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Porch Sitting

By Jerry Nissley

Porch sitting – A function exclusively characterized by occupying space on a porch in a seat, hence the name. The porch can be a deck, patio, or similar structure but must include a chair or a bench so one can sit. What one does while porch sitting is up to the individual. Recently I’ve seen friends and neighbors getting together for dinner or libations by ‘porch sitting’ while maintaining appropriate distancing.

I use my porch and deck primarily to observe activity in my backyard while enjoying a good cup of coffee. You know, to keep an eye on those rascally birds, squirrels, skinks, bugs and occasional fox that flit, flutter and fly around throughout the day.

As it happened one day last week while I was porch sitting, I observed a blue jay purposefully shuttling back and forth from a copse of trees into a row of massive photinia that line a portion of my back-neighbor’s yard. I figured it was busy catching insects to feed chicks in a nest buried deep within the photinia. A vibrant blue dart trimmed in bright white swooping 25 feet between perches, very eye-catching. As the light of day began to fade, I noticed its brilliant blue coloration fading as well. As the direct sunlight faded the jay appeared to turn a grey-brown. The bright white outline of primary tail and wing feathers was basically all I continued to see as dusk settled in.

Blue Jay – open source photo

I recalled then a science project my daughter did in high school on iridescence, pigment, and color. She used a blue jay feather as an example of pigment and light reflection. That project was more than a few years ago, so I decided to do additional research to refresh my memory on the subject. Research on why a blue jay appears blue has been refined quite a bit since that science fair project so, at risk of telling a group of Master Naturalists something they already know, I thought I would share my findings.

This article is not intended to fully describe a blue jay to you but stirring your mind by way of a sincere reminder is always appropriate for an FMN article. Briefly, according to Cornell Lab Bird Academy the blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) is a passerine bird in the family Corvidae, native to North America. It resides throughout most of eastern and central United States and breeds in both deciduous and coniferous forests so it is common in residential areas such as our local backyards.

Color is a theme for this article so its worth highlighting that a blue jay’s plumage appears blue in the crest, back, wings, and tail, and its face is white. The wing primaries and tail are strongly barred with black, sky-blue and white. However, the intense blue we perceive on a blue jay is due to the microscopic structure of its feathers and the way they reflect blue and violet light. This is known as structural coloration.

Source: Cornell Lab

A simple way to experience structural coloration is to hold a blue feather up to the sky so it is back-lit. With sunlight streaming through the feather the blue color vanishes and the feather appears a drab grey-brown. However, bring the feather down so the light bounces off, scattering blue wavelengths of light and the feather appears blue once again. Indeed, for many years scientists thought birds look blue for the same reason the sky does: red and yellow wavelengths pass through the atmosphere, but shorter blue wavelengths bounce off gas molecules and scatter, emitting a blue glow in every direction. But more recently Richard Prum, an ornithologist at Yale University, discovered that the blue in bird’s feathers is slightly different.

Prum discovered that as a blue feather grows, protein molecules called keratin (located within the feather cells) separate from water molecules, like oil from vinegar. When the cells die, the water evaporates and is replaced by air, leaving a specific structure of keratin interspersed with air pockets. This three-dimensional arrangement of the keratin/air layers within feather barbs is what reflects blue wavelengths of light back to our eyes as illustrated in Cornell’s graphic below. Prum also discovered that different shapes and sizes of these keratin/air layers create different shades of blue that we see among various species of birds. However, even though the appearance of blue is a structural color Prum determined the key to this entire phenomenon is the presence of the pigment melanin, because without it all blue birds would look white.

Blue Feather Graphic – Cornell Bird Lab Academy

Visible light strikes the feathers and encounters the keratin-air nano-structures. The size of the nano-structure matches that of the wavelength of blue light. So, while all of the other colors pass through the feather, the blue does not. It is reflected, so we see blue. As further evidence, if the ‘blue’ feathers of a bird are ground up they turn brown. Once the nano-structures are destroyed, you see the bird’s true color.

You can explore the uniqueness of blue feathers by observing a feather in different light conditions. In the shade, a blue jay’s feather will appear gray because the intrinsic gray-brown color of the melanin pigments is visible. Looking through the feather into the light, you’ll see just the gray-brown color of melanin as light passes through the feather. When you place it so that light falls directly upon it and is reflected to your eye, the feather will appear blue. Try the same with a cardinal’s feather and it will appear red each time.

