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Tiny Cryptanthe


2.1 Recovery Feasibility

Historical population sizes and distribution for this species are unknown. There is the potential for the status of this species to be downlisted from Endangered if there are new populations found in Canada. However, this species may inherently have a small area of occupancy in Canada. Any continuing decline in the area of suitable habitat, combined with large population fluctuations from factors such as weather, may keep this a species at risk. Nevertheless, it should be feasible to maintain this species under the normal range of environmental conditions. Therefore, the maintenance of existing populations and their distribution will constitute the recovery of tiny cryptanthe.

Recovery of tiny cryptanthe is both biologically and technically feasible. There are activities and actions that can reduce the threats to tiny cryptanthe, and these can be feasibly implemented. This species is adapted to disturbances such as grazing and fire, which can be communicated as beneficial actions with careful management on appropriate lands. Measures to reduce the threat of exotic species can also be implemented. A number of locations currently occupied by tiny cryptanthe are areas managed as protected wildlife areas (e.g., CFB Suffield National Wildlife Area). Remaining sites could be secured through stewardship agreements with landowners.

2.2 Recovery Goal

The recovery goal for tiny cryptanthe is to maintain the persistence of all naturally [1] occurring populations in Canada.

2.2.1   Population and Distribution Objective

The population and distribution objective is to ensure the maintenance or the natural increase of existing populations while maintaining habitat to support their distribution by 2021.

2.3 Recovery Objectives

Objective 1: Increase knowledge of the species’ distribution and population size by 2009 to the point where critical habitat can be identified and natural population fluctuations are understood (Priority – Urgent).

Objective 2: Manage habitat on an ongoing basis, using a landscape approach, to support the distribution of the Canadian population and maintain a minimum of 50% of the largest recorded abundance for each population in at least one in 10 years under the natural range of environmental conditions. This includes developing an understanding of management techniques, threats, and habitat associations (Priority – Urgent).

This objective was developed using the best available expert knowledge and reflects the need to take into account the widely fluctuating annual population levels and the need to set a reasonable trigger for taking action. It is speculated that conditions conducive for germination and growth of this species may occur in at least one out of every 10 years. A 50% target was chosen to create a threshold at which concern for population persistence and viability would be triggered and more intensive investigation initiated. To set the target too high might trigger unnecessary actions. To set the target too low may risk allowing the population to get too small or disappear.

Objective 3: Increase knowledge of the biology of tiny cryptanthe by 2011 to the point where population demographics, reproductive ecology, and genetic variability are understood (Priority – Necessary). 

Objective 4: On an ongoing basis, increase landowner, land manager, stakeholder, and industry (e.g., oil and gas) awareness of tiny cryptanthe and its needs so that by 2011, stewardship activities and beneficial management practices are being implemented (Priority – Beneficial).

2.4 Research and Management Activities Recommended to Meet Objectives

As described below, one of the main factors that may impede recovery planning activities, in addition to the threats, is a lack of knowledge about this species. Further research will be an essential component of the overall strategy to recover the species.

Distribution and Abundance

There is a lack of knowledge about the entire distribution of tiny cryptanthe, as well as its population abundance. Not knowing the locations of all populations of tiny cryptanthe may result in populations not being protected and being potentially lost. Failing to determine the distribution of the seed bank could result in parts of the population not being protected or managed. As tiny cryptanthe is an annual species, there can be considerable fluctuation in population abundance and distribution from year to year. Long-term information on population dynamics would help to understand species viability.

Population Viability

There is a lack of information on the natural history and life cycle of tiny cryptanthe. This includes information about the seeds (production, germination rates, germination requirements, viability, dormancy, seed bank longevity, dispersal, and dispersal distances), pollination (identification of pollinators and distance of pollen dispersal), genetics (metapopulation dynamics and genetic variability within Canadian populations and within North America), and predators. This information is necessary to understand the population viability of the species.

Table 2 provides a general description of the research and management activities that are recommended to meet the objectives and address the threats. The action plan(s) will contain more detailed information on the actions and the implementation schedule.

