Category Archives: Meetings and Presentations

Summaries of meetings and power point presentations I have made, related materials.

The Spatial Ecology of the Comanche Harvester Ant

I have successfully presented my dissertation work and am currently finishing up the revisions for the final submission to the University of Texas at Arlington for the PhD degree. I expect the final dissertation to be available from the university library by July 2015.

The title of the dissertation is: The Spatial Ecology of the Comanche Harvester Ant, Pogonomyrmex comanche (Hymenoptera, Formicidae)

Dr. Esther Betran was the chair of my committee (UTA).

Other committee members were:

Dr. Jonathan Campbell (UTA)

Dr. Paul Chippindale (UTA)

Dr. Sophia Passy (UTA)

and Dr. Walter Tschinkel (FSU)

Here is the slide presentation and the notes which are numbered to correspond to the slides. I have included some of the corrections that came out of the discussion with my committee and otherwise have noted where there are other problems which I am addressing in the revision.

The slides:

and the notes:

Prairies in a Changing World: State of the Prairie Conference 2014

Conferene poster

The Native Prairies Association of Texas (and the Coastal Prairie Partnership) had their annual meeting in Fort Worth at the Fort Worth Botanical Garden from May 29 – May 31, 2014.  I was invited to present my research on ants in the prairies of the Fort Worth Nature Center in Fort Worth and the Southwest Nature Preserve in Arlington, Texas.

I also attended most of the meeting and gained a lot from the presentations I attended and especially from hobnobbing with other attendees.

**I want to pass on that Native American Seed is producing a seed mix especially to attract native bees which will be available this fall. Here’s the link to this Seed Source.

Here is the agenda for May 30 and May 31, following which I post my notes on the few talks I was able to attend with some comments and finally my presentation and extensive notes on the slides.

May 30 Agenda

State of the Prairie Agenda for May 30

May 31 Agenda

State of the Prairie Agenda for May 31

My Notes and Comments

State of the Prairie Conference Notes

Demonstration Prairie 5

The Demonstration Prairie at the Fort Worth Nature Center (photo above)

I presented my research on the ant species I have found in 17 sites at the Fort Worth Nature Center and what this means for 1) the possibility of using ants as bioindicators and 2) for the ecology of the Cross Timbers Ecoregion.

“Jills of All Trades: Ant Diversity and Flexibility in the Cross Timbers Ecoregion”

Here are my notes. In these notes I include quite a bit more than I was able to cover, in part, so that if you did not attend, you can follow the slides. If you have questions, message me.

Jills of all Trades_Presentation Notes

And finally, I mention a 10 minute digital recording I made of the Comanche harvester ant “remodeling” a ground bee nest that was too close to the ant nest. Here is a the video:

2013 America’s Grasslands Conference Proceedings

This past summer, August 12-14, 2013, the National Wildlife Federation and Kansas State University teamed up to have the 2nd America’s Grassland Conference in Manhattan, Kansas. I attended this conference and presented some preliminary work on some ant assemblages in the Fort Worth Nature Center, Fort Worth, Texas. I am completing that project this spring as part of my dissertation.

The proceedings from the conference, America’s Grasslands: The Future of Grasslands in a Changing Landscape, is now available. A summary of my preliminary  work is found on page 41.

The conference was wonderful. I have several posts concerning this conference:

1) the 2013 America’s Grassland Conference: Synopsis and Notes

2) Flint Hills, Tallgrass Prairie, Chase State Fishing Lake and the Gallery at Pioneer Bluff Field Trip

3) Konza Prairie Biological Station

Prairie flowers at the Fort Worth Nature Center, Fort Worth, Texas

Ants in the Grassland: their importance and potential as indicators of ecosystem health

This is the presentation I made at the America’s Grassland Conference recently  in Manhattan, Kansas (August 2013).

I’ve posted the power point presentation below with a few additions and included the questions asked.

 

PRESENTATION SUMMARY

While we often think of ants as annoying pests, ants are important members of nearly every terrestrial ecosystem, except Antarctica. There are  perhaps 40,000 species worldwide and we have good species descriptions for about 14,000 of them – all of which are in the same family, the Formicidae.

