Journal of Ecology and Environment

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Published online December 26, 2023

Journal of Ecology and Environment (2023) 47:28

Growth environment characteristics of the habitat of Epilobium hirsutum L., a class II endangered wildlife species

Kwang Jin Cho , Hyeong Cheol Lee , Sang Uk Han , Hae Seon Shin and Pyoung Beom Kim*

National Institute of Ecology, Changnyeong 50303, Republic of Korea

Correspondence to:Pyoung Beom Kim

Received: October 25, 2023; Revised: November 17, 2023; Accepted: November 17, 2023

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit The publisher of this article is The Ecological Society of Korea in collaboration with The Korean Society of Limnology

Background: As wildlife habitats are being destroyed and growth environments are changing, the survival of animals and plants is under threat. Epilobium hirsutum L., a species that inhabits wetlands, has held legally protected status since 2012. However, no specific measures are currently in place to protect its habitat, leading to a decline in remaining populations as a result of land use change and human activities.
Results: The growth environment (including location, climate, land use, soil, and vegetation) of the five habitat sites (Samcheok, Taebaek1, Taebaek2, Cheongsong, Ulleung) of E. hirsutum L. was investigated and analyzed. These habitats were predominantly situated in flat areas with gentle south-facing slopes, at an average altitude of 452.7 m (8–726 m) above sea level in Gangwon-do and Gyeongsangbuk-do. The average annual temperature ranged 11.5°C (9.2°C–12.9°C), whereas the average annual precipitation ranged 1,304.5 mm (1,062.7–1,590.7 mm). The surrounding land use status was mainly characterized by mountainous areas, and human interference, such as agricultural land and roads, was commonly found in proximity to these natural habitats. Soil physicochemical analysis revealed that the soil was predominantly sandy loam with a slightly high sand content. The average pH measured 7.64, indicating an alkaline environment, and electrical conductivity (EC) averaged 0.33 dS/m. Organic matter (OM) content averaged 66.44 g/kg, available phosphoric acid (P2O5) content averaged 115.73 mg/kg, and cation exchange capacity (CEC) averaged 23.43 cmolc/kg. The exchangeable cations ranged 0.09–0.43 cmol+/kg for potassium (K), 10.23–16.21 cmol+/kg for calcium (Ca), 0.67–4.94 cmol+/kg for magnesium (Mg), and 0.05–0.74 cmol+/kg for sodium (Na). The vegetation type was categorized as E. hirsutum community with high numbers of E. hirsutum L., Persicaria thunbergii (Siebold & Zucc.) H. Gross, Phragmites japonica Steud., Humulus japonicus (Siebold & Zucc.), and Bidens frondosa L.. An ecological flora analysis, including the proportion of lianas, naturalized plants, and annual herbaceous plants, revealed that the native habitat of E. hirsutum L. was ecologically unstable.
Conclusions: Analysis of the habitat of E. hirsutum L., a class II endangered wildlife species, provided essential data for local conservation and restoration efforts.

Keywords: ecoflora, ecology, ecosystems, endangered wildlife, Epilobium hirsutum L.

In recent years, wildlife habitats have encountered damage and environmental changes due to factors such as environmental pollution, climate change, and various development projects (land use change for urbanization, factory construction, resort construction, etc.), posing a threat to the survival of animals and plants (Forman 2001; Ko 2009; Rho and Choung 2006). In 2004, the enactment of the Wildlife and Plant Protection Act established a legal framework for the protection of wildlife and plants, consolidating regulations that had been dispersed across various law such as Natural Environment Conservation Act, Animals and Birds Protection and Hunting Control Act (Bang and An 2005). Under this framework, the Ministry of Environment (ME) of Korea has been legally preventing the extinction of endangered wildlife and systematically conserving their habitats. With the implementation of the Wildlife and Plant Protection Act, the number of endangered wildlife species expanded to 221 species (Bang and An 2005), and this number has continued to increase over the years, with 282 species designated and managed as of 2022 (Korea Law Information Center 2023).

