Channel Islands: Invasive Species

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Imagine being a fragile seedling pushing through the earth and reaching for the sun — but constantly being smothered by strange grasses growing faster and taller than you are. That is the plight of the Island Phacelia (Phacelia insularis var. insularis), a tiny flower found only on Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands, part of the remote and hauntingly gorgeous Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Los Angeles. USGS scientists are monitoring the precarious survival of this highly endangered plant species, and helping the National Park Service understand how to reverse the spread and impact of invasive grasses choking this island ecosystem.


Date Taken:

Length: 00:02:24

Location Taken: CA, US


Another great challenge for recovery and restoration
on the islands is the presence of invasive

annual grasses.

They grow very fast from seeds and pump out
seeds every year and then die off and so when

they die off they leave a lot of dead material
lying on the ground.

One of the species that is challenged by these
grasslands is the Island Phacelia.

This is a tiny little annual plant that lives
out its life cycle entirely in one year.

One of the biggest challenges that we have
in studying this plant is just finding it.

Over the last twelve years we've found maybe
between three to about 50 plants per football

field size plot which means you walk around
very carefully looking and when we find the

plant, we measure it, we take a coordinate
with the GPS unit so that we know where that

plant was so we can come back next year and
look to see, did its seeds germinate next


Are there more plants next year?

This plant used to grow in a habitat that
was what we call Lupin scrub.

Now where it's growing are in these headlands
where the Lupin scrub has been eliminated

and these invasive grasses have come in, so
when this plant comes up from seed, it is

suddenly facing a totally different environment
than the environment that it is used to, that

it evolved in.

The seed has to push its way down through
a mat of dense litter and push its stem up

through a very shady environment where there
are grasses overtopping it, and it's doing

badly against these bigger grasses.

The population and future does not look good
for these plants, and so this is a situation

where we need to go in and manipulate the
environment somewhat.

It's better for this plant for us to work
on restoring or recovering that whole Lupin

scrub system, so that it can be there to nourish
those plants when they do decide to germinate.