#BringBackTheBees, Another Misguided Conservation Effort

The listed species in the Veseys/Cheerios wildflower mix
The listed species in the Veseys/Cheerios wildflower mix

Another example of a poorly-designed “wildflower” seed mix to entice the public to engage in conservation efforts with Cheerios’ #BringBackTheBees campaign (see previous post on DuneCraft’s “Native” Perennial Seed Bombs). Really, how hard is it to consult an ecologist or botanist for efforts like these?

And what a lesson in providing both common and scientific names. It’s not possible to identify fully what is even in the mix from the list of common names they provided. Even the list of common names is only listed on the Canadian version of the site, not on the American version. EDIT: I reached out to Veseys, who provided the seed mixes, and their horticulturist was able to provide to me a list of the scientific names (after a little bit of back-and-forth – e.g. they first claimed to have included Erysimum scoparium in the mix, a species endemic to the Canary Islands, but later confirmed it was actually the much more common Erysimum × marshallii/Cheiranthus × allionii) . I have updated the table below.

The species in the Bring Back the Bees wildflower seed mix come from all around the world with no attempt to plant a mix of flowers native to North America, where seed packets were shipped. Nor are most of the species perennial. They will briefly provide some nectar and pollen resources to insects for a year or two, but soon be out-competed by perennial weeds and invasive species and look downright messy.

Please don’t plant these. Search for a native plant nursery or native plant society near you to find out how you can really help your local nature. Plant wildflowers (and grasses and sedges and rushes and ferns and trees and shrubs) that are native to your area. Support NATIVE bee and other habitat conservation efforts. Learn more at the Native Bee Awareness Initiative, the Xerces Society, or from a native plant society near you.

“Bee Friendly” Wildflower Mix by Veseys/Cheerios

The species highlighted in green are the only ones appropriate for planting in my area in Illinois. But please buy them from a local native plant nursery or gather seeds with permission from the landowner.

Common Name on Website Assumed Scientific Name Life Cycle Origin
Forget-Me-Not, Chinese Cynoglossum amabile Annual Asia
Wallflower, Siberian Erysimum × marshallii (syn. Cheiranthus × allionii) Biennial/Perennial Europe
Poppy, California, Orange Eschscholzia californica Annual/Perennial North America – West Coast
Coneflower, Purple Echinacea purpurea Perennial North America – Eastern
Aster, China, Single Mix Callistephus chinensis Annual/Biennial Asia – Eastern
Poppy, Corn Papaver rhoeas Annual Europe
Coreopsis, Lance Leaved Coreopsis lanceolata Perennial North America – Eastern
Flax, Blue Linum usitatissimum Perennial Europe
Baby Blue, Eyes Nemophila menziesii Annual North America – West Coast
Gilia, Globe Gilia achilleifolia Annual North America – West Coast
Indian Blanket Gaillardia pulchella Annual North America – West Coast
Tidy-Tips Layia platyglossa Annual North America – West Coast
Coreopsis, Plains Coreopsis tinctoria Annual North America – Midwest/Northwest
Sweet Alyssum, Tall White Lobularia maritima Annual Europe
Hyssop, Lavender Agastache foeniculum Perennial North America – Upper Midwest
Daisy, Fleabane* Erigeron annuus Annual/Biennial North America
Forget-Me-Not Myosotis alpestris Unknown Arctic
Aster, New England Symphyotrichum novae-angliae Perennial North America – Eastern
Bergamot Monarda fistulosa Perennial North America

*I guess you can plant this, but it’s a spontaneous weed…


Native, perennial landscape designed by our ecological consulting firm, ecology + vision

Finding the Forgotten Flora

“I remember well, for instance, how here in Rockford, Ill., say twenty years ago, the indigenous plants of the prairie and oak-opening sprang up on every side in close proximity to the beaten paths of busy men. The industrious young botanist, collecting for exchange, found his only limitations in the quantity of driers he possessed, and the amount of time, energy, and discretion he could bring to the work of using them well. Now we must go miles out into the country for material and count ourselves fortunate, even then, if the little vestige of the native flora which last season afforded us a dozen desirable specimens has not since been swept away by the plow; while in the central portion of the city scarcely a single native species remains to dispute possession with street weeds, mostly of European descent and training.” –Michael Schuck Bebb, 1882

