biodiversity

Dr. Pamela S. Soltis, Founding Director of University of Florida Biodiversity Institute, Distinguished Professor and Curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History

We are living in a new geological era, termed the Anthropocene, in reference to human impact on our planet. This impact has led to extinction rates that are 1000 times higher than background extinction and the view that we are currently witnessing the Sixth Mass Extinction – this one caused by human activities. Climate change is forcing plants to respond to altered temperatures, precipitation, community structure, and more. Although some plant species are able to tolerate these alterations, others are being pushed closer to extinction. Successful conservation requires a multi-pronged approach, with data and tools from diverse sources. The world’s herbaria house nearly 350 million specimens, collected over centuries, and together these specimens hold immense information about plant species habitats and distributions. Through digitization of natural history specimens, this information is becoming increasingly available for modeling, computation, and other analyses. These digitized herbarium data have much to offer the field of plant conservation. For example, ecological niche modeling of rare species can help forecast future distributions and clarify potential future threats. Development of phylogenetic diversity indices for geographic regions of interest can also help identify areas that should be prioritized for conservation based on the distributions and evolutionary history captured regionally. Examples from the Florida flora will be presented to illustrate these new applications for “old” data.

Date Recorded: 
Monday, March 2, 2020

Shana Byrd, The Dawes Arboretum

Prairie was once a dominant grassland ecosystem, covering millions of hectares in the United States. Today, this unique habitat is among the most critically endangered biomes in North America. While eastern deciduous forest was the historical cover throughout most of Ohio, small populations of original prairie habitat existed in the state. Restoring the diversity offered by these historic ecosystems is a worthwhile goal that can support the sensitive species that depend on them. Recent studies on mine lands have supported the survival of native species in reclamation efforts, leading to insights on how this approach can be applied to rehabilitate other challenging landscapes. A five year study is underway at The Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio to explore the practice of using native species in seed mixes to restore diversity on electric utility rights-of-way. Many perennial species in the native seed mix will mature slowly and therefore were not expected to be present in the initial years of evaluation. However, in year 3 of the study, 84% of the species in the native seed mix (22 of 26 species) were recorded as successfully established within the study plots. Biological surveys indicate a variety of insects utilize the plots, including 33 butterfly species, 16 beneficial insect families, and 14 bee taxa. Preliminary results support the use of native seed mixes to enhance species diversity, while also restoring elements of an imperiled ecosystem. The next phase of this project may evaluate the inclusion of less common species of concern within the native seed mixes as a reintroduction strategy onto the landscape. Given initial results, native seed mixes should be considered a viable post-construction ecological restoration method that creates regionally native habitat, increases biodiversity and ecosystem function, more so than the conventional non-native seeding options once considered the only standard practice.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Thursday, October 8, 2020

Carrie Sekerak, Deputy District Ranger, Ocala National Forest

Carrie Sekerak presents on the state of the isolated wetlands of Ocala National Forest. She describes the current issues faced in isolated wetland management, and gives a snapshot of best practices being applied. 

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Dr. James Luken, College of Science, Coastal Carolina University

Marginal land now devoted to growing harvested crops may be better suited to other land uses such as biodiversity enhancement and carbon sequestration. However, farmers are not encouraged to explore the development of these opportunities due largely to subsidized federal crop insurance (FCI). This study examined FCI outcomes from 2013- 2017 in 69 Coastal Plain counties of North Carolina and South Carolina. The loss ratio (total crop indemnities paid/total insurance premiums paid) was used to identify 21 counties with high-risk agriculture. Then an index of conservation opportunity was calculated for each county using the loss ratio, insurance subsidy and an estimate of natural capital (i.e., renewable or nonrenewable natural resources the can provide benefits to humans). Where marginal farmland is surrounded by forest and natural capital is high, the index will identify counties currently supported by FCI that more quickly and completely incorporate the full range of ecological dynamics and biological diversity when farming is abandoned. The top 10 counties for conservation opportunity, with the exceptions of Scotland County, NC and Marion County, SC., were located in the outer Coastal Plain or coastal zone where natural capital is high. Transitioning land use from harvested crops to biodiversity enhancement or carbon sequestration will require bold changes in agricultural policies and subsidies so that income streams to farmers are maintained while novel ecological targets are met.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Dr. Jon Ambrose, Georgia DNR, Chief of Wildlife Conservation