Meanwhile, Epilobium hirsutum L., a perennial herbaceous plant of the family Onagraceae (Lee 1996), was designated as a class II endangered wildlife species in 2012 (Korea Law Information Center 2023). However, specific measures for protecting its natural habitat are lacking, leading to a population decline due to human-induced damage such as wetland filling, cultivation, and riverbank maintenance (KNA 2021). Information on the growth environment of this target plant is crucial in establishing conservation strategies for endangered wildlife and restoring its native habitat (Song et al. 2009). In Korea, surveys and studies have been conducted on endangered wildlife and rare plants, such as Pedicularis hallaisanensis Hurus., Polygonatum stenophyllum Maxim., Mankyua chejuense B.Y.Sun et al., and Viola websteri Hemsl., to investigate their habitat location, soil composition, and vegetation structure (Kim et al. 2018; Lee et al. 2012; Song et al. 2009, 2010). Research on E. hirsutum L. has focused on seasonal variations in reproduction, physiological responses to soil moisture and organic matter (OM) (Lee et al. 2018), seed germination characteristics (Cho 2019), cultivation in smart farms (Park 2020), and the development of habitat creation plans (Kim 2022). In addition, location information for growth sites has been documented via flora surveys in specific areas (Jang et al. 2019; Kim et al. 2022). However, research on the growing environment of the E. hirsutum L. is limited. Therefore, this study aimed to identify the soil, vegetation, and surrounding land use status of the E. hirsutum L., providing essential baseline data for conservation and restoration efforts both at domestic and international levels.

Investigation areas

Based on a literature review, two regions in Gangwon-do (Singi-myeon, Samcheok-si and Sangsami-dong, Taebaek-si) and two regions in Gyeongsangbuk-do (Juwangsan-myeon, Cheongsong-gun and Ulleung-eup, Ulleung-gun) were selected as study areas for habitat environment analysis (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Location and geographical data of survey sites. UL: Ulleung; SC: Samcheok; TB01: Taebaek1; TB02: Taebaek2; CS: Cheongsong.

Growing environment analysis

For analyzing the growth environmental conditions, environmental factors such as altitude, slope, and slope direction were identified. For this survey, continuous numerical map data at a scale of 1:5,000 provided by the National Geographic Information Institute (NGII) of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport were utilized (NGII 2023), and they were analyzed using quantum geographic information system (QGIS), an open-source program. Furthermore, the meteorological data were analyzed using data from the Korea Meteorological Administration’s (KMA) National Climate Data Center for the last 20 years (2003–2022) for the following locations closest to the survey site: Hwangji-dong, Taebaek-si and Singi-ri, Singi-myeon, Samcheok-si and Sangui-ri, Budong-myeon, Cheongsong-gun and Sadong-ri, Ulleung-gun (KMA 2023).

Current land use status analysis

The current land use status was investigated within a 500 m radius of the survey point. Regarding the land use data, the most recent land cover classification map provided by the ME (ME 2023) was used, and the entire process was analyzed and mapped using QGIS.

Soil survey

Soil samples were collected from five locations where vegetation surveys were conducted. An aliquot was taken from a depth of approximately 20 cm below the surface, and the sample was subsequently dried and stored at room temperature. The samples were analyzed by the Foundation for the Commercialization of Agricultural Technology for ten categories: particle size composition, pH, electrical conductivity (EC), OM content, available phosphoric acid (P2O5), exchangeable potassium (K), exchangeable calcium (Ca), exchangeable magnesium (Mg), exchangeable sodium (Na), and cation exchange capacity (CEC).

