Did you know there are nine endangered species that live around Arcata? Every species is important for a habitat to thrive. The food chain is more like a food pyramid that every species has a specific role to maintain. Of course, some play larger roles than others.
Some species play a crucial role in keeping the habitat healthy. These species are called keystone species. They are named after a keystone of an arch – without it, the structure would be unstable. Keystone species can be any species no matter the genus or size, as long as it plays a specific important role in helping the environment thrive. That is why it is important to maintain biodiversity in ecosystems, because each play an important part in letting the whole system thrive. Areas known as critical habitats represent zones of where a specific species thrives best and areas important to protect.
The Point Arena mountain beaver is thought of as one of the most primitive living rodent species, because it has similar behavior and characteristics to some ancient mammalian species. They have been referred to as a living fossil.
The Point Arena mountain beaver has no designated critical habitat, but they are known to survive along the Pacific coast of North America and thrive in moist forests. They survive mostly underground and tend to be more active at night than during the day. These beavers differ from normal beavers in that they are not aquatic, although they do swim. The most obvious and unique characteristic special to this type of beaver is its black color.
Gregory Schmidt, biologist at Arcata’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was able to provide more detail on the Point Arena mountain beaver.
“They’re pretty unique in that they can eat almost any plant, even poisonous ones,” Schmidt said. “They can survive on plants that would kill most other mammals. For example, poison hemlock.”
Their bodies have a high tolerance for toxins and heavy metals in their bloodstream that allows them to consume a variety of poisonous plants. They require a large variety of different plant species considering they get most of their water from vegetation.
“Habitat loss due to agriculture and urbanization are the two main threats to their long-time liability,” Schmidt said.
Their reproduction rate has slowed immensely due to deforestation, causing loss of habitat and urbanization of the area. All the loud noises and human activity scares the beavers, causing them to run and hide, rather than mate and reproduce like they normally would.
Another threat to the mountain beaver is livestock. Cattle farming threatens beavers, because they tend to crush the beaver burrows, which can be as deep as two feet underground.
The Arcata Fish and Wildlife website says, “Activities that produce loud noise or ground vibration, such as directional boring, road or building construction, timber harvest, and mineral extraction, that are to occur in or near occupied mountain beaver habitat should be conducted outside of the mountain beaver breeding season.”
They also say to carefully manage livestock grazing in areas near potential beaver burrows. The current population of the species is unknown, and they are more rare in urban habitats. Some places, such as the Arcata Marsh, ask visitors to report the sighting of any beaver in the area for research and statistical purposes.
The Point Arena mountain beavers were placed on the endangered species list in 1991 and again in 1995, when a fire killed approximately 98 percent of their species. A recovery plan for the species was published in 1998. According to The UICN Red List of Endangered Species, their population was under five thousand individuals after the fire, but its current population ranges from ten thousand individuals to one million. It is still on the endangered species list under least concern.
The Behren’s Silverspot Butterfly and the Lotis Blue Butterfly are both endangered species that live within the local Arcata habitat.
The Behren’s Silverspot Butterfly: Speyeria zerene behrensii, has a yellow-brown color with black and silver dots. They live along the northwest pacific coast, extending to Mendocino County, areas south of Salt Point, and around some parts of Sonoma County. This species has been endangered since Dec. 5, 1997, but the latest recovery plan was approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services March 2016. Within the plan there are four main goals, “1. Protect habitat, 2. Determine ecological requirements, population constraints, and management needs, 3. Monitor population status and habitat, 4. Undertake public information and outreach programs.”
Clint Pogue, Botanist from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services said, “Partially due to the rarity of the subspecies, the ecological role of Behren’s silverspot butterfly is poorly understood. However, butterflies are essential components of their natural communities by acting as pollinators.”
This species is being threatened by overcollection, mass livestock grazing, and loss of habitat due to invasive plant species and human urbanization.
“These butterflies play a vital role for conservationists, because the presence and trends of these butterflies help indicate health of the ecosystems and natural communities in which this subspecies is found,” said Pogue.
The endangered Lotis Blue Butterfly: Lycaeides argyrognomon lotis, has been listed since June of 1976 and not much is known about this rare species.
