Rare Plant Conservation
Quamash EcoResearch was recognized as a 2022 Recovery Champion for the Wenatchee Mountains Checkermallow! Visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announcement for more details.
A hundred years ago and more, our Pacific Northwest grasslands and savannahs bore the
cheerful blooms of multiple species of checkermallows (genus Sidalcea). Their delicate white,
pale pink, or bright pink flowering stalks would have been common all the way from the
lowland wet prairies of Oregon up to mid-elevation montane meadows in Washington and
beyond. Though today many of our grassland habitats are much smaller and rarer,
checkermallows still bring showy floral displays to late spring across our region.
Quamash EcoResearch is currently working on conservation of a beautiful and charismatic
Sidalcea subspecies, the rare Wenatchee Mountains checkermallow (Sidalcea oregana var.
calva). This plant is listed as an endangered species both federally and in Washington state.
Many checkermallow species coexist with specialist insect predators called checkermallow
weevils (Macrorhoptus sidalceae) that feed on their seeds before the seeds are dispersed
(predispersal seed predation). The weevils can have strong effects: our work has documented
predispersal seed predation of 75-99% in Wenatchee Mountains checkermallow populations.
This, of course, means very few seeds are available to start the next generation. Currently, we
are working to determine whether the planned management of checkermallow habitat with
prescribed fire will help control weevil impacts.
We are also interested in natural predators that might historically have controlled the weevils.
A tiny native wasp parasitizes the weevils in some Oregon checkermallow populations, and
probably helps decrease their impacts, but it is not yet clear whether it is (or was) present in
Wenatchee Mountains checkermallow. In the future, we are interested in exploring the life
history of this tiny wasp, and determining whether increasing wasp populations might help
increase checkermallow seed set.
Recovering an endangered species requires collaboration by many dedicated people who can
make many different kinds of contributions to conservation. In this case, the Wenatchee
Mountains checkermallow is lucky to have many human advocates, including botanists and
ecologists at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Washington Natural
Heritage Program, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; volunteers from the
Washington Native Plant Society and elsewhere; researchers from the University of
Washington; and private landowners who have generously allowed others to work with the
endangered populations on their property. Quamash is honored to collaborate with this diverse
Umtanum Desert wild buckwheat (Eriogonum codium) is a beautiful, long-lived woody shrub that exists only along the Columbia River bluffs in the Hanford Reach of Washington state. In 2022, we surveyed and identified pollinators of this rare plant, finding flower visitation by a surprising diversity of wasps. We also documented seed predation and translocation by ants. Exploring the basic ecology of desert buckwheat is a fundamental step toward conservation and recovery.
Check back soon for more details!
White Bluffs bladderpod (Physaria douglasii ssp. tuplashensis) is a unique subspecies of a common desert plant. This plant is apparently adapted to the unusual soil chemistry of the crumbly, white caliche exposed along the Columbia River bluffs in the Hanford Reach. In 2022 and 2023, Quamash investigated the potential competitive effects of invasive cheatgrass on bladderpod, and simultaneously initiated a demographic study to help understand which life stages might be most vulnerable to mortality. This year, we continue our work to explore the life history of this plant by documenting the diversity of pollinators and other visitors to White Bluffs bladderpod flowers.
Check back soon for more details!
Our research focuses on identifying Willamette daisy pollinators, complementing work by the Institute of Applied Ecology (IAE) that focuses on the species' mating system to determine whether inbreeding is a factor when introduced or extant populations shrink. We also document the position of the daisy within the context of the plant community at the site, using plant-pollinator networks. Our collaboration with IAE on this project has led to the most complete documentation to date of Willamette daisy flower visitors, as well as an extensive collection of Willamette Valley pollinators. Finally, marvelous photos by David Cappaert help document these crucial ecological players.
This research is funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.