Ranunculus aestivalis - (Benson) Van Buren & Harper
Autumn Buttercup
Other English Common Names: Fall Buttercup
Other Common Names: fall buttercup
Synonym(s): Ranunculus acriformis var. aestivalis L. Benson
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Ranunculus aestivalis (L. Benson) Van Buren & Harper (TSN 508016)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.144911
Element Code: PDRAN0L022
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Flowering Plants - Buttercup Family
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Anthophyta Dicotyledoneae Ranunculales Ranunculaceae Ranunculus
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Concept Reference Code: B94KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Ranunculus acriformis var. aestivalis
Taxonomic Comments: Study by R. Van Buren et al. (1994) places this element at the species level (Am. Jour. of Botany 81(4): 514-519), a view followed by Kartesz (1999); has also been treated as a variety of Ranunculus acriformis (as by Kartesz, 1994).
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G1
Global Status Last Reviewed: 01Jan1996
Global Status Last Changed: 29Nov1984
Rounded Global Status: G1 - Critically Imperiled
Reasons: Endemic to Garfield County, Utah and one of the state's rarest and most restricted plants. It was presumed extinct until its rediscovery in 1982, when a population of about 450 plants was found. Since then, that population has declined sharply in numbers and vigor and a second population has been discovered. However, the total number of individuals is still only about 500. There is a very limited amount of suitable habitat in the area, and habitat degredation due to livestock grazing is occurring on much of it.
Nation: United States
National Status: N1

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Utah (S1)

Other Statuses

U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): LE: Listed endangered (21Jul1989)
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Lead Region: R6 - Rocky Mountain

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: "The autumn buttercup is probably the rarest and most restricted plant in Utah. Marcus E. Jones first collected it during 1894 in a wet meadow near Panguitch, 38 km northwest of Bryce Canyon National Park. Named for its late-summer flowering habit, the autumn buttercup was not formally described until 1948. It is among the most graceful and showy members of the genus in the western United States." (Spence, Van Pelt and Franklin 1991: 1).

The General Federation of Womens Clubs Sevier River Valley Preserve was purchased in 1989 to protect the only known buttercup plants in the wild, chiefly through exclusion of livestock grazing. The Great Basin Field Office is responsible for stewardship of the 44-acre property.

GENERAL ELEMENT OCCURRENCE LOCATION INFORMATION. R. acriformis var. aestivalis's only known occurrence is in Garfield County, Utah. Due to the sensitivity of the site, directions may be obtained by contacting the Utah land steward of the Conservancy in Salt Lake City.

Number of Occurrences: 1 - 5
Number of Occurrences Comments: Two known occurrences. Additional but as-yet unsurveyed potential habitat exists.

Overall Threat Impact Comments: CURRENT THREATS. Limited Critical Habitat: The theory that Ranunculus acriformis var. aestivalis is a relict or hold-over population from the more moist Pleistocene era supports the obvious current lack of suitable, mesic habitat for it in an otherwise dry sagebrush life-zone. Mutz (1984) and England (1989b) both agree that limited available critical habitat is one of autumn buttercup's most serious threats.

Herbivores, Past and Present: Increased grazing pressure from cattle and horses over the last decade in the area of critical habitat is generally considered the primary cause for the rapid 1985 decline of the taxon's extant population (Mutz 1984). Although this threat was eliminated in 1988 by The Nature Conservancy's purchase and subsequent fencing of the land, the population still remains critically few in number, with severely reduced individual vigor in the mound population. Most recently, voles and other resident herbivores seem to be eating the autumn buttercup in the vegetative state (England 1989a). It is unknown what type of animals, if any, are eating the seeds. Voles and mice are probably the main rodent predators of seed of Ranunculus in British grasslands (Sarukhan 1974).

Spence (1991) noted grazing evidence on seedlings and adults, but did not observe a particular animal grazing. He suspects gophers (THOMOMYS) as the most likely agent; trails and burrows were fairly abundant. As many as half the adults had been grazed, with some cropped down to ground level. Spence (1991) recommends that predators such as raptors be encouraged to keep gophers and hares or rabbits in check.

Inter-species Competition: Virtually nothing is known about the interactions of autumn buttercup and the resident graminoids. Will the absence of cattle and horses on the property increase local graminoid vigor, and increase competitive pressure on the remaining buttercup plants. This will be further discussed in the research and management sections.

Small Population Size: The current population size (less than 500 plants) poses another threat to the autumn buttercup's existence (reduced genetic diversity, less environmental flexibility, and potential inbreeding depression). This small number of existing plants places the taxon in a highly vulnerable position, not only in light of potential catastrophic or environmental uncertainties, but also in light of the existing population's genetic uncertainties (Shaffer 1987). In larger populations (1000s or more), Shaffer (1987) points out that average taxa persistence times increase geometrically with increased population. Because of this, demographic uncertainties are generally (however, not in autumn buttercup's case) a moot point for conservation purposes.

Summary: Current threats resulting in this element's high degree of vulnerability to extinction are: limited critical habitat; probable on-going habitat degradation due to livestock grazing on potential introduction sites, or current unknown element occurrence sites in the general vicinity of the preserve; pressure from resident herbivores; inter-species competition; and a severely reduced extant population size, which significantly increases the potential impact of demographic uncertainties "resulting from random events in survival and reproduction of individuals," as well as the potential impact of genetic, environmental, and catastrophic uncertainties (Shaffer 1987). Of all these threats, the first two, critical habitat and livestock grazing, are probably the most important. Spence's study (1991) is provisionally reassuring, though; the population is larger than hoped, and is not far below a theoretical minimum viable size. Seedlings are abundant, which should bode well for future years of observation. The crux is the incidence of flowering/seed set in otherwise healthy adult plants.