My friend Michael Swierz had the idea to assemble links to the earliest descriptions of the Illinois and Chicagoland region flora. With great joy I have spent the past few weekends scouring botanical texts from the early 19th and 20th century, reading arguments regarding the nativity of Epipactis hellborine or the range of Quercus palustris, accounts of the vast prairie fires, and a description of Englewood (a now very-paved-over Chicago neighborhood) by E. J. Hill in 1883 as “houses scattered over the prairie, with interspersed patches of grass land as virgin as when the buffalo and Indian roamed over it.”

We have assembled a few dozen links to these texts on a  single webpage for the public’s perusal. Read more at the Forgotten Flora of Illinois and the Chicago Region page:

“The earliest botanists and explorers of the Chicagoland region beheld a landscape that was vastly different from today’s natural environment. Their early accounts of Illinois flora describe plant communities that defy contemporary understanding and offer surprising depictions of bygone ecologies that have since succumbed to pavement and the plow. By compiling a representative selection of botanical texts from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, our hope is to make these forgotten flora available to twenty-first century stewards and restoration enthusiasts in order to foster imaginative and historically faithful visions of the prairies, savannas, woods, and wetlands we seek to restore.” – http://habitat2030.org/forgottenflora/

The page is still a work in progress; I expect to add many more resources and short blurbs to each.

A Big Year, Botanist Style

Known to all birders, a “big year” is a competition to spot the most bird species within a given area in one year. Competition areas can be as large as the entire world to as small as a city park, but the popular competitions are country-(e.g. ABA), state-, or county-wide.

And so, why not a similar competition for plants?

Verbena hastata, blue vervain
Verbena hastata, blue vervain

In 2016, the Illinois Native Plant Society (INPS) hosted the first Illinois Botanists Big Year. The website and mobile app iNaturalist made the competition possible. iNaturalist enables anyone, from professional botanist to plant ID novice, to upload photographic proof of their plant1 sightings to a public, online database. The user enters their identification of the plant, along with GPS location2, date of sighting, and any field notes, and others from the community may agree with or provide an alternative identification. Users may also choose to retain control over their identification, though that is not the default setting.

Capturing an observation of a plant for documentation on iNaturalist
Capturing an observation of a plant for documentation on iNaturalist

A level of quality control is built into the contest – observations must be “research grade” in order to count toward the contest. That is, it needs to be wild/naturalized (i.e. houseplants, landscape plants, and botanical garden specimens won’t count), it needs to have a photo, date, and location, and at least one additional person must agree with the identification of the plant. If there is a disagreement about the identification, additional users must weigh in their thoughts and the community must come to a majority consensus on the identification in order for the observation to reach research grade. Because the community can help with identification, users need not be plant experts and can learn quite a bit about plants by participating in the contest.

In 2016, four people in Illinois really took up the challenge and set out to find as many plants in Illinois as they could. The 2016 Illinois Botanists Big Year winner was Evan Barker with 877 species. It was a close race between the top four: Barker (evan8), Erin Faulkner (elfaulkner), Mark Kluge (sanguinaria33), and Corey Lange (coreyjlange) were each in 1st place at some point during the year. In total, there were 11,203 observations of plants added by 395 people (stats as of 1/23/2017). Of those, 9,360 observations reached research-grade. A total of 1,365 species were identified, including subspecies. At least one, Stellaria corei (Tennessee starwort), was the first documentation of that species growing in Illinois.

Illinois Botanists Big Year 2017

The Illinois Native Plant Society is running the contest again in 2017. In order to count toward the 2017 contest, observations must fit the following rules:

  1. Must be a plant (bryophytes and vascular plants – native and non-native species are accepted)
  2. Observation must be within Illinois
  3. Must be observed between the dates of January 1st, 2017 and December 31st, 2017
  4. Observation must be “research grade.” That means it must be “wild/naturalized” and that you need a photo, date, location, species identification, and for someone else to confirm your species identification’s accuracy

View the current leaderboard on the INPS website and join the Illinois Botanists Big Year group on Facebook.


