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KODIAK: Botanists Inventory Alpine Plants on Refuge and Discover Rare Species
Alaska Region, January 1, 2007
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Volunteer botanists Stacy Studebaker, Carolyn Parker, and Eve Laeger surrounded by their subjects of study. Stacy Studebaker/USFWS
Volunteer botanists Stacy Studebaker, Carolyn Parker, and Eve Laeger surrounded by their subjects of study. Stacy Studebaker/USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a
Researchers hiked many miles to inventory flora surrounding mountain-based camps. Stacy Studebaker/USFWS
Researchers hiked many miles to inventory flora surrounding mountain-based camps. Stacy Studebaker/USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a
Discovery of a Kittlitz's murrelet nest suggests that the refuge's high alpine region may be an important breeding habitat for this rare species. Stacy Studebaker/USFWS
Discovery of a Kittlitz's murrelet nest suggests that the refuge's high alpine region may be an important breeding habitat for this rare species. Stacy Studebaker/USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a

Although many botanists have surveyed parts of the vast Kodiak Archipelago, they have mainly focused on areas of relatively gentle, easily-accessed terrain near the coast. Up until this year, no survey has exclusively targeted the Archipelago's highest mountains--a region characterized by diminutive plants, rugged terrain, harsh climate, remnant glaciers and, a research natural area (RNA). Established in 1975, the Mt. Glottof RNA was created to foster study and understanding of Kodiak's alpine environment.

Despite bouts of fog, rain, and storm-force winds, the mountain-based team of volunteer researchers successfully concluded their month-long survey in mid-August. During the survey, the team ventured daily from their base camp to inventory and collect vascular and non-vascular (mosses, liverworts) plants in the surrounding area.  Four base camps in different regions of the RNA were used. Preliminary results indicated that 216 species were collected. Included in this record were 33 species previously undocumented to occur on Kodiak Island and 20 species previously undocumented to occur in the Kodiak Archipelago. Three of the newly documented species, including two forbs (Aphragmus eschscholtizianus, Arnica ovata) and a grass (Poa leptocoma), are listed as rare and imperiled in Alaska. The record is equally impressive for the collection of non-vascular plants. Of the 145 plant species identified, about fifteen percent are plants previously undocumented for the Kodiak Archipelago. Prepared plant specimens will be archived in herbariums at the University of Alaska Museum, California Academy of Sciences, and Kodiak Refuge.

An unanticipated bonus of the 2006 survey was the discovery of an active seabird nest on a rocky ridge at an elevation of 3,000 feet! The nest, which contained a single downy chick, belonged to a Kittlitz's murrelet--one of North America's rarest and least known seabird species. In response to this discovery, coupled with reports of calling birds heard in the vicinity of three base camps, the Refuge is planning follow-up surveys to assess the importance of Kodiak's highlands to breeding murrelets.    

According to Gary Wheeler, Refuge Manager, "results from recent inventories have not only expanded our knowledge of RNA and refuge flora, they have enhanced our capacity to conserve it".


Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov



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