Faculty Mentor

Dr. Jessica Allen

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The semiarid Palouse ecoregion of North America was once dominated by temperate prairies and connects areas of southeast Washington, north-central Idaho, and northeast Oregon. Transformation of nearly all habitats comprising this ecosystem into agricultural lands has drastically reduced extant native grasslands to small, highly fragmented pieces. These land conversion practices, coupled with the subsequent takeover of invasive plant species, have placed the Palouse ecoregion among the most critically endangered ecosystems in the United States, with < 1% of land remaining that is suitable to host native species. The enormous loss of biodiversity across the Palouse has prompted a need for further study regarding a wide variety of organisms. In particular, lichen diversity of the Palouse ecoregion has never been formally characterized, and there are overall very few detailed studies of lichens throughout eastern Washington. To improve knowledge of Palouse lichen diversity, we first reviewed collection data from historical herbarium specimens via the Consortium of North American Lichen Herbaria (CNALH) database. We then collected lichen voucher specimens from Kamiak Butte County Park (KBCP), one of the largest contiguous natural areas within the Palouse ecoregion as its relatively steep, rocky slopes make it ill-suited for agricultural conversion. KBCP consists of 298 acres of mixed Pinus ponderosa (ponderosa pine) and Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir) forest and native grassland that rises above the surrounding farmland, as well as an east-west ridgeline with steep north and south-facing slopes hosting basaltic and granitic outcrops. Maximum elevation within the park is ca. 3,640 feet (110 meters) above sea level.

Historical lichen observations in the park date back to the year 1913 and include observations from highly notable lichenologists Albert W. Herre and Henry A. Imshaug. Fieldwork was conducted across multiple visits in Fall 2018 and Winter 2019 and voucher specimens were collected from a representative sampling of various habitats and substrates throughout the park. All collections were returned to the Eastern Washington University (EWU) mycology laboratory, where a variety of lichen identification keys, chemical tests, EWU herbarium specimens, and the CNALH database were used to identify all collected specimens to species. To date we have identified 135 species having been present at some point in recorded time within KBCP, 40 of which are only known from previous collections and were not rediscovered in the current study. Twenty-three species were found both historically and in the present study and we identified 61 species that were not previously on record for the park. The most frequently collected species included Letharia vulpina, Evernia prunastri L. (Hue), Hypogymnia tubulosa (Schaer.) Hav., Hypogymnia imshaugii Krog, and Parmelia hygrophila Goward & Ahti. The genera representing the most diversity in the park are Rhizocarpon Ramond ex DC., Lecanora Ach., Usnea Dill. ex Adans., and Cladonia P. Browne. Among our collections we found Rhizocarpon cookeanum H. Magn., a species thought to be rare in Washington state. The completion of this survey resulted in the production of a species list of both historical and extant lichens present in KBCP to be submitted for park records, as well as expanded on knowledge of lichen taxa present for the ecologically endangered Palouse region overall. The baseline species list created here was a necessary initial step toward establishing future conservation measures and lichen species distributions. A follow-up study inspired by and expanding on this research is already underway that will further depict extant lichen flora of other protected areas within the Palouse ecoregion, including Palouse Falls and Steptoe Butte State Parks.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Annotated Checklist of Kamiak Butte County Park Lichens