Vegetation survey

The vegetation survey was conducted following phytosociological methods, which take into consideration habitat and species composition (Braun-Blanquet 1965; Kim and Lee 2006). Qualitative and quantitative data collection for species was conducted by categorizing strata within the survey area and recording the list of species along with their abundance in each stratum. The decision of the coverage was determined using the combined cover degree with ranks ranging 1–9 (Kim and Lee 2006; Westhoff and Van der Maarel 1973). Quantitative comparisons of emergent species were performed using the relative net contribution degree (r-NCD). In addition to the phytosociological vegetation survey, detailed study methods, field surveys, and indoor analyses were employed to derive vegetation types, adhering to the phytosociological vegetation survey and assessment method (Kim and Lee 2006). Furthermore, species composition was analyzed based on the flora obtained from the vegetation survey data. This analysis involved the determination of the number of occurring species, dormancy form (Lee 1996), climbing plant species, naturalized plants (Lee et al. 2011; Ryu et al. 2017) and the calculation of naturalized ratio using naturalized plants (Numata 1975). Climbing plants were categorized as liane form species within Lee’s (1996) growth forms. Species and scientific names adhered to the National Inventory of Biological Resources (National Institute of Biological Resources 2020).

Growing environment characteristics

The natural habitat of E. hirsutum L. is primarily located on southeastern, southwestern, and northwestern slopes with an average altitude of 452.7 m (ranging 8–726 m) and average inclination of 8.6° (ranging 1°–25°) (Table 1). It was found to be observed in a horizontal manner in agricultural ditches of river headwaters and tributaries in Gangwon- do and the northern regions of Gyeongsangbuk-do. In addition, it was found on the edge of the mountainous area adjacent to the coast in Ulleung.

Table 1 . Vegetation table of Epilobium hirsutum community.

Running No.12345r-NCDDormancy form
Height of herb layer (m)
Coverage of herb layer (%)95951009595
Area (m2)64324
Slope directionSESWSESENW
Inclination (°)2551210
Altitude (m)8100726726251
Number of species111915811
Differential species of community
Epilobium hirsutum L.33744100.0G
Companion species
Persicaria thunbergii (Siebold & Zucc.) H. Gross--28748.6HH (Th)
Phragmites japonica Steud.46--234.3HH
Humulus japonicus Siebold & Zucc.a-2-1728.6Th
Bidens frondosa L.b-225-25.7Th
Oenanthe javanica (Blume) DC.3-11-14.3HH
Artemisia indica Willd.-2-2114.3Ch
Commelina communis L.-13-114.3Th
Boehmeria spicata (Thunb.) Thunb.-7--319.0Ch
Persicaria japonica (Meisn.) H. Gross ex Nakai--41-9.5HH
Amphicarpaea bracteata subsp. edgeworthii (Benth.) H. Ohashia--3-29.5Th
Angelica dahurica (Fisch. ex Hoffm.) Benth.& Hook. f. ex Franch. & Sav.--2-39.5G
Setaria viridis (L.) P. Beauv.12---5.7Th
Cerastium glomeratum Thuill.b-12--5.7Th

Accidental species that observed in a single site (combined cover degree, r-NCD value, dormancy form): No. 1: Ampelopsis brevipedunculata (Maxim.) Trautv.a 9 8.6 N, Equisetum arvense L. 3 2.9 G, Pueraria lobata (Willd.) Ohwia 3 2.9 Ch, Petasites japonicus (Siebold & Zucc.) Maxim. 2 1.9 H, Cyperus amuricus Maxim. 2 1.9 Th, Rumex crispus L.b 1 1.0 H, Portulaca oleracea L. 1 1.0 Th, No. 2: Dactylis glomerata L.b 6 5.7 H, Festuca arundinacea Schreb.b 4 3.8 H, Boehmeria platanifolia Franch. & Sav. 3 2.9 Ch, Impatiens textori Miq. 2 1.9 Th, Dendranthema boreale (Makino) Ling 2 1.9 H, Synurus deltoides (Aiton) Nakai 2 1.9 G, Erigeron annuus (L.) Pers.b 1 1.0 Th (w), Oenothera biennis L.b 1 1.0 Th (w), Nasturtium officinale W.T. Aitonb 1 1.0 HH, Stellaria aquatica (L.) Scop. 1 1.0 Th (w), No. 3: Geranium sibiricum L. 7 6.7 H, Sedum sarmentosum Bunge 5 4.8 H, Cnidium monnieri (L.) Cusson 3 2.9 Th (w), Vicia japonica A. Graya 2 1.9 G, Galinsoga quadriradiata Ruiz & Pav.b 2 1.9 Th, Chenopodium album L. 1 1.0 Th, No. 4: Phalaris arundinacea L. 2 1.9 HH, No. 5: Mentha canadensis L. 2 1.9 G, Oplismenus undulatifolius (Ard.) Roem. & Schult. 1 1.0 H.

