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KANUTI: Biologists continue to add new species to refuge checklists
Alaska Region, September 19, 2011
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Typha latifolia (cattails) were discovered growing in Kanuti Refuge in 2008.
Typha latifolia (cattails) were discovered growing in Kanuti Refuge in 2008. - Photo Credit: FWS/Rebecca Zulueta
Pedicularis sudetica (fernweed, or Sudeten lousewort) was first documented on Kanuti Refuge in June, 2010.
Pedicularis sudetica (fernweed, or Sudeten lousewort) was first documented on Kanuti Refuge in June, 2010. - Photo Credit: FWS/Christopher Harwood
Ronan Dugan, a volunteer naturalist from Scotland, first documented Phlox richardonii (Richardson's phlox) growing in the Kanuti Refuge in June, 2011.
Ronan Dugan, a volunteer naturalist from Scotland, first documented Phlox richardonii (Richardson's phlox) growing in the Kanuti Refuge in June, 2011. - Photo Credit: FWS/Ronan Dugan

A diminutive and beautiful flower, Richardson’s phlox (Phlox richardsonii), is the newest species addition to the flora of Kanuti Refuge. This past June, Ronan Dugan, a young volunteer naturalist from Scotland working as a member of a bird study team, found this botanical gem on an open, lichen-filled bluff in the hills north of the Kanuti River. It is not unusual to add plant or bird species to the refuge checklists because so much of the area is remote and unexplored. However, the eager and highly enthusiastic Ronan covered many miles beyond the base camp and primary study area. Although this was Ronan’s first season working in the Interior, he is no stranger to Alaska, having worked on reindeer research on the Seward Peninsula in 2009 and shorebird and loon research on the North Slope in 2010.

 

For the past four years, the Refuge’s avian biologist and a volunteer have been conducting bird research and other nature studies from May through July out of the Refuge’s administrative cabin on the Kanuti River. These extended stints have led to the addition of four new bird species for Kanuti: Cackling Goose (2009), Eurasian Wigeon (2010), Barrow’s Goldeneye (2011), and Eastern Yellow Wagtail (2011).

Now all these bird observations are certainly not unexpected from a bird crew. However, the fact that these crews have discovered three new plant species for the Refuge surprised even the crews themselves! In 2008 the crew documented the first cattails (Typha latifolia) on Kanuti; crews have since found three other lakes with cattails in the study area. While cattails would seem to be uncommon and at the edge of their distribution in north-central Alaska, more reconnaissance may reveal that they are less rare than originally thought. Cattail distribution in Alaska is thought to be expanding. Pedicularis sudetica (fernweed) was first documented in June 2010, bringing the Refuge total to three species for this handsome lousewort genus. Then this past summer, Ronan found the Richardson’s phlox. Experts revealed that this uncommon species is found in dry, lichen-rich, steppe habitats that are typically associated with steep, dry, south-facing river bluffs. This habitat type tends to be uncommon on the Refuge.

The crew expects to be out again in 2012. Once again, they will be scanning the trees, lakes, and skies with binoculars and spotting scopes for new birds, but will be sure to take some time with the magnifying glass to check out the plants!


Contact Info: Joanna Fox, (907) 456-0330, joanna_fox@fws.gov



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