Short-term Trend Comments: The only known population up until 1990 has been reduced by more than 95% in the past five years and the extant plants exhibit very poor vigor. With the new 1990 discovery of a robust population of 150+ plants the outlook is more positive. Still more plants were discovered in 1991, but only about one-third of the adults are flowering.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Global Range: "The autumn buttercup is probably the rarest and most restricted plant in Utah. Marcus E. Jones first collected it during 1894 in a wet meadow near Panguitch, 38 km northwest of Bryce Canyon National Park. Named for its late-summer flowering habit, the autumn buttercup was not formally described until 1948. It is among the most graceful and showy members of the genus in the western United States." (Spence, Van Pelt and Franklin 1991: 1).

The General Federation of Womens Clubs Sevier River Valley Preserve was purchased in 1989 to protect the only known buttercup plants in the wild, chiefly through exclusion of livestock grazing. The Great Basin Field Office is responsible for stewardship of the 44-acre property.

GENERAL ELEMENT OCCURRENCE LOCATION INFORMATION. R. acriformis var. aestivalis's only known occurrence is in Garfield County, Utah. Due to the sensitivity of the site, directions may be obtained by contacting the Utah land steward of the Conservancy in Salt Lake City.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States UT

Range Map
No map available.

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
UT Garfield (49017)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
16 Upper Sevier (16030001)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
Basic Description: A perennial herb, 3-6 dm tall that bears 6-10 bright yellow flowers, usually high above most of the deeply divided leaves. The late summer-early fall flowering season gives the plant its common name. A recent study by Van Buren et al. (1994) concluded that this is a distinct species, rather than a variety of R. acriformis. The taxon is probably a relict of the moister Pleistocene Era and is now severely limited to the little suitable habitat remaining in what is now a semi-arid region.
Technical Description: The following description of Ranunculus acriformis var. aestivalis is adapted from Mutz (1984) and England (1989a).

Autumn buttercup is an herbaceous, spreading perennial reaching 0.3 to 0.6 m in height. Its roots are 0.4 to 1.50 mm in diameter and slightly fleshy. The stems, which do not root at the nodes, are erect, somewhat fistulous, and 2 to 2.5 mm in diameter (Mutz 1984). Simple but twice ternately divided leaves are primarily located in a basal cluster. The ultimate segments are linear to linear-lanceolate, apically acute, and 2 to 4 mm across. The entire blades are reniform, 3 to 5 mm broad, and 1.5 to 5 mm long. Some modified, alternately petiolate leaves, with three linear divisions, occur along the flowering stems. Both leaves and stems are covered with fine hairs. The leaf petioles are 5 to 10 mm long, and the bracts are linear.

Mature plants generally develop six to ten flowers with a 1.3 cm diameter. Each flower has five yellow petals approximately 8 mm in length and five yellowish green, deciduous, reflexed sepals which fall soon after the flower opens. The pedicels are sparsely hirsute and range in length from approximately 5 cm in flower to 10 cm in fruit.

The fruit of the autumn buttercup is a one-seeded, small, nearly glabrous, dry achene, from 3 to 3.2 mm long with a 0.3 to 0.8 mm long beak. The achenes number from 20 to 40 per fruiting structure. They are borne on the glabrous receptacle of the previous flower which is shaped like a cylinder or an inverted cone. The seed head is 0.6 to 0.8 cm high and 6 to 8 mm in diameter.

Diagnostic Characteristics: DISTINGUISHING FEATURES: The primary features that distinguish the autumn buttercup from other common Ranunculus species in its general area are the hairiness and shape of its leaves. For example, R. cynbalaria has glabrous, rounded leaves with shallow lobes (Spence 1991). R. scleretus has glabrous, slightly fleshly leaves with more rounded leaf divisions (Mutz 1984). R. acriformis var. aestivalis differs from R. acriformis in that its petal shape and size is somewhat smaller, its seed characteristics are decidedly different, and its leaf lobes are more narrow (England 1989a).

R. acriformis var. aestivalis is very similar in appearance to R. acris. In fact, Welsh et al. (1987) classified it as R. acris v. aestivalis because of the more angular lobes of its basal leaves and the short beak of its achene (England 1989a). It differs from the exotic R. acris, however, because of its smaller, proportionately narrower petals, more slender stems, and more angular leaf shape. In addition it does not exhibit weedy behavior like that of R. acris, or hold poisonous properties (England 1989a).

CLASSIFICATION NOTE. In August of 1987, Dr. Thomas Duncan (Herbarium Director, University of California, Berkeley) visited the autumn buttercup's habitat in Garfield County, Utah. His impression of the taxon was that it is probably a species in its own right, with the closest relative within the genus being R. occidentalis (Spence 1991).

In a recent conversation with Larry England, Dr. Duncan stated that autumn buttercup is definitely not R. acriformis nor R. acris. He plans to propose a new name for this taxon when he publishes on the subject. Furthermore, Duncan indicated that autumn buttercup may be a bridge species between R. occidentalis and R. acriformis but quite distinct from both (England, pers. comm). In light of these taxonomic considerations, England (1989a) states that "R. acriformis var. aestivalis represents an important part of scientific understanding of the development of the buttercup genus and its relationships in western North America and eastern Asia."

Most recently, Van Buren and others (1992) performed DNA analysis on leaf tissue in comparison to closely related congeners. They recommend that the autumn buttercup be elevated to species rank. Their work complements more ecologically- and morphologically- based arguments for reclassification.

Reproduction Comments: REPRODUCTION

Phenotypic Patterns: R. acriformis var. aestivalis appears to reproduce sexually. To date, the only field observations have been in late summer or early fall. Vegetative plants and reproductive plants with buds, flowers, fruits, or dehisced achenes have all been observed between late August and early September. During this same time period, well-developed seedlings, with up to several leaves, have also been surveyed (Mutz 1984) and counted (Spence 1991).