2.5  Broad Strategies to Address Threats

2.5.1   Habitat Loss or Degradation

The recovery of tiny cryptanthe willinclude identifying activities that are detrimental to this species. Habitat protection, while essential to recovery, needs to be used in combination with management to ensure the continued persistence of this species. Effective conservation of this species will require appropriate management practices to be in place. Beneficial management practices will be identified and stewardship or conservation agreements will be developed with landowners and managers to conserve habitat and promote existing supportive management practices for this species. In addition, an education and communication program will be developed for land managers and the general public to minimize habitat deterioration. The effects of military activities on tiny cryptanthe will be assessed and stewardship agreements will be developed with military bases to manage for tiny cryptanthe. Recommended guidelines or restrictions of setback distances for various activities will be developed for use by regulatory agencies.

2.5.2   Modification of Natural Processes

More information is needed on the roles of grazing and fire in sand hill environments in the southern prairies and the subsequent effect on tiny cryptanthe. More information is also needed on the interaction between fire and grazing and its role in shaping vegetation communities in these areas. The recovery of tiny cryptanthe will include an evaluative and adaptive approach to identifying appropriate beneficial management practices.

2.5.3   Invasive Exotic Species

The recovery of tiny cryptanthe will include identifying the impacts of invasive species on tiny cryptanthe establishment and persistence. Beneficial management practices will be identified and stewardship agreements will be developed with land managers to ensure that habitat quality for the tiny cryptanthe is conserved.

2.5.4   Climate and Natural Disasters

Although it is probably not possible to mitigate this threat, monitoring of populations may elucidate trends. However, to identify trends, long-term data sets are required, and the fluctuating nature of annual plants may make it difficult to draw conclusions. If trends demonstrate that changes are occurring, either negatively or positively, assessment of potential beneficial actions would occur at that time.


Table 2. Strategies to Affect Recovery
PriorityObjective No.



Threat/concern addressedRecommended research/management activities
Urgent1· Inventory and monitoring

· Lack of knowledge

· Climate

· Develop simple guidelines for monitoring, including methods for estimating population size, which should be implemented by all organizations/agencies in both provinces. 

· Compile all data on tiny cryptanthe, and map locations and distribution of populations, if not already available. Determining where data will be stored and managed will be important.

· Continue surveying and monitoring known locations with tiny cryptanthe.

· Implement a study on habitat suitability and predictability for occurrence within different locations.

· Survey similar habitats for potential additional populations.

· Identify critical habitat for tiny cryptanthe.

· Complete population viability analyses on known populations to determine population viability under current conditions (unlikely to be completed by 2009).


· Beneficial management practices and stewardship

· Education/ communication

· Research

· Habitat loss/ degradation

· Modification of natural processes

· Invasive exotics

· Continue to monitor populations for trends, abundance, and extent.

· Continue to evaluate the effect of threats on the various populations.

· Identify the positive and/or negative impacts of grazing (domestic and wild herbivory), idling, brush control, fire, floods, and herbicides using incidental evidence, past observations, and research; identify beneficial management practices for the species based on the outcomes.

· Conduct research on the effects of exotic species invasion on the presence of tiny cryptanthe. Identify and evaluate methods to control the invasion, including biological control, herbicides, and grazing.

· Develop a list of the potential effects of resource extraction. Make recommendations for appropriate regulatory agencies (i.e., develop plant species at risk guidelines for set-back distances).

· Convey recommendations and beneficial management practices to landowners and land managers through conservation and stewardship agreements. Communicate existing supportive land management practices where appropriate.

· Use adaptive management throughout to improve management practices.

· Examine the influence of companion vegetation (e.g. impact of canopy cover, litter, amount of bare soil).

· Recognize and ensure appropriate conservation and stewardship of tiny cryptanthe habitat.

Necessary3· Research· Lack of knowledge

· Examine the life cycle of tiny cryptanthe, including seed bank longevity, size of the seed banks, seed viability, impacts of rainfall, mechanisms of seed dispersal, seed germination rates, specific germination requirements, establishment requirements, rates of seed and seedling loss, seed production, and establishment success. Knowledge of reproductive ecology and population demographics will be important for assessing population viability.

· Investigate seed and pollen dispersal distances and the degree of isolation of populations (metapopulation dynamics).

· Investigate genetic variability within and between Canadian and U.S. populations.

· Establish a seed gene bank.

· Investigate systematics of plants within Canada and between Canada and the United States. This includes examining morphological differences between plants and whether there is hybridization with other Cryptantha species, such as Kelsey’s cryptanthe and Fendler’s cryptanthe.