The blue jay is a noisy, bold, and aggressive bird. It is a moderately slow flier and thus it makes easy prey for hawks and owls when flying in open areas. Virtually all the raptorial birds sympatric in distribution with the blue jay may prey upon it, especially swift bird-hunting specialists such as the Cooper’s, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks common in our Northern Virginia area.

Jays may occasionally impersonate the calls of raptors, possibly to test if a hawk is in the vicinity, though also possibly to scare off other birds that may compete for a food source. Because flight speed is somewhat slow it may impersonate hawks as passive defense mechanism. I mention this factoid because of another observation I made while porch sitting. I noticed a resident Red-tailed hawk circling a tall oak in the yard making its unmistakable high-pitched hawk shriek and what I thought to be its mate responded from a perch in the tree. I thought its mate was simply calling back but as the in-flight hawk approached the tree a blue jay fell out of the tree in a directed free-fall from the perch into low, dense bush cover.

Research into the phenomenon of mimicry revealed blue jays are able to make a large variety of sounds and individuals birds may vary perceptibly in their calling style. Like other, corvids (crows, magpies, ravens, etc) they may even learn to mimic human speech. Their most commonly recognized sound is the alarm call – a loud, almost gull-like scream. There is also a high-pitched jayer-jayer call that increases in speed as the bird becomes more agitated. I have seen backyard blue jays use this call to band together to mob potential predators such as crows and drive them away from the jays’ nests.

OK, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it – back to my porch I go. As Satchel Paige (or A.A. Milne, et al.) once said, “Sometimes I sit and think and other times I just sit.”

Penguins and Seals and Whales, Oh My!

Shawn Dilles

A short time ago, in a world that seems far, far, away, my wife and I decided to visit the end of the Earth. We spent January on a large, now infamous cruise ship traveling from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina by way of Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, the Antarctic Peninsula, and the Falkland Islands. The natural beauty of the near-pristine landscape was monumental, made even more special by the volcanoes, glaciers, icebergs, and the most clear dark skies I have ever seen. The most wonderful part of the trip was getting (somewhat) up close and personal with the delightful wildlife of the region.

Magellanic penguins in Chile. Photo: Shawn Dilles

Penguins are, simply stated, a joy to watch. Maybe their shape makes them easy to anthropomorphize, and once you start thinking that they are small versions of people, their behavior is often hilarious. These highly evolved birds come in a variety of sizes and colors, with many of the species living side by side. They are amazing swimmers and seem to fly through the water, occasionally leaping through the air for a quick breath. The Straits of Magellan and the Darwin Channel in Tierra del Fuego, at the tip of South America, house large colonies of Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. In the Antarctic Peninsula there are even more colonies of Gentoo, Adélie, and Chinstrap penguins. Emperor’s – the largest penguin species – also live in Antarctica, but none were sighted on this trip. In the Falkland Islands we saw Rockhopper, Magellanic, Gentoo, and a King Penguin.

Although penguins are relatively easy – even for me – to identify, I cannot say the same for other birds. The variety of novel species was obvious, and for the average birder visiting the region would undoubtedly be a very memorable experience. We saw hawks, shags, and geese (along with many other species) in Patagonia and the Falkland Islands, and two types of Albatross and countless petrels and other types of seabirds in the Drake Passage en route to Antarctica.  

South American Sea Lions are common on uninhabited small islands in the Beagle Channel – named after the H.M.S. Beagle, the hydrographic ship that carried Charles Darwin to explored the region in 1833. Both Chile and Argentina have set aside large areas of the tip of South America as national parks and reserves. 

What seals do on an ice raft. Photo: Shawn Dilles

Weddell and Crabeater seals live all along the shore and waters of the Antarctic Peninsula and on the icebergs and ice rafts there. The seals feed on krill, crabs and fish. One way to tell what the seals are eating is to look at the color of their ice rafts. If krill is a large part of the diet then the digested remains of the meal will tint the ice a pink or red color. 

Humpback whale. Photo: Shawn Dilles

Sighting a whale for the first time is a thing of wonder. We logged hundreds of sightings of humpback whales, a handful of killer whales and also dolphins in eight days of cruising around the Antarctic Peninsula. The humpback whales travelled in family units of two to six. A common sight was a mother and calf lazily travelling along the surface and occasionally diving to feed. A common way of feeding for humpbacks is for a small group to spiral through the water releasing bubbles that isolate then concentrate their prey. This so-called bubble feeding creates a net of bubbles that allows the whales to eat more efficiently. It is fascinating to think that one whale may have developed this strategy and passed it along so that humpbacks (and some other marine mammals) now do this around the world.

