Amsonia kearneyana (Apocynaceae) Kearney's Blue Star: new insights to inform recovery

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Amsonia kearneyana is an endangered herbaceous plant endemic to a small area of the Baboquivari Mountains in southern Arizona. It exists in two distinct habitat types: 1) along the banks

Amsonia kearneyana is an endangered herbaceous plant endemic to a small area of the Baboquivari Mountains in southern Arizona. It exists in two distinct habitat types: 1) along the banks of a lower elevation ephemeral stream in a xeroriparian community, and 2) a higher elevation Madrean oak woodland on steep mountain slopes. Half of the largest known montane population (Upper Brown Canyon) was burned in a large fire in 2009 raising questions of the species capacity to recover after fire. This research sought to understand how the effects of fire will impact A. kearneyana's ability to recruit and survive in the burned versus unburned areas and in the montane versus xeroriparian habitat.

I compared population size, abiotic habitat characteristics, leaf traits, plant size, and reproductive output for plants in each habitat area for three years. Plants in the more shaded unburned montane area, the most populated population, presented with the most clonal establishment but produced the least amount of seeds per plant. The unshaded burned area produced more seeds per plant than in the unburned area. Lower Brown Canyon, the xeroriparian area, had the fewest plants, but produced the most seeds per plant while experiencing higher soil temperature, soil moisture, photosynthetically active radiation, and canopy cover than the montane plants. This could indicate conditions in Lower Brown Canyon are more favorable for seed production.

Despite ample seed production, recruitment is rare in wild plants. This study establishes germination requirements testing soil type, seed burial depth, temperature regimes, and shade treatments. Trials indicate that A. kearneyana can germinate and grow in varied light levels, and that soil type and seed burial depth are better predictors of growth than the degree of shade.

Finally, this study examined the law, regulation, policy, and physiological risks and benefits of a new management strategy and suggests that "conservation by dissemination" is appropriate for A. kearneyana. Conservation by dissemination is the idea that a protected plant species can be conserved by allowing and promoting the propagation and sale of plants in the commercial market with contingent collection of data on the fate of the sold individuals.