Ants are incredibly diverse: they vary in their morphology, their behavior, their physiology, and their ecology. Ants may engineer ecosystems through their nesting and foraging habits – greatly shaping the physical landscape and thereby impacting a variety of other organisms including the plant community. Ants also have a diversity of relationships. They are important prey items as well as predators; they have important mutualistic relationships with plants, fungi, and other arthropods; they have their own parasites; they have commensals and parasites that live in their nests.

Because of all this ecological diversity, ants may be good indicators of habitats and ecosystem health. If there are changes in any of these relationships, for any of these organisms, this change may affect ant presence, activity, and abundance. Because ants are small and live on a small scale, they may detect such changes earlier than larger monitored species, such as vertebrates. Ants are also good candidates for indicators because they are easy to collect and do not have the problems of monitoring vertebrate populations which may be difficult to track, endangered or threatened species sensitive to handling, etc. The possibility for such utility has been shown in previous research.

I investigated the potential for grassland ant assemblages to be used as bio-indicators in prairies in the Fort Worth Nature Center and Wildlife Refuge in Fort Worth, Texas, including to discern habitat type and response to disturbance. I collected the ground active ants of 17 sites monthly from March – September 2012 using pitfall traps.  The 17 sites constituted a natural experiment: 3 were wooded sites and 14 were prairie sites. The sites were paired according to soil and ecological unit (from the Natural Resources Conservation Service) for wooded vs. non-wooded (3 replicates); mowed (and soil disturbance) vs. non-mowed (4 replicates); and low intensity burn vs. non-burned (2 replicates).

For each site, I measured environmental variables which are known or thought to be important to ants in choosing their nesting areas,  including depth of sand, soil penetration (compaction), depth to the restrictive layer, percent slope, drainage, percent bare ground, percent litter cover, percent standing plant cover, percent total cover, latitude, ecological units (from the NRCS), and soil type.

I used the program CANOCO to do ordination analyses: principle components analysis (PCA) on the environmental variables only and redundancy analysis (RDA) combining the environmental variables with species presence. Ant species were characterized by functional groups following Andersen (1997). The PCA confirmed that the variables chosen could be used to distinguish among sites. The RDA revealed that some of the ant species were aligned with habitats but disturbance did not matter. The sites grouped into three sets which aligned with soil types and ecological units. Some species did not align with their habitats but this may be explained by the foraging of those species into habitats other than where they nest. The RDA showed a strong relationship between the ants and the environmental variables with the interaction between percent litter cover and drainage, percent litter cover by itself and drainage by itself being significant factors. However, these factors combined did not explain more than 20% of the variation so either there are other significant factors or many factors account for the local presence of ants with none being particularly significant.

Andersen’s functional groups are problematic for these sites because some of the species placed in the groups do not have similar ecological roles as the Australian species upon which this work is based. Species richness by functional group did not vary significantly among the sites. And although the functional group designations are problematic, there is a  pattern in the composition of these assemblages with general myrmicines contributing most, followed by hot climate specialists, cryptic and opportunistic species, then tropical climate specialists and dominant species. This suggests a shape to the assemblages that may transcend individual species.

In conclusion, this project indicated weak support for these assemblages s as bioindicators and only two ants could be considered indicators of habitat: the carpenter ant species (Camponotus americanus and Camponotus pennsylvanicus) occurring in the woodlands and the Comanche harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex comanche) occurring in the Aquilla prairie.

cattle at Konza

Konza Prairie Biological Station

On Tuesday, August 13, the 2013 America’s Grasslands Conference had its banquet at the Konza Prairie Biological Station. It was a nice event with good, local barbecue and wonderful views of the prairie. Since the line for dinner was a bit long, I started by walking out into the prairie and was quickly rewarded with quiet and bird song. The views were expansive, the prairie lush, the song melodious. All seemed right with the world for a time.

Thanks, Lloyd Hulbert for your vision and hard work to make this Research Natural Area a reality.

