Citizen Scientists Struggle to Save Sword Ferns – Earth 911


More warning signs that we are heading for environmental trouble.

When scientists pursue research that requires massive amounts of field data, especially collected over a large geographic area — think of Audubon’s annual bird count and monarch butterfly migration monitoring — they often call on citizen scientists. But when a volunteer group of park stewards in Seattle discovered that native sword ferns were mysteriously dying, they turned the narrative around, driving the scientific process, developing experiments, and even finding funding for more rigorous tests. The evergreen western sword fern (Polystichum munitum) is one of the most abundant species in its native habitat. But that habitat is mostly limited to the Pacific coast from Southeastern Alaska to Southern California. Because the plants have little economic value, their biology has not been closely studied. “These plants are charismatic in a lot of ways,” says Tim Billo, a lecturer at the University of Washington. Sword ferns dominate the understory of Pacific Northwest forests, where they help prevent erosion. They comprise a major part of the winter diet for mountain beavers, a small, burrowing rodent endemic to the lowland forests of the Northwest. “An individual fern lives basically forever, just adding to their rhizome every year. The ones in Seward Park could be as old as the oldest trees there — between 300 and 500 years old. Imagine if all of the oldest trees started dying,” says Billo. That’s what happened to sword ferns in Seward Park in 2013. That fall, Catherine Alexander noticed that many of the sword ferns in the Seattle park didn’t look healthy, and alerted the volunteer group Friends of Seward Park. The next spring, many of the ferns failed to grow. Today, the dead-fern zone covers 20 acres. Gemma Alexander reports. (Earth911)

Citizen Scientists Struggle to Save Sword Ferns

One Response

  1. Thanks, Al — Sharing this on FB

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