Request for Bee sightings

Have you seen ground-nesting bees this spring? If so, we are eager to know the location?

We are studying and developing a conservation plan for the solitary ground-nesting bee (Colletes inaequalis). These are very important spring pollinators of local native plants and crops. Enhancing their populations may help offset ecological problems caused by declines in other Bees.

Solitary bees have just emerged from the ground and are forming dense mating and nesting aggregations, flying around near ground level. This year, they are early.

We are seeking formation on any locations of mating and nest aggregations you may see within Tompkins County over the next couple of weeks.

Thank you for your help,

Please send location info to:

Stephen Morreale sjm11@cornell.edu    Dept of Natural Resources and Margarita Lopez-Uribe mml82@cornell.edu   Dept of Entomology

Image of solitary bee

Image of solitary bee ground nest cluster

Visiting the Corpse Plant

DNR graduate student, Laura Martin, wrote a guest post for the Scientific American on Cornell’s corpse plant.

Visiting the Corpse Plant

By Laura Jane Martin | March 21, 2012

I woke up, bleary-eyed, to news that would change my week: A corpse plant was about to bloom at Cornell University. In other words, the most amazing thing I could imagine was unfolding, literally, down the street from my house.

The corpse plant has the largest unbranched blossom in the world. Imagine a calla lily, but one that is ten feet tall, three feet wide, and smells like a rotting animal.

Amorphophallus titanum, endemic to Sumatran equatorial rainforests, is prized by botanical conservatories across the world. I first learned about the rare plant eight years ago in a dimly lit taxonomy lecture. It hooked me, and I’ve been studying plant ecology ever since.

I determined to visit this strange specimen every day until it set seed. To get a bit closer to something I thought I would never see.

Friday

It looks like a French bread sticking out of a fleshy green vase. Its Latin name is Amorphophallus titanum, or “misshapen giant phallus.” But those who don’t like to offend their audiences, like naturalist David Attenborough, or Cornell University, call the plant “Titan arum.”

The French bread is the spadix, a spike that will soon bear sets of tiny female and male flowers. The spadix is wrapped by a spathe, a modified leaf that looks like one leathery petal. When the corpse plant blooms, the spathe will unfold to reveal its frilled and shockingly purple inner side. This is the event I am impatiently waiting to see.

Next to the blooming corpse plant, in another pot, sits a single, giant leaf with a polka-dotted petiole. This is the vegetative state of the corpse plant, which only flowers every 2-3 years in natural conditions, and in greenhouses even less frequently. This leaf collects energy until the plant’s tuber has enough oomph to flower. Carol Bader, greenhouse manager, has been caring for the two Amorphophallus plants since they were delivered as small seeds ten years ago.

Monica Carvalho, graduate student and official corpse plant guardian, tells me that the plant has shot up over a foot in the past week. She expects it will bloom on Sunday.

Saturday

It seems the spathe has pulled away, ever so slightly, from the spadix. But perhaps this is wishful thinking. Soon it should smell.

Amorphophallus titanum reeks when it’s blooming, and it attracts flies. Its blossom is purple with darkened orifices, and it matches the sulfurous smell and high temperature of a decomposing carcass. The high temperature (close to 100° F) may help to disperse the corpse plant’s odors across long distances – an important ability for a rare plant that can’t self-pollinate.

Such carrion mimicry has evolved in at least ten plant lineages. And rotting flesh is not the only foul smell a flower can produce: other plants mimic dung, urine, fungi, and fish. The succulent Orbea semota ssp. orientalis produces the compound p-cresol to smell of poop. Somehow the prospect of the corpse plant’s malodor is part of its appeal. Another day of waiting.

Sunday

Cornell University has set up a webcam on the corpse plant. I keep it open in my browser. Ithaca is a small town, and friends’ faces appear over and over again. I am not the only one excited by the impending bloom.

The webcam heightens the suspense. I am worried that if I forget to reload the page, I will miss something. I am scheduled to visit the plant at 4 pm. The spathe is still wrapped around the spadix. It does not look like it will bloom today. But what business do I have, really, extending my intuitions about Northeastern plants to this otherworldly specimen?

It really is a big blossom. Blossoms exhibit over 1000-fold variation in size, ranging from less than 0.03 inches to nearly three feet in diameter. Giant flowers are rare, but they’ve evolved independently in multiple plant families. One might expect large flowers to be associated with large pollinators, but gigantism appears to be most common to plants pollinated by small beetles or carrion-flies.

