Date of Award:

2013

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Wildland Resources

Advisor/Chair:

Eugene W Schupp

Abstract

A project involving shrub removal was undertaken by the United States Forest Service in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (SMNRA) to reduce accumulated woody fuels, which can pose risks to human communities. This research focuses on the interactions between shrubs and the perennial forb Palmer's penstemon (Penstemon palmeri), one of many nectar sources for the endemic Spring Mountains Acastus Checkerspot Butterfly (Chlosyne acastus ssp robusta). Initial observations revealed that P. palmeri (`penstemon') seemed to grow almost exclusively under shrubs. Such spatial associations are often indicative of a history of positive interactions between plants, and led to the research presented here. These studies investigate and discuss the interactions between this penstemon and shrubs in the arid shrublands of the SMNRA. Spatial patterns between populations of penstemon and shrubs were measured during November 2008-May 2011, and the consequences of shrub-association for individual penstemon emergence, survival, growth, and reproduction were documented (Chapter 2). The results suggest that although shrubs reduced penstemon emergence, they increased seedling survival (a seed-seedling conflict) resulting in a strong shift toward association between shrubs and penstemon over time. Further, while no differences in growth were detected between microhabitats, the results suggest that shrubs inhibited P. palmeri flowering but improved the successful maturation of fruits when flowering occurred. The mechanisms driving these patterns were elusive, but seed-sowing and seedling transplant experiments suggested that shrub soils, rather than their canopies, alter the nature of seed-seedling conflicts in a way that may promote seed-bank persistence in penstemon populations (Chapter 3). To provide a detailed description of the reproductive response of penstemon to shrubs, structural equation modeling was used to describe the importance of shrubs for penstemon seed production (Chapter 4). The results suggest that competition with shrubs reduced penstemon seed production, but that shrubs simultaneously facilitated penstemon water balance and altered the foraging behavior of its pollinators, indirectly increasing seed production. I conclude by discussing the importance of these studies, and studies of plant interactions in general, for helping land managers balance the objectives of fuel load reduction with protecting desirable species (Chapter 5).

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