UL: Ulleung; SC: Samcheok; TB01: Taebaek1; TB02: Taebaek2; CS: Cheongsong; r-NCD: relative net contribution degree; G: geophyte; HH: hydatophyte; Th: therophyte; Ch: chamaephyte; N: nanophanerophyte; H: hemicryptophyte; -: not applicable.

aLiane, bnaturalized plant.

The average annual temperature of the native sites was 12.7°C in Samcheok, 9.2°C in Taebaek, 11.2°C in Cheongsong, and 12.9°C in Ulleung, and the average annual precipitation was 1,269.9 mm in Samcheok, 1,294.8 mm in Taebaek, 1,062.7 mm in Cheongsong, and 1,590.7 mm in Ulleung, with Ulleung having the highest values for both average annual temperature and average annual precipitation (Table 2). The higher mean annual precipitation in Ulleung county compared with other areas is likely attributable to greater winter snowfall compared with those regions (Lee 1979). This variation may have influenced the mean annual precipitation. Although the average summer temperatures in the study area did not considerably differ, there were notable differences in average winter temperatures. The average winter temperature in Taebaek and Ulleung exhibited a difference of 6.2°C. Epilobium hirsutum L. is a nondormant seed species and is not considerably influenced by temperature. It has a germination rate of approximately 90% under light conditions, with uneven germination rates under dark conditions (Cho 2019). All the sites in this study were located in open, sunny conditions with high light levels and relatively high soil OM content. Given the germination characteristics of the species, these conditions are considered suitable for the continued growth of the species unless direct disturbances affecting habitat degradation occur.

Table 2 . 20 years of meteorological data from the Epilobium hirsutum L. habitats area.

SiteMean temperature for 20 yr (°C)Winter-time mean temperature (°C)Mean minimum temperature of the coldest month (°C)Summer-time mean
temperature (°C)
Mean maximum temperature of the hottest month (°C)Mean precipitation
for 20 yr
SC12.71.1Jan. 2011, –8.423.3Aug. 2013, 32.71,269.9
TB9.2–3.4Jan. 2011, –13.820.6Aug. 2013, 29.71,294.8
CS11.2–1.4Jan. 2011, –13.422.7Aug. 2010, 32.31,062.7
UL12.92.8Jan. 2011, –3.222.2Aug. 2013, 29.81,590.7

SC: Samcheok; TB: Taebaek; CS: Cheongsong; UL: Ulleung.

Land use characteristics

Analysis of land use around the Ulleung habitat, situated at the edge of the forest near the coast, revealed that water bodies covered the largest area (41.4%), followed by forest (26.8%) and grassland (16.0%). In Samcheok habitat, located along Muryeong Stream on Ulmi Mountain, and in Cheongsong habitat, adjacent to Jubang Stream within Juwangsan National Park, forest areas were predominant, occupying 62.9% and 63.3%, respectively, whereas the proportion of agricultural areas was relatively low at 4.3% and 13.5%, respectively. Conversely, Taebaek habitat, located near agricultural waterways, exhibited a higher distribution ratio in agricultural areas (39.7%–40.9%) compared with forests (15.5%–18.1%). However, satellite image confirmation of grassland areas (32.3%–35.3%) revealed that the proportion of forest areas was indeed higher, as some areas appeared cut forest sites (Table 3). Epilobium hirsutum L.’s natural habitat is primarily characterized by mountainous terrain, and ongoing human interference, including residential, agricultural, road, and commercial developments, can potentially result in damage. Therefore, it is crucial to regularly monitor E. hirsutum L. populations and consider proactive on-site conservation strategies, such as access restrictions, protective fencing, and informative signage for promotion and management.