Konza Prairie Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Konza Prairie Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Views of the prairie…

Compass plant in the prairie

Compass plant at Konza prairie

Grasses at Konza Prairie

Konza Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Konza Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Konza Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Konza Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Konza prairie

Grasshopper’s view of the Konza Prairie with goldenrod

Konza Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Konza Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Forbs and grasses make a rich prairie texture

Konza Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Konza Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Some of the plants…

Sumac

Konza Prairie Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Konza Prairie Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Verbena

at Konza Prairie Biological Station, near Manhattan, Kansas

at Konza Prairie Biological Station, near Manhattan, Kansas

Compass plant

Yellow Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) at Konza Prairie Biological Station, near Manhattan, Kansas.

Yellow Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) at Konza Prairie Biological Station, near Manhattan, Kansas.

Gone to seed

Konza Prairie Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Konza Prairie Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Konza Prairie Biological Station Kansas, 2013

Konza Prairie Biological Station Kansas, 2013

An ant nest in the road…

Konza Prairie Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Konza Prairie Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Coming back for the banquet/picnic

Konza Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Konza Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

and a perfect ending to a terrific day: Sunset on the Konza Prairie

Konza Prairie Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Konza Prairie Biological Station, Kansas, 2013

Flint Hills Prairie, Kansas

Flint Hills, Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Chase State Fishing Lake, and the Gallery at Pioneer Bluffs Field Trip

On Monday, August 12, 2013, despite the chance of rainy weather (there was a thunder storm early in the morning but all cleared by midday), we had a delightful tour to several prairies and small towns in the Flint Hills area around Manhattan, Kansas. This tour was an all day field trip during the 2013 America’s Grassland Conference.

We began the tour leaving Manhattan and stopping at the above overlook of the Flint Hills. Glaciers came down just shy of here, so no real glaciation but the change in climate would have pushed the plant community south. The soil is based on the limestone and chert (flint) of an inland sea of Permian times and the resulting rock makes nice stone traditionally used in fences and buildings. American Indians of the area made good use of the chert in arrow heads and the like. According to an informational brochure from the Chase County Chamber of Commerce, this area has world class-grazing due to a variety of native grasses — switchgrass, big and little bluestem and others – -and many forbs. The plants support 200 species of bird and untold insects. The combination has produced many kinds of prairie (The North American Prairie, Peterson Field Guide), making an ecological jewel. (The Chamber of Commerce recommends PrairieErth by William Least Heat-Moon to learn  more about the Flint Hills).

Here is another view from the same stop, showing the rolling hills and concentration of trees in more valley areas. The hilltops don’t have much topsoil and are good for grassland and poor for plowing.

Flint Hills Prairie near Manhattan, Kansas

Flint Hills Prairie near Manhattan, Kansas

We drove through several small towns which I enjoyed and with which I felt at home. Our first real stop was the headquarters of the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve. We had a good introduction by several Park and Nature Conservancy staff and then we got to wander on the property.  We were quickly introduced to the limestone, three story barn, with loading from the second story and the main house.

Limestone Barn at Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Limestone Barn at Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Limestone Barn and environs at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Limestone Barn and environs at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

IMG_2162

I stopped to get a photo of the main house and wall before starting my first tallgrass prairie wander.

Main House at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Main House at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Here is some of my wandering:

My first trek was to go up the hill beyond the barn by path and stop for a quick visit with an old familiar, Dayflower (Commelina sp.), native also to my home state of Virginia and my new state Texas.

Beginning of my first tallgrass prairie wander -- an old familiar which is native to my home state Virginia and my new state Texas as well.

Beginning of my first tallgrass prairie wander — an old familiar which is native to my home state Virginia and my new state Texas as well.

Then, I wandered over a muddy path and got to prairie…

IMG_2127

IMG_2128

Rounding the trail, and leaving these trees behind, the prairie opened up…

A variety of grasses and forbs give the prairie rich texture, at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

A variety of grasses and forbs give the prairie rich texture, at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

at Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas,  2013

at Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

And just beyond the preserve, the Little School House on the Prairie

view from the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

view from the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

I turned from the more expansive views to try my luck with the flowers and despite the wind, managed a few photos.