“The true distribution of the Lotis Blue Butterfly prior to European settlement of North America is not known, however records of the subspecies indicate that it had previously existed in Mendocino, Sonoma, and possibly Marin counties,” Pogue said. “The last detection of lotis blue was in Mendocino county in 1983.”
Their bodies are small and blue, outlined slightly with black, and with a furry yellow border around its wings. It is thought that the Lotis Blue Butterfly thrives in wet bogs and around pine trees. However, specific details about the conditions in which this butterfly thrives have yet to be determined because the lack of knowledge of the plants consumed by them, particularly as caterpillars. Knowing what the caterpillars eat can help in finding a habitat. If researchers knew more about the lotis’ diet, scientists could better predict the surrounding conditions in which both the plant and butterfly thrive in.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Lotis Blue Butterfly may be the rarest butterfly species in North America. Due to how little is known about the Lotis Blue Butterfly, the main threats to this population remain somewhat unknown as well. It is predicted its largest threats are drying climate, fires, and disturbances caused by urbanization and construction. The most important thing to do regarding the conservation of this species is to find a critical habitat for the species. When a habitat is found, it can be studied and protected to start the conservation of the species. The latest recovery plan for the Lotis Blue Butterfly was initiated in April 2016 and calls for identification of a crucial habitat for this butterfly species.
There are six endangered species of plants listed on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website specific to Arcata: The Kneeland Prairie penny-cress, the McDonald’s rock-cress, the Western Lily, the Beach Layia, the Menzies’ Wallflower, and the Howell’s Spineflower. Some plants play a huge part in maintaining a stable ecosystem. Many plant species are being affected by invasive species that often cause ecological damage because they out-compete native species. A highly invasive species that is located along the coastlines of Humboldt County is the European Beachgrass,
Dr. Matt Johnson, Wildlife professor at Humboldt State University, said “The beachgrass totally takes over and grows as a thick dense grass that just out-competes everything else. Almost nothing else grows there.”
The Kneeland Penny-cress: Noccaea fendleri, was listed under the Endangered Species Act in February 2000. The designated critical habitat for this species of plant spans across 74 acres of Humboldt County and they are estimated to have almost 9,000 individuals. The penny-cress is an herb related to mustard grass and it has white flowers that rest on skinny green stalks around three to five inches in height. The latest recovery plan was updated in April 2012.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the plant only grows on serpentine soils derived by certain rocks along the coast of Northern California. Characteristics of the soil make it almost impossible for species to grow, unless they have adapted to do so, like the Kneeland penny-cress.
One of the largest threats to this species is loss of habitat due to construction. The habitat for this plant has been steadily in decline. A main goal in conservation efforts for the penny-cress calls for the restoration of serpentine soil to give the species somewhere to thrive. Other threats include overgrazing and wildfires. One roadblock for the conservation process is landowners. There has been trouble in the past getting permission from landowners to study and develop a conservation plan. The species was last surveyed in 2002 due to the landowners not allowing people to study the plant.
Another local endangered species of the mustard family is the McDonald’s rockcress: Arabis macdonaldiana. This species has been endangered since Sep. 1978, and was first discovered in Mendocino County in 1902. One interesting characteristic of the McDonald’s rockcress is its lifespan, they can live to be 30-50 years old.
This plant thrives in soil that from certain rocks as well. These soils tend to have high concentrations of nickel, copper, chromium, and iron. For this reason, they became threatened by mining industries. Nickel mining became a huge threat because it took the soils in which these plants thrive. This species also lacks a designated critical habitat and because of that, there is difficulty estimating their population.
On top of all that, this is a rare species. This species’ recovery plan calls for protection of land where this specific species can thrive. This plan was last updated in 2013.
The Western Lily is yet another endangered species without a specific known critical habitat. The Western Lily: Lilium occidentale, can grow to be five feet and has red and pink petals that bulb down over the flower.
“Plants such as the Western Lily help stabilize soil and function within natural communities by providing nectar for insects and birds,” said Pogue. “For conservationists, Western Lily helps indicate areas of high ecological integrity.”
They have been on the endangered species list since 1994, and their estimated population is around 7,500 individuals, with their largest population currently residing in Crescent City. Many scrubs and trees have begun to dominate their habitat making it impossible for the Western Lily to thrive in certain areas.
“Western lilies occur in early successional bogs, poorly drained coastal scrub, and spruce forests within a few miles of the coast from south-central Oregon to just south of Eureka, CA,” said Pogue.