When gigantism does evolve, it seems to do so quickly. One study suggests that the big-flowered family Rafflesiaceae is actually derived from a tiny-flowered family, Euphorbiaceae. The largest subgroup of the family, Rafflesia, which includes three foot wide blood-red flowers, experienced a rapid and recent burst of speciation within the last 1-2 million years. One species, Rafflesia arnoldii, increased its flower diameter 73-fold and now bears a 15 lb. bloom.

While many studies contend that increased floral size in species with normal-sized flowers leads to increased fitness, there are few natural history and experimental data on rare, large flowers. It does seem, though, that a disproportionate number of fly pollinated species have giant blooms. Flies are known to prefer larger carrion, which provide better sites to lay eggs, and so perhaps they prefer larger carrion mimics, too. But this corpse plant will be pollinated by graduate students, not flies.

Monday

It’s open. It opened late last night, in my sleep.

I visit the corpse plant at 9 am to beat the crowd – over 2,000 visitors so far. The bloom is always a spectacle. The first botanical account of one, in 1878, was dismissed as a fraud until a specimen bloomed at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in 1889. In 1926, when it flowered next, the crowds were so large that police had to control them.

The smell hits me as I walked into the room. I am surprised: it smells more like wet socks than carrion. It is a swampy smell.

Monica Carvalho is pollinating the corpse plant. I watch as the receptive and sticky female flowers are paintbrushed with pollen collected two years ago from another university’s Amorphophallus specimen. Air pumps dangle into the cup of the spathe – researchers are recording volatile emissions before, during, and after bloom.

After fifteen minutes of staring in silent reverence, I am shuffled out of the way by an old lady with a giant camera. More and more visitors are piling in to watch the pollinating. I turn around for one last look into the greenhouse. As I do a young boy, maybe eight years old, walks into the room. He looks over to his left, and shouts to his mother, “Whoaaa – a giant cactus!” And indeed, there is a beautiful cactus in the back of the room. I hadn’t noticed it. Nor had any of the other fifty adults crowded around the corpse plant. This is the nature of spectacle.

Tuesday

I visit the bloom again. This time without the edge of expectation. The greenhouse is less crowded. In another day or two the spathe will collapse, unceremoniously. The pollinated flowers will ripen into bright red fruits. These fruits will be shipped off to other research institutions.

On my walk home I notice that skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, is in bloom. It’s of the same family as the corpse plant. An early spring bloomer, it can maintain a temperature in its spadix of around 68° F even when the ambient air temperature drops below freezing. And in fact, just like the corpse plant its pungent odor and deep red hue attract fly pollinators.

Possibly what makes the corpse plant so different from the skunk cabbage is not its size, but a more intangible ability to attract admirers – crowds of humans with notebooks, cameras, and tiny paintbrushes. I bend down to visit the skunk cabbage.

 

Cornell Guani Fellowship in Conservation Biology

We are pleased to announce that the Guani Fellowship in Conservation Biology has been awarded to Justin Proctor. Justin’s MS/Ph.D. research will focus on breeding biology and community conservation of the Golden Swallow in the Dominican Republic. He will be supervised by David Winkler, the newest member of the Field of Natural Resources. Nominations for future Guani Fellowships will be solicited in the fall.

Evan Cooch, Cliff Kraft, Steven Wolf

Department Presence at 77th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference

The 2012 North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference was held last week (March 12-17) in Atlanta, GA.  Cynthia Jacobson (MS ‘96, PhD ‘06) and Professor Dan Decker (BS ‘74, MS ‘76, PhD ‘86) were co-organizers (with John Organ and Chris Smith) of an Agency Transformation workshop.  This was the third day-long workshop the group has offered agency and NGO leaders (2010, 2011, 2012) at this conference.  The agency transformation topic is informed and motivated by Cindi’s doctoral dissertation research, conducted when she was a graduate student in Natural Resources.  Ashley Dayer (PhD candidate) participated in the workshop.

Department staff and graduates also contributed to a conference special session titled “Integrating Human Dimensions Knowledge and Wildlife Disease Management.”  The session was organized by Professor Shawn Riley (PhD ’98 and former postdoc in the Human Dimensions Research Unit) and Shauna Hannisch.  Two of the four featured paper presentations were either given by or included DNR staff as coauthors.  Dr. Bill Siemer (PhD ‘09), research associate in the Human Dimensions Research Unit, reported on a study he, Sr. Research Associate Bruce Lauber (PhD ‘96), Dan Decker and Shawn Riley are working to identify fish and wildlife health management capacity needs for state agencies. Dr. Margaret Wild, chief of the wildlife health program for National Park Service gave a paper on the communication considerations associated with a “one health” approach to wildlife health management, co-authored with Dan Decker and others.  Dan Decker wrapped up the special session with summary comments that emphasized the need for integrating research-based human dimensions knowledge into policy, planning and practice for wildlife disease management, and also reinforced the need to be deliberate in communicating about wildlife disease so as to avoid unwarranted magnification of public risk perceptions.