The riparian environment may be instrumental in extending the bloom for this population; however, it is still curious that autumn buttercup blooms as late as it does (late July to early October). Its closest relatives flower in June and July. Floral initiation does not apparently occur in the first year of life. The age at which it does occur is unknown (Mutz 1984). According to Sarukhan and Harper (1973) the life expectancy of R. acris is about 3.8 years. The autumn buttercup is similar to this species in many respects.

The Ranunculus genus includes species which reproduce through self-fertilization, out-crossing, and apomixis. To date, autumn buttercup has not exhibited any observed asexual reproductive strategies (Mutz 1984).

Pollination: Pollination mechanisms for autumn buttercup probably include wind and insects. The only documented pollinators are unidentified bees, and various flies and moths (Schelz, personal communication). Ants inhabit several mounds in the area, but none have been observed on the flowers (Mutz 1984). Harper (1957) reports that the flowers of Ranunculus are visited by a great number of insect species including the honey bee.

Seed Dispersa: Mutz (1984) speculates that autumn buttercup's seeds dehisce independently, since both partially bare and completely bare receptacles have been observed. Dispersal mechanisms are presumed to be wind, which can effectively whip the long pedicels; water, which can only transport the seed short distances due to its slow movement in the bog; and possibly livestock, through consumption and defecation of viable seeds (Mutz 1984). With Ranunculus acris, many seeds are eaten by birds but it is doubtful if much of this is still viable when voided (Harper, 1957).

Seed Biology: Germination Strategies. Nothing of significance is known about autumn buttercup's seed longevity, dormancy, viability, germination, or seedling establishment and maintenance requirements. However, Sarukhan's (1974) study of Ranunculus acris, a closely related plant with very similar environmental requirements, indicate that the seeds may be depleted by the next seed producing season. In his study, after predation and germination had occurred R. acris showed a reduction of c. 90% in the living seed population.

Leck (1989) indicates that wetland seed banks typically contain seed with one of four germination strategies. Types 1 and 2 are represented by large seed output with total volumes greater than 10 cubic mm. Type 3 is represented by seed with total volumes greater than 1 cubic mm and less than 10 cubic mm. The majority of Type 3 seed, in a wetland seed bank, is a transient component with a relatively smaller persistent component. The fourth germination strategy is represented by seed with a seed volume less than 0.1 cubic mm. These seeds provide a relatively large persistent seed bank with little annual recruitment. Type 4 seeds are more abundant in subsurface than surface samples (Leck 1989).

R. acriformis var. aestivalis seed can therefore be classified as either Type 2 or Type 3. England (1990) feels its seed volume is greater than 10 cubic mm and would therefore be Type 2. Type 2 seeds typically function as transient winter or summer seed bank components (Leck 1989). If, however, autumn buttercup's seed strategy is similar to that of Type 3, Leck's (1989) observations from studies of both Type 3 and Type 4 strategies could be useful.

Seed distribution and establishment: Wetland seed bank studies revealed that seeds in bogs, swamps, and prairie marshes were deeply buried, with only 20 to 50 percent occurring in the top 5 cm (Leck 1989). Leck (1989) further states that seed distribution patterns are primarily related to variations in seed rain; that variable soil compression, seed survival, and seed bank strategies may also be related to distribution patterns; and that graminoids typically comprise more than 50 percent of seed in wetland seed banks.

Seed ecology: Seedlings have been observed in small vegetative openings in friable soil on the mounds. The increased available light and solar radiation might be conducive for seed germination and seedling establishment in these clearings. However, unobserved seedlings may also be present but difficult to locate in more densely vegetated localities. The overall vegetation cover in the area of the buttercup's habitat is close to 100 percent, except for spots in past years where grazing has been severe (Mutz 1984). In Sarukhan's (1974) study of R. acris, most seed was lost from the population by predation of flowers and infructescences, and by predation by small birds and mammals of seed on the ground after shedding. He also shows that R. acris had little or no vegetative reproduction, high seed output, rapid germination, and a short life of the buried seed.


Background: According to Lyman Benson (Professor Emeritus, Pomona College), the autumn buttercup was first collected, but not described, in early September 1894 by Marcus E. Jones. In August 1948, Benson located a population and collected specimens in the same vicinity of Jones' collection. Fifteen or twenty small clumps were found in a well-developed bog area near springs in the Sevier River Valley. From this collection, Benson later described R. acriformis var. aestivalis (Benson 1948a).

The taxon was lost for more than 30 years despite the detailed locality description from Benson. In 1960, the site was reportedly overgrazed. No plants were found in a 1974 search for the taxon. In 1975, Ripley suggested that the taxon was probably extinct (Mutz 1984). On August 23, 1982, the autumn buttercup was rediscovered approximately 0.5 miles north of Benson's type population by Kathryn M. Mutz while conducting a rare plant survey for the Bureau of Land Management. Searches in 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, and 1987 have not located any population of R. acriformis var. aestivalis at Benson's original type locality (England 1989a).

Sarukhan and Harper (1973) found that the similar and related species Ranunculus acris demonstrated the greatest population flux of the three buttercups they studied. They report that at some of the sites there were no permanent populations of R. acris, only a series of temporary but overlapping cohorts establishing from seed and soon dying.

Demographic History: 1982-1985. The recovery plan (USFWS 1992) states that the 1982 population, although not surveyed, consisted of numerous, mature, full-stature plants, with many flowers. Prior to and during 1982, primarily horses grazed the site (Mutz 1984). In a subsequent, September 1983 field survey, Mutz (1984) counted 407 adults and 64 seedlings. She reported that the leaf area and height of the plants, as well as other taxa, had been drastically reduced. Flowers and seeds were all but eliminated (cattle were introduced to the meadow in the fall of 1982). Reports for 1984 are somewhat vague. Mutz (1984) indicates less than 500 plants existed in the only known population and England (1989a) states the plants were once again heavily grazed.