Urban development and agriculture in our area have posed a threat to this lily as well. Cranberry agriculture has become one of its most significant threats. In 1991, unpermitted cranberry agriculture significantly destroyed populations around Brookings, Oregon. Overgrazing by livestock and wildlife also threaten the species and its population is estimated to remain in decline.
Greg O’Connell, Co-chair of the North Coast Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, was able to speak on the issue of overgrazing.
“One of the restoration efforts that have been done for the western lily was goat grazing,” said O’Connell.
They were brought in to chew back shrubs to create open habitat again. The latest recovery plan, published in 1994, intends to protect areas in which the Western Lily thrives. The plan hopes to set up 20 populations of protected land with at least one thousand plants each.
The Beach Layia: Layia carnosa, is a succulent that lives along the coast of northern California. This short, thick plant has small flowers that bloom white and yellow, flowering more in moist habitats. Not very much is known about the reproduction of these plants and their population numbers tend to fluctuate a lot throughout the year.
The Humboldt Bay hosts the largest population, due to the area having the best quality conditions for this plant to thrive. There have been no official estimations regarding the species’ total population. One big threat to the beach layia is invasive species.
Certain non-native plants, such as European beachgrass, dominate critical areas where the beach layia normally thrives. Construction and traffic on the beach also damage habitats where this species is supposed to thrive. The last update to its’ recovery plan was in 2012 and it calls for the protection of designated areas along the beach, and the elimination of invasive populations of species like European beachgrass.
The Humboldt Bay Wallflower, or the Menzies’ Wallflower: Erysimum menziesii, thrives along the coast of northern California as well. This species was discovered in the late 1700s, and was listed as endangered in 1992. These plants tend to be short and have short lifespans as well. The wallflower dies after it releases its seed which contributes to their short life. It’s a member of the mustard family and has one subspecies specific to the Humboldt Bay.
The Humboldt Bay wallflower is pollinated by local solidarity bees that do not live in a hive, instead they make burrows under the sand. The Humboldt Bay wallflower thrives in dune habitats, where the solidarity bees thrive as well.
This subspecies is estimated to have 30 thousand individuals. Threats include invasive species, herbivore grazing, mining along the beach, and offroad vehicles. Studies show that the threats to the Humboldt Bay wallflower have decreased a decent amount, meaning this subspecies has a chance and it is making a comeback.
The latest update to its recovery plan was in 2008 and calls for partnerships between California State Parks and other managements, so that organizations can work together to create more suitable habitats. This collaboration would plan for the management of invasive species, designated habitats, and a way to reduce the impact of deer predation.
Howell’s spineflower: Chorizanthe howellii, is a member of the buckwheat family and is found within parts of Humboldt and Mendocino counties. This plant has a very distinct appearance, growing only to be one to four inches tall. The small plants have a spherical appearance similar to a dandelion, with spikey-looking flowers that are tan and light brown. The rounded flower spreads its seeds relying on passing animals, wind, and other things that the seeds can catch onto, land somewhere and grow. No official estimate for the population of this species has been established, but through studies the species’ population is believed to have had three million individuals in 2002.
The main threat to Howell’s spineflower is the invasiveness of iceplant, Carpobrotus spp tend to thrive and take over areas where the spineflower should thrive. Other dangerous plants to this species include European beachgrass and burclover. Human disturbance has had a huge impact on their population as well. Small disturbance is good for the population because it can potentially help spread seeds, but larger disturbances often disrupt the habitat.
Due to the impact of human disturbance, people tend to do more damage to the spineflower’s habitat. In 2011, the Howell’s spineflower recovery plan was updated. It calls for protection of important ecosystem in which the spineflower thrives, removal of invasive species, regulation on disturbances, and an accurate estimation of their remaining population.
While it may seem like there are a larger amount of endangered species specifically within our small area but,recovery plans are set up and people are working to restore proper ecosystems; because of this, some of these species are making a comeback.
Support for species through collaboration between parks, organizations, agriculture, and private owners, these species still have the ability to thrive. People need to know about the importance of biodiversity and its role in creating a healthy, sustainable ecosystem where more species can succeed. With recovery plans set in place, many of these species have the chance to repopulate. If humans go about it the right way, it doesn’t have to be too late for any of these unique species.