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Search Reveals Lilies Among the Pines
by Jeremy Markuson and Karen Miranda
Photo Credit: Jeremy Markuson / USFWS
The bog asphodel (Narthecium americanum) is a perennial herb that grows along streams and in mucky soils in the heart of the Pinelands National Reserve of New Jersey. A member of the lily family, it produces yellow flowers in the summer and reddish-brown seed capsules in the fall.
In 1990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) determined this plant was a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act, meaning that adding the species to the list of threatened or endangered plants was warranted but precluded by the Service's need to first protect species at greater risk of extinction.
Scientists actively searched the pinelands for bog asphodel populations and, to their surprise, they found this lily growing in more places than was previously known.
From 2004 to 2012, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Raritan Valley Community College searched along 112 miles (181 kilometers) of potential habitat in New Jersey and found 33 new populations of bog asphodel. Based on these surveys, the total number of populations increased 57 percent, and the area of known populations of bog asophodel increased by 86 percent.
After documenting their initial field surveys, the researchers used aerial imagery and spatial analyses to identify the amount and extent of bog asphodel populations in various habitat types and by land ownership. These analyses found populations to be relatively secure from direct threats of habitat destruction, with 94 percent of populations occurring on public lands, and more than 96 percent occurring within the boundaries of the state and federal Pinelands Reserve boundaries.
Researchers were especially surprised to find a significant number of plants growing in Atlantic white cedar forests, as previous monitoring efforts identified cedar growth as a significant threat, impeding bog asphodel survival.
"Not only did the survey reveal populations of bog asphodel in the characteristic open fen areas, but also within closed canopy forests and surrounding shrub thickets," says Jay Kelly, a research team member. "This challenges a number of conventional notions about the distribution, habitat and ecology of the species."
The research also helped identify effective ways to monitor bog asphodel by collecting spatial information, establishing permanent plots, and photo monitoring. The findings also suggest the brown bee (Evylaeus truncates) is likely the main pollinator of bog asphodel, and that deer herbivory varies widely by location.
Over the last 20 years, frequent monitoring activities, research studies, and increases in regulatory protections have improved researchers' understanding and outlook for the status of bog asphodel. And after reviewing the best available science, the Service determined in 2012 that bog asphodel is secure in its current range and is no longer a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection.
Jeremy Markuson, a fish and wildlife biologist in the Service's New Jersey Field Office, can be reached at Jeremy_markuson@fws.gov or 609-383-3938, ext. 45. Karen Miranda, a public affairs specialist in the Service's Branch of Fire Management, can be reached at Karen_miranda@fws.gov or 208-387-5891.
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