A primary focus of the Colorado Plateau Native Plant Program (CPNPP) is to identify and develop appropriate native plant materials (NPMs) for current and future restoration projects. Multiple efforts have characterized the myriad challenges inherent in providing appropriate seed resources to enable effective, widespread restoration and identified a broad suite of research activities to provide the information necessary to overcome those challenges (e.g., Plant Conservation Alliance 2015; Breed et al. 2018). Many of the most complex information needs relate to identifying the appropriate plant species and populations that can successfully establish in dryland environments, like the Colorado Plateau, where low and highly variable precipitation is standard. Providing this information requires synergistic research efforts in which results from earlier investigations inform the design of subsequent investigations. Southwest Biological Science Center’s (SBSC’s) research activities in FY18 followed the FY18 Statement of Work (“Research supporting native plant materials development for the Colorado Plateau Native Plant Program, FY18”) to support a research framework that is continually adapting based on the needs of the restoration community and results from previous investigations; the long-term research framework is now outlined in the 2019-2023 5-Year Research Strategy (discussed below; hereafter referred to as the 5-Year Research Strategy). This research framework provides support for the National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration (Plant Conservation Alliance, 2015), Department of Interior Secretarial Order #3347 (Conservation Stewardship and Outdoor Recreation), and Bureau of Land Management Leadership Priority #1 (Create a conservation stewardship legacy second only to Teddy Roosevelt).
The overall focus of activities in FY18 centered on landscape genetics and planning for common garden and other research projects. These activities were supported by two biological technicians that were hired and trained by Dr. Rob Massatti and Dr. Daniel Winkler. Many of the field-related activities, including plant trait measurement and seed/tissue collecting, were assigned to these technicians, which freed Dr. Massatti to work on other research objectives, including the time-consuming activities of processing and analyzing genetic data. A major challenge to field work in FY18 was the drought conditions that pervaded the Plateau during the spring field season. Due to low winter and spring precipitation, many plant communities did not green up in the spring, which prevented the biological technicians from collecting plant trait data, tissues samples, and seeds in many areas. To cope with the dry conditions, the technicians searched sites across a wider range of environmental space and considered a broader suite of species from which to collect data (i.e., species that may be included in research projects in future years). Monsoonal precipitation starting in July supported a late summer/fall field season and allowed the technicians to follow a more normal work plan. While Dr. Massatti was the only scientist supported by the SBSC-CPNPP agreement in FY18, other scientists, including Drs. John Bradford, Seth Munson, Mike Duniway, Sasha Reed, Daniel Winkler, and Jayne Belnap, spent a considerable amount of time discussing individual projects and the newly developed 5-Year Research Strategy. Some of these discussions resulted in a publication by Dr. Winkler, in addition to a large group of researchers, practitioners, and others who work on the Colorado Plateau, concerning the restoration challenges facing the Plateau into the future and the types of efforts that may support successful restoration (Winkler et al., 2018).