On August 20, 1985, only eight plants were located (better than 90% were grazed). Only one leaf on one plant had not been partially eaten. Field notes indicate nine horses were present in the pasture then.

1986-1987. On July 29, 1986, 14 plants were counted (four of which were in flower). Three horses were in the pasture, and no noticeable grazing had occurred in the immediate vicinity of the 14 plants. Further surveying by England in 1986 turned up zero plants in the potential habitat vicinity located earlier by Mutz. He reported, once again, that the sites were severely overgrazed.

A site visit by J.L. England, Jim Coyner, and Dave Livermore of The Nature Conservancy, on August 6, 1987, revealed 12 plants, two of which were in bud. Seven horses were in the pasture and further potential habitat surveys unsuccessfully located any more plants. A return visit on August 29 by England and Duncan revealed only 9 plants and six seedling (seven horses in the pasture). All mature plants, including the flowering stems, had been cropped to near ground level (England 1989a).

1988-1989. In 1988, England (1989a) counted nine mature plants and 13 seedlings. Most of the plants had been severely grazed, presumably by small voles (England 1989a). The most recent count in September 1989 revealed 11 small plants (seven adults and four seedlings), with reduced vigor and only one to four leaves per plant. Vole activity was evident. Some quadrants were disturbed by voles, and some autumn buttercup leaves had been grazed (England 1990).

1990. In the summer a contractor (Charles Schelz) was engaged to visit the Preserve once a week to monitor the plants and search for new populations. The original mound was counted and 27 plants were recorded. In late July, Larry England led a group of ecologists to the site on a scientific field tour. At this time another much larger and more robust population was discovered on the Preserve. There are approximately 150+ plants in this population with many in flower and producing seed. Also, the contractor found a small patch of 2-3 flowering plants in another part of the preserve. A clipping regime was instituted on the original mound to keep down the competition and to monitor the autumn buttercup's response.

In 1990 we also learned several lessons which may be applicable to other rare wet-meadow elements: (1) two years' recovery from livestock grazing may allow plants to appear and flower in previously unsuspected places; (2) accordingly, permit no ground- disturbing activities until the whole preserve has been surveyed with this possibility in mind (a bulldozer passed close by the new population en route to a recontouring job); and (3) scientific tour groups should simply not be allowed near the sole occurrences of taxa as restricted as the buttercup. Some trampling damage to the original, moribund population occurred despite supervision.

1991. This year marked the beginning of in-depth research on the "new" population. Using a Rodney Johnson Stewardship Endowment (RJSE) grant, contract ecologist Dr. John Spence had several objectives: to obtain a precise, size-specific plant count and a synecological profile, and to begin following cohort fates (Spence and others, in press). He was interested in the minimum criteria for long-term persistence of the buttercup at this site and others where it might be propagated. Details of methods and results for the year appear in Spence (1991). Recommendations are recounted below.

Searches in July and August 1991 did not turn up a third population on the preserve. However, many more plants were found in the vicinity of the stand discovered in 1990. There were 488 plants: 327 seedlings, 106 nonflowering adults, and 55 flowering adults (Spence 1991). Spence believed that about 90% of the adults and between 80 and 90 percent of the seedlings on the preserve had been accounted for. Spence (1991) concentrated demographic effort on the flowering adults, but made size and other comparisons between those and the nonflowering adults. "Plant fecundity (number of flowers) was most significantly correlated with number of leaves" (Spence 1991: 18).

Micro-habitat Differences: In the 1983 field study conducted by Mutz (1984), the population of 400-plus, was split into two sub- populations. Sub-population "A" occurred in an area where there was a striking difference between the forb-dominated mounds and the graminoid-dominated inter-mound areas. Sub-population "B" occurred in an area where the difference was much less dramatic. Interestingly, Area A supported almost twice as many buttercup plants as Area B. The new 1990 population also could be split up into two sub-populations. The main part (about 100 plants) was in the expected mesic hummocky habitat while the other part (30-50 plants) was only several meters away but in a higher and decidedly drier area (Schelz, field notes). All of the plants at the new site show great vigor, but not all are flowering (Spence 1991).

Competition: Inter-specific competition for crown space was observed by Mutz (1984) in her 1983 field study. She speculates that available sunlight and soil oxygen are limiting factors for suitable habitat.

The tall, dense rush (Juncus), and sedge (Carex) sward throughout the area of the habitat has probably exerted more pressure on the extant autumn buttercup population than any other taxa in the plant community. In this sense, a minimal amount of grazing activity may have enhanced the autumn buttercup population in earlier decades. By grazing leaves (reducing the photosynthetic capability) of Juncus and Carex, livestock may diminish the vigor of these tall, dense, graminoids enough to provide the necessary minimum sunlight requirement for autumn buttercup to survive (England 1989b).

Spence (1991) noted six consistently associated species (forbs and graminoids). He characterized these and another ten species as "nearest neighbors" presumably exerting some competitive effect. Other buttercup plants were one of the six species, meaning that individuals are gregarious. Competition was not identified as depressing fecundity, and Spence (1991) did not recommend clipping or rouging plants of other species in order to enhance buttercup growth, flowering and seed set.

Successional Status: The age of the stock pond population is unknown. Since the autumn buttercup's habitat is spring-fed, it is probably more stable than the stream-fed, valley bottom communities. If the autumn buttercup is a hold-over population from the Pleistocene era, it has remarkably persisted for as many as tens of thousands of years. England (1989b) surmises that the autumn buttercup is a climax species.