Arkansas Lazy Daisy (Aphanostephus skirrhobasis) at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013.

Arkansas Lazy Daisy (Aphanostephus skirrhobasis) at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013.

Kansas Blue Sage (Salvia azurea) at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Kansas Blue Sage (Salvia azurea) at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Even capturing some with visitors:

Compass Flower (Silphium lacinaitum) with a Short-horned Grasshopper (family Acrididae) at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Compass Flower (Silphium lacinaitum) with a Short-horned Grasshopper (family Acrididae) at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Weevil at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Weevil at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Fly on Snow-on-the-Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Fly on Snow-on-the-Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Then the return trip to the barn for lunch.

at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Hillside with compass flower at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Hillside with compass flower at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Some views from the barn

Prairie as views from the barn at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Prairie as views from the barn at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

View from the Barn at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

View from the Barn at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

And a final scene before moving on to Chase State Fishing  Lake.

Barn environs at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

Barn environs at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Kansas, 2013

 

Prairie view at Chase State Fishing Lake near Council Grove, Kansas

Prairie view at Chase State Fishing Lake near Council Grove, Kansas

We continued with a visit to Chase State Fishing Lake, near Council Grove, Kansas, where the prairie met the sky (photo above). We had a nice view of the lake but let the fishermen have their quiet. We walked up into the prairie on the hillside and identified plants. Here are a few flowers.

Masses of Snow-on-the-Mountain, Euphorbia marginata

Snow-on-the-Mountain_Chase lake

and a sweat bee visitor.

Sweat Bee (Lasioglossum sp.) on Snow-on-the-Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) at Chase State Fishing Lake, near Council Grove, Kansas

Sweat Bee (Lasioglossum sp.) on Snow-on-the-Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) at Chase State Fishing Lake, near Council Grove, Kansas

Here’s another sweat bee (probably an Augochlora sp.) visitor.

Bee at Chase State Fishing Lake near Council Grove, Kansas

Bee at Chase State Fishing Lake near Council Grove, Kansas

I found a little flower that reminded me of bluet,

Chase State Fishing Lake, Kansas, 2013

Chase State Fishing Lake, Kansas, 2013

Prairie Rose gone to fruit,

Chase State Fishing Lake, Kansas, 2013

Chase State Fishing Lake, Kansas, 2013

and Partridge Pea, a legume.

Chamaecrista fasciculata on hillside at Chase State Fishing Lake, Kansas, 2013

Chamaecrista fasciculata on hillside at Chase State Fishing Lake, Kansas, 2013

We went from Chase State Fishing Lake to the Gallery at Pioneer Bluffs. Here we saw a nice home built about 1908 and some art work. Then, we headed back to Manhattan.

 

 

 

 

Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve near Manhattan, Kansas, August 2013

the 2013 America’s Grassland Conference: Synopsis and Notes

Hosted by the National Wildlife Federation and Kansas State University

August 12 – 14, 2013, Manhattan, Kansas

Here’s a PDF of the program. Please excuse my stray markings in the PDF: America’s Grassland Conference Program

This was the second biennial conference on the conservation of America’s Grasslands and the first one I attended. In this post, I’ll be sharing my experience of the conference and the presentations that I attended. I will make separate posts for the field trips to the Flint Hills Prairie and Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, Chase State Fishing Lake Prairie, and the Konza Prairie Biological Station.

TAKE HOME MESSAGES

Fall in love with the prairie.

Respect your elders.

Prairie is one of the most threatened and ignored ecosystems: loss rate is greater than that for rainforests.

We are set up for another dust bowl, largely due to land conversion to croplands.

We need a cultural revolution to address these issues. – the current “business” trajectory is irresponsible because it expects the prairie to be a stock market and not a living ecosystem.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS and THANKS

I want to start by thanking the organizing committee and the plenary presenters. They did an outstanding job.

