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KODIAK: Botanists Inventory Glacial Refugium and Encounter New Plants and Birds
Alaska Region, September 4, 2007
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Stacy Studebaker, Kodiak-based botanist, led the field survey. Mike Sirofchuck/USFWS
Stacy Studebaker, Kodiak-based botanist, led the field survey. Mike Sirofchuck/USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a
A diminutive forget-me-not species (Eritrichium chammisonis) was associated exclusively with sparsely-vegetated outcrops of ultramafic rock. Stacy Studebaker/USFWS
A diminutive forget-me-not species (Eritrichium chammisonis) was associated exclusively with sparsely-vegetated outcrops of ultramafic rock. Stacy Studebaker/USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a
Observations of the globally rare Kittlitz's murrelet near Base Camp 3 suggest that nearby rock outcrops are probably used for nesting. Stacy Studebaker/USFWS
Observations of the globally rare Kittlitz's murrelet near Base Camp 3 suggest that nearby rock outcrops are probably used for nesting. Stacy Studebaker/USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a

Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, comprising about two-thirds of the 3-million acre Kodiak Archipelago, harbors a wide array of landforms, geology, and plant habitats. Ironically, Kodiak, one of the first areas of Alaska to be settled by Russian immigrants,  has been one of the last areas of the state to be extensively surveyed for plants. Most former surveys have focused on accessible coastal sites. Prompted by the need to catalogue its biological resources, the Refuge sponsored a month-long July survey of vascular plants in the remote southwestern portion of Kodiak Island, where land cover resembles the Aleutian Islands and western Alaska: lowland tundra and muskeg interspersed by low mountains covered with grass and shrubs.

Several unique features attracted interest in this region. In particular, its flora is minimally documented; it was one of the few areas in coastal Alaska that was not covered by glaciers in the last ice age; and it contains some extensive surface outcrops of uncommon "ultramafic" rock. In contrast to common igneous rocks like granite and basalt, ultramafics are high in iron and magnesium but low in silica and aluminum. Due to this peculiar chemistry, ultramafics support scant plant cover; however, some species that do find it to their liking can't live without it.

During the survey, the team of volunteer botanists ventured daily from one of three base camps to investigate surrounding areas. Preliminary results indicate that 210 plant species were collected of which at least 23 species were new records for the refuge and 5 were previously unknown in the Kodiak Archipelago. One of the newly documented species (Campanula uniflora) was observed growing only on ultramafic rock in one area.  Another, a sagebrush (Artemisia borealis), was encountered on a coastal mountain; its limited distribution suggests recent colonization of Kodiak Island. Prepared plant specimens will be archived in herbariums at the University of Alaska Museum and Kodiak Refuge.

An unanticipated bonus of the 2007 survey was the discovery of an inland area that supported a concentration of Kittlitz's murrelet activity. This species--considered one of North America's rarest and least known seabirds--was commonly observed flying and calling and was likely nesting in the area. The refuge is planning follow-up surveys to assess the importance of the area to breeding murrelets.    

According to Gary Wheeler, Refuge Manager, "It's exciting to discover new species in our own backyards, as it shows we still have a lot to learn about the world around us. Even Kodiak Island holds many secrets for us yet to discover."


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



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