Two months after our cruise, the ship became internationally notorious for a corona virus outbreak. Eventually, the ship was allowed to dock, and the passengers disembarked. While I may not be ready to take another cruise now, there are many destinations, such as the south Pacific and Arctic, where ships provide the most practical – or only – access. I definitely will not rule out one in the future. 

Not ready to hop on a cruise ship any time soon? You can still see Antarctic penguins up close while contributing to citizen science as part of the Zooniverse Penguin Watch project at: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/penguintom79/penguin-watch

Zooniverse has dozens of other nature-related citizen science projects, and I encourage you to check some out.   

Seals in Tierra del Fuego. Photo: Shawn Dilles

Pinatas That Educate? Sweet!

By Mike Walker with Jerry Nissley

Mike Walker (Certified Master Naturalist) recently submitted the following creative success story detailing one constructive way to present conservation concepts AND have a great, fun time with your kids.

Mike related that he often looks for ways to drive home environmental messages to diverse groups of adults and children. Last December, with his son as his sage adviser, he created a pinata in the form of a dam for the annual Holiday Party at the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church.

Why a dam you might ask? Well, let’s take a short ride in the way-back machine: When his family joined the church 35 years ago, the annual Holiday Party featured a Santa Claus pinata. It occurred to Mike and his wife, Laura, that beating a beloved seasonal figure-head with a baseball bat seemed a bit odd – and face it, disrespectful to Santas everywhere – so Laura entered into negotiations with party organizers. Negotiations immediately determined that a traditional donkey pinata was out as well, since it might potentially offend members of both the Democratic party and PETA. Negotiations stalled, so the next year, candy was offered in a politically correct, plain, ecologically responsible, recyclable brown paper bag. WHOO HOO!

Well okay, that turned out to be rather boring and uninspired, so Laura decided to kick negotiations up a notch. The following year, she volunteered to make the pinata and constructed a modestly sized replica of the Berlin Wall, which was in the process of being torn down; the kids were invited to, “strike a blow for freedom (actually took 23).”

Since that time, the Walkers have made over 30, “socially responsible” pinatas – from Scud Missiles and rocket launches, to assault rifles, hand guns, a Litter Bug, a Gas Guzzler, a Gulf Oil Spill, a Box of Cigarettes, and a Box of Plastic Straws. Over time, the kids have not only struck blows for freedom but health, ecology, economy, and safety as well. As the topical causes expanded, so did the size of the pinatas. They currently measure in as large as 8 feet in length and 4 feet tall; and must be strong enough to withstand 50 bat-wielding kids for a few rounds who know that only paper and wood stand between them and handfuls of candy.

Replica Dam Pinata - Mike Walter
Dam Pinata – photo Mike Walker

The most recent pinata was a huge “hit” literally and figuratively since it modeled the dam in the popular children’s movie “Frozen II”, which (spoiler alert) is destroyed near the end of the movie. Party favors included clever educational fliers with coloring pages and illustrations of dam fish-passes.

It was a fun and thought provoking opportunity for kids and adults to learn about the spawning cycle of diadromous fish and eels. The event also raised awareness of the potential hazards caused by river barriers such that some kids still talk about the plight of fish that, “can’t get home.”

Think Beyond What We See

Jerry Nissley

I recently viewed a beautifully composed, thought-provoking New York Times video, entitled, “The Church Forests of Ethiopia”, by Jeremy Seifert.

Even though the video is about Ethiopia, the concepts presented in it are easily extrapolated and applied to the need for maintaining the biodiversity of our local forests. It illustrates how abiotic factors interconnect with biotic factors and emphasizes the particular significance of trees in that ecosystem. The highlands of Ethiopia, where the story takes place, were once part of a continuously forested landscape. Over time, the vast majority of that ecosystem has been replaced by agricultural land void of trees, save the “Church Forests” that have been preserved by patrons of the church. The surrounding void has drastically changed the landscape.

I am preaching to the choir here when I say the mission of VMN is, in part, to help care for forests, and the video elegantly presents why we should. Preservation is mutually beneficial – we are inside the forest and the forest is inside us. Emergent properties and behaviors form that could not otherwise exist without interaction between all components (human, animal, plant, and even geology). Forests do not necessarily last forever and we must have a conservation plan. If we lose them – that’s it.

