When gnats attack

The last few weeks here in the Colorado State Office have been a whirlwind of change. It is 90 degrees today, and I look back to last month when it was snowing and hailing, and wonder: what happened to spring?

Orobancheae fassiculata found while scouting White River sites.

Though the flowers in their full abundance, and the sweet smells in the air throughout the front range do resemble the shift in seasons I know so well, the desert is quite a different story. The last few drought years here in Colorado have really taken a blow to some of its Western landscape.

This last week we have spent searching for two oil-shale loving penstemons. Penstemmon  scariosus var. albifluvis (White River Penstemon), and Penstemon grahamii.

Photo of Penstemmon  scariosus var. albifluvis

P. grahamii was listed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2006 when it appeared that extensive petroleum exploration could endanger the plant. The greatest potential threat to White River penstemon is also oil and gas development. Habitat disturbance from off road vehicle (ORV) use and trampling from cattle and sheep may be a factor influencing these plants, but these effects have not been sufficiently monitored (USDI-FWS, 2010).

This week we were lucky enough to scout, seek, and sample another population of White River Penstemon, however our search for Graham’s Penstemon was a lot more bleak. The drought appears to have effected the plats a lot more this year than in the past.

Additionally, the cedar gnats seem to have done a lot better with the drier years leading to a flesh feeding frenzy as soon as the females are ready to mate and lay eggs. In two of our days of field work, I was absolutely drenched in gnats so thick it was hard to even read my data sheet as I was writing. I made a mask out of a shopping bag, it was glorious.

Despite the gnat attack, it has been a pretty great week in Rangeley, CO. With some half-decent tacos consumed, a baby antelope and mule deer antler found, and a lot of desert botanizing, I now look forward to the weekend in preparation for the CLM training workshop next week.

Me and my fellow crew comrades doing field work, and a mule deer shed.

Hope to meet a few of you there.




Me loving life.



U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2010. Species assessment and listing priority assignment for White River penstemon (Penstemon scariosusvar. albifluvis. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Denver, Colorado. 17p.

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About Samantha Andres

I would consider myself an ecosystem ecologist interested in how anthropogenic changes influence ecological communities. The world we live in is a complex and dynamic system, and I wish to use science as a tool to better understand the implications and costs of some of the rapid changes that are upon us. With a greater understanding of how our world is changing, we can more effectively pinpoint areas of emphasis in management and conservation strategies in order to more efficiently protect ecosystem processes and biodiversity. This is a facet of research for which both my mental and moral compasses align, leading me to believe it is a path worth striving towards.

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