Restoring Rare Plants on Public Lands

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Ecosystems throughout the U.S. face threats from invasive species and rapid changes to the environment. Dr. Kathryn McEachern is studying the long-term effects of invasive plants and animals, and environmental change on the survival and recovery of rare plants across the 18 California Islands and in the Great Lakes.

Recovering Populations of Federally Listed Plants on the Channel Islands 

Nearly 150 years of ranching and competition with non-native plants introduced by people has made life a challenge for rare, native plants on the Channel Islands off California's coast. Many of these species are listed as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In response to declining populations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Park Service (NPS), and non-profit groups have asked Dr. McEachern to study the interactions between climate, invasive plants, the removal of livestock, and numbers of vulnerable plants on the islands.

Dr. McEachern also advises the FWS and NPS on the most effective methods for restoring healthy populations of listed plants to the Channel Islands National Park. She works with volunteers and interns from local universities to plant new populations, grow plants in the greenhouse for seed, remove weeds from habitats, and store “backup” collections of rare plants in seed banks at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and USDA National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, CO. The study results will provide a guide for restoration efforts on the islands.

List of rare plants found on the Channel Islands


Pitcher's Thistle Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Pitcher's Thistle (Cirsium pitcheri) at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI. (Public domain.)

Monitoring Threatened Pitcher’s Thistle Populations of the Great Lakes

The NPS has asked WERC to monitor populations of Pitcher’s thistle (Cirsium pitcheri), a flowering plant listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, among the dunes of the western Great Lakes. Dr. McEachern is assisting the FWS and NPS in conducting long-term studies on pitcher’s thistle response to climatic and environmental factors, and population trends in native and restored pitcher’s thistle. These studies are also testing methods for using statistical models to predict whether populations of pitcher’s thistle will thrive, and investigating whether pitcher’s thistle needs to move among open patches across the sand dunes to escape competition and survive over the long-term. The results of these studies will inform efforts by the NPS and FWS to recover the Great Lakes populations of pitcher’s thistle.


Restoring the Endangered Island Barberry for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo of the endangered island barberry

Image of the endangered island barberry (Berberis pinnata ssp. insularis) found on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park.(Credit: Cedrick Villasenor, Brooks Institute. Public domain.)

The endangered island barberry (Berberis pinnata ssp. insularis) is an extremely rare plant, known from only fifteen individuals on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park. Dr. McEachern’s studies are informing efforts by the FWS, the Nature Conservancy, and other groups to increase the numbers of island barberry plants across California’s Channel Islands. Her research contributes to efforts to use genotyping to verify the origins of plants at the six arboreta with living island barberry collections, and then develop a propagation and out-planting plan to begin plantings to increase numbers in the wild.


The California Islands/Islas de las Californias Botanical Collaborative

In 2014, Dr. McEachern and colleagues formed a consortium of California Island botanists and ecologists: the California Islands/Islas de las Californias Botanical Collaborative. The team corresponds and meets quarterly with the goal of identifying common conservation concerns, sharing new information, and developing monitoring and recovery programs across the entire archipelago. Dr. McEachern is taking the lead in an international effort to identify the rarest-of-the-rare plants, develop an understanding of risk factors and information needs, and build strategies for research and recovery that can be undertaken collaboratively.