Summary: Ranunculus acriformis var. aestivalis developed over the eons with two vital conditions that it seemingly requires for survival. The first is the historic availability of fresh water seeps and springs and the resulting marsh/bog habitat that was always there along the Sevier river (this water is what drives the whole system for the autumn buttercup). The second is the lack of intensive grazing by large animals such as cows and horses. When white people moved into the area these two vital conditions disappeared. Settlers immediately diverted the water from the seeps and springs to ponds and irrigation ditches, effectively changing the habitat drastically. And, they unleashed untold numbers of large domestic grazing animals into the area. Thus the autumn buttercup was getting hit from both ends; no suitable habitat for its roots to sink into and draw nourishment, and constant flower and stem decapitation by the grazers.

Riverine Habitat(s): SPRING/SPRING BROOK
Palustrine Habitat(s): Bog/fen, HERBACEOUS WETLAND
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Grassland/herbaceous
Habitat Comments: SUMMARY: Found in the Sevier River Valley, where fresh water seeps and springs surface, creating marshy or bog-like conditions. Within this wet environment, are slightly drier, peaty hummocks upon which most of the plants grow. In addition, plants have been found on a somewhat drier site not associated with hummocks. The surrounding region is semi-arid and sagebrush-dominated. The elevation is 1938-1965 m. BIOLOGICAL HABITAT: The autumn buttercup has only been found along the west slope of the Sevier River Valley where fresh water seeps and springs surface and create marsh\bog conditions. Within this marshy environment are mesic islands of peaty hummocks upon which most of the autumn buttercups grow. However, in 1990 about 30 plants were found together on a drier site that does not contain the mounds. Spence (1991) provides a detailed, current description of the habitat at the more recently discovered site.

The biological habitat is a low growing herbaceous community. It is characterized by the dominant species, Juncus articus var. balticus (Spence 1991). Forb-dominated mounds occur throughout the marsh, and the inter-mound areas are primarily graminoid. R. acriformis var. aestivalis's frequently associated species are Achillea millefolium (infrequently found elsewhere in the studied area), Juncus articus var. Balticus, Carex nebrascensis, Aster occidentalis, Plantago eriopoda, Glaux maritima, Trifolium spp., Carex aquatilis, Hordeum Jubatum (Mutz 1984), Dodecatheon spp., and Eleocharis spp. (USFWS 1992). In addition, moss is frequently found between plants. Other forb-dominated mounds occur throughout the meadow which appear comparable to autumn buttercup's habitat, except that some of the inter-mound areas are persistently pooled with water. R. cymbalaria, an aquatic species, replaces R. acriformis var. aestivalis on these more saturated mounds (Mutz 1984).


Climate: The dry semi-arid climate has an average annual temperature of 64.4 degrees F. This middle latitude, cold desert has a growing season of about 100 days. The mean January temperature for Panguitch is 23.5 degrees F and the mean July temperature is 64.6 degrees F. Recorded August temperatures range from 44.7 to 83.0 degrees F, September temperatures range from 38.8 to 76.9 degrees F, and October temperatures are between 27.8 and 60.1 degrees F (Mutz 1984).

The regional climatological data also indicates 9.9 inches annual precipitation for Panguitch (6625 feet elevation) most of which (70%) is received between April and September (Mutz 1984).

Air and Water Quality. Field tests indicate good quality water present at the site (Mutz 1984). The pH was tested at 7.6. There was less than 0.2 gm/l iron, and the moderate hardness of 395 mg/l is probably due to calcium. Mutz (1984) speculates that additional mounds which are similar to autumn buttercup in wetness may differ in water quality.

The water originates from seeps and springs both on and off of the western edge of the property near the highway. The direction of water flow from the various sources is northeast through the wet areas of the preserve (Baird 1988). Since there is little traffic and no major industrial polluters in the area, the air quality is also presumed good (Mutz 1984).

Topography and Physiography: The autumn buttercup habitat occurs in a transition zone between a well-developed, Carex-dominated bog community and a dry upland sagebrush area (USFWS 1992). The Sevier River Valley bottom is Quaternary alluvium which supports sagebrush communities as close as 24 yards from the river (Mutz 1984). Multiple springs occur along the river valley, and it is speculated that mesic areas near these springs could provide suitable habitat for the autumn buttercup (Baird 1988).

Observations of the habitat indicate as much as 100% vegetation coverage (little rock or wood cover), a friable soil surface (perhaps a key factor in seed germination), and underlying sandy or gravelly layers which may be indicative of active stream beds of the past (Mutz 1984).

Slope: The two known populations are located on a very gentle east-facing slope above the bottom of the Sevier River Valley. The plants and the hummocks have various subtle exposures, but the general relief of autumn buttercup's habitat is relatively flat. Because the topography is rather level, the extant population has full exposure to the sun and wind throughout the growing season.

Substrate: The peaty hummocks are about seven inches high, less than two feet in diameter, and probably are a result of long-term habitat alteration by livestock grazing. The soil is compacted between them. Near the base of these little hummocks is a band of lighter brown, loamy soil, approximately two inches thick (Mutz 1984). The knoll upon which the hummocks occur at one population may be a result of a raised peat bog uplifted by the up-welling waters of the surrounding spring (England 1989a). Schelz (personal communication) questions whether the uplifting action of the extensive vole and/or ant activity in the area may be the source of the mounds.

