Tarleton faculty awarded TxDOT grant to study rare plants along roadways

STEPHENVILLE (Friday, August 24, 2018) — A group of Tarleton State University faculty have received a $92,000 grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to develop predictive metrics for the occurrence of 20 rare plants bordering state highways.

Dr. Hemanta Kafley, Dr. Darrel Murray and Mandira Sharma of the Department of Wildlife, Sustainability and Ecosystem Sciences within the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences will conduct the study.

The project, which also will involve a graduate assistant, will develop models to predict where the rare plants may be found. The plants are proposed to be protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The USFWS lists species as endangered based on several factors, which often include habitat destruction. The project’s 20 plants are proposed to be federally listed in Texas.

TxDOT hopes to identify areas where road construction and maintenance might disturb existing populations.

“One refuge for rare plants is along roadways. These areas are not grazed by cattle, which sometimes preferentially eat certain plants,” Murray explained. “There often are other disturbances related to roadway construction and maintenance. Road rights-of-way are not often pristine, but they can provide refuge for rare plants.”

Kafley added that rare plants are particularly challenging to model because so little is known about them. “Modeling is often based on observations, and for rare plants, there just are not many observations. Their environmental requirements are not well known. However, these constraints can be overcome.”

Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) will collect background data on the target plants, especially locations and environmental needs, from sources such as rare species databases, herbariums, citizen science and published literature.

“Citizen science, from platforms such as iNaturalist and Texas Nature Trackers, is becoming increasingly useful in scientific studies,” Murray said. “Everyone has a cell phone, and the public can collect data across broad areas.”

The project will last two years and is already underway with data collecting, developing modeling methodology and identifying the graduate student helper. The project will further develop working relationships between Tarleton, TxDOT, TPWD and BRIT.

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