Organizing Committee included:

John Briggs, Kansas State University

Sam Fuhlendorf, Oklahoma State University

Aviva Glaser, National Wildlife Federation

Eric Lindstrom, Ducks Unlimited

Ben Larson, National Wildlife Federation

Lisa Long, Kansas State University

Rob Manes, The Nature Conservancy

KC Olson, Kansas State University

Susan Rupp, Enviroscapes Ecological Consulting

Troy Schroeder, Kansas Wildlife Federation

Julie Sibbing, National Wildlife Federation

 

Plenary Speakers were:

Michael Forsberg, conservation photographer

Mike Kelly, third generation rancher near Sutherland, NE

Chuck Kowaleski, Farm Bill Coordinator for Texas Parks and Wildlife

Travis Maddock, fourth generation rancher, near Maddock, ND

Julie Sibbing, Director of Agriculture and Forestry Programs at the National Wildlife Federation in Washington, D. C.

Doug Sieck, family rancher near Selby, SD

Bill Sproul, rancher in the Flint Hills near Sedan, KS

Christopher Wright, landscape ecologist and postdoctoral fellow at South Dakota State University

 

INTRODUCTION

I am completing a project on the ant assemblages in the Fort Worth Nature Center in Fort Worth, Texas. Although this prairie habitat (part of the Cross Timber Ecoregion) is not as extensive as the tallgrass prairies of the Great Plains highlighted in this meeting, I wanted to share the importance of ants in grasslands and their potential as indicators of habitats and ecosystem health (following the work of Alan Andersen and colleagues).

I learned a great deal at this meeting, especially about the complexity of issues facing the USA and our grasslands, met many interesting folks, made some good contacts, and enjoyed several marvelous prairies.

Sunday, August 11, 2013, my flight from Dallas/Fort Worth began delayed but the flight itself was good and I had a window seat. Kansas is not as flat as I (originally from Virginia) have been led to believe. Upon my arrival I did not see the Hotel shuttle bus but was offered a ride by several local folks. Finally, it was decided and a local farmer and his family gave me a ride from the airport to the hotel. Despite all, not a bad beginning and introduction to Kansas.

 

NOTES

Monday, August 12, 2013

Monday was a day for registration and field trips in the Flint Hills Prairie. I went on the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve field trip which had to be modified due to excessive rains this summer. So, we saw a bit of the National Preserve but visited Chase State Fishing Lake and its prairie and the Gallery at Pioneer Bluffs where I picked up some information on the history of the area and saw some very nice art work.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Morning Plenary Session

Welcome and Introductions with Aviva Glaser and John Briggs

Wonderful Photo Essay Presentation by Michael Forsberg

His photos and commentary were exceptional. He has worked hard to capture the beauty and significance of the great plains – and learned a lot in the process. His photos were an excellent way to begin this conference. His photo essay book is called “Great Plains: America’s Lingering Wildness.”

Michael described his work as falling in love with the prairie and gaining a great sense of history, including the destruction of grasslands since white settlers came to the area. This destruction has largely been the result of misusing the land because we did not understand it – not all prairie can sustain plowing for instance. The ecology here is varied and critical. The ecological infrastructure underpins all resource use, etc. that we currently put on the prairie. Ducks live in grass and make nurseries in the water. Michael shared an awesome experience trying to photograph a burrowing owl. He kept attempting this photo over several weeks with some frustration. Then, he got the shot – the owl’s head began to appear and when the owl finally surfaced, Michael said, “the owl stared right into my soul.” – connection.

   “Rapid grassland conversion in the Western Corn Belt” by Chris Wright

Landscape changes are threatening wetlands and prairies. – Land being converted to crops and the proximity of this conversion to wetlands is a great threat to the integrity of the land. Wright asked, “Are we setting ourselves up for another dustbowl?”

  “What’s happening in Washington: Federal Policy and Grasslands” by Julie Sibbing

“Grasslands don’t register in Washington.” The rate of loss of grasslands is greater than that for rainforests and potentially more critical. There is great concern for grassland birds, many of whom are migratory species relying on several different prairie systems. “Protect our Prairies Act.” Wind development fragments grassland habitat. EPA has an interesting, and irresponsible, interpretation of the renewable fuel standards (RFS) which defeats the purpose of the standards. Issue with crop insurance: wetlands would be drained if not tied to crop insurance – decoupled in 1996. Understanding easements.

