Annual Meeting of the Indiana Academy of Science

Well… looks like I’m only about 4 weeks behind on blogging. Winter & spring is generally the conference season. I took a trip down to Indianapolis on March 30th to present my prairie research at 134th annual meeting of the Indiana Academy of Science. What a breath of fresh air! Hoosier practitioners, academics, and students from every discipline celebrating their passion for the natural sciences.

(Here’s where I’d put a photo of lots of happy people milling about drinking coffee and talking about science… but I never took that photo!)

I was fortunate to have a great set of advisors during my graduate school experience at Taylor University. Prof. Robert Reber and his students have continued to collect data on the prairie restoration that was the subject of my thesis. That made it possible to give a brief update/presentation on year six of the project (my thesis, by design, only had one year of data).

Talks were only 12 minutes + 3 min Q&A. Rapid fire! Keep it simple, and brief.

To greatly oversimplify the project… grasses have tended to dominate prairie restorations (reconstructions) over time, pushing out the wildflowers (forbs) that make up most of the species diversity. There are no bison left to graze the grasses they prefer, and it’s logistically difficult to graze with cattle on many of the sites.

To address this, managers must use mowing, grazing, burning, and/or grass herbicide to give the wildflowers a chance. We did an experiment with applications of grass herbicide in conjunction with an overseeding of new wildflower species. We found that the herbicide aided the new species to germinate, grow, and flower, much better than if the grasses was left completely untreated. These effects persisted into year six, three years after we stopped herbicide treatment.

If you are a glutton for punishment, you can read the 2014 study here.

Anyway, IAS is a great place to share ideas, network, and spawn new projects and relationships. Here were a few talks I really enjoyed:

Burnell C. Fischer of Indiana University presented a study redlining practices in Indiana, giving a picture of the extent of environmental racism in the our state. “Analysis using a geographic information system (GIS) was conducted to detect evidence of an ecological legacy of redlining. Using this method, evidence of relatively high-intensity development, low greenspace and forest cover, and disproportionately high incidences of brownfield sites, Superfund sites, industrial waste sites, and Interstate highways were detected in historically redlined zones in Indianapolis.” His abstract can be found here.

Next were studies on various forested ecosystem, specifically at the Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment in southern Indiana. It’s a massive project with plans to last 100 years! Seriously, go read about it. This presentation was about how bats use various types of logged and unlogged forests.

(Forgive me… I’m really out of time to craft a super detailed blog with everyone’s names and research sites appropriately linked. Gotta plug ahead. More pictures!).

Also from the same forest was a study of the species of moths and butterflies. THEY DOCUMENTED OVER 1,000 SPECIES. Yes, read that again. Just moths and butterflies! …. Really!

The next guy talked native bees. We have around 400 species in the state known to science. THEY FOUND OVER 100 BEES IN THIS ONE FOREST! It really is mind blowing how much biodiversity there is, and shocking how little research and basic baseline data is available. I was in the room asking these the top entomologists in the state and… there’s just so much work left to do.

We are scientists… but we love art too! This was the great work from Blue Aster Studio. Go visit their Etsy page and buy all their stuff!

This student-researcher was taking blood samples from river otters to survey the amount of lead that is present in our lakes and streams. The sources included leaded gun shot, as well as previous industrial activities.

Can you tell these are my people? Yes, these are my people. I had such a great time being with my tribe.

I took our all-electric Nissan LEAF to the conference and stopped at the Keystone Mall on the north side of Indianapolis to give it a fast charge (here’s an explanation of the different kinds of EV charging). While I was waiting on the charge, I got some steps in at the mall and… came across a Tesla store. Tesla has become the gold standard for EV technology & charging infrastructure, with all the other manufactures playing catch-up. Their new Superchargers now charge 5 times faster than the “fast” charge I was hooked up to.

I managed to walk away without signing any paperwork, and returned in one piece. Conference time is happy time! It’s important to stay current in one’s field, network with other professionals trying new things, and of course sharing your own work for the benefit of others.

More later … about another and even more amazing conference!

small parcels for conservation

Here’s a post/photo that we published on our Facebook page, and I thought I’d replicate it here:


Scientists are warning us that we are causing the Earth’s 6th mass extinction event. A 2017 report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes a “biological annihilation,” amounting to a “frightening assault on the foundations of human civilization”.

Pope Francis likewise cautions us in Laudato si’ (2015) that “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.” (para. 33)

This is a pivotal time for us as a species. The urgent task before us as stewards is to make it through the 21st century with as much biodiversity as we can. The genetic diversity of our biosphere (biodiversity) is the source of our earthly sustenance.

