Endangered Nipomo Lupine On the Rise

Posted by on Oct 15, 2013 in Uncategorized | No Comments
Endangered Nipomo Lupine On the Rise

2013 Monitoring Update

Long ago, a botanist stepped off a train, hiked around the Black Lake Canyon area, and stumbled upon an undiscovered plant now known as Nipomo lupine (Lupinus nipomensis). The first Nipomo lupine that was collected and scientifically described as a species originated from Black Lake. Where once Nipomo lupine thrived at a population of tens to hundreds of thousands ranging along the entire Nipomo Mesa, fast forward to today, only 1,677 individual plants survive—in the entire world. Nipomo lupine is federally listed as an endangered species. Each year, The Land Conservancy conducts an annual census of the endangered Nipomo lupine on Phillips 66 and State Parks leased properties.

From our data, which illustrates the population and corresponding effective population trend of Nipomo lupine over a seven year-period ranging from 2007 to 2013, evidence shows there has been fluctuating increases and decreases in Nipomo lupine individuals. The latest data from 2012 to 2013 shows an impressive rise in the Nipomo lupine population with close to half being a part of the effective population (achieving seed set, meaning the plant has bloomed, the blossom was pollinated, and the flower produced seeds) despite low levels of rain during the season.

In years when Nipomo lupine saw a decline, the possible threats to the plant include: habitat loss; invasive species; altered fire regime; altered hydrology; habitat fragmentation; and possibly pollution. Environmental variables such as rainfall and temperature related to climate change may also constitute threats to small populations.

The Land Conservancy has been employing chemical and mechanical control measures to help reduce invasive plant competition. Additionally, cattle have been employed as an invasive species control method within the fenced area just north of the Phillips 66 plant. Decreases in population seem to be driven by early season rains followed by a prolonged dry period mid-winter which greatly reduced survivorship of early germinating individuals.

While it may seem futile to save this endangered plant, the bigger concern for some may be why should we go to great lengths to do so? Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac said it best, “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” There are intricate connections among all living organisms and our environment. Even though we may not know how, each species play an important part in our ecosystem. If one part (species) is removed, however small or insignificant some may think it is, this small change can lead to bigger ones that are not so easy to fix. We would rather keep all the pieces of our ecosystem intact than work backwards to repair the damage, if reparable at all.

In late 2012, The Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER) at the University of California at Santa Barbara began to study and develop a habitat suitability model for future Nipomo lupine outplantings along with bulking out seed in their greenhouse. The Land Conservancy has been providing CCBER with census data to correlate with their suitability model.

Rather than tinker, we continue to combat the primary threat to Nipomo lupine by reducing the amount of veldt grass within its habitat. The numbers of individual lupine are still low but in 2013, a total of 1,677 Nipomo lupine individuals were recorded using a Juno Trimble device (mobile GIS technology). In our seven year history, this is the highest recorded total. After transferring the data into a geodatabase, we found that 759 of the 1677 individuals achieved seed set, resulting in a 45% effective population for the 2012-2013 season. As we begin to learn more about the ideal habitat for Nipomo lupine, we hope to see higher yields of seed set. Cheers to reaping what we sow!