The process of picking targeted site locations for the flora survey has been a bit difficult — after all it is the sites, and the lichen found there-in, that have one of the greatest impacts on the data we will be gathering (the other greatest impact is the collectors abilities’). After realizing that the sites can be fine tuned at a later date, I plugged ahead and chose sites according to the following goals:
1) Habitat and Ecotones: The Turnbull NWR rests in an ecotone (the boundary between two habitats or ecosystems) between the Columbia Plateau and the Northern Rocky Mountains. At a finer grade the refuge is composed of habitats, and the boundaries between these habitats (also called ecotones), and we are targeting these habitats and their ecotones for our study. These habitats include: vernal pools, mima mounds, Aspen community, meadow grassland steppe community, Ponderosa pine forest, basalt outcroppings, and wetlands.
2) Pollution vectors: Lichen are extremely sensitive to air pollution, and much of the air pollutants entering the refuge come from the creeks carrying agricultural wastes from nearby cattle ranches. Mike Rule, the refuge’s amazing hardworking wildlife biologist, outlined some of the most clean and dirty watersheds in our last meeting in late February. Kaegle watershed is one of the cleanest, and polluted inflows include the Company watershed and the Phillips watershed. So I picked locations in all the major watersheds found on the refuge, including a site in a Ponderosa Pine forest along Phillips creek, which drains directly from nearby cattle ranches, sure to carry lots of nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorous.
3) Previous studies: Back in 1990-1991 a USGS study was done on evapo-transpiration rates at two sites at the TNWR (Tomlinson 1995). Considering that this study may be repeated again at points in the future to quantify local climate change I think it would be interesting to track lichen community changes along with changes in evapo-transpiration rates. Tomlinson’s study include a marsh site and a meadow site, we will be collecting lichen at these sites.
Further Considerations: 1) Soil types As some of the study will be focusing on cryptogamic soil crusts, finding areas of meadow steppe with different soil types would be most beneficial. NRCS has this data. 2) Enclosements Until 1993 cattle were allowed to graze throughout the refuge except in the “enclosure areas” finding cryptogamic soil crust in the enclosure areas and the post-grazing areas will shed a little bit of light on the composition of older and newer cryptogamic crusts, and possibly the succession stages of crusts in our region.