“The drought in the southern prairies” by Chuck Kowaleski, Texas Parks and Wildlife

There has been drought in the Great Plains for 3 years. This could be the result in a climate shift. There has been a shift from desert grasslands to desert scrub in New Mexico. Drought monitoring shows region effected has expanded but not as severe and yet there are extensive effects of the drought, including the die off of drought resistant species in Texas (species of Junipers), catastrophic fires with other changes. We are set up for another dust bowl. Wind and too much bare ground (2011 dust storm in Lubbock) have serious repercussions for cattle, processing plants, rivers and reservoirs drying up, water release suits etc. Sandy soils recover more easily since sand allows water penetration (Here’s where ants nesting in sandy soils can help!) while clayey soils become compacted as they dry and resist water penetration.

And in case you thought Chuck’s comments might be exaggerated, take a look at this — Texas gone dry.

First Break Out Session: Track One, Landscape planning and management for grassland conservation

   “Preserving Our Prairies” by Randy Renner, Ducks Unlimited

Land conversion is the big issue. Interest in this exceeds the funding available.

  “The Implementation of the MN Prairie Plan” by Marybeth Block, MN Department of Natural Resources

Landscape approach – 20 years of background assessment; importance of cooperation

The Plan: core areas (aim for 40% grassland and 20% wetland); corridors; Ag. Matrix

Permanent protection of quality prairies; restoration of native grasslands; maintenance and improvement; community base/investment needed (perhaps a connection to natural history interest)

“Using focal songbird species to target landscape conservation in the northern Great Plains” by Marisa Lipsey, University of Montana

Choice of songbird species covers the bases: umbrella species, charismatic species, keystone species, indicator species, high-powered trend detectors – with lots of data and abundance

Songbirds are tied to grassland structure. Lipsey used a spatially hierarchical approach – considered spatial scale and used occurrence data: probabilities of occurrence at different scales given environmental variables (also measured at different scales)

Second Break Out Session

    “Conservation of North America’s grassland birds in the Chihuahuan Desert” by Arvind Panjabi, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory

Bird migrations and importance of non-breeding season – survival of adults in non-breeding season, wintering in desert or migrating through

Same threats are seen here and in Northern Mexico: 5 – 10 % grasslands remain in Chihuahuan Desert. Birds need the right kind of cover – tallgrass (30 cm) not scrub.

  “Shifting population dynamics of the grassland bird community at the Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie Preserve as a result of habitat changes” by Christie Borkowsky

Species in a community. Bird banding project in Manitoba using mist net capture.

Third Break Out Session

“Bison (Bison bison) as a force promoting climate change adaptation in grasslands” by K. Ellison, Wildlife Conservation Society

Grazing effect on habitat structure – producing different microhabitats. Effects on birds (and ants). Bison have behavioral differences from cattle. For instance, creation of wallows produced microclimate effects – what species might benefit?

“Ecotypic variation in drought tolerance and genetic diversity of the ecologically dominant grass big bluestem (Andropogon geraldi) across the Great Plains precipitation gradient” by Loretta Johnson, Kansas State University

There is a sharp precipitation gradient east to west across the Great Plains. Discernment of ecotypes of bluestem in response to this gradient in terms of drought survival. Genetic basis – when grow in different areas phenological differences remain. Implications for restoration and maintenance.

“Responses of a grassland spider community to disturbance from fire and bison grazing” by Jesus Gomez, Kansas State University

Spiders at family levels partition habitat at small scales vertically.

 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Plenary Session: Ranchers and Other Conservationists, Lessons Learned and Challenges Met

Panelist and Comments: Bill Sproul, Mike Kelly, Doug Sieck, and Travis Maddock

Land uses and need for education on prairie – on-going for researchers and others

Ranchers as conservationists

The restoration of a meandering creek – that is, back to its meandering – restored the water table and native grasses.

Connecting globally – grasslands international: Maddock talked about connecting with grassland issues in Kazakhstan, Russia.

