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Native Plants and Plovers

Kate Peterlein

California's coastal dunes were formed over thousands of years. Today, along with the species that depend on them for survival, they are in peril. Shaped by wind into curving ridges, coastal dunes are among the most dynamic and fragile natural formations. Within the Point Reyes National Seashore, invasive non-native plants are the most significant threat to the integrity of the flora and fauna of the coastal dune ecosystem. Without intensive management, the opportunity to restore this critical habitat could be lost and the survival of vital species threatened.

European Beach Grass (Ammophila arenaria) was first introduced in the late 1870s in Golden Gate Park to stop the natural shifting of dunes. It was so successful that the grass was planted in thousands of acres of West Coast sand dunes. As a result, the coastline, including Point Reyes, is largely lacking any intact native foredune plant communities. The establishment of Point Reyes National Seashore has protected dunes from development but not from this invasive species.

The Western Snowy Plover's coastal population was listed as threatened in 1993, due to habitat loss. Development, human disturbance, and encroachment of non-native vegetation are the main factors. The plover's population at Point Reyes has declined in the last few years and faces many challenges. PRBO has been assisting Point Reyes National Seashore in recovery efforts for the plover, monitoring the response of plovers to recommended management actions.

In response to poor reproductive success for Snowy Plovers at Point Reyes in recent years, PRBO recommended a more rigorous effort to enhance habitat on beaches. In 2001, hardworking crews, many of them volunteers, began removing large patches of Ammophila using only shovels. PRBO biologists and Point Reyes National Seashore staff together have focused this effort on areas critical for plovers, timing it to minimize disturbance to breeding birds. To date, crews have removed approximately 30 acres of Ammophila.

In 2003, plover pairs produced three nests in restored areas not previously used by the species. Adults were later observed attending their newly hatched young in these areas. This immediate result for a difficult restoration project holds promise for the vulnerable Snowy Plover population at Point Reyes.