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of Olympic National Park (ONP)
To Online Database
South Fork Hoh trail through second growth Sitka spruce
forest hung with Isothecium myosoides
Coastal areas from Alaska to northern California, including Olympic National Park (ONP), are home to unique forests often referred to as "temperate rainforests". High annual precipitation and mild winter temperatures in these areas result in immense trees and a lush non-vascular flora. The aesthetic experience of visitors to ONP is strongly influenced by the communities of mosses, lichens and liverworts that drape its tree branches and carpet the ground. These organisms, also called 'non-vascular cryptogams' in reference to their simple structure and small size, contribute significantly to the unique character of the park.
Non-vascular cryptogams have important ecological roles in addition to comprising a significant portion of forest biomass. They influence availability of water by intercepting rainfall and fog, reduce the effects of torrential rain, prolong water input after precipitation has stopped, and maintain high humidity which aids growth of other forest vegetation. They provide shelter and nesting materials for animals and birds, and winter forage for deer and small mammals. Non-vascular cryptogams also have a role in nutrient cycling. Most of their nutrients come from the atmosphere and are subsequently added to the rest of the system either through leaching by rainwater or during decomposition after falling from trees as litter. In some systems the nutrient contribution from non-vascular plant litterfall is comparable to that from all vascular plant litter. A significant source of nitrogen in Olympic forest is litterfall of the nitrogen fixing lichen Lobaria oregana.
Consequently, ONP is concerned about the conservation of mosses, lichens and liverworts for many reasons. They are obviously an important aesthetic and functional part of park ecosystems, they are susceptible to changes in air quality, precipitation chemistry and climate, and some species are extremely rare. They are also of management concern because they are illegally harvested from the park in increasing amounts for sale to the floral industry.
In 1994, the US Department of Interior and the US Department of Agriculture (including the US Forest Service) agreed to the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) as a way to manage federal forests in the range of the Northern Spotted Owl to comply with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. Part of the plan requires that the US Forest Service survey for a list of rare species to assure their absence before ground disturbing activities can occur. This list includes 113 species of mosses, lichens and liverworts. These species are thought to be old-growth dependent and to be relatively rare. In some cases, little is known about their specific habitat requirements and their true abundance. ONP is a potential reservoir of these species and knowledge of the park's cryptogam populations would benefit the US Forest Service.
In 1999, ONP received funds from Canon, USA and US Geological Survey (USGS) to create a photographic field guide to the mosses, lichens and liverworts of ONP, verify herbarium specimens, and begin an inventory. Among other things, this effort resulted in the discovery of at least 4 nationally rare species and the addition of almost 150 new species to the herbarium, of which 25 were previously unknown on the Olympic Peninsula. In 2000, USGS awarded a Parks Oriented Research grant to Andrea Woodward and Ed Schreiner to continue the inventory in a more systematic way. Martin and Karen Hutten are providing the technical expertise, fieldwork, sample identification and archiving, and data summary. They are helped by James Walton, members of the ONP vegetation crew, and many greatly appreciated volunteers.
The inventory was conducted in ONP by crews of two people who hiked trails that crossed major environmental gradients in several watersheds. They visited randomly selected points within representative habitat categories and also sought rare environments predicted to have high diversity (e.g., seeps, bogs, coastal lakes, alpine, etc.) They collected samples and made field identifications when possible, and collected physical and vegetation descriptive data for each collection site. In total, over 7000 samples were collected.
How the Information Will Be Used
Information from this project will benefit ONP and the National Park Service in many ways. It will attend to a group of organisms, some of which are rare, that has largely been ignored. These organisms are important monitoring indicators of human-caused stresses and will be important to include in ecological monitoring programs under development nation-wide in collaboration with USGS. Cryptogams are also subject to illegal harvest. This project will help the park evaluate damage caused by this practice. Finally, it will help ONP fulfill its obligation to aid regionally-based forest management mandated by the Northwest Forest Plan.
These data are also being used by the US Forest Service to justify modifications to the list of species covered by the Northwest Forest Plan. The park also serves as a training site for US Forest Service survey crews where they can see and learn the specific habitat requirements for particular cryptogam species. Finally, these data are being used by the US Forest Service to develop a habitat model for selected Northwest Forest Plan species.
Data are also being shared with the Washington Natural Heritage Program to aid its current effort to identify species for listing as threatened or endangered in Washington State.
Stemming from this research was the publication of a new field guide entitled, "101 Common Mosses, Liverworts, and Lichens of the Olympic Peninsula", through a cooperative effort between the USGS, Canon USA, Inc., National Park Foundation, Olympic National Park, and the Northwest Interpretive Association. The booklet, authored by Martin Hutten, Karen Hutten, and USGS scientist, Andrea Woodward, is easy to use with close-up photos and non-technical descriptions that offer tips for identification. Copies of the booklet can be obtained from the Seattle (206-553-4270) or Portland (503-221-6217) Government Printing Office for $8.95 each, ISBN 016-066471-3.
Online Database of Distribution, Photographs and Habitat
Much of the data collected has been organized into a web searchable database. The database also provides links to many striking photographs of the cryptogams of the ONP. Access to the databases and the images can be through either an easy-to-use clickable map of the region or through the a text based page with drop-down menus and links. Click here to see the Sampling Site Distribution in and near the ONP.