Why not start a competition in your own state or county? The setting up portion would include a webpage with the contest rules and a link to or an embedded contest leaderboard. A few tips:

  • I have the leaderboard set up on the INPS website as an embedded iframe3 of the following page: http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/stats?place_id=35&taxon_id=47126&d1=2017-01-01&d2=2017-12-31&quality_grade=research&hrank=species&lrank=subspecies. The place_ID is restricted to Illinois (place_ID 35). You can also see the date (January 1st, 2017 through December 31st, 2017), taxon (plants, which is # 47126), quality grade (research), and taxon rank (species or subspecies) are included in that URL. For Wisconsin, for example, the link would just change to place ID 32.
  • Of the 4 people who really went all out with the 2016 Illinois Botanists Big Year this year, 3 had extensive previous experience using iNaturalist. I would recommend looking at the top iNaturalist users in your area and informing them of the contest.
  • It takes quite a bit of effort to ensure observations get verified by another person. Reach out to iNaturalist users and regional experts to get their help to confirm (or refute!) the identification of plant species. iNaturalist’s Identify page makes it really easy to go through many observations quickly to identify and/or mark as reviewed. First filter the page by plants, location, and date observed, then use the keyboard shortcuts to identify, mark as cultivated, or mark as reviewed.
  • It took a few days of combing through data in January 2017 to ensure there weren’t cultivated/landscape or obviously incorrectly identified plants included in the results. I compared the species found in 2016 to a database of known Illinois native or naturalized plants. One is able to export all of the observations after the end of the contest in order to look for those types of errors and get the most accurate numbers.
  • Here is a Getting Started guide on iNaturalist.
  • iNaturalist also has a great Help Forum.

Feel free to contact me with any questions: cassisaari@gmail.com

Footnotes
1. iNaturalist is actually for recording observations of any life forms, not just plants. Plants, animals, fungi, protozoa – everything!

2. Obscuring the location of rare species is built into iNaturalist – the GPS location of threatened, endangered, and many rare species is automatically obscured from public view. Users may also mark their locations as completely private. This isn’t without flaw, as if one uploads 50 observations in a day with 49 public location observations and 1 obscured/private location observation, others can make a pretty good guess as to the location of that obscured/private rare species. Other websites like Herpmapper solve this problem by making all observation locations visible only to the county level, which protects rare/poached species, but at a significant cost to the amount of data available to the public, the vast majority of which have good intentions.

3. If you are able to hire or know a developer who could volunteer their services, the iNaturalist software is actually open source, so one could find a prettier way to incorporate the leaderboard statistics into your website. I lack those skills, so I just have that embedded iframe for the leaderboard for now.

Kankakee Mallow (Iliamna remota) in Fruit

On a quick trip to Langham Island in Kankakee River State Park west of Bourbonnais, IL this past August, I had the chance to see the rare Kankakee mallow (Iliamna remota) in fruit . (And in flower!) I was surprised at the fuzzy chestnut brown fruits, having never seen them in person or photos online. The land steward of Langham Island, Trevor Edmonson, gave me a tour to the spot where they are most abundant. For those unfamiliar with the great story of the Kankakee mallow’s disappearance and return, here are a few links:

As habitat restoration volunteers cut, piled, and burned the invasive brush that was out-shading this rare species, baby Kankakee mallows popped up around the burn scars! Volunteers then began to construct “rolling burn piles” to maximize the perimeter of the lightly burned area for optimal baby mallow habitat and minimize the soil sterilization that occurs under extremely hot fires. Look at all this Kankakee mallow growing around the burn pile (above). Recognize it by its palmately lobed leaves, similar to a maple leaf. For now, volunteers like Trevor are caging larger populations to prevent deer from chomping the flowers. But the future looks good for this mallow should management continue. View my other observations from my brief visit to Langham Island.

I had never seen a photo of the fruit of a Kankakee mallow. I only recently discovered that the citizen science slash nature observation-logging website iNaturalist has a great feature along this line. In addition to cataloging millions of photos of professional and amateur expert-identified organisms in one place, the site sorts and shows each of those species at different life stages.