Additionally, Phd candidate Ashley Dayer contributed to bird conservation meetings at the conference.  She serves on the Council for Partners in Flight (www.partnersinflight.org). This invitation-only body makes decisions to guide the activities of the international land bird conservation initiative.  Ashley also presented in the Partners in Flight/Waterbird/Shorebird Working Group on the results of a webinar series she led to aid state agency employees in learning about bird conservation tools and resources.  With tight budgets, agency staff are increasingly limited in their ability to travel, making such innovative approaches to connect and share resources essential.

An Update on Hsiao-wei Yuan

In 1993, Hsiao-wei Yuan obtained her Ph.D. from the Department of Natural Resources.  She studied Common Terns on Oneida Lake.  Many former undergrads of the department will remember her as that energetic Teaching Assistant for Introductory Field Biology (then NTRES 210).  Hsiao-wei returned to her native Taiwan and became an Assistant Professor in the School of Forestry and Resource Conservation, National Taiwan University (NTU) (often referred to as the Harvard of Taiwan).  Hsiao-wei is now a Professor in her department, and last year became Dean of the Office of International Affairs for NTU, which requires a great deal of international travel.

Hsiao-wei teaches courses in Bird Ecology and Conservation, Wildlife Ecology, Wildlife Habitat, and Wildlife Management.  She and her grad students conduct research on several of Taiwan’s interesting birds, including the social Taiwan Yuhina.

In June, Tom Gavin (Hsaio-wei’s former major advisor at Cornell) will visit her in Taiwan, give several lectures, and advise students on their research projects at Sitou Experimental Forest.  Although his trip is planned for a month, he has vowed not to return to the states until he is fluent in Mandarin, or at least until he can hold an intelligent conversation with Hsiao-wei’s mother, who speaks no English.

Contact info for Hsiao-wei Yuan: hwyuan@ntu.edu.tw

Mitch Eaton Joins the NY Coop Unit Staff

Mitch Eaton has joined the NY Coop Unit  in Natural Resources as the Assistant Unit Leader for Ecology.  Mitch began his new position on December 5, 2011, following a 3-year postdoctoral stint at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.  There, Mitch worked under the direction of Jim Nichols and Mike Runge (a Cornell alumnus) to develop methods and applications in structured decision making (SDM) and adaptive management (AM) for the U.S. Department of Interior’s (DOI) management of the nation’s natural resources.  Mitch also spent a significant portion of his time at the DOI’s National Conservation Training Center and on the road leading workshops and teaching professional courses in SDM, AM and modeling to managers and field personnel.

In addition to teaching and leading workshops, Mitch was actively involved in consulting on several pressing management problems where he was able to apply models and formal decision analytical techniques to help improve recurrent resource decisions.

He helped develop an adaptive management program for improving fire-adapted scrublands to benefit populations of Florida scrub-jay and other scrub-dependent fauna and flora.  The program involves a novel occupancy model to integrate scrub-jay and habitat dynamics to optimize habitat management decisions.  Mitch is also consulting on an adaptive management project focused on recovery of the endangered Lower Keys marsh rabbit, also in Florida.  He and his collaborators have developed a new, spatially-explicit approach to model patch-level dynamics as a function of the occupancy status of neighboring patches.  The model incorporates  historical data, collected without regard to estimating non-detection, in addition to data collected under the current protocol.  It’s never good to have to throw out data!  This work fits into broader management framework that will include non-native predator control and habitat manipulation to aid in the recovery of this species.

With the Division of Migratory Bird Management (FWS) and Wildlife Services (USDA), Mitch helped formulate national policy guidelines for the management of overabundant double-crested cormorant populations and resulting human-wildlife conflicts in the US Great Lakes and southeast aquaculture facilities.  This work has led to a notice of intent submitted to the Federal Register for public comment on a proposal for a revised Federal Environmental Impact Statement.

In addition to quantitative decision analysis, Mitch has a background in international conservation, ecology and population genetics.  He received his MS degree from the University of Minnesota, where he developed market-based indices to evaluate harvest sustainability of mammal communities in Congo, Central Africa.  For his Ph.D. at  the University Colorado, he assessed the systematics, phylogeography, and population demography of a lesser-known species of crocodile in Central and West Africa.

