Amaranthus pumilus (seabeach amaranth) is a federally threatened plant species that has been the focus of restoration efforts at Assateague Island National Seashore (ASIS). Despite several years with strong population numbers prior to 2010, monitoring efforts have revealed a significant decline in the seabeach amaranth population since that time, the causes of which have been unclear. To examine potential causes for the population decreases, and to help inform management practices for the future, we first evaluated 20 years of plant population data and three seasons of physical landscape characteristics of seabeach amaranth sites spanning the period of decline to assess how these may have contributed to decreases in habitat. Plant population trends, grazing data, and precipitation data indicate the population declines coincided with severe storms and periods of drought. Furthermore, we found that plants tended to occur at sites on portions of ASIS that were lower elevation on narrower regions of the island than sites where plants were not observed. Secondly, using two different data sampling schemes, we developed Bayesian networks to calculate probabilities of habitat and evaluate the importance of different variables, particularly morphologic metrics, included in the Bayesian networks. Model analyses showed that variables capturing the presence of, and proximity to, the seed bank were important for accurate hindcasts, and that specific barrier-island morphologies tended to occur at sites where seabeach amaranth was observed. More specifically, favorable habitat sites tended to be those more likely to experience overwash during high-water events, consistent with the long-held observations that the plants tend to occur in disturbance-prone settings. Model outputs provide spatially explicit maps of relative habitat suitability and helped to identify high-priority areas for amaranth protection. The modeling effort may also assist in determining the management actions most likely to result in the preservation of a long-term sustainable population.
|Title||Developing a habitat model to support management of threatened seabeach amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus) at Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland and Virginia|
|Authors||Benjamin T. Gutierrez, Erika Lentz|
|Publication Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Series Title||Scientific Investigations Report|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center|