Anyone can help populate the database by adding the flowering phenology to your own or even other user’s observations. The option is below each observation’s description (see below). It is a bit muddled as any user can create their own “field.” And so, there are a few dozen different fields for phenology. The “right one” to populate this photo page on the site is called “Flowering Phenology.” Get to it.

Do you have photos of rare plants in flower, fruit, or leaf that are missing from the internet? Share them on iNaturalist!

Virginia Waterleaf vs. Great Waterleaf

How do you distinguish Virginia and great waterleaf plants in the early spring? Swink & Wilhelm (1994):

1. Leaves predominantly pinnately compound or lobed, divided into 5 to 7 lobes or leaflets. . . . . Hydrophyllum virginianum
1. Leaves predominantly palmately lobed, or some with a small pair of pinnae at the base:

Calyx lobes copiously pilose, with conspicuous, reflexed processes in the sinuses; stems usually densely pilose or pubescent; biennial. . . . . . . . Hydrophyllum appendiculatum
Calyx lobes glabrous or sparsely hispidulous, without processes in the sinuses; stems glabrous or nearly so; perennial. . . . . . . . . . . . Hydrophyllum canadense

Welp, turns out the early spring rosettes of Hydrophyllum appendiculatum are pinnately compound, not palmately compound. So, that key’s only helpful for mature plants. Never fear, here are a bunch of comparison photos:
The early spring, basal leaves of Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) and great waterleaf (Hydrophyllum appendiculatum), side-by-side:

hydrophyllum-virginianum-appendiculatum
Singular leaves of Hydrophyllum virginianum (left, view on iNaturalist) and Hydrophyllum appendiculatum (right, view on iNaturalist).
Look how much more rounded the edges are in great waterleaf, how much fuzzier the stem is, and how much more variegation there is.
hydrophyllum-virginianum-virginia-waterleaf hydrophyllum-appendiculatum-great-waterleaf
In situ rosettes of Hydrophyllum virginianum (left) and Hydrophyllum appendiculatum (right)
hydrophyllum-virginianum-virginia-waterleaf-close hydrophyllum-appendiculatum-great-waterleaf-close
Hydrophyllum virginianum (left) and Hydrophyllum appendiculatum (right)

Hydrophyllum canadense is not really found in my area (northcentral Illinois), so I don’t have any photos of that at all, much less in a rosette stage. If this photo can be believed, it looks like it has significantly wider lobes even as a rosette, and a more geometric appearance overall. I’d guess its petioles are not as fuzzy as H. appendiculatum as well (see key above).

This post inspired by my error – mistaking a basal H. appendiculatum leaf as H. virginianum.

Invasive Buckthorn by the Numbers

INVASIVE PLANTS DEFINED

  • native plant: in North America, a plant that was found in a particular area prior to European settlement or has arrived since then through natural means of dispersal. Example: side oats grama, Bouteloua curtipendula
  • non-native plant: in North America, a plant that was introduced to a particular area after European settlement via human-assisted means, either purposefully or accidentally. While many non-native plants cause little harm to native ecosystems, some become highly invasive. Example: common buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica
  • weedy plant: may be a native or non-native plant; includes invasive species, but also includes annual or biennial species that are adapted to disturbance and proliferate quickly. They may threaten newly-establishing native plants in the early phases of ecological restoration, but are typically outcompeted or easily controlled through stewardship (maintenance) once the planting has matured. Sometimes defined as a plant with a coefficient of conservatism less of 0 or 1. Example: common ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia
  • invasive plant: undesirable, non-native plant that outcompetes native plants for light, space, water, food and nutrients. An invasive plant, left unchecked, will destroy the integrity of an ecosystem and will often become the only plant inhabiting a particular landscape (monoculture). Example: common buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica
  • naturalized plant: non-native plant that is able to reproduce and spread in habitats where it is not native; includes invasive, weedy, and benign species, though some tend to restrict this definition to the benign species. Most non-native plants do not naturalize. Example: common dandelion, Taraxacum officinale
  • aggressive native plant: undesirable, native plant that outcompetes other native plants and may form large monocultures. Many ecologists reserve the term “invasive” for non-native plants, but some native plants may act in a similar manner as invasive plants. Many of our remaining, intact natural areas are very small and may be damaged when aggressive natives outcompete more conservative native species. Example: tall goldenrod, Solidago altissima

WHERE DID INVASIVE SPECIES COME FROM?