This means more than just saving a few large and distant national parks. There is now increasing evidence that smaller plots of forests, remnant prairies, and small lakes and ponds are much more important to biodiversity than previously thought by Western scientists.

We need to build a culture of education and stewardship to empower small landowners throughout the rural Midwest.

Pictured is a two-acre oak woodland adjacent our alfalfa and crop fields. As a part of our management, we recently conducted a prescribed burn in this woods to encourage the growth of native oaks, hickories, and wildflowers. This also increases this ability of this small woodland community to withstand the hot, dry, and fire-prone conditions that climate change is bringing to Indiana.

What are some ways that we can encourage and support land stewardship by small landowners throughout the Midwest?

For further reading, see:

Opinion: Why we should save the last tiny scraps of nature

the drone has really helped us see our land from a new perspective

hold the date… it’s BioBlitz time!

the whole world a laboratory, a horizon, a home

Have you ever wondered how many types of butterflies the Moontree Studios prairie supports?

To find out, be sure to hold the date of June 29-30 and join us for Marshall County’s first ever BioBlitz.

A BioBlitz – short for Biodiversity Blitz – is a 24-hour biological survey. All 1,100 acres at The Center at Donaldson will become a laboratory for scientific research. Scientists and enthusiasts from across the state will converge to look for and count every species they can find – fish, butterflies, mammals, dung beetles, wildflowers… everything!

After a tour through our lake, wetlands, pastures, and hardwood forests, we were selected by the Indiana Academy of Sciences to be the BioBlitz host site for 2019, which rotates throughout the state from year to year. (You can find results from previous years here). Results of the survey will be compiled and published in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science, Indiana’s premier scientific journal

Preparations are under way. Did you know that The Center at Donaldson has hardwood forests that could house an endangered bat species? Join my bat biologist colleague who is planning to survey for them at night. More of a morning person than a night owl? Our birding team will be up early to count the maximum number of species.

You don’t need to be an expert or a scientist. We are planning a family-friendly, fun, and accessible experience for all people. Who knows… maybe even a bonfire, some S’mores, and camping on the prairie.

Biodiversity isn’t just for large national parks. In the Midwest, the rural countryside hosts a majority of our species and needs our attention and care. Please join us!

What is this gal doing in Marshall County? Come find out!

news round-up (conservation biology edition)

Time for another news round up!

I’ve been “accumulating” links from some interesting stories (and I haven’t even read every last word of them). I thought I would curate these into a single subject matter. This time I picked Conservation Biology, “the management of nature and of Earth’s biodiversity with the aim of protecting species, their habitats, and ecosystems from excessive rates of extinction and the erosion of biotic interactions.”

Happy reading!

Biodiversity thrives in Ethiopia’s church forests: Ecologists are working with the nation’s Tewahedo churches to preserve these pockets of lush, wild habitat. (Nature)

Dramatic flow from Mexico: Monarchs poured into Texas in substantial numbers during the past week. The migration’s leading edge is now 950 miles from Mexico’s overwintering sites. Western Population: Where are they now? (Journey North, March 21, 2019)

The secret to turtle hibernation: Butt-breathing // To breathe or not to breathe, that is the question. What would happen if you were submerged in a pond where the water temperature hovered just above freezing and the surface was capped by a lid of ice for 100 days? Well, obviously you’d die. And that’s because you’re not as cool as a turtle. And by cool I don’t just mean amazing, I mean literally cool, as in cold. Plus, you can’t breathe through your butt. But turtles can, which is just one of the many reasons that turtles are truly awesome. (The Conversation)

In Defense of Biodiversity: Why Protecting Species from Extinction Matters: A number of biologists have recently made the argument that extinction is part of evolution and that saving species need not be a conservation priority. But this revisionist thinking shows a lack of understanding of evolution and an ignorance of the natural world.  (Yale E360)

Why we should save the last tiny scraps of nature: Ecologists long thought small or secluded fragments of habitat weren’t of much value for nature. Recent research says otherwise. (Ensia)

Like Pheasants? Thanks a Coyote. Coyotes are not major predators of pheasants or their nests or chicks (Pheasants Forever)

Why Natural Areas? (reflection from a top US ecologist in Missouri Natural Areas Journal)

Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’: Insects could vanish within a century at current rate of decline, says global review (Guardian, linking to scientific article in Biological Conservation)