Last week I got an email from Ryan Batten, someone I have never met, saying
“…I was pretty intrigued by your paper last year citing P. picta* and happy you were able to resolve it this year. I thought I would pass along the following record in case it is of interest as a range extension.”
What do I see when I look at this specimen? First off, I have seen P. crypta leaves like this before– they are long, narrow and dentate like P. dentata, but they have the same coloration as P. picta. Second, Ryan provided a close-up picture of the inflorescence that shows how long the sepals and floral bracts are. These are the best characteristics for distinguishing this species from P. picta. Finally, I see that Ryan has annotated this particular specimen and cites the key that I published with the species description for P. crypta in Taxon.
As it turns out, I did not find (and so didn’t sample) any specimens of P. crypta from the northern Cascades in Washington for my study, so this specimen from Chelan County is a great contribution (see map below) to our increasing knowledge of where the range boundaries for this species are. Why do we care about the range of this species?
All species are thought to possess a niche, variously defined as the resources and environmental conditions that a species requires and has adapted to over time. The species niche for a plant is something that can be estimated by recording the geographic range and habitats that a single species grows in, then determining what the environment and necessary resources are like within that range. As you can imagine, species growing together (like roommates) may partition their needs to minimize among-species competition for resources. So, why does it matter if we know where P. crypta grows?
Well, as the climate changes and forest conditions change, P. crypta will likely ‘migrate’ (i.e., disperse and then survive) within its niche. If conditions become too hot and dry at lower elevations, the forest habitat will likely shift to higher elevation– those plants of P. crypta able to disperse to the shifted, optimal habitat will survive. When I add the Chelan County locality for P. crypta to my dataset, it will make my estimate of P. crypta’s niche more accurate. Since I want to know how forest habitats and inhabitants will respond to climate change and resource availability, this is very useful information! Given where these plants exist now… where will they disperse to in the future?