Invasive species were brought to North America, typically from Europe and Asia, normally with good intent. Often, upon arriving in North America, settlers yearned for plants and animals they grew up with in their home countries. Many plants that have become highly invasive were brought here for landscaping, medicinal properties, or use as culinary ingredients. But sometimes, invasive species were introduced by accident, such as through ballast water, hitchhiking on boats or other vehicles, or unintentionally as pathogens on other purposefully introduced species.

WHAT MAKES A PLANT INVASIVE?

Invasive plants typically have many of the following traits:

  • Thrive in disturbed habitats
  • Germinate quickly
  • Grow and reproduce in a short time frame
  • Produce many seeds per individual
  • Disperse seeds widely (on fur, by birds, by wind)
  • Reproduce vegetatively or self-fertilize
  • Resistant to herbivory or disease
  • Alter growth form to suit a variety of soil, moisture, or other conditions
  • Alter soil conditions to prevent growth of other plants

WHAT MAKES INVASIVE SPECIES BAD?

Invasive species threaten to destroy local biodiversity and native ecosystems by forming dense stands where nothing else can grow, or by otherwise outcompeting or destroying local flora and fauna. Some non-native plants may create habitat that indirectly harms animals by acting as ecological traps – increasing nest predation or parasitization.

About 90% of plant-eating insects are considered specialists because they feed on plants from only a few plant families. This adaptation inhibits insects from eating other plants that differ in timing of development, leaf chemistry, or physical defenses. That means that native herbivores that co-evolved with our native plants are unable to eat many invasive plants. For example, in its native range in Europe, common reed (Phragmites australis) was found to support over 170 species of herbivores – in North America where it is invasive, it only supports 5 species of our native herbivores.

Native plants provide appropriate food and habitat for insects, cycling up the food chain to birds and other animals. In studies conducted by Dr. Douglas Tallamy, North American native plants produced over 4x the herbivore biomass, 35x the butterfly and moth biomass, and over 3x as many herbivore species as non-native plants. That’s a lot more food for growing baby birds!

In addition to their ecological threats, the cost of invasive species damage and control in the United States may run upwards of $130 billion each year. Just a few of the negative impacts to humans include reduction in property values, damage to stormwater systems, loss of income from tourist/recreation industry, impacts to water quality, damage to agriculture, and even physical harm.

BUCKTHORN BY THE NUMBERS

¼ Diameter in inches of buckthorn’s small, but numerous fruits. Common buckthorn fruits are green when unripe whereas glossy buckthorn fruits are reddish to brown. Both have black fruits when ripe.
1 Rank held by European buckthorn as the most common tree/shrub found in the Chicago region.
2 Number of common, invasive buckthorn species in our region (northeastern Illinois) – 1) common/European buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and 2) glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus). Less common are Japanese buckthorn (Rhamnus japonica), Dahurian buckthorn (Rhamnus davurica), and Chinese buckthorn (Rhamnus utilis).
6 Years buckthorn seeds may remain viable in the soil.
28.9 European buckthorn trees per acre in suburban Cook County.
30 Approximate maximum height of this understory shrub/tree.
45.8 European buckthorn trees per acre in Lake County.
58 Average number of days buckthorn’s leaves remain on the tree longer than native counterparts, shading out other shrubs and native understory plants throughout the growing season.
200 Approximate years ago European buckthorn is thought to have been introduced to North America.
226 Stewardship groups in the Chicago region working to restore and transform native habitat by removing invasive species like buckthorn.
620 Average seeds per square meter found in the top few inches of soil underneath a mature buckthorn.
700 Times more leaf material consumed by herbivores on native oak trees than on European buckthorn – buckthorn does a poor job feeding our local fauna.

Habitat 2030: Young Chicagoans Who Love Nature

The Forest Preserves of Cook County recently did a write-up on Habitat 2030, an environmental stewardship volunteer group I’ve recently become involved with: http://fpdcc.com/volunteer-spotlight-habitat-2030.