All state wildlife agencies in the Southeast have developed State Wildlife Action Plans, strategic plans for conservation of rare or declining species and their habitats. Some states have included plants as species of greatest conservation need, and others are considering doing so in the next revision of their plans. In recent years, states have recognized the need to focus additional resources on landscape scale conservation planning and implementation. The Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS) is a regional conservation initiative that spans the Southeastern United States and Caribbean. SECAS emerged as a response to the unprecedented challenges facing our natural and cultural resources, including urban growth and climate change. Participating states and organizations have contributed to the development of the Southeast Conservation Blueprint, a dynamic spatial plan that identifies the most important areas for conservation and restoration across the region. The shared vision of SECAS is a connected network of lands and waters that supports thriving fish and wildlife populations and improved quality of life for people as well as a goal of 10% or greater improvement in the health, function, and connectivity of southeastern ecosystems by 2060. In addition, SEAFWA states recently collaborated on a project to develop a list of regional species of greatest conservation need from the very large number of species identified as priorities in fifteen State Wildlife Action Plans. This list, which serves as a complement to the Southeast Conservation Blueprint, will facilitate prioritization of conservation projects and collaboration among states within the region. Developing and implementing conservation plans across landscapes and suites of species requires financial resources well in excess of those currently available to state agencies and partner organizations. Recovering America's Wildlife Act (HR 3742), introduced in July 2019, would allocate a total of $1.4 billion annually to state and tribal agencies to address the full range of conservation needs articulated in State Wildlife Action Plans. A national coalition of organizations is working for passage of this landmark federal bill, which will provide critical funding for conservation of native species and natural communities throughout the country.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Dr. Matt Estep, Appalachian State University Jennifer Rhode Ward, University of North Carolina at Asheville

Many plant species are being driven towards rarity due to exploitation for food, medicine, or the nursery trade. Land managers in the Smoky Mountain National Park are particularly concerned about two plant species: cutleaf coneflower / Sochan (Rudbeckia laciniata), and ramps (Allium tricoccum). Both of these species are traditionally foraged for food and ceremonial use by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and parklands will soon open to limited collection by EBCI members. To ensure the health and vitality of these species, a combination of demographic and genetic data are being collected. These will be used to assess baseline genetic diversity and prioritize populations for conservation. Developing novel molecular tools for monitor imperiled plant species is one avenue towards safeguarding their futures, as these tools can be used to identify problematic reductions in genetic diversity over time.

Date Recorded: 
Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Kendall McDonald, Tara Littlefield, Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves

The Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves (OKNP) is the natural heritage and natural areas program for Kentucky. OKNP maintains the Kentucky rare species database, and acquires and manages natural areas and nature preserves that host high quality communities and rare species. In 2019, OKNP created the Kentucky Forest Biodiversity Program (KFBP) in order to more efficiently address conservation concerns of Kentucky’s forests such as a conservation status of forest medicinal plants and other species of conservation concern, forest health, floristic quality, and increases in invasive species. OKNP conducted forest assessments at long term monitoring sites in approximately 20% of Kentucky’s counties. 20% of counties will be surveyed each year, completing the state wide inventory after 5 years (2019-2023). The KFBP focuses on surveys of rare and conservative forested plant species, forest community diversity and structure, herbaceous diversity, forest medicinal plants/species of commercial concern, invasive species and other threats. With creation of new partnerships, OKNP was able to increase staff and resources to make the KFBP possible. By leveraging existing resources of several statewide projects, creating an efficient data collection standard and building a larger database for all species and communities (biodiversity database), OKNP was able to create a more comprehensive program that addresses core biodiversity questions of Kentucky’s forests and meets the data needs for various partners throughout the state.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Tuesday, March 3, 2020