The soil's composition is a very dark, clay loam which is high in organic matter (Spence 1991). The roots of the plants can reach up to and beyond 17 inches. The soil ranges from dry to saturated, and the low area surrounding the plants is not generally pooled with water, unlike the mounds which support R. cymbalaria. The absence of the autumn buttercups on these comparable forb-dominated mounds in more boggy areas may infer that a mesic soil is preferable to a constantly wet one (Mutz 1984). To date, there has been no known technical soil analysis, nor government soil surveys, conducted on the extant population's substrate. Spence (1991) lacked time and funds for a survey, and wished to minimize disturbance.

Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Management Summary
Stewardship Overview: Monthly monitoring over the next few years should provide enough empirical data on life history components (mortality, growth, and fecundity of individuals within defined life stages) to utilize stochastic prediction model techniques (Menges 1986). Such techniques can be used to make "realistic predictions for populations affected by environmental and demographic variation" (Menges 1986). They can also be used to calculate extinction probabilities and minimum viable population (Menges 1986). Off- site stewardship activities should prioritize development of seed production techniques and research studies to gain knowledge regarding the general biology of the autumn buttercup and its minimum cultural requirements.

Restoration of the autumn buttercup will undoubtedly involve integrated on-site and off-site strategies. Revegetation through protective enhancement of the extant population must be augmented with reintroduction strategies utilizing propagules through captive propagation. Both on-site and off-site research will increase our ability to identify suitable habitat. If suitable habitat is found close to the extant population, introduction strategies utilizing propagules from captive propagation will serve to increase the persistence of the population through reciprocal colonization over time (Samson 1983).

As Falk (1987) points out, conservation philosophies are beginning to recognize the need for diversified protective strategies due to the complexity of endangerment. He states that "the integration of on-site and off-site approaches into an integrated whole look suspiciously like an idea whose time has come." His comment couldn't be more appropriate than in the case of the autumn buttercup.

Restoration Potential: The existing preserve will serve as the nucleus for protecting and understanding this rare buttercup's minimum biological and ecological requirements. Additional populations (discovered or propagated) would be highly desirable. The applicable recovery plan goals are to enlarge he known population to 1,000 plants; establish two or more artificial populations at qualified facilities; establish [or find] 5 or more populations on new sites where management is conducive to the life cycle; and realize an aggregate population of 20,000 plants. It appears that good progress has been made on the first two goals.
Preserve Selection & Design Considerations: GENERAL KNOWLEDGE. Little is known about the amount and specific nature of the land needed to protect adequate habitat for an occurrence of this element. Future research studies are needed to increase our information base regarding this taxon's essential requirements and will hone our skills in identifying suitable habitat. In general, it is widely agreed that the current preserve is not adequate for the long-term recovery of the autumn buttercup (Baird 1988, USFWS 1991). Fortunately, additional potential habitat does occur in other spring-fed meadows along the Sevier River Valley (Mutz 1984, Baird 1988).

SPECIFIC NEEDS. The recovery plan and the monitoring plan (USFWS 1992; Spence 1991) recommend maintaining the integrity of the preserve through fence maintenance; restricting access to scientists and stewards; writing a habitat management plan [as a component of a statewide TNC stewardship plan]; and attempting to secure an easement on lands where the buttercup is discovered (one tentative find has been made). Such an easement would entail rest from grazing for a year or two, and permission for access. However, land protection for some time to come will have to focus on the Sevier River Valley area.

Management Requirements: ACTIVE MANAGEMENT. According to USFWS Botanist Larry England, (pers. comm.), this species has the highest priority of any plant on the Threatened and Endangered Listing for Utah. Anything we can do to protect and ensure life for the few remaining plants should be done. Captive propagation, monitoring, research, and active IN SITU management will all be necessary to understand the life-cycle of this element well enough to ensure its persistence in the future.

The 1988 removal grazing pressure in the critical habitat has been beneficial and is probably why the new population exists today. However, other steps are needed to revive this species. Active protective management is strongly recommended to try to prevent extinction of this element (England 1989a).

The official and most authoritative listing of specific actions to be taken appears in the approved recovery plan (USFWS 1992). Criteria for recovery (downlisting or delisting) are provided.

EX SITU MANAGEMENT. Captive propagation and seed production are key activities which should be aggressively pursued to keep this species from going extinct. If demographic, environmental, or catastrophic events were to eliminate the extant population, captively propagated plants and seeds would become the only remaining germplasm for this element.

In addition, if seeds and plants can be successfully propagated, they will aid tremendously in relieving pressure on the autumn buttercup's high probability for extinction. Since other suitable habitat probably exists in the meadow and along the Sevier River Valley (Mutz 1984, Baird 1988, USFWS 1992), seed and plant propagules will be vital to any future introduction or reintroduction attempts on carefully screened and hypothetically suitable sites.

IN SITU MANAGEMENT. Reduce Grazing Pressure: Although the 1988 fenced removal of cows and horses has obviously reduced grazing pressure on the last remaining autumn buttercup plants, indigenous, ungulate animals such as elk and deer can still browse the area. In addition, voles have been sighted and trapped, and rabbit sign has been noted in the area of the critical habitat. Spence (1991) also suspects them as the primary source of grazing activity observed in 1988, 1989 and 1991.

The long-term recovery goal for the autumn buttercup is for it to survive on its own with as little management as necessary. Aggressive, active management is required, however, to minimize risks in the short term. For these reasons, grazing activity, from small mammals etc., should be monitored regularly, combined with a less active management technique, such as encouraging predator activity upon the resident vole population(s), or erecting an owl perch in the area (Spence 1991).

The trapping of small mammals has been tried in the past and may be effective but the damage due to small mammals seems to be minimal. That is why regular monitoring is essential. If small mammal damage becomes increasingly evident then trapping should be activated, but for now there are better uses for the minimal field time available.

Reduce Inter-species Competition It has been hypothesized that the absence of grazing may inadvertently increase the vigor of the resident graminoids which, in turn, could augment inter-specific competitive pressure on the last remaining autumn buttercup plants. Due to this concern, it has been suggested that the grasses surrounding the autumn buttercup plants be manually clipped on an experimental basis.