As VMNs, we are confronted with much the same communication problem as are the churches of Ethiopia, but to a lesser degree given that the two countries have different needs and demographics. That notwithstanding, both need to communicate with our communities to create an awareness about how vitally important our forests are and the benefits of preserving them sometimes in lieu of housing developments, industrial parks, and agriculture.

In a sense, we may think of our county, state, and national parks as our current Church Forests. Consider Huntley Meadows – it literally has a wall (fence) around it to protect the forest and wetland. We should do all we can to care for our parks and while we are at it, spread the word and always be in search of new church forests to plant.

Becoming a Culturally Responsive Interpreter, April 13 & 14

Two-day course
13 & 14 April 2020
12-2:30 pm each day
NAI members $75/Nonmembers $100
Register here

The National Association for Interpretation presents a program to discuss the question, how can we be more effective interpreters with participants from cultures other than our own? Interpretation has both the opportunity and a responsibility to be more inclusive of all communities and to question dominant and privileged cultural perspectives. In this interactive virtual session, participants will examine privilege and bias as it pertains to interpretive planning and programming. Participants will reflect on individual and organizational practices and develop strategies for creating engaging and meaningful programming for diverse audiences.

*Reflect upon how personal values, biases and assumptions can impact the quality of programming that we create.
*How to identify Bias in instructional materials.
*Strategies for creating a culturally-responsive programming.

Parker McMullen Bushman is the VP for Community Engagement, Education and Inclusion at Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, CO. Parker’s background in the interpretation, conservation, and environmental education fields spans 22+ years. Parker has a passion for justice, accessibility, and equity issues. In addition to Parker’s role at Butterfly Pavilion she is also the founder of a DEI consulting firm called Ecoinclusive, the creator of Earth KWEEN and the founder of Summit for Action.

Spring Orientation, Spring & Summer Internships, and Volunteer Opportunities at Riverbend Park

Spring is around the corner! Check out the many opportunities available at Riverbend Park. Park staff and volunteer coordinator Valeria Espinosa hope you can join them for any of these projects and events!

Spring & Summer Natural Resource Internships (18+)  

Interested in working for the Resource Management Division? Apply to the NEW internship program and get hands-on experience working alongside Natural Resources Manager, Rita Peralta. Applications accepted now until filled. 

Sign up here: https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov/custom/1380/#/opp_details/184394

Contact: rita.peralta@fairfaxcounty.gov 

Spring Volunteer Orientation: Preserving Our Parks! 

Saturday 3/14 | 9:00 AM | 8814 Jeffery Road, Great Falls, VA 22066 

Riverbend has many exciting projects in store and several positions available. Come learn about theprograms and get started on a field project or training right away! 

SIGN UP: https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov/custom/1380/#/opp_details/185556  

Invasive Removal Team! 

Join the Invasive Removal team and help lead the effort to reduce the spread of invasive plants at Riverbend Park. Volunteers can join monthly removal events, Adopt-a-Spot, and/or assist with field surveying and monitoring. Scheduling is flexible! If you are interested contact Valeria and sign up for orientation on 3/14

GET INVOLVED! valeria.espinoza@fairfaxcounty.gov  

Invasive Removal Days: https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov/custom/1380/#/opp_details/184647  

Teaching Docent! (18+) 

Interested in Northern Virginia’s natural resources and heritage? Become a Teaching Docent and share your passion for the outdoors through Riverbend’s school programs involving history, nature, and science. Don’t worry, they will train you! 

SIGN UP: https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov/custom/1380/#/opp_details/179279 

Resource Naturalist!

If you are interested in monthly/bi-monthly volunteering at Riverbend Park and/or Scott’s Run Nature Preserve, join our Resource Management Team! Become a Resource Naturalist and get involved in Wildlife surveys, Wildflower Surveys, Field Surveys, Trail Restoration, Invasive Control, Planting projects, and more! 

SIGN UP: https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov/custom/1380/#/opp_details/179280  

Trail Work Days! 

SIGN UP: https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov/custom/1380/#/opp_details/185491 

ESLI Volunteer Coordinator (18+) 

Looking for organization leadership experience? The Environmental Student Leadership Initiative (ESLI) is seeking a lead coordinator to work with high school student leaders on managing this environmental education organization. 

APPLY HERE: https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov/custom/1380/#/opp_details/185533

Riverbend Gardener! 

