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Flora of the upper Verde River, Arizona

Description

The Upper Verde River of central Arizona flows through a landscape of complex geology at the meeting of seven biotic communities and three physiographic provinces. This has resulted in notably

The Upper Verde River of central Arizona flows through a landscape of complex geology at the meeting of seven biotic communities and three physiographic provinces. This has resulted in notably diverse flora and fauna and a hub of rare and endemic plant species. The river has sustained cultures since pre-history, however current regional water use is predicted to diminish streamflow over the next century. Prior to this project, no floristic inventory had been conducted along any section of the Verde. The purpose of this study was to develop a Flora of the Upper Verde River, with the goals of documenting rare and endemic species, the composition and abundance of wetland plants, and the factors shaping plant diversity in the region.

I made a total of 1856 collections and reviewed past collections to produce a checklist of 729 vascular plant taxa in 403 genera and 98 families. The most species-rich family is the Poaceae, followed by Asteraceae and Fabaceae. The flora includes 159 wetland taxa, 47 endemics, and 26 taxa of conservation concern, eight of which are Federally listed. Several new populations were found in these categories and of rarely-collected taxa including one state record, three county records and several range extensions. I report on the local status of several endemics, wetland taxa with limited distributions, and relict populations of a tepary bean (Phaseolus acutifolius) that were likely transported to the region and cultivated by pre-Columbian cultures. I categorize thirteen distinct plant communities, the most abundant being Pinyon/Juniper Woodland, Chihuahuan/Apacherian Scrub, and Riparian Deciduous Forest.

Four primary factors influence floristic diversity of the Upper Verde region: 1) a location at the junction of three physiographic and floristic provinces—represented by co-occurrence of species with affinities to the Sonoran, Intermountain and Madrean regions, 2) geologic diversity—as distinct groups of species are associated with particular geologic types, 3) topographic and habitat complexity—allowing species adapted to disparate environments to co-occur, and 4) human introductions—since over 15% of the flora is composed of introduced species from Eurasia and several taxa were introduced to the region and cultivated by pre-Columbian cultures.

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Date Created
  • 2015

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Ecological effects of stream flow permanence on butterfly and plant communities of Sonoran Desert streams

Description

Stream flow permanence plays a critical role in determining floristic composition, abundance, and diversity in the Sonoran Desert, but questions remain about the effects of stream flow permanence on butterfly

Stream flow permanence plays a critical role in determining floristic composition, abundance, and diversity in the Sonoran Desert, but questions remain about the effects of stream flow permanence on butterfly composition, abundance, and diversity. Understanding the effects of flow permanence on butterflies and relevant subsets of butterflies (such as butterflies whose host plants are present) and comparing them to these same effects on plants and relevant subsets of plants (such as butterfly nectar plants and larval host plants) provided insight into pollinator and riparian conservation and restoration.

I surveyed four Sonoran desert stream sites, and found significant relationships between flow permanence and plant and butterfly species richness and abundance, as well as strong relationships between plant and butterfly abundance and between plant and butterfly species richness. Most notably, my results pointed to hosted butterflies as a break-out category of butterflies which may more clearly delineate ecological relationships between butterfly and plant abundance and diversity along Sonoran Desert streams; this can inform conservation decisions. Managing for hosted (resident) butterflies will necessarily entail managing for the presence of surface water, nectar forage, varying levels of canopy cover, and plant, nectar plant, and host plant diversity since the relationships between hosted butterfly species richness and/or abundance and all of these variables were significant, both statistically and ecologically.

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  • 2015

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Plant migration along freeways in and around an arid urban area: Phoenix, Arizona

Description

General ecological thought pertaining to plant biology, conservation, and urban areas has rested on two potentially contradictory underlying assumptions. The first is that non-native plants can spread easily from human

General ecological thought pertaining to plant biology, conservation, and urban areas has rested on two potentially contradictory underlying assumptions. The first is that non-native plants can spread easily from human developments to “pristine” areas. The second is that native plants cannot disperse through developed areas. Both assume anthropogenic changes to ecosystems create conditions that favor non-native plants and hinder native species. However, it is just as likely that anthropogenic alterations of habitats will favor certain groups of plant species with similar functional traits, whether native or not. Migration of plants can be divided into the following stages: dispersal, germination, establishment, reproduction and spread. Functional traits of species determine which are most successful at each of the stages of invasion or range enlargement. I studied the traits that allow both native and non-native plant species to disperse into freeway corridors, germinate, establish, reproduce, and then disperse along those corridors in Phoenix, Arizona. Field methods included seed bank sample collection and germination, vegetation surveys, and seed trapping. I also evaluated concentrations of plant-available nitrate as a result of localized nitrogen deposition. While many plant species found on the roadsides are either landscape varieties or typical weedy species, some uncommon native species and unexpected non-native species were also encountered. Maintenance regimes greatly influence the amount of vegetative cover and species composition along roadsides. Understanding which traits permit success at various stages of the invasion process indicates whether it is native, non-native, or species with particular traits that are likely to move through the city and establish in the desert. In a related case study conducted in Victoria, Australia, transportation professionals and ecologists were surveyed regarding preferences for roadside landscape design. Roadside design and maintenance projects are typically influenced by different groups of transportation professionals at various stages in a linear project cycle. Landscape architects and design professionals have distinct preferences and priorities compared to other transportation professionals and trained ecologists. The case study reveals the need for collaboration throughout the stages of design, construction and maintenance in order to efficiently manage roadsides for multiple priorities.

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Date Created
  • 2010

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How will hydrologic change alter riparian plant communities of the arid and semi-arid Southwest?: the problem approached from two perspectives

Description

Climate change has the potential to affect vegetation via changes in temperature and precipitation. In the semi-arid southwestern United States, heightened temperatures will likely lead to accelerated groundwater pumping to

Climate change has the potential to affect vegetation via changes in temperature and precipitation. In the semi-arid southwestern United States, heightened temperatures will likely lead to accelerated groundwater pumping to meet human needs, and altered storm patterns may lead to changes in flood regimes. All of these hydrologic changes have the potential to alter riparian vegetation. This research, consisting of two papers, examines relationships between hydrology and riparian vegetation along the Verde River in central Arizona, from applied and theoretical perspectives. One paper investigates how dominance of tree and shrub species and cover of certain functional groups change along hydrologic gradients. The other paper uses the Verde River flora along with that river's flood and moisture gradients to answer the question of whether functional groups can be defined universally. Drying of the Verde River would lead to a shift from cottonwood-willow streamside forest to more drought adapted desert willow or saltcedar, a decline in streamside marsh species, and decreased species richness. Effects drying will have on one dominant forest tree, velvet ash, is unclear. Increase in the frequency of large floods would potentially increase forest density and decrease average tree age and diameter. Correlations between functional traits of Verde River plants and hydrologic gradients are consistent with "leaf economics," or the axis of resource capture, use, and release, as the primary strategic trade-off for plants. This corresponds to the competitor-stress tolerator gradient in Grime's life history strategy theory. Plant height was also a strong indicator of hydrologic condition, though it is not clear from the literature if plant height is independent enough of leaf characteristics on a global scale to be considered a second axis. Though the ecohydrologic relationships are approached from different perspectives, the results of the two papers are consistent if interpreted together. The species that are currently dominant in the near-channel Verde River floodplain are tall, broad-leaf trees, and the species that are predicted to become more dominant in the case of the river drying are shorter trees or shrubs with smaller leaves. These results have implications for river and water management, as well as theoretical ecology.

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Date Created
  • 2011