· Determine the pollinators of tiny cryptanthe.

Beneficial4· Education/ communication

· Habitat loss/ degradation

· Modification of natural processes

· Invasive exotics

· Develop an overall approach to landowner and public communication. This may include factsheets and interpretation programs for the public, recreational users, and land managers.

· Develop a web site on tiny cryptanthe and its threats; encourage people to contribute sightings.

· Promote beneficial management practices to landowners and land managers.

· Coordinate among government departments and non-government organizations regarding surveying and landowner communication.

2.6  Critical Habitat

2.6.1  Critical Habitat Identification for Tiny Cryptanthe

Critical habitat is defined in the Species at Risk Act as “the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species and that is identified as the species’ critical habitat in the recovery strategy or in an action plan for the species” (Subsection 2(1)).

There is a lack of knowledge on many aspects of tiny cryptanthe (see section 2.9), which is preventing the identification of critical habitat at this time. Identification of critical habitat for an annual plant species, for which the most genetically diverse, abundant, and long-lived phase of the species is in the seed bank, cannot be accomplished by creating arbitrary boundaries around every individual or population found. For example, critical habitat may be related to disturbance factors, such as grazing, fire, and drought, that vary in time and space or to a particular successional stage of vegetation. This greatly complicates using fixed geographic coordinates to designate critical habitat. In addition, the majority of the information available on this species is based on recently collected one-year data and lacks the quantitative detail necessary to create a probabilistic model of tiny cryptanthe habitat associations suitable for identifying current and potential scientifically defensible critical habitat.

Although critical habitat is not being designated in this recovery strategy, there are areas and factors that will be the focus of future studies (see Table 1 and section 2.6.2 Schedule of studies to identify critical habitat). Identification of critical habitat will be based on the best scientific information available and expert opinion concerning the species’ present and historical range, habitat, biology, and threats. Information reviewed will include known locations, the reason for listing the species, recent biological surveys and reports, peer-reviewed literature, local people and First Nations knowledge, the recovery strategy, and discussions and recommendations from plant experts. All locations known to be inhabited by tiny cryptanthe will receive consideration for future designation as critical habitat. Specific locations and land descriptions of critical habitat will be determined during preparation of action plan(s) and may be withheld from the Public Registry to protect tiny cryptanthe as well as landowner privacy. Critical habitat will be identified with guidance from this recovery strategy as well as guidance from the Recovery Team and will be completed by 2009 as part of the action plan(s). Some of the locations could be identified as critical habitat sooner if sufficient information is collected.

2.6.2   Schedule of Studies to Identify Critical Habitat

General descriptions of significant habitat features and areas for tiny cryptanthe are provided in section 1.2.1 Specific areas in Canada and in Table 1. The future identification of critical habitat will consider areas in and around these sites, as well as any sites identified by further study.

Table 2 outlines recommended research and management activities to effect recovery and support in the identification of critical habitat. This section outlines specific recommended studies and actions necessary to identify critical habitat:

1)      Resurvey existing populations to determine abundance and extent at each site, using standardized methodology suitable for annual species. Since the boundaries of populations and numbers of plants fluctuate yearly, a few years of surveys are required to get a more accurate estimate of the extent of the seed bank. Also, detection probability modelling and seed dispersal studies can be used to estimate the seed bank abundance and distribution, which will aid in identifying habitat that should be designated as critical (to be completed by 2008).

2)      Collect information on habitat characteristics from known tiny cryptanthe populations, as well as unoccupied sites, to conduct habitat suitability modelling. This information may be analyzed using multivariate analysis to identify key variables for the occurrence of tiny cryptanthe. Analysis will assist in determining the potential suitability of habitat for focusing survey effort and identifying critical habitat (to be completed by 2007).

3)      Survey suitable habitat to look for additional sites. If new populations are found, a few years of inventory will be required to assess the extent and population size. Areas that appear suitable but where tiny cryptanthe has not been found may need to be surveyed again in favourable growing years to rule out the existence of a seed bank (to be completed by 2008).

