Some links: 70

A roundup of conservation and natural history links:

  • A team at Towson University has launched a microsite and apps (for Android and iOS) for tracking the spread of the highly invasive Wavy-leaf Basketgrass (Oplismenus hirtellus ssp. undulatifolius).
  • Janet Fang summarizes a paper by Railsback and Johnson: simulations of coffee plantation activity indicate that 5% land coverage in trees maximizes coffee yields. The overstory of trees reduces the amount of space for coffee shrubs, but it invites birds, who forage on destructive borer beetles.
  • Nancy L. Brill describes the survey that a team of entomologists made of invertebrate life in 50 ordinary Raleigh, N.C. homes. The typical house was host to 100 different species of arthropod.

    Several families were found in more than 90 percent of homes: gall midges (Cecidomyiidae), ants (Formicidae) and carpet beetles (Dermestidae), along with cobweb spiders (Theridiidae), dark-winged fungus gnats (Sciaridae), cellar spiders (Pholcidae), scuttle flies (Phoridae) and book lice (Liposcelididae). Most houses also had dust mites (Pyroglyphidae).

    Pics and interpretation at Arthropods of Our Homes.

  • Tovar Cerulli argues that hunters and non-hunters have more in common than they might think.

    When clashes occur, it is all too easy to fall back on reductive notions about liberal, elite environmentalists and conservative, redneck hunters—the “greens” versus “the hook-and-bullet crowd.” With partisans on both sides invoking stereotypes and the media portraying hunters and environmentalists as opponents, it is tempting to imagine stark lines between the two.

    But such divisions are too simplistic.

  • An American Bird Conservancy post makes the connection between coffee farming… and hummingbirds!
  • The Birding Wire picked up my profile (for Friends of the Migratory Bird [Duck] Stamp) of Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
  • A leader in Nature highlights a paper by Joshua J. Tewksbury et al., which calls for a revival in the practice of natural history. (I have the Tewksbury paper bookmarked but haven’t read it yet.)

    As natural history has been de-emphasized, molecular biology, genetics, experimental biology and ecological modelling have flourished. But here is the problem: many of those fields ultimately rely on data and specimens from natural history….

    No biology student should get a diploma without at least a single course in identifying organisms and learning basic techniques for observing and recording data about them.


Stories I missed: 1

From last summer, Joe Palca’s two-parter (one, two) about Scott O’Neill’s 20-year efforts to find a biological means to control and eventually eliminate dengue fever. I like the focus of Palca’s series: it’s not just about the newest published scientific results, it’s about the process of doing science.

“You know, I was incredibly persistent in not wanting to give this idea up,” O’Neill said. “I thought the idea was a good idea, and I don’t think you get too many ideas in your life, actually. At least I don’t. I’m not smart enough. So I thought this idea was a really good idea.”

Some links: 57

Making connections: a roundup of nature stories that have caught my eye recently:

  • GrrlScientist recaps a recent paper by Dan Strickland et al. that looks at the dependency between Gray Jays (Perisoreus canadensis) and conifers like Black Spruce (Picea mariana). The jays cache perishable food items like berries and mealworms, wedging the morsels into cracks in the bark of trees. Spruces supply a natural preservative, retaining the moisture of the stored snacks, that other northern tree species (birches, maples) don’t provide.
  • Rick Wright rereads Ludlow Griscom’s (1890-1959) master’s thesis, revised and enlarged for publication in The Auk in 1922-23 (part 1, part 2). The paper presents a field identification key to ducks of the east coast. In his emphasis on flight characteristics for distinguishing birds at middle- to long-distance, Griscom anticipates the current emphasis on jizz.
  • Sharon Levy summarizes recent research on the relationships between crop-pollinating bees like Apis mellifera and flowering plants in proximity to crop land: hedgerows of trees, introduced weeds, what have you. What may be the key to the bees’ success is the degree of plant diversity, be it native or alien.
  • Maria Dolan reports on the habitat threat to of Vaux’s Swifts (Chaetura vauxi). These west coast birds, like their eastern congeners, Chimney Swifts (C. pelagica), are dependent on old brick chimneys for roosting (historically, they used hollow trees, which have also become scarce as old-growth forest declines). But rickety brick piles, especially those in earthquake zones, are prime candidates for demolition.