Mistake to take some grasslands and use as croplands – need to restore such marginal lands back to grasslands: how? Hilltops don’t have much topsoil. The old form of land use, farm and fallow, adds to erosion and soil blows away.

Importance of knowing the carbon cycle.

Absentee landowners and economics – economic reality (when we let banks dictate it).

Grass and run cattle vs. rent and grow crops – land use chosen on immediate economics and convenience

Need to highlight conservation benefits (long term) and how this produces economic benefits.

Concerns about wind energy – Is it sustainable? Adverse effects on birds and ecology.  The grasslands and deserts are not empty.

Timely income – grass doesn’t bring in income as quickly as crops – for larger benefits, it is hard to run ranching like a business. – business of returning carbon to the soil hard to sell because of lack of immediate payoff

Loss of diversity

Farming is run by others who tell the farmer what and how for a quick profit (by banks) – individual thinking not needed, just do what you’re told

Means that farmers are no longer living on and with the land – no discernment of nature or ecology; lack of knowledge of place

Wind energy and sod busting are threats to grasslands

Some memorable comments from Bill Sproul:

He was a talker and a character. He and his wife had been ranching with conservation in mind for years and had won the 2009 Excellence in Rangeland Management Award from the Society of Range Management and the 2010 Regional Environmental Stewardship Award representing Region VII of the National Cattlemen’s  Beef Association.

Sproul told this story which I paraphrase here with some near quotes:

“They gave me this book – never heard of – by this Aldo Leopold guy. I knew I was doing something right but didn’t know what. I’d like to meet this Leopold guy sometime wherever he is. Doing something because its right and good; not because you pay me. I know how to make money. The commodity driven side makes people dependent versus the community side based conservation. One day on the ranch, I picked up this bud light can. I don’t know how it got there but I picked it up. I can get so much for all the aluminum cans I pick up but that’s not why I picked it up. It’s the right thing to do. I manage for grass, not for cattle, not commodity driven.”

Here’s my take with a lot of inspiration from Sproul (and a hint of Aldo Leopold and Wendell Berry):

Sproul’s sense of an economic community basis raises more questions about our economic culture which is “banking” dominated. Put your savings in the  “bank:” in the ground (in reality) not the financial industry. There’s a reason wealth began as spices, wood, etc. – directly linked to the land and its production. We need to recover a passion for grasslands and not be seduced by the Emerald City. We need our independence and to be thinking, feeling, living with the land, on the land,  part of the land.

Fourth Break Out Session: Track 2, Status, trends, and conservation of grassland-dependent wildlife

“Ants in the Grassland: their importance and potential as indicators of ecosystem health” (my presentation)

Ants are abundant and diverse in terrestrial ecosystems. Their diverse ecological roles and ease of collection make them candidates for indicators. My project assessing 17 sites in the Fort Worth Nature Center weakly supports this use. Sites and species grouped into Aquilla sandy prairies, Aquilla woodland, and other prairies based on soil type and ecological unit (Natural Resources Conservation Service). There were two possible indicators: two species of Camponotus for woodland habitats and Pogonomyrmex comanche for Aquilla sandy prairies. While there are issues using Andersen’s functional groups (Andersen 1997), this characterization did show a structure of the assemblages across the sites. More work needs to be done in this area, especially describing species specific ecology and defining more appropriate functional groups.

   “Ecological roles and conservation challenges of social burrowing, herbivorous mammals in the world’s grasslands” by Ana Davidson

Social, biodiversity, herbivorous roles

similar trophic and engineering effects (compared to ants) — burrowing: escape from heat, protection – easy den, nest building: similar solutions to similar problems

putting effects together: clipping grass, burrows, mounds, etc. — engineering habitat and influencing other organisms – increasing and supporting diversity

habitat loss in conversion: 80% of grasslands lost

concern for plague and other disease spread – due to land use changes

climate change issue

        “Evolving management strategies for shortgrass prairie, Black-tailed prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets: adaptive management in a sea of controversy” by Rob Manes, Nature Conservancy of Kansas, and Charles Lee, Kansas State University Extension Wildlife Service

long term study

issues of control of expansion and removal of problem colonies