Table 3 . Land use status of the survey area (radius 500 m).

SiteLegendArea (m2)Ratio (%)Map

UL: Ulleung; SC: Samcheok; TB01: Taebaek1; TB02: Taebaek2; CS: Cheongsong.

Soil properties

Following soil physicochemical analysis, it was found that the soils at the survey locations were predominantly sand, silt, and clay, with average proportions of 56.78%, 32.26%, and 10.96%, respectively (Table 4). The soil was predominantly sandy loam with a slightly high sand content. Analysis of the chemical properties of the soil revealed that the pH averaged 7.64 (ranging 6.90–8.30), indicating that the soil was slightly alkaline. This pH level is higher than the average pH of 5.5 in Korean forest soil (Jeong et al. 2002) and the average pH of 6.3 in river sediment soil (Jang et al. 2019). It is also similar to the pH range (ranging 6.49–7.28) of streamside-growing P. stenophyllum Maxim. (Song et al. 2009). The EC averaged 0.33 dS/m, which is within the average range for stream sediment soils analyzed by Zhang et al. (2011). By region, the soil at Cheongsong-gun was found to have slightly higher EC (0.50 dS/m), while the values for other survey areas were not significantly different (ranging 0.27–0.33 dS/m). The average OM content of the sediment was 66.44 g/kg, which was much higher than the average value of river sediments of 8 g/kg (Zhang et al. 2011). It tended to be slightly higher than the river wetlands, Bangujeong Wetland in Gokseong-gun (average 59.91 g/kg) and Omcheon Reedbed Wetland in Jangheung-gun (average 41.13 g/kg) (NIE 2022). Specifically, Samcheok had the highest value of 110.16 g/kg compared with other regions, whereas Ulleung had the lowest value of 26.20 g/kg (Table 5). The natural settlement and growth of wet vegetation in rivers are believed to influence soil OM content (NIE 2022). In the case of Samcheok, the number of species in the habitat was higher than that in other areas, and the incidence of herbaceous plants with large plant parts was also greater, suggesting that the development of such vegetation influenced OM content. The lower OM content in Ulleung was attributed to the habitat’s location on a steep slope along the mountain’s margins and the presence of adjacent building construction, creating an unfavorable environment for OM accumulation in the soil. The P2O5, the form of phosphorus that can be taken up or used by plants, averaged 115.73 mg/kg (ranging 8.43–295.32 mg/kg), with significant regional variations. Notably, it was found to be high in Taebaek1 (295.32 mg/kg) and Ulleung (185.26 mg/kg), likely as a result of the influence of artificially applied fertilizers and manure due to the presence of cultivated land and livestock farms in these areas.

Table 4 . Soil texture of the habitats of Epilobium hirsutum L.

SiteSand (%)Silt (%)Clay (%)Texture
UL53.736.89.5Sandy loam
SC78.516.64.9Loamy sand
TB0257.330.612.1Sandy loam
CS54.232.613.2Sandy loam
Average56.7832.2610.96Sandy loam

UL: Ulleung; SC: Samcheok; TB01: Taebaek1; TB02: Taebaek2; CS: Cheongsong.

Table 5 . Chemical properties of soil in the habitats of Epilobium hirsutum L.

Ex. K
Ex. Ca (cmol+/kg)Ex. Mg (cmol+/kg)Ex. Na (cmol+/kg)
Mean ± SD7.64 ± 0.450.33 ± 0.0966.44 ± 26.89115.73 ± 108.4423.43 ± 6.150.25 ± 0.1113.54 ± 2.082.71 ± 1.490.24 ± 0.26

EC: electrical conductivity; OM: organic matter; CEC: cation exchange capacity; Ex.: exchangeable; UL: Ulleung; SC: Samcheok; TB01: Taebaek1; TB02: Taebaek2; CS: Cheongsong; SD: standard deviation.

