Effects of Weather and Land Management on the Western Prairie Fringed-Orchid (Platanthera Praeclara) at the Northern Limit of Its Range in Manitoba, Canada

By Bleho, Barbara I.; Koper, Nicola et al. | The American Midland Naturalist, October 2015 | Go to article overview

Effects of Weather and Land Management on the Western Prairie Fringed-Orchid (Platanthera Praeclara) at the Northern Limit of Its Range in Manitoba, Canada


Bleho, Barbara I., Koper, Nicola, Borkowsky, Christie L., Hamel, Cary D., The American Midland Naturalist


ABSTRACT.-

The western prairie fringed-orchid is a rare North American orchid restricted to a few remnants of wet to mesic tallgrass prairie. It is federally listed in both Canada and the United States and both countries have developed a recovery plan for the species. Two key management objectives are to monitor population trends and identify beneficial management practices. We used 21 y of data from the Manitoba metapopulation to assess effects of weather and land management on this species. Our results suggest the metapopulation in Manitoba is relatively stable. Western prairie fringed-orchids appear to benefit most from a combination of warm temperatures in the previous growing season followed by cool snowy but short winters and wet springs. Periodic burning (e.g., every 2-3 y) may benefit fringedorchids, whereas grazing may be detrimental. This was not a controlled experiment, however, and gaps in the data may have influenced our results. Prescribed burning is a viable management tool for curtailing woody invasion and both burning and grazing reduce litter and grass cover, but careful consideration of timing, frequency, and intensity of application is required so management does not hinder fringed-orchid reproduction or reduce survival, while also recognizing management requirements may vary among years depending on weather. Long-term studies are particularly valuable for the western prairie fringed-orchid due to its erratic life cycle and fluctuating populations, which complicate studies of environmental and management effects on this species.

Introduction

The western prairie fringed-orchid (Platanthera praeclara Sheviak and Bowles) is a rare North American orchid restricted to a few remnants of wet to mesic tallgrass prairie in the American Midwest and southern Manitoba (Environment Canada, 2006). Populations have declined primarily because of loss and degradation of native tallgrass prairie habitat on which the species depends. Much of the North American tallgrass prairie was cultivated by early Europeans because of its high fertility, and sites unsuitable for ploughing were typically grazed by domestic livestock (Steinauer and Collins, 1996). Fire was suppressed where formerly wildfires and fires set by native tribes had burned portions of the landscape as regularly as every 2.6 y in some areas (Allen and Palmer, 2011), and periodic grazing by bison (Bison bison) was largely replaced by regular and often uniform grazing by cattle (Bos taurus:, Knapp et ai, 1999). These changes have had profound effects on the tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Less than 5% remains of the 68 million ha that are estimated to have existed prior to European arrival (Samson and Knopf, 1994). Fire suppression and unmanaged grazing have resulted in extensive woody encroachment and poor diversity in many remnant tallgrass prairie patches (Howe, 1994; Briggs et ai, 2002; Lett and Knapp, 2005). Many species that are dependent on native tallgrass prairie, such as the western prairie fringed-orchid, are now found only in small pockets of isolated prairie or in protected areas.

The western prairie fringed-orchid is federally listed as endangered in Canada and threatened in the United States. Two key management objectives identified in federal recovery plans are to monitor population trends and identify beneficial management practices to counter continued population declines of this species. Our objectives were to assess how weather and land management affect the western prairie fringed-orchid metapopulation in Manitoba. Specifically, we were interested to know; (1) if and how population fluctuations corresponded with weather patterns, and (2) which broad-scale management practices best supported the fringed-orchid metapopulation. Understanding the effects of weather on western prairie fringed-orchid populations can improve management by enabling managers to predict population fluctuations and adjust management activities accordingly. …

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