Support our gardens at Riverbend Park! Volunteer 2-3 times a month and help our native gardens thrive.  

SIGN UP: https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov/custom/1380/#/opp_details/184766 

Bluebell Festival! April 11th 

SIGN UP: https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov/custom/1380/#/opp_details/180932 

For more opportunities CLICK HERE!  

Questions? Email Valeria at valeria.espinoza@fairfaxcounty.gov

Certified Interpretive Guide course, Feb. 24-27th

Green Spring Gardens
4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria VA
Monday, 24 February – Thursday, 27 February
8:30 am – 5 pm
28 February a possible snow make-up day
$230

A Certified Interpretive Guide course is being offered by the Fairfax County Park Authority. This certification workshop focuses on the skills needed to interpret natural and cultural resources to an audience allowing them to not just learn about resources but connect to and care about them.
This is a national certification program offered by the National Association for Interpretation hosted by the Fairfax County Park Authority for its staff. It requires no prior knowledge or training.
There are 5 spots open to the public. You can register online.
Here is the link:

https://www.interpnet.com/nai/nai/_events/Event_Display.aspx?EventKey=CIG022320

The course is 32 hours and meets 8:30am-5pm for 4 days, more details will follow after registering. Remember to indicate whether you want the certification option.
For more information about the course, please contact Patricia Dietly at patricia.dietly@fairfaxcounty.gov or call (703) 642-0128.

Join Other Environmental Educators at the 2020 VAEE Conference

The 2020 VAEE Conference has a lot to offer Virginia Master Naturalists!

On Wednesday, Feb. 26 there will be many outdoor workshops and classes such as “Wandering the Winter Woods” or “A Wetland Wander at Sweet Briar.” There are full day workshops such as “Communicating Climate Change” and “Lynchburg’s Urban Water Cycle Tour.’’ Plain old fun can be had in the “Make-n-Take” session in which you can make a Mason bee house, a Bluebird box, a Rain Barrel, or Nature Crafts such as corn husk dolls, vine baskets, cordage or memory keepers.  The Interactive Activity Showcase will give you many new tools for your education toolbox.

On Thursday, Feb. 27 nineteen different concurrent sessions will be offered, the Awards Luncheon, and most importantly the keynote speaker, Dr. J. Drew Lanham, an author, poet, wildlife biologist and Clemson University’s Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology. In 2019 he was awarded the National Audubon Society’s Dan W. Lufkin Prize for Environmental Leadership, recognizing “individuals who have dedicated their entire lives to the environment”.

His research focuses on songbird ecology, as well as the African-American role in natural-resources conservation. A South Carolina native, Lanham is active on a number of conservation boards, including the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, Audubon South Carolina, the Aldo Leopold Foundation, BirdNote, and the American Birding Association, and he is a member of the advisory board for the North American Association of Environmental Education.

On Friday, Feb. 28 there will be 14 more concurrent sessions and a closing session with the keynote speaker, our own Nancy Striniste, author of the new book Nature Play at Home: Creating Outdoor Spaces that Connect Children to the Natural World (Timber Press, 2019). Nancy is founder and principal designer at EarlySpace, is a landscape designer, an educator, and an author.

Registration is now open! Early Bird Registration Ends on 12/31/2019 so you have through the end of the year to get in at the reduced rate! You will have many options from full conference registration to only attending one day. Full conference includes all meals for the 2.5 days. https://vaee.wildapricot.org/VAEE2020

If you have further questions contact Page or Bruce.

How can universities and colleges advance community science?

Reposted from On the Job, a blog hosted by the American Geophysical Union

A cool thing about working at Thriving Earth Exchange is learning about excellent work being done in community science. There is a lot going on in colleges and universities, and even research-focused universities are starting to change in ways that advance and support community science. In making those changes, they can look to a history of community science in two-year colleges, agricultural extension offices, tribal colleges, and historically black colleges. I love that idea that the emergence of community science is an opportunity to recognize their long-standing leadership.  How cool is it that Stanford might learn from Haskell Indian Nations University?

Here are some of the things universities and colleges are doing, distilled into a set of recommendations for any university or college seeking to advance community science.  Don’t think of this as a list of hit singles, think of it as the tracks on an album, where the songs are mutually reinforcing and tell a larger story (e.g. Lemonade). That is, the biggest impact seems to come from tackling all the practices described here.

