Astragalus ampullarioides (Welsh) Welsh, the Shivwits milk-vetch, is an herbaceous perennial legume that was listed as federally endangered in September 2001. Known populations of this edaphic endemic species are restricted to Washington County, Utah, with the majority of occurrences found on gently sloping outcrops of the Triassic Petrified Forest Member of the Chinle Formation at the edge of the Mojave Desert. At the time of listing in 2001, surveys estimated a total of 1000 individuals for the species. In April-May 2006, surveys estimated approximately 4205 individuals distributed among six populations. Of the total number of individuals estimated in spring 2006, over 75 percent were distributed among three subpopulations in Zion National Park and approximately 60 percent occurred at a single 0.3-ha site in the Park. In addition to small population sizes and limited geographic distributions, the species is threatened to varying degrees by urbanization, livestock grazing, off-road vehicle use, and invasive exotic plants.
In April 2006, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) initiated ecological investigations of the Shivwits milk-vetch to support conservation management and recovery of the species by the National Park Service (NPS; Zion National Park), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Shivwits Band of the Paiute Tribe, and other cooperators such as The Nature Conservancy of Utah (TNC). To date, funding for this research has been provided by the Southwest Biological Science Center of the USGS Biological Resources Discipline, the USGS-NPS Park-Oriented Biological Support Project, and the Earth Surface Dynamics Program of the USGS Geologic Discipline. Additional logistical support has been provided by the Bureau of Land Management, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
General objectives of this research are (1) to develop a better understanding of species-environment relations to support habitat modelling, future surveys for additional recovery populations, and potential efforts to establish new recovery populations; and (2) to evaluate effects of invasive exotic plants on habitat conditions and measures of milk-vetch performance. Specific objectives are to:
Describe the distribution and abundance of milk-vetch populations and associated invasive exotic plant species within and outside of Zion National Park (Zion NP) in relation to geologic / geomorphic setting, soil properties, and plant community composition.
In a field setting in Zion NP, conduct experiments to evaluate effects of invasive exotic plants on reproductive output and seedling establishment of A. ampullarioides across a gradient of exotic species biomass.
Conduct greenhouse studies and analyze soils to evaluate effects of invasive exotic plants on soil biological properties (including mycorrhizal inocculation potential) that affect cycling and plant uptake of essential mineral nutrients.
Based on environmental characteristics of known population locations, use Geographic Information System (GIS) tools to prepare a predictive habitat model that can be used to guide future surveys and efforts to evaluate sites for reintroduction efforts.
This report describes 2006 progress and future plans for achieving these four objectives.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Ecological Investigations of the Federally Endangered Shivwits Milk-Vetch (Astragalus ampullarioides)--2006 Annual Report