In 1990, periodic clippings around the mound population was undertaken. No significant change in growth rate or vigor was noted.

Successional Status: England (1989a) suggests that autumn buttercup is a climax species. Therefore, habitat manipulation by burning, to achieve an earlier successional stage is not recommended. Furthermore, the microsite may be too moist to achieve an "effective" burn. Also, burning in the fall would harm the autumn buttercup in its reproductive stage because many seeds are still on the pedicels.

Management Results: As mentioned earlier, some clipping around the plants of the mound population was performed in 1990 without noticeable effect.

Monitoring Requirements: Biological and ecological monitoring is vital to prevent extinction of this rare taxon. The only known occurrence experienced over a 95% reduction in population size between 1985 and 1990. With the new population, monitoring will aid in providing essential information for constructing models to predict extinction probability and minimum viable population, as well as determining immediate and future management requirements (Menges 1986). Furthermore, Harvey (1985) suggests that demographic studies of rare plants provides valuable information on life-cycle features and may even enable the identification of critical stages in the element's life-cycle which contribute to small population size. Spence's (1991) report and field setups constitute a study plan and a sophisticated beginning for monitoring. No other monitoring will be done by other means (except at the original small population), mainly because of the risk of trampling damage and the need for standardization of observations from 1991 henceforth.

FIELD DATA COLLECTION MONITORING DURATION. Comprehensive, long-term monitoring is essential for demographic analysis and for effectively predicting the extinction probability and minimum viable population for a given element. See Menges (1986) for discussion on matrix projections, transient predictions, and life history analysis. Spence (1991) has adopted the pertinent methods.

A permanent transect has been placed at the site of the mound population (England 1989a). The transect consists of two, inconspicuous, brown metal fence posts, ten meters apart. During field monitoring, quadrats are formed (utilizing three-meter sticks arranged and clamped into the shape of a U), along the transect at one-meter intervals. Plants are thus located in relation to the x- y axes. The number and size of the leaves are subsequently measured. Monitoring is currently being carried out by Larry England of USFWS on an annual basis (USFWS 1992). Spence will continue monitoring of the newer, larger and more viable population.

RECENT FINDINGS. Menges (1986) summarizes some recent findings in modeling plant species. He indicates that modeling efforts can be based on modest levels of data collection; that long-term modeling is desirable in light of the significant impact environmental fluctuations have on slow-growing perennials; that the greatest amount of monitoring effort should prioritize the fate of established plants; and that quantifying environmental variability is of the utmost importance for effectively predicting the future of rare plants.

Management Programs: To date, the most significant management activity for this taxon was the purchase and subsequent fencing of the 44-acre preserve by The Nature Conservancy in 1988. The fence is a pasture fence with three barbed wire strands along the perimeter of the property. It does not exclude deer, elk, small game or rabbits.

The following is a list of management recommendations for 1991 and 1992 and the agency(s) that could take responsibility:

1) A habitat management plan should be written and implemented, to address land protection needs. TNC.

2) A working group should be convened each winter to assign responsibilities and to budget. One field meeting during the growing season is similarly desirable. USF&WS and TNC.

3) The fence, although intact and effective, needs to be repaired and reinforced at several places. TNC.

4) New populations on and off the Preserve need to be searched for. If any are found then the pressure and expense to cultivate new populations using seed transferal or propagation techniques will be greatly reduced. TNC and USF&WS.

5) Regular monitoring for grazing damage, and trapping if it becomes necessary. TNC.

6) Continue Spence's (1991) work, preferably using his services and certainly his mapping and numbering systems.

Monitoring Programs: CURRENT MONITORING. Monitoring of the "1990" population will resume in 1992.

MONITORING FREQUENCY. Spence (1991) recommends that monitoring be performed twice monthly during the growing season, for at least three more years (1992, 1993, and 1994). Of course, some form of less exacting monitoring will be needed indefinitely or until the species is delisted (if ever).

KEY CONTACTS. For additional information on biological monitoring, contact:

Larry England, Botanist. US Fish and Wildlife Service, 1745 W 1700 S, 2nd Floor, Salt Lake City, UT 84104-5110. (801) 524-4430.

Dr. John Spence. Manzanita BioStudies, 117 Fruita Lane, Torrey, UT 84775.

Nicholas S. Van Pelt. The Nature Conservancy, PO Box 11486 Pioneer Station, Salt Lake City, UT 84147-0486. (801) 531-0999.

Management Research Programs: In recent years, five seedlings were removed from the site and sent to The Arboretum at Flagstaff, Arizona, under the auspices of The Center for Plant Conservation (England 1989a). One of the seedlings died, and the remaining four are in a healthy, vegetative state in six inch pots (Asplund 1989). The primary purpose for moving the plants was to provide protective cultivation.

The Arboretum of Flagstaff's Curator of Living Collections, Kenneth K. Asplund, has recently moved to Tucson, Arizona, and has been replaced by Bob Wilson. Either may be interested in participating in an autumn buttercup research program. Kim Harper (Botany, BYU) has been recommended as an insightful and key resource, and might be able to identify graduate students for research support. For further information, contact:

Dr. Robert Wilson. Curator of Living Collections, The Arboretum at Flagstaff, PO Box 670, Flagstaff, AZ 86002. (602) 774-1441.

Dr. Kimball T. Harper. Department of Botany, Brigham Young Univ. Provo, UT 84602. (801) 378-2129.

Management Research Needs: SEED BIOLOGY. Basically, we need to study as much as possible of the autecology and synecology of this species. Seed and propagation studies are a top priority because it is our only recourse if the plant becomes extinct in the field.