 

  1. Redefine Success. For the past 75 years, professional success in science has been based primarily on original discovery, usually measured by publications and citations. Worcester Polytechnic Institute has revised their tenure process based on Boyer’s model of scholarship, so that they recognize not only discovery and teaching, but also application and engagement. West Chester University has long allowed faculty to shift the relative weight of service, teaching, and research in their tenure portfolios, which means faculty who focus on community science can weight that higher. At University of Washington, the dean of the college of the Environment invites new faculty to write one less paper, and instead spend that time working with her team to translate their work into real world impact.
  2. Learn to Count Impact. I am convinced that one of the reasons papers count is because we know how to count papers. How can we shift from impact factor to societal impact? Let’s support research into the benefits of community-engaged approaches, including their benefits for communities, faculty and students.  I think a promising place to start is around the idea of community science literacy, which emphasizes a community’s capacity to use science by linking it with their members other skills and assets.  This framing is powerful because it’s asset-based and it includes both concrete accomplishment and future potential.
  3. Organize around priorities, not disciplines. Community priorities don’t map onto single disciplines, so being good at community science means being multidisciplinary. Colleges can make interdisciplinary work easier though centers that bring together faculty and students from many departments, like the School for Innovation and the Future of Society at ASU or the Haskell Environmental Research Center. Centers like these can also offer seed-funding, new kinds of course work and preparation, project management support, and coordinate community partnerships. For communities, these centers can help communities avoid getting lost in university bureaucracy.
  4. Build Institutional connections to community organizations. For community science to succeed at scale and last over time, a university or college has to build strong, trusting relationships with community groups. A long-term, university or college-wide commitment allows a college to reach across disciplines, engage different people over time, present a single point of contact for managing projects and relationships, and guide the institutional evolution necessary to support community science.  Of course, motivated faculty and students will build relationships anyway, but without university support and alignment, those relationships disappear when the students or faculty move on or risk being undermined  by actions in another part of the university.  An institutional leadership can look like a vice-chancellor for community engagement, or even a presidential commitment to community partnership. UC Davis has a Center for Citizen and Community Science that serves as hub for both doing and studying community engagement.
  5. Build the infrastructure for community science. One of the things I often hear is that community science is hard to do and takes a long time to get results. Numerical modeling is also hard and it also takes a long time to get results, but we make it easier by providing infrastructure (computing centers, for example). What if colleges and universities invested in infrastructure for community science?  Infrastructure includes space to hold community meetings, hubs in local neighborhoods, online engagement tools, workplace flexibility that allows people to manage engagement around community work schedules, help navigating languages and cultures, solid partnerships with community-serving organizations, and administrative services that support community engagement (see point 8).
  6. Educate people to do community science. Make it a part of every science graduate program and encourage proficiency before graduation. Create opportunities to learn and practice community ethics, community engagement, cultural humility, conflict management and listening as a research skill. There are fields that do this well already – public health, human geography, ecology, and anthropology – other sciences can learn a lot.  Offer mentorship program around community science.   For physical scientists, NSF has a new program that pays students and advisors to do internships – why not internships in community science?  One thing that would be especially cool is classes where community leaders and scientists learn community science together. Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a remarkable project, the NOISE project, that does exactly that.
  7. Make equity the foundation of community science. Science is already influenced by and a partner in the implicit biases and systemic inequities that are part of the larger world. Unless you are designing with equity in mind, you’re probably perpetuating inequity. Equity as a foundation of community science means respecting, welcoming, and advancing all communities. It also means being a partner to communities in their efforts to tackle inequity and looking for ways science can help elevate community voices and perspectives. Institutions that were designed to advance equity – Tribal Colleges, HBCU’s – are the obvious exemplars, but I think any institution, can and should, make a commitment to equity.
  8. Share power, money and decision-making. Doing community science means that institutions with power and privilege, universities and colleges, will make a conscious decision to share that power and privilege.   The most successful community science projects share the budget so that community organizations benefit as directly as the science institution, build in fair compensation for the expertise and participation of community members, have well-defined leadership roles that are shared by community leaders and scientists, and have clearly outlined processes for making decisions. This backed up by open agreements about intellectual property, community review boards, and shared ethical principles of engagement.  One thing I would love to see is research dollars going to community groups, so they can invest in the research to answer their questions.   We should also look at how resources are shared among colleges and universities. Will new funds for community science go to smaller schools that have been doing it well forever, or to high-profile institutions that are new to community science?

