Wednesday, June 25, 2014

EPN Breakfast/talk/walk - July 8!

The Environmental Professionals Network (EPN) was launched only a year or so ago, but it has already morphed into a large network of like-minded people who either work in various environmental fields, wish to work in an environmental organization, are students, or just have an interest in the natural sciences. A staple activity of the EPN are its monthly breakfasts, which feature a speaker.
 
I was flattered to be tapped by the EPN's executive director, David Hanselmann, to give July's talk (DETAILS HERE). Normally the EPN meets on Ohio State University's West Campus, but this meeting will be different. We are gathering at the fabulous Grange Insurance Audubon Center along the banks of the Scioto River, just south of downtown Columbus. Following the program, I'll take any interested parties out to look for birds, plants, and any forms of wildlife that we might encounter.
 
This is the little known Trimble Wildlife Area in Athens County (now subsumed into the much more expansive Wally O'Dowd Wildlife Area). Trimble is a treasure trove of native flora, and as you might expect, harbors an abundant and diverse fauna.

The title of my program is:

Plants Make the World Go 'Round: Why We Must Protect Our Native Ecosystems.

I hope to talk about the big picture of how plants foster much of the animal diversity that we see, the changes that have occurred to our landscape since European settlement, and the importance of protecting biodiversity for humankind's sake. Of course, there will be plenty of photos!

Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, one of our most valuable native plants. It and its other milkweed brethren have recently garnered the limelight, due to extreme drops in monarch butterfly populations. Monarchs require plants in the milkweed family for their host plants (plants that the caterpillars can eat).

Milkweeds do not only host monarchs; they support staggering animal diversity. A good milkweed is a self-standing botanical kingdom populated by legions of insects, both specialists and generalists. This is an orange assassin bug, Pselliopus barberi, hunting for prey on the buds of a common milkweed.

Nearly all native plants have their complement of specialists, sometimes many, sometimes few. This bizarre creature is a butternut woollyworm, Eriocampa juglandis, whose fate is largely tied to that of its host plants, the black walnut and butternut. The filamentous waxy appendages that adorn the insect's caterpillarlike body create the illusion of an unsavory piece of fungus  - possibly a ploy to deter would-be predators.

When it comes to eating plants, no one does it better than the Lepidoptera: butterflies and moths. This stunning insect is a dark-banded geometer, Ecliptopera atricolorata, and its caterpillars eat... no one seems to know. There are still scores of animals, even beautiful ones such as this, that we know very little about. However you can be reasonably sure that this geometer's caterpillars are eating some sort of native plant, as do the overwhelming majority of Ohio's 3,000 or so other moth species.

Our native habitats have generally fared poorly since Europeans began the colonization of North America. This chestnut-sided warbler is an exception. John James Audubon, in all his wanderings some 200 years ago, only saw this species once. Today, the chestnut-sided warbler is very common, and a birder out in spring migration in Ohio might see dozens. The reason: wholesale land use changes.

Not all birds fared as well as the warbler. This year marks the centennial of the passing of the last passenger pigeon, which was once the most numerous bird on earth. We caused its demise in an incredibly short time. We would be wise to remember the pigeon, as we watch the formerly abundant monarch butterfly apparently floundering.

Anyway, that's a taste of what I hope to touch on in my talk on July 8. All are welcome, and you can get the complete scoop on the event RIGHT HERE.

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