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Sea-cliff bedstraw (Galium buxifolium) patterns and trends, 2005–14, on Santa Cruz and San Miguel Islands, Channel Islands National Park, California

May 22, 2019

Sea-cliff bedstraw (Galium buxifolium [Rubiaceae]) is a delicate dioecious subshrub endemic to Santa Cruz and San Miguel Islands, in the northern California Channel Islands. It was listed as endangered in 1997 under the Federal Endangered Species Act, threatened by soil loss, habitat alteration, and herbivory from more than a century of ranching land use. At the time of listing, there were eight populations known from Santa Cruz Island and two from San Miguel Island, restricted to shaded, northfacing volcanic ocean bluffs. The recovery plan included criteria to be considered for delisting such as stabilizing or increasing populations on both islands and recovery actions such as searching for more populations, seed banking, researching seed germination and life history, and reversing factors causing decline.

We began studying sea-cliff bedstraw on Santa Cruz Island in the early 2000s to better understand factors related to decline. We surveyed historic populations and searched for new occurrences 2004–06, researched population size-class structure and floral biology 2005–06 at three sites, and tracked demography 2005–14 while treating the invasive periwinkle (Vinca major) with herbicide at a fourth site. We collected seeds for germination studies and long-term seed banking from all four study sites.

The historically known Santa Cruz Island sites were still extant on the sea-cliffs, and we located 14 occurrences not documented at the time of listing. Sea-cliff bedstraw floral morphology appears evenly balanced between mainly pistillate and staminate plants at the study sites, with other floral types present as well, in the populations we sampled. Seed germination trials showed about a 40 percent germination rate from fresh imbibed seeds. Life-history stage structure 2005–06 varied from purely reproductive plants at one site to nearly equal representation of vegetative and reproductive plants at a second site, with seedlings also present at the remaining two sites.

Demographic study of tagged plants at the long-term study plot 2005–14 showed an episodic pattern of high recruitment with low mortality once plants became established beyond the first summer dormant season. A flush of seedlings was seen after periwinkle reduction, indicating that the periwinkle may have been repressing seedling establishment. About 93 percent of the already-established plants tagged in 2005 and 2006 were still present 10 years later in 2014. Findings indicate that sea-cliff bedstraw individuals are long-lived and once established have good survival rates. Taken together, these results imply that population growth is driven more by germination and recruitment into the mature population than by mortality of established plants, at least since feral animal eradication from Santa Cruz Island. Therefore, conservation actions might be best focused on nurturing safe sites for seed germination and seedling survival.

Publication Year 2019
Title Sea-cliff bedstraw (Galium buxifolium) patterns and trends, 2005–14, on Santa Cruz and San Miguel Islands, Channel Islands National Park, California
DOI 10.3133/ofr20191054
Authors Kathryn McEachern, Katherine A. Chess, Karen Flagg, Kenneth G. Niessen
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2019-1054
Index ID ofr20191054
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center