 

The cool thing about all of these practices is that they are doable. In fact, some institutions are already doing them – as revealed in the recent AGU Union Session.  What that means is that the revolutionary part of the community science revolution isn’t knowing how to do community science, or even finding people who are doing community science. The revolutionary part is changing structures and systems so that we encourage, facilitate, and reward community science.  I think universities and colleges have an opportunity to lead that revolution, and some already are.  What do you think?

Raj Pandya, Director, Thriving Earth Exchange, American Geophysical Union

Nature’s fine methods

Jerry Nissley

I recently attended a family reunion at my cousin’s restored farm house in Southampton County, Virginia. Standing sentinel to the house is a massive eastern white oak (Quercus alba) dramatically adorned with resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides). I was taken with this newly discovered (if only to me) fern and later sat down to research and write an article about the fern. 

Figure 1 House and oak tree

As I fondly rehashed conversations with the four generations at the reunion about how the land was recently recovered and the house rebuilt, and then discovered facts about the resurrection fern, what was originally an article revealed itself as a story. A story not only about a fern but more so of, well, resurrection—land into a distinguished Virginia farm, a house rebuilt into a home, and the recognition of a great white oak that has witnessed 350 years of history unfold. The symbolism of resurrection was inescapable.

The story parts blend so homogeneously with the first credo FMN students are introduced to: Awareness leads to knowledge which leads to appreciation which leads to conservation.

This story is an allegory of that credo. It tells of an initial awareness of the importance of the land and ensuing knowledge of its man-made and natural elements. It represents the appreciation of the forefather’s vision in developing the homestead and the innate desire of the current caretakers to preserve structures and conserve the beauty and integrity of the land’s natural treasures. One could loosely associate Jared Diamond’s warning about landscape amnesia—where people lose knowledge of how the natural world once was, with each succeeding generation accepting a degraded environment as the status quo (Diamond, 2005). That would not be the case with these people, with this environment.

As FMNers, we all love field trips right? So please, I invite you on a short, figurative field trip. One in which we will briefly discover some Virginia history, celebrate a sentinel oak, and then explore specific details about the resurrection fern.

The House 

We begin our field trip at the house in Southampton County, Virginia. The property has been in the Hart family for over 150 years and is now a registered Virginia Century Farm. Originally the farmers raised livestock on open land; rotated peanuts, corn, cotton, and soybeans to maintain soil quality; and designated large portions for timber.

Even though the property has been continually farmed by the family, as generations passed, the main house and farm buildings were at times rented out to achieve the greatest economic potential. The main house was adequately maintained, but the auxiliary buildings not so much. A few were lost to time and lack of maintenance, but the barn and blacksmith shed faired better.

My cousins, Patricia and Paul Milteer, were able to make the property their permanent home and tirelessly restored the farm house, barn, and blacksmith’s shed. They later applied to the Virginia Century Farm Program, and the farm is now officially registered by the state as The Hart Farm.

As stated on the program’s web-site, the Virginia Century Farm Program recognizes and honors those farms that have been in operation for at least 100 consecutive years and the Virginia farm families whose diligent and dedicated efforts have maintained these farms, provided nourishment to their fellow citizens and contributed so greatly to the economy of the Commonwealth. 

Figure 2 The Milteers’ Oak: Points: 366; Trunk circumference: 19’6”; Height: 100’; Average spread: 120’; Estimated age: 350 years

The family owners of farms designated as Virginia Century Farms receive a certificate signed by the Governor and the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, along with a sign for outdoor display (Century Farms, n.d.). 

The Tree 

Our field trip continues just out the front door. We can sit on the porch and consider the tree. Once the house and auxiliary buildings were restored functionally and aesthetically, the Milteers were able to focus on the massive eastern white oak standing as gatekeeper to their home. The oak provides home and food to a variety of animals. A barn owl (Tyto alba) nests in the branches and bats take sanctuary in the folds of the bark. 

The acorns take only one growing season to develop unlike those of the red oak group, which require at least 18 months for maturation. They are much less bitter than acorns of red oaks so they are preferred by a wider variety of wildlife. They are small relative to most oaks, but are a valuable annual food notably for turkeys, wood ducks, pheasants, grackles, jays, nuthatches, thrushes, woodpeckers, rabbits, and deer. The white oak is the only known food plant for the Bucculatrix luteella and Bucculatrix ochrisuffusa caterpillars. (Q. Alba, n.d.)