Our events include fun stuff like habitat restoration (removing invasive species, collecting native seeds), bioblitzes, camping, gullywalking, and good ol’ hiking within the awe-inspiring Chicago Wilderness.

removing-posts-uic-james-woodworth-prairie

Removing old sign posts at UIC’s James Woodworth Prairie

illinois-beach-juniperus-horizontalis

Exploring Illinois Beach State Park’s unique ecosystems

Catalogging an oak leaf gall at the Bunker Hill Bioblitz

Catalogging an oak leaf gall at the Bunker Hill Bioblitz

blue-stemmed-goldenrod-Solidago-caesia

Blue-stemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia) at a remnant prairie

Interested in getting outdoors, meeting like-minded young folks, and lending a hand to mother nature? Join our Facebook group or find us at any of the myriad links below.

More Info:
Our active Facebook group
Habitat 2030 Website
Join our email list by emailing habitat2030@gmail.com
Find us on Meetup.com

Volunteer Spotlight: Habitat 2030
Chicago Wilderness 2030: Visions for the Future by Stephen Packard

Bunker Hill Forest Preserve Bioblitz (9/14/2013)

NOTE: The statistics on page will be occasionally updated as we add more observations and make further species identifications.

Bunker Hill Bioblitz Fall 2013
Bunker Hill Forest Preserve Bioblitz Participants Hard at Work (Play)
Jane Balaban & Erin Faulkner Botanize
Inspired by the San Francisco McLaren Park Bioblitz organized by Nerds for Nature, Save McLaren Park, iNaturalist, and Bay Nature Institute, we (Habitat 2030) decided to have our own event a bit closer to home. Habitat 2030 is a group of 20-30-40-somethings in the Chicago region who are dedicated to the understanding, preservation, stewardship, and general nerdy appreciation of the natural areas that form the beautifully diverse Chicago Wilderness region.

Bunker Hill Forest Preserve is a Forest Preserve District of Cook County site consisting of open savanna, woodlands, and wooded riparian area through with the North Branch of the Chicago River runs. We chose this site for its proximity to Chicago and for the fact that one of Habitat 2030’s members is an assistant steward there. The bioblitz took place on Saturday, September 14th, 2013 from 9AM to 4PM, with a break for lunch inbetween (grilled pineapple! Nutella pastry! bruschetta!). Emeritus stewards extraordinaire John and Jane Balaban led us throughout the site, pointing out this or that rare or unusual plant or creature, in addition to the common species. Many thanks for their assistance.

So, what did we find?

symnov As of 10/01/2013, we had 592 observations contributed by 9 participants. A total of 12 people participated – some used smartphones and others used cameras and haven’t yet uploaded their observations. We have identified 231 unique species to species level. That means we had many duplicate species, species only identified broadly (e.g. Insects, Carex, etc.), and 102 uncategorized observations. The most observed species (with 5 observations each) were New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, left), wild leek (Allium tricoccum), sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), and bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii).

Observations as of 9/16/2013
All Our Observations: Green = Plants, Orange = Animals, Blue = Fungi, White = Unclassified
Observations per Taxonomic Group (as of 9/15/2013)

Taxonomic Group % of Total Observations
Plants 66.3% (339)
Unclassified 18.2% (93)
Insects 7.2% (37)
Arachnids 2.5% (13)
Birds 1.8% (9)
Fungi 1.4% (7)
Mammals 1.0% (5)
Other Animals 1.0% (5)
Mollusks 0.4% (2)
Fish 0.2% (1)

Become a citizen scientist and help us out by signing up for iNaturalist to identify our unknowns or confirm our observations. Research grade observations will automatically be added to the Bunker Hill Species Guide, a nice way to explore the biodiversity of this urban forest preserve.

