Keith Tidball participates in international URBIS workshop

Jerusalem, Israel recently hosted a 2 day workshop on URBIS – Urban Biospheres, a collaborative program among partners such the Cornell DNR Civic Ecology Lab, the Stockholm Resilience Center, ICLEI, UNESCO, and others.   Keith Tidball was among thirteen international experts in ecology, biodiversity management and community engagement, who convened with over 50 key local professionals to produce strategies for moving forward with an urban biosphere concept that transcends municipal boundaries and is based on cooperation in the region. Their work, using Jerusalem as a case study, is currently being summarized for presentation at the Rio+20 Summit in June. The following are reviews of the workshop and two pieces on the symbolically important swift (apus apus) including a short film documenting the Annual Welcome Ceremony for the Swifts at the Western Wall, which concluded the workshop events:

DNR Alumnus Jacob Johnston Announces the Grand Opening of a New Web Site and Land Management Business at

Private land use can produce valuable products and services but may lead to environmental degradation. Many management practices impact the natural regimes that normally protect and encourage the diversity and abundance of native vegetation. This can alter the succesion of hardwood forest regeneration, increase erosion, allow invasive species intrusion and perpetuate habitat loss. Proper integration of land use with land stewardship can mitigate these negative effects by restoring the natural patterns and processes that drive healthy ecosystems. Benefits of stewardship practices include increased wildlife sightings, improved access for hunting and recreation, beautiful seasonal blooms, long term stability, and the potential to generate income through tax credits, tax deductions, and other financial incentives.

All private land owners should have a professional land manager that is concerned with their best interests in mind and provides services and guidance for production, compliance, environmental protection, and financial incentives for conservation efforts. Jacob Johnston, a Cornell DNR alumnus, recently started The Nature Steward to provide “Eco-Logical” solutions and stewardship options for private land owners.

The Nature Steward offers integrated and adaptive management planning to bring out the true nature of your property. Whether it’s forest or field, streams or wetland, or a diverse combination, The Nature Steward can implement a plan for habitat improvement and site stability. This can include invasive species removal, native plant restoration, timber stand improvement, and disease or pest control.

“I’m excited to announce the grand opening of my new web site,,  and Land Management Business. I hope to attract lots of visitors (and prospective customers), so I invite you to visit my site now to learn more!” – Jacob Johnston

Warmer weather means more animals abound

DNR Professor Paul Curtis was featured in an Ithaca Journal article earlier this month. Due to temperatures that are unusually high and little snowfall this winter, there has been an impact on the local wildlife. Black bear, mosquitos, and skunk sightings have happened earlier this year than they have in the past. The article describes ways to deal with the wild animals and avoid negative wildlife-human interactions.

Read the full Ithaca Journal article here.

Warmer summers could cause trout populations to dwindle

From the Cornell Chronicle

March 26, 2012

Warmer summers could cause trout populations to dwindle

Warmer summers mean later spawning times and fewer nests for brook trout.

The New York state fish could be in jeopardy due to climate change, warn Cornell scientists.

Warmer summers mean later fall spawning times and fewer nests for brook trout, which could eventually affect the fish’s population numbers.

Cliff Kraft, associate professor in the Department of Natural Resources, and four other researchers looked at 11 years of data from Rock Lake in the Adirondacks to find the link between summer temperatures and spawning times for brook trout. Cornell has a 60-year history of research in Adirondack lakes, providing the researchers with long-term data on temperatures and brook trout spawning times.

“The key thing is they are cold-water fish and need groundwater to spawn,” Kraft said.

The warmer summer temperatures have had a “sub-lethal effect,” Kraft said. Warmer summers don’t kill the fish, but lead to fewer nests — called redds — and a late start for those eggs that are laid.

“These trout can’t build gonads in the summer,” Kraft said. “They’re burning more energy to survive, so they don’t have energy to produce eggs. The warmer it gets, the fewer fish are spawning; some just give up.”

Cliff Kraft

In a study published in the Global Change Biology journal March 13, the researchers argue that temperature can be linked to the delay in spawning.

An average difference in mean summer daily air temperature of 1 degree Celsius delayed spawning by about one week and reduced the number of redds constructed by 65, they found.

“The last brook trout in this lake is not about to drop dead, but warming temperatures present a substantial threat,” Kraft said.

Dana Warren, Kraft’s former Ph.D. student who is now at Oregon State University, said warmer temperatures also mean earlier ice breaks, earlier turnover times for lakes and earlier peaks for plankton blooms.

All of these factors can affect the food source available for the young fish when they do emerge. If fish are relying on that plankton when they hatch, they may be weeks too late, and the natural synchrony of the blooms and the hatching period are pulled out of whack in two directions, Warren said.

The study used a long time frame to look beyond acute effects and discover potential latent effects of climate change, Warren added.

The researchers believe unstratified lakes — or lakes shallow enough not to have layers of water at different temperatures and densities — will become more common. That could pose further threats to fish like trout, which take refuge in cool water, Warren said.

“This study highlights the importance of looking at residency and non-migratory populations,” he said.

Fernow Hall Renovation Update as of March 26, 2012

Dear Natural Resources Department and Graduate Students,

Below is an update on the Fernow renovation.

The dry wall on exterior walls is going up:


The exterior walls are drywalled and the interior framing is underway on the first, second and third floors.  The opening under the window is where the heating/cooling unit (called a fan coil unit) will go.

This is a mock up of what the proposed fan coil unit covering will look like.  Yes it is wood and yes they are having troubles with the implementation, so we will see what the final product looks like.

This shot is taken from the first floor.  Notice they have opened up the entryway from the stairs into the hallway to the original arch.

The ground floor slab has been removed and pouring the new slab is in process.  The base of the newelevator is at the right.

The plumbing and electric on the ground floor is going in:

The new slab on the west side of the ground floor is ready  to be poured:

…and the new slab on the west side of the ground floor.  Hope they didn’t forget any pipes.

The front side of Fernow is being excavated to allow more light into the offices on the southeast side and to waterproof the walls and window wells.

The south wall waterproofing is almost completed.  No more water coming in the windows during a hard rain!

The annex on the east side of Fernow where CALS IT used to live is gone….

…and the excavation for the new classroom foundation has started:

Sarah Gould

Senior Administrative Manager

Natural Resources

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    Dept of Natural Resources and Margarita Lopez-Uribe   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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Florida Explores the Public Trust Doctrine

Recently the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) held a workshop, discussing the public trust doctrine (PTD). PTD is the principle that natural resources are not owned by anyone, but rather, the government is the ‘trustee’ and citizens are the ‘beneficiaries.’ According to this concept, decisions regarding natural resources should not be made to benefit the ecosystem itself, but to benefit the present and future generations. The workshop was moderated by Dr. Dan Decker, DNR. DNR’s Dr. Bernd Blossey and Ph.D. candidate Darragh Hare were participants in the workshop.

Read the full article about the PTD workshop here.