Rare Flora Research: Yosemite’s “Fire-Followers” - 2016

Rare Flora Research: Yosemite’s “Fire-Followers” - 2016

Yosemite biologists study rare flowers blooming in the wake of the Rim Fire and other fires, known as “fire followers.”

Yosemite is a haven for diverse flora and fauna, including many rare, endemic plant species that emerge only in the wake of fire. These “fire-followers” represent one of the important ecological benefits of wildfire, which plays a crucial role in healthy forest and meadow ecosystems.

Building on a prior study of areas affected by the 2013 Rim Fire, this project allowed scientists to conduct surveys of fire-following flower species in more recently burned habitats throughout the park. Scientists took advantage of the brief post-fire window to study these rare plants, which will soon go dormant again as other species take over. Through field excursions and a national “BloomBlitz” event, visitors had the opportunity to learn about Yosemite’s unusual fire-germinated plants and fire’s role in the park. Youth interns gained valuable experience identifying rare flora, an important skill for budding botanists.

Over the course of the 2015 and 2016 field seasons, the research team surveyed more than 4,670 burned acres and mapped 253 acres of rare plant populations representing 32 species, including mountain lady's slipper, slenderstem monkeyflower and Small's southern clarkia. 

Your gifts helped park scientists learn more about how fire affects Yosemite’s rare flora and ecosystems. Thank you for supporting your park!

Completed in partnership with Yosemite National Park and Student Conservation Association.

 

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Project Notes
The rare pansy monkeyflower blooming in massive numbers next to Hetch Hetchy Road several months after the Yosemite Rim Fire.

During the Rim Fire, there was media coverage of the many acres of incinerated conifers, but most of the public may remain unaware of the large fire-dependent segment of Yosemite’s flora. This project will document rare and endemic plants (including pansy monkey flower, slender stemmed monkey flower, Small's southern clarkia) and create a set of educational products to tell the complex and foundational story of fire in creating the diverse Sierra Nevada flora tapestry.

Alison Colwell
Botanist
Yosemite National Park