting wet to dry meadows.   Ordinarily, such an addition to the Park ought to add considerably to the documented Yosemite National Park flora, being that the western Park boundary generally excludes much low to mid-elevation settings of the western slope of the Sierra. 

The region of Ackerson Meadow was part of Yosemite National Park in 1890 (act of Congress, October 1st 1890).  It was then removed, and any Public land in the vicinity was conveyed to the Forest Service by Congress acting on June 11, 1906.  By the time that John Muir has successfully argued for an expanded Yosemite in 1890, the land in the vicinity of Ackerson Meadow had been granted to James F. Ackerson in 1882 and 1884.  Portions of the Ackerson Meadow system are now managed by two agencies and under two administrative directives: about 200 acres of the meadow system remains within the Stanislaus National Forest.

Generally, the flora of the Yosemite region is well documented (Taylor 2010, Baldwin et al. 2017).  The four counties flanking Yosemite are rank about the 90th percentile for the western U.S. (Taylor 2014).  In 2014, Yosemite National Park raked in the 97th percentile for specimen density.  My analysis, based on records of herbarium specimens in the Consortium of California Herbaria, the acquisition adds only 4 potential new vascular plant records for the Park.

Species Added to YNP

Eryngium vaseyi var. vallicola (Apiaceae, JEPS101766) – this vernal pool coyote thistle is perhaps a new species: Preston et al (2012) stated :”plants keying here from cSNH (Tuolumne Co.) may be an undescribed taxon.”  Obviously, this possibility alone is worthy of funding for additional study.

Erythranthe utahensis (Phrymaceae) – a single collection is attributed to Ackerson Meadow (R. K. Vickery 191, August 26, 1949. UT).  The record was accepted by Nesom (2012), with the provision “have the taller habit of E. utahensis but with fewer flowers as in E. corallina and an apparently intermediate vesture”.  Obviously, this possibility alone is worthy of funding for additional study: E. utahensis is a CNPS rare plant, List 2B.1

Polygonum polygaloides ssp. confertiflorum (Polygonaceae, JEPS96724) – an annual of open dry sites that are wet to saturated in spring.  This location is the southerly reported station for this taxon.

Hosackia pinnata (Fabaceae, JEPS100871) – This wetland perennial also reaches its southerly geographic distribution in the Yosemite region.  The more common sister species in Yosemite, Hosackia oblongifolia var. oblongifolia, has been collected ~50 times in the Park.
The purpose of this post is to emphasize that a detailed floristic inventory of the acquisition, using rigorous methodology (Groom & Whild 2017), is needed.  The Yosemite Conservancy has undertaken an initial inventory of Ackerson Meadow: extensive, vouchered floristic inventory over a period of several years will be required to ascertain the exact value of this addition to Yosemite NP.  

Groom, Q. J. and S.J. Whild.  2017.  Characterization of false-positive observations in botanical surveys.  PeerJ 5:e3324; DOI 10.7717/peerj.3324

Nesom, G. 2012.  Taxonomy of Erythranthe sect. Simiola (Phrymaceae) in the USA and Mexico. Phytoneuron 40: 1–123.  Published 16 May 2012. ISSN 2153 733X Corrections to Map 9 and Map 15, 21 May 2012

Taylor, D.W. 2014.  Large inequalities in herbarium specimen density in the western United States. Phytoneuron 2014-53: 1–8.  Published 2 June 2014. ISSN 2153 733X

Taylor, D. W. 2010.  Flora of the Yosemite Sierra.  Lulu Press, Raleigh, NC. 382 pp.  ISBN 780557500529

Baldwin, B.G. et al.   2017. Species richness and endemism in the native flora of California.  Amer. J. Bot. 104 (3): 487 – 501, 2017  doi:10.3732/ajb.1600326

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Minority opinion on classification of Ponderosa Pine

The recent study of Willyard et al (2017) on lineages of Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) is important and at the same time highly problematic.  The study strongly demonstrates that Pinus ponderosa is a complex lineage containing several distinct taxa which merit taxonomic treatment. 
Willyard et al (2017) suggest treatment of the taxa in the lineage as full species:  Pinus ponderosa, P. benthamiana, P. scophulorum and P. brachyptera.   

This will not find wide acceptance in the non-botanical world of commerce.  A long history of practical use, common understanding, and governmental inertia will result in default back to a broadly circumscribed, single species model.  Unfortunately, the single taxon model fails to account for geographic and evolutionary distinct units within this clade, and is not a scientifically supported, proper classification.  Put crudely, the guy at the lumber yard is not going to care...!

The principal purpose of any classification is utility.  Treatment of the taxa of the Pinus ponderosa lineage as subspecies would have a much higher probability of gaining wide application.   Without reference to geography, the identification of individual trees is not easy, even with mature cones and bud-color features at hand, because the overall morphogical similarity between the individual taxa is substantial (Callaham 2013).  Users of a classification which employs infrataxa can refer only to Pinus ponderosa generally in instances where their determination of subspecies is unimportant (i.e. this timber is ponderosa pine) or in geographic areas where the taxa overlap (i.e. in the KR-CaRH region of California, where both P. ponderosa and P. benthamiana haplotypes are present). 

The five validly published taxa treated as subspecies are:
Pinus ponderosa P. Lawson & C. Lawson ssp. ponderosa, Agric. Man. 354 (-355). 1836
P. ponderosa ssp. ssp. benthamiana (Hartw.) Silba -- J. Int. Conifer Preserv. Soc. 16(1): 30. 2009
P. ponderosa ssp. brachyptera (Engelm.) Silba -- J. Int. Conifer Preserv. Soc. 18(1): 16. 2011
P. ponderosa ssp. scopulorum (Engelm.) A. E. Murray -- Kalmia 12: 23. 1982
P. ponderosa ssp. washoensis (H. Mason & Stockw.) A. E. Murray, Kalmia 12: 23. 1982.

The treatment of the taxa of Pinus ponderosa as subspecies is consistent with broad practice for many higher plants.  Treatment of the clade as varieties (where not all of the required names are valid) is not consistent with treatment models which have survived the test of time (Simpson 1945, Clausen 1951 Dobzhansky 1951, Stebbins 1966, Mayr 1982) and is inconsistent with common practice in the larger portions as applied to higher plants (Briggs & Walters 1971) worldwide.

In plant taxonomy, my opinion is that we devalue the worth of our effort when we do not defer to the practical needs of society at large whom consume our names.  

The five ponderosa pines are subspecies.

Briggs, D., & S. M. Walters.  1971    Plant Variation and Evolution.   White & Gilbert, U.K.
Callaham , R. Z. 2013 . Pinus ponderosa : Geographic races and subspecies based on morphological variation. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station PSW-RP-265. Washington, D.C.
Clausen J.  1961.  Stages in the evolution of plant species.  Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, N.Y.
Dobzhansky, T.  1951.  Genetics and the origin of species.  Columbia Univ. Press, New York, N.Y.
Mayr, E.  1982.  Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance. Harvard Univ. Press Cambridge, M.A.
Simpson, G. G. 1945. The Principles of Classification and a Classification of Mammals. Bull. American Museum Nat. Hist. 85: 1-23.
Stebbins, G. L. 1966.  Processes of organic evolution.  Prentice Hall, Engelwood Cliffs, N.J.
Willyard, A. W. et al. 2017.  Pinus ponderosa: A checkered past obscured four species.  Amer. J. Bot. 104(1):1-21.