Vegetation characteristics

Five vegetation datasets were obtained from Taebaek-si, Samcheok-si, and Ulleung-gun, where the E. hirsutum L. grows. Through these data, the E. hirsutum community consisting of 40 taxa (20 and 38 genus, 39 species, 1 subspecies; averaging 12.8 species per site) was classified. Epilobium hirsutum community was characterized by the presence of E. hirsutum L. itself, and plant species contributing remarkably with relative cover values of ≥20.0, including Persicaria thunbergii (Siebold & Zucc.) H. Gross, Phragmites japonica Steud., Humulus japonicus (Siebold & Zucc.), and Bidens frondosa L, commonly found in riparian wetlands (Table 1). The dormancy form of plant species appearing in E. hirsutum community was identified by therophytes (Th, Th [w], HH [Th]) accounting for 40.0%, followed by hemicryptophytes (H) with 20.0%, and geophytes (G) with 15.0% (Table 6). Moreover, E. hirsutum community exhibited a relatively high composition ratio of liane plants (5 species, 12.5%), naturalized plants (9 species, 22.5%), and annual plants (16 species, 40.0%) (Table 7). This composition was higher than the percentage of naturalized plants in Korea cultivated fields where anthropogenic interference is frequent (Kim et al. 2016) and slightly lower than the annual herbaceous plants composition ratio in orchards (Kim et al. 2019). The proximity of this community to roads, factories, residences, and cultivated land provides circumstantial evidence that the habitat of E. hirsutum L. is unstable.

Table 6 . Dormancy form of the vascular plants in the Epilobium hirsutum community.

Dormancy formaPerennialAnnual
ChGHHHNThTh (w)HH (Th)
No. of taxa468511141
Ratio (%)

aCh: chamaephyte; G: geophyte; H: hemicryptophyte; HH: hydatophyte; M: microphanerophyte; MM: megaphanerophyte; N: nanophanerophyte; Th: therophyte.

Table 7 . Floral characteristics of Epilobium hirsutum community.

Floral characteristicsTotal
No. of taxa40
No. of annual plant16
No. of liane5
No. of naturalized plant9
Naturalized index (%)22.5

This study investigated and analyzed the growth environments of the endangered wild plant species, E. hirsutum L., in five natural habitats. Epilobium hirsutum L. was observed in open, well-lit river sediment areas, and along embankments in agricultural regions. Organic matter content of the sediments was generally high, with the exception of the Ulleung-do habitat, which had steeply sloping mountainous margins. However, the areas surrounding the native habitat were characterized by the presence of agricultural fields, roads, factories, and residences, with ongoing farming activities (Table 3). This situation highlighted the need for active management measures to mitigate artificial interference. The vegetation type was characterized by E. hirsutum community, with the species composition comprising plant species commonly found in riparian wetlands. Furthermore, the ecological characteristics of the plant species within the community confirmed the unstable nature of E. hirsutum L.’s habitat.

CEC: Cation exchange capacity

EC: Electrical conductivity

KLIC: Korean Law Information Center

KMA: Korea Meteorological Administration

KNA: Korea National Arboretum

ME: Ministry of Environment

NGII: National Geographic Information Institute

NIBR: National Institute of Biological Resources

NIE: National Institute of Ecology

OM: Organic matter

QGIS: Quantum geographic information system

r-NCD: Relative net contribution degree

KJC conducted the field survey, performed the analysis and wrote the manuscript. HCL and SUH conducted the field survey and reviewed the manuscript. HSS analyzed the land use status and wrote the manuscript. PBK conducted field surveys, analyzed weather data and soil properties and wrote manuscripts. KJC received a reseach grant. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.

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