Two into one

Via The Economist, recent research published by Evan Preisser and Joseph Elkinton yields an interesting result to those concerned with the conservation of Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) trees. From Virginia to Connecticut, the species has been getting clobbered by an invasive hemipteran, Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (Adelges tsugae), native to Asia. However, comes another sap-sucker, Elongate Hemlock Scale (Fiorinia externa), also invasive, to feed on the hemlock. According to the paper, in experimental infestations, trees inoculated with both bug species fare better than those inoculated with just the adelgid.

Lafayette trip report: 3

I closed out my field trips at the convention with a bang on Sunday, riding a van driven by Donna Dittmann and Steve Cardiff into Jeff Davis, Calcasieu, and Cameron Parishes west of town. We hit the farmland (much of it in rice) and refuge impoundments and saw a surprising variety of birds from various families, some of them I expected and some that I didn’t—American Coot (Fulica americana) (known locally as the “Ivory-Billed Gallinule”), the spectacularly-plumed Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus), shorebirds, waders, Dickcissel (Spiza americana), grackles, larids, and the “wow” bird of the trip, Northern Caracara (Caracara cheriway). We saw phalaropes doing their signature spinning; stilts on the nest; a mixed flock of cormorants, ibis, spoonbills, and egrets scaring up food; a nighthawk hunkered down on a fencepost; Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibia) actually hanging out with cattle. Donna pointed out some remnants of damage from Hurricane Rita, but we remained 30 miles inland or so, so we didn’t see the evidence that Amy Hooper witnessed on her field trip to the coast. The casualty of the trip was the tripod mount from my scope, which shattered (probably as a result of my abuse), but it’s all good, ’cause the mount never worked that well for me. I exceeded my best expectations for lifers for the whole convention, crashing through the 350-species milestone to end at #357.

looking for warblersWe spent the day before east of Lafayette in the Atchafalaya Basin. We scraped up some warblers and my target bird for the trip, Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris), on a walk led in part by Jim Delahoussaye, who lives along the river. (I first saw this bunting in a movie (maybe it was one of the Batman flicks), and when I saw this impossible-looking bird, colored with blocks of green and cherry red and electric blue, I figured that I must be looking at CGI effects.)

fire antsJim helped illustrate why you don’t want to step on the fire ant mounds.

on the bayouThen it was on to the water in a flotilla of three gas-powered flatboats. I didn’t see anything new here, though someone eared a Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora pinus). But, as my seatmate Dick put it, this part of the trip was “kinda touristy, but cool.” Our destination, such as it was, was a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nest. When boatman Jacques finally cut the engine, the stillness was so deep that we could hear the eagle vocalizing.

I got lucky and had great weather for the whole trip, in the sense that I wasn’t birding in the rain or in a 30-knot gale. The storms that blew through came on our off day. The hardcore among us took the frontal movement as a cue to hare off into Cameron Parish hoping for a fallout. And the mosquitoes behaved themselves!

On Friday, David Sibley presented on the confusions, delusions, and self-fulfilling expectations of field ID, and told some entertaining war stories, including one about the time that he identified a bit of red flagging tied to a barbed-wire fence as a Vermilion Flycatcher. My subtitle for the talk would be, “Why You May Not Want to Scramble Off to Delaware Every Time Someone Reports a Rarity on the Hotline.”

The highlight of Friday’s chalk talks was a short presentation by Keith Ouchley of the Nature Conservancy on the natural provinces of coastal Louisiana—the alluvial valley (a/k/a bottomland hardwood forest), the savannah-like longleaf pine forest, and the coastal prairies and marshes. Each has been transformed in its own way by agroforestry, as the tallgrass prairie has been converted to rice and sugar cane farming; the pine woods planted in faster-growing loblolly pine; and the alluvial region literally burned to make room for soybeans. We learned that Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis), a pine woods specialist, is responding to artificial nest cavities built into the trunks of trees.