As previously mentioned, very little is known about the seed biology of this element. Specific questions which need answering are numerous. Some of the most critical questions are: What are the germination and establishment requirements for seeds and seedlings of this taxon? What is the seed viability over time? What biotic and abiotic conditions or disturbances affect seed viability, dormancy, and recruitment to vegetation (i.e., mycorrhizal relationships, allelopathy, shading, ingestion, nutritional requirements, light, temperature fluctuations, oxygen availability, substrate characteristics, and hydrologic requirements such as water flow, color, and turbidity) (Falk 1987, Leck 1989)?

Perhaps the Utah State Seed Lab personnel or staff from other public or private certified seed labs could be instrumental in studying seed germination requirements EX SITU.

Research to determine seed production techniques should be pursued since seed production capabilities will clearly play a critical role in the over-all recovery plan for the autumn buttercup. As knowledge of seed germination requirements improve, so will our ability to propagate this taxon for reintroduction at the site of the extant population.

VEGETATIVE AND REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY. General biological studies will increase our knowledge involving the cultural requirements of the seedling, juvenile, vegetative, and reproductive plants. Soil sampling and analysis at the existing site will increase our understanding and aid in screening potential introduction sites. Studies should focus on substrate preferences, hydrology and light requirements, nutritional needs, propagation and growth requirements, specific pollinators, pollination and reproductive mechanisms, herbivory, and inter-specific competition (Falk 1987).

MONITORING AND RESEARCH APPLICATION. Monitoring data and information from research studies on the general biology of this taxon will aid in the development of a projection matrix. An overriding question remains unanswered: Why did the extant population experience such a rapid decline in 1985? Matrix projection techniques may be applied to help determine the "bottleneck" in the life cycle of this element (Menges 1986). This could, in turn, shed light on why the autumn buttercup has had such a narrow distribution over the last century.

Population/Occurrence Delineation
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: A natural occurrence of one or more plants.
Separation Barriers: EOs are separated by either: 1 kilometer or more across unsuitable habitat or altered and unsuitable areas; or 2 kilometers or more across apparently suitable habitat not known to be occupied.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 1 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 2 km
Separation Justification: The rationale for this large a separation distance across suitable but apparently unoccupied habitat is that it is likely additional research will find this habitat to be occupied. It can often be assumed that apparently unconnected occurrences will eventually be found to be more closely connected. No information on mobility of pollen and propagules is available on which to base the separation distance for this taxon.
Date: 13May2002
Author: Ben Franklin
Population/Occurrence Viability
Excellent Viability: SIZE: 600 or more individuals. CONDITION: The occurrence has an excellent likelihood of long-term viability as evidenced by the presence of multiple age classes and evidence of flowering and fruiting, indicating that the reproductive mechanisms are intact. This occurrence should be in a high-quality site with less than 1% cover of exotic plant species and/or no significant anthropogenic disturbance. LANDSCAPE CONTEXT: The occurrence is surrounded by an area that is unfragmented and includes the ecological processes needed to sustain this variety.
Good Viability: SIZE: 400 to 599 individuals. CONDITION: 400 to 599 individuals. LANDSCAPE CONTEXT: The occurrence should have a good likelihood of long-term viability as evidenced by the presence of multiple age classes and evidence of flowering and fruiting, indicating that the reproductive mechanisms are intact. Anthropogenic disturbance within the occurrence is minimal. If exotic species are present, they comprise less than 10% of the total ground cover.
Fair Viability: SIZE: The surrounding landscape should contain the ecological processes needed to sustain the occurrence but may be fragmented and/or impacted by humans. CONDITION: 20 to 399 individuals. LANDSCAPE CONTEXT: The occurrence may be less productive than the above situations, but is still viable, with multiple age classes and evidence of flowering and fruiting, indicating that the reproductive mechanisms are intact. The occupied habitat is somewhat degraded (exotic plant species make up between 10-50% of the total ground cover and/or there is a moderate level of anthropogenic disturbance).
Poor Viability: SIZE: There may be significant human disturbance, but the ecological processes needed to sustain this variety are still intact. CONDITION: Less than 20 individuals. LANDSCAPE CONTEXT: Little or no evidence of successful reproduction is observed (poor seedling recruitment, no flowering or fruiting observed, or poor age class distribution). Exotic plant species make up greater than 50% of the total ground cover, and/or there is a significant level of human disturbance.
Justification: SIZE: Large populations in high quality sites are presumed to contain a high degree of genetic variability, to have a low susceptibility to the effects of inbreeding depression, and to be relatively resilient. EOs not meeting "C"-rank criteria are likely to have a very high probability of inbreeding depression and extirpation due to natural stochastic processes and/or occur in degraded habitat with low long-term potential for survival. CONDITION: Large populations in high quality sites are presumed to contain a high degree of genetic variability, to have a low susceptibility to the effects of inbreeding depression, and to be relatively resilient. EOs not meeting "C"-rank criteria are likely to have a very high probability of inbreeding depression and extirpation due to natural stochastic processes and/or occur in degraded habitat with low long-term potential for survival. LANDSCAPE CONTEXT: Large populations in high quality sites are presumed to contain a high degree of genetic variability, to have a low susceptibility to the effects of inbreeding depression, and to be relatively resilient. EOs not meeting "C"-rank criteria are likely to have a very high probability of inbreeding depression and extirpation due to natural stochastic processes and/or occur in degraded habitat with low long-term potential for survival.
Key for Ranking Species Element Occurrences Using the Generic Approach (2008).
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 19Mar1992
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Nicholas S. Van Pelt, rev. B. Franklin/K. Maybury (1996)
Management Information Edition Date: 19Mar1992
Management Information Edition Author: Nicholas S. Van Pelt

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