4)      Perform population viability analyses (PVAs) on tiny cryptanthe populations. The PVA will assist in determining which populations are viable and therefore in prioritizing critical habitat designation. However, reliable PVAs typically require long-term data sets. Because of dormancy in plants, short-term studies have been found to inflate mortality estimates when used in PVAs (Menges 2000), and long-term experiments are often needed to quantify seed bank dynamics (Reed et al. 2002). Therefore, it is not likely that a reliable PVA can be completed within a few years for a fluctuating annual with limited data by the time critical habitat is designated in the action plan(s) in 2009. If this is the case, the best available biological knowledge collected to that time will be used to designate critical habitat for the action plan; once enough information has been collected for a PVA, the areas initially designated for critical habitat will be reassessed.

2.7  Effects on Non-target Species

A number of plant species at risk rely on sandy environments in the prairies, including small-flowered sand verbena (Tripterocalyx micranthus), hairy prairie-clover (Dalea villosa var. villosa), and smooth goosefoot (Chenopodium subglabrum). These species will benefit from research on sand hill environments. In addition, there are a number of provincially rare plant species that are found in the same habitat as tiny cryptanthe. These include stinking goosefoot (Chenopodium watsonii), Kelsey’s cryptanthe, nodding umbrella-plant (Eriogonum cernuum), false buffalo-grass (Munroa squarrosa), narrow-leaved umbrella-wort (Mirabilis linearis), and clammyweed (Polainsia dodecandra).

There are also a number of rare vertebrate species that use sandy habitat, including Ord’s kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ordii), olive-backed pocket mouse (Perognathus fasciatus), northern grasshopper mouse (Onychomys leucogaster) (Pattie and Fisher 1999), Western Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus) (Russell and Bauer 1993), and Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridus); these species may also benefit from the conservation of tiny cryptanthe habitat. There are also a number of invertebrate species found in close association with sand dune and sand plain habitats (e.g., tiger beetles, moths, burrowing wolf spiders, etc.; J. Acorn pers. comm.) that may benefit from conservation and management of sandy environments and dune ecosystems.

Sand hill and sand plain communities are very diverse, and management actions will need to maintain a variety of stages of dune stabilization (i.e., stabilized to active) to preserve ecological diversity. Recovery activities for tiny cryptanthe should be combined with activities for other species occurring in sand hill and sand plain ecosystems in the southern prairies. Efforts should be coordinated with other recovery teams for the most efficient use of resources and to prevent duplication of research. Creation of a multispecies action plan may be beneficial for the species inhabiting this ecosystem (e.g., Multiple Species at Risk, or MultiSAR, in Alberta; Downey et al. 2005).

2.8   Evaluation of Success

A number of measures will be used to evaluate the success of the recovery strategy. These include the continued persistence of existing populations and conservation of habitat, which can be measured through a monitoring program. In addition, increased awareness of tiny cryptanthe can be measured by feedback from landowners, comparing public awareness over time, measurable changes in management practices, and the number of agreements or other forms of protection established over time.

2.9   Additional Information Required

Knowledge gaps for tiny cryptanthe have been identified in section 2.3 Recovery Objectives, section 2.4 Research and Management Activities Recommended to Meet Objectives, and Table 2 and include:

1)      standardized guidelines for inventory and monitoring of tiny cryptanthe;

2)      full extent of population distribution and abundance;

3)      population trends of tiny cryptanthe;

4)      habitat preferences and critical habitat of tiny cryptanthe;

5)      effect and extent of factors influencing tiny cryptanthe habitat (e.g., timing and intensity of grazing, idling, fire control, invasive species);

6)      knowledge of the species’ life cycle, including mechanisms of seed dispersal and dispersal distances, seed production per plant, seed germination rates and establishment success, germination requirements, seed viability and overwintering success, seed bank longevity, rates of seed germination loss, rates of seed predation and decomposition, importance of seed bank to long-term population viability, population genetics, and identification of pollinators; and

7)      degree and effect of isolation from other populations.

2.10   Action Plan Timeline

The action plan(s) for tiny cryptanthe will be completed by January 2009. Action plans will be completed by jurisdictions with guidance from this recovery strategy and the Recovery Team. There is the potential for a multispecies or an ecosystem-based action plan that could benefit multiple species at risk inhabiting this ecosystem. Steps to achieve recovery as listed in the recovery objectives will be ongoing in the interim.

[1] Naturally occurring population refers to any population within the native range on naturally occurring habitat. It excludes horticultural populations or those that are dispersed by humans and establish themselves outside the native range or on unnatural habitats.