Mitch is originally from Colorado and comes to Ithaca with his wife, Ellen.  Together they enjoy traveling, hiking and cooking.  In addition, Mitch likes to ski, fish and is learning to hunt deer, waterfowl and upland game.

Women Life Scientists

Borrowed from the Cornell Chronicle.

Frontiers symposium to celebrate women life scientists

Laura Martin planting seedlings in a greenhouse
Laura Martin, a natural resources graduate student and a conference volunteer, plants seedlings in a greenhouse to study how plants integrate seasonal cues to flower.

Women in academic science disciplines face uphill battles, from balancing work and family to competing in male-dominated fields after attaining their doctorates.

In an effort to address such challenges and seek guidance and inspiration from successful women life scientists, more than 30 Cornell students and postdoctoral researchers have organized “Frontiers in the Life Sciences: a Symposium Celebrating Excellence.” The April 2-3 event will bring eight elite female life scientists to campus for lectures, mentoring, networking and discussions.

The visiting researchers, which include a Nobel laureate, a MacArthur fellow and National Academy of Sciences members, will give formal research presentations on the first day and attend a dinner with graduate and faculty hosts at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.

Mia Park in apple orchard

Bryan Danforth
Mia Park, an entomology graduate student and symposium organizer, surveys bees pollinating apple blossoms in a New York orchard.

On the second day, they will visit host departments in their fields to lead discussions on topics related to science and gender. The day will culminate in a research poster session and reception for students and postdoctoral researchers.

“The symposium is a reminder that women can be successful in life sciences, and many of these women have families, so they have found ways to balance career and life,” said Mia Park, an entomology graduate student who helped coordinate the student volunteer organizers.

The invited scientists are behavioral ecologist Jeanne Altmann, Princeton University; chemical ecologist May Berenbaum, University of Illinois; neurobiologist Linda Buck, University of Washington; marine microbiologist Nicole Dubilier, Max Planck Institute, Bremen, Germany; human geneticist Mary-Claire King, University of Washington; plant biologist Sharon Long, Stanford University; ecologist Mary Power, University of California-Berkeley; and plant geneticist Pam Ronald, University of California-Davis.

“I am used to going to seminars and conferences where the overwhelming number of speakers are men, so it’s important for me to attend an event that celebrates excellence and addresses the gender skew found in science,” said Laura Martin, a natural resources graduate student who will conduct Q-and-As with scientists and post them online.

Retention of women in science will be a key topic at the symposium. Women account for more than half of all graduate students in the field of ecology, but fewer than 30 percent of tenured ecologists are women, Martin said.

“In life sciences, we have no problem recruiting brilliant women as grad students, but we do have a problem retaining them as tenured professors,” said Robert Raguso, lead faculty organizer of the symposium. Four other faculty and members of CU-ADVANCE were instrumental in organizing the conference.

The idea for the symposium grew from Raguso’s role as chair of the A.D. White Professors-at-Large Program. Raguso sent out an email to some 50 graduate students and faculty soliciting nominations for esteemed woman in life sciences, which “generated an amazing list,” he said.

“I recognized right away that this is something that I should not let drop. My thought was, ‘Oh, we have a symposium!'” he said. At that point, the graduate students jumped in.

Symposium participation requires registration, with deadlines as follows: March 26 for day one; registration for morning activities on the second day will be organized by host departments. Students who want to present a poster on day two need to register by March 19. Register online at http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/frontiers/Registration.html.

The symposium is supported by the President’s Council of Cornell Women, CU-ADVANCE, the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, the Graduate School, the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research and the academic host departments, including Plant Biology, Neurobiology and Behavior, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Entomology, Psychology and Molecular Biology and Genetics.

DNR Staff Honored as Educators of the Year

From the CALS website: http://cals.cornell.edu/cals/public/comm/pubs/ecalsconnect/honors/1203.cfm#NatRes

The National Wildlife Control Operators Association (NWCOA) recently recognized Paul Curtis, Raj Smith, and Gretchen Gary, all of the Department of Natural Resources, as “Educators of the Year” for their effort in the development of the National Wildlife Control Training Program (NWCTP). As the wildlife control industry has continued to grow, agency officials and industry leaders have stepped up requests for a standardized curriculum that could be used throughout the country to train and regulate wildlife control personnel. The NWCTP is the first curriculum to meet NWCOA’s certification standards. The NWCTP is 250 pages in length and contains 17 modules, covering topics such as wildlife damage management, safety, animal handling, euthanasia, ethics, and regulations.