View all the Bunker Hill Forest Preserve observations on iNaturalist here: http://www.inaturalist.org/observations?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=&search_on=&quality_grade=any&place_id=57796&swlat=&swlng=&nelat=&nelng=&taxon_name=&taxon_id=&day=&month=&year=&order_by=observations.id&order=desc&site=&tdate=&filters_open=true&view=map

fuzzy oak gall
Cataloging an as-of-yet unidentified oak gall (view the observation on iNaturalist).
brain egg sac
We have no idea yet what this is yet either (view the observation on iNaturalist).
tiny spider
Our youngest participant proudly shows off a tiny spider she found (view the observation on iNaturalist).
Bunker Hill Forest Preserve
Thanks to everyone who participated! We hope to host more of these events in the future.

PVC Refugia for Surveying Treefrogs

Surveying for the reptiles and amphibians (herps) can be complicated. Different species like to hang out in different habitat types, such as standing water, running water, sloughs, prairies, or woodlands, and few trap types are effective at capturing a wide range of species. Cover boards, for example, are great for surveying many snakes, which like to get warmed up and stay protected underneath, but don’t work for many species or larval forms that live only in water.

reptile amphibian survey

Commonly used methods to capture the full array of herp diversity include cover boards, aquatic turtle traps (floating, hoop), drift fences, funnel traps, pitfall traps, calling surveys, and general searching, which may include roadside surveys, dipnetting, or flipping over logs, rocks, or other microhabitats where many species live. A 2009 study found that using only traditional methods resulted in finding significantly fewer species than when less commonly used (and often less expensive) “secondary” and “tertiary” methods were implemented (Hutchens & DePerno).

Treefrogs in particular are difficult to survey using traditional methods because they can climb out of or over most traps. As such, as part of some reptile and amphibian surveys we are implementing this summer, we have included PVC pipe refugia (hiding places) for treefrogs at our project site. While not a statistically viable experiment, we chose four different sizes of pipe (ranging from 3/4” to 1.5” in diameter) to see, anecdotally, which the two species of tree frogs found in our area might prefer. They are hung with rope, 4 on each tree.

reptile amphibian survey treefrog pvc refugia tree

The PVC pipes are capped at the bottom so that they collect water and provide a high humidity and protective hiding spot for the frogs (Boughton & Staiger 2000).

reptile amphibian survey checking the pvc refugia

Here is the beauty we found during our first round of checking the traps.

reptile amphibian survey Hyla treefrog

reptile amphibian survey Hyla treefrog

reptile amphibian survey Hyla treefrog

References Et Cetera

Boughton, R. G. and J. Staiger. 2000. Use of PVC Pipe Refugia as a Sampling Technique for Hylid Treefrogs. American Midland Naturalist. 144: 168-177.

Hutchens, S. J. & DePerno, C. S. 2009. Efficacy of sampling techniques for determining species richness estimates of reptiles and amphibians. Wildlife Biology. 15:113–122.

Pittman, S. E., Jendrek, A. L., Price, S. J., and M. E. Dorcas. 2008. Habitat Selection and Site Fidelity of Cope’s Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) at the Aquatic-Terrestrial Ecotone. Journal of Herpetology. 42 (2): 378-385.

Staiger, J. S. and Boughton R. G. 1999. Factors affecting hylid treefrog use of PVC refugia in north central Florida. Presented at the 1999 Joint Meeting of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, American Elasmobranch Society, Herpetologists’ League, and Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Penn State University, State College, Pennsylvania.

A guide for teachers: Are There Really Treefrogs Living in the School Yard?

Wild Geranium Has Popped!

I did not know until recently how awesome wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) fruits are.

wild geranium Geranium maculatum
This geranium is from April 5th, 2012. Geranium started flowering a couple weeks later this year (you’ll recall last year was freakish).

wild geranium Geranium maculatum
This guy’s ready to pop! The developed fruit photos are from June 19th, 2013.

wild geranium Geranium maculatum
And whoosh. The seeds have been flung far from momma/poppa. If you want to get real fancy about it, this fruit structure is called a polachenarium, a dry schizocarpic fruit consisting of monocarps separating from a longitudinal central axis (columella or carpophore), often remaining attached to the axis at maturity…

wild geranium Geranium maculatum
And a little planthopper nymph (?) for good measure.

Here is a photo by Ronald Toth of NIU’s plant sciences department, showing a relative (Geranium bicknelli, endangered in Illinois) going from flower to furled fruit.