BRIT, Tarleton State to map rare plants

The Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), Tarleton State University and the Texas Department of Transportation are partnering to find and protect rare plant species along TxDOT rights-of-way in 23 counties in the Waco and Austin districts of Central Texas.

Through a TxDOT grant, Tarleton and Fort Worth-based BRIT will research and build habitat maps for 57 of the 81 Edwards Plateau rare plant species. The work includes identifying, documenting and mapping areas where these rare species most likely occur. TxDOT will use these maps to improve the department’s ability to protect the rare species, which grow along Texas highways.

For several of these species, roadsides represent a significant portion of the known populations. Conserving these species in their roadside habitat is critical to their survival.

Darrel Murray, adjunct professor in Tarleton’s Department of Wildlife, Sustainability and Ecosystem Sciences, said the project is important from two standpoints.

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“First,” he said, “from a collaboration standpoint, this project fits into the intent of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by Tarleton State University and BRIT in January of this year promoting common interests in education, research and service to the public. Second, from a conservation standpoint, if we locate rare plant species within TxDOT rights-of-way, these areas may be managed differently, with less disturbance, or with some form of mitigation.”

BRIT researchers will examine specimens of these plants on file in BRIT’s herbarium, noting species “habitat” and the geographical locations where the plants were found.

A Tarleton Geographic Information System specialist then will take the data and map and highlight potential locations where these plants most likely occur.

The research is expected to be completed, including site visits, by August 2017.