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Scientists Find 25 Southern Rockies Alpine Plant Species Unique to the Region

Photo of Alpine meadow from the top of Brown's Peak in the Snowy Range of Southeast Wyoming with Medicine Bow Peak in the background.  There are 127 known alpine plant species on these two peaks. USDA Forest ServiceAlpine meadow from the top of Brown's Peak in the Snowy Range of Southeast Wyoming with Medicine Bow Peak in the background. There are 127 known alpine plant species on these two peaks. USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : Forest Service scientists and their collaborators have identified an extensive list of alpine plants in the Southern Rockies and within this list are 25 plants found nowhere else in the world. This list will be useful in measuring changes in vegetation in response to changing climate and also in forest planning efforts.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Fowler, James F.  
Research Location : Wyoming, Colorado, Southern Rockies
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 768

Summary

A recent collaboration has resulted in a definitive list of 609 vascular plant species and subspecies found in the alpine zone of the Southern Rocky Mountains. The Southern Rockies alpine plant species list shows the geographic distribution of each species and, in a major finding, documents 25 species which are found nowhere else in the world (Southern Rockies alpine endemics).

Current predictions of climate change effects show plant species in elevations above timberline may be vulnerable to higher temperatures and changing snowfall patterns since they have limited area for upslope migration. Most alpine areas in the Southern Rockies are on Forest Service land and represent pristine mountain scenic values during their brief summer. The list has 18 Forest Service sensitive plant species along with two species listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. These 20 species have very restricted geographic distributions which may make them especially vulnerable to future environmental change.

This list should also help with implementation of the new Forest Service Planning Rule in which each national forest will make a separate determination for its Species of Concern/Species of Interest as a replacement for the Regional Office Sensitive Species lists. This list is a reference for National Forest Systems biologists, planners, and land managers in Regions 3 (Southwest), 4 (Intermountain), and 5 (Pacific Southwest). The alpine plant list should also enable research ecologists to design high-quality baseline studies to measure the changes in vegetation in response to climate change and to focus population size studies on species most vulnerable to extinction.

The collaboration that developed this list was between a Forest Service research ecologist and two research botanists from the Rocky Mountain Herbarium, which houses the official U.S. Forest Service Herbarium.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Principal Investigator: ?James Fowler (retired)
  • B. Ernie Nelson
  • Ronald L. Hartman