Recognizing the tree’s impressive size, the Milteers reached out to The Virginia Big Tree Program, an educational program within the Virginia Cooperative Extension that started out as a 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) project in 1970. Today the program is coordinated by the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation at Virginia Tech. Their mission is to increase the care and appreciation for all trees—big and small—and educate the Commonwealth about the value of trees and forests. The Virginia Big Tree Program maintains a register of the five largest specimens of more than 300 native, non-native, and naturalized tree species. The register includes information about each tree’s size, location, and unique characteristics. (Virginia Cooperative Extension, n.d.)

Trees are ranked on a point system measuring height, crown spread, and trunk circumference. The 500-year-old national record holder for Q. alba grows in Brunswick, Virginia and scored 451 points in 2012. The next highest scoringVirginia Q. alba scored 398 (Southampton), 397 (Lee), and 396 (Albemarle) respectively. (Big trees, n.d.)

Byron Carmean and Gary Williamson, volunteers for Virginia Big Tree Program, scored the Milteer’s tree at 366, so it probably will not make the top five (maybe the top ten).

The Fern

Let’s move our field trip just off the porch to contemplate the fern. Field trips don’t get easier than this, folks! 

Pleopeltis polypodioides (Andrews & Windham), also known as the resurrection fern, is a species of creeping, coarse-textured fern native to the Americas and Africa. The leathery, yellow-green pinnae (leaflets) are deeply pinnatifid and oblong. It attaches to its host with a branching, creeping, slender rhizome, which grows to 2 mm in diameter (P. Polypodioides, n.d.). The fern is facultative to North American Atlantic and Gulf Coast Plain physiographical areas.

Figure 3: Resurrection fern

This fern is not parasitic. It is an epiphyte or air plant. It attaches itself to a host and collects nourishment from air and water and nutrients that collect on the outer surface of the host. The resurrection fern lives commensalistically on the branches of large trees such as cypresses and may often be seen carpeting the shady areas on limbs of large oak trees as pictured on the Milteer’s tree. It also grows on rock surfaces and dead logs. In the southeastern United States, it is often found in the company of other epiphytic plants such as Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) and is always found with some type of moss (phylum Bryophyta). The fern has spores (sori) on the bottom of the fronds and sporulates in summer and early fall (Oak and Fern, n.d.). Interestingly, rhizome sections are also viable offspring and can root themselves in new medium.

 The resurrection fern gets its name because it can survive long periods of drought by curling up its fronds and appearing desiccated, grey-brown and dead. However, when just a little water is presented, the fern will uncurl and reopen, appearing to “resurrect” and restores itself to a vivid green color in as little as three hours. Studies suggest these ferns could last 100 years without water and still revive after a single exposure. 

When the fronds “dry” as shown in Figure 4 (2 weeks after the reunion), they curl with their bottom sides upwards. In this way, they rehydrate more quickly when rain comes, as most of the water is absorbed on the underside of the pinnae. Experiments have shown they are able to lose almost all their free water (up to 97%) and remain viable, though more typically they lose around 76% in dry spells. For comparison, most other plants may die after losing only 8-12%. When drying, the fern synthesizes the protein dehydrin, which allows cell walls to fold in a way that can be easily reversed later (Plant Signaling, n.d.).

Figure 4 Dry fronds

Even more life, in forms that aren’t visible to the naked eye, may call the fern a community home. Stems, leaves, and flowers host microorganisms, creating a habitat called a phyllosphere, a term used in microbiology to refer to all above-ground portions of plants as habitat for microorganisms. The phyllosphere is subdivided into the caulosphere (stems), phylloplane (leaves), anthosphere (flowers), and carposphere (fruits). The below-ground microbial habitats (i.e., the thin-volume of soil surrounding root or subterranean stem surfaces) are referred to as the rhizosphere and laimosphere, respectively. Most plants host diverse communities of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, archaea, and protists. Some are beneficial to the plant; others function as plant pathogens and may damage the host plant or even kill it. However, the majority of microbial colonists on any given plant have no detectable effect on plant growth or function. Plant phyllospheres in general are considered a hostile environment for microorganisms to live due to the variation in ultra-violet radiation, temperature, water, and nutrient contents. The phyllosphere of P. polypodioides is considered even more extreme due to the mercurial environmental conditions this epiphyte is typically found in and the dry/wet states it cycles through (Phyllosphere, n.d.).

Microorganisms do indeed survive in the phyllosphere of P. polypodioides though, even during its dry periods. In “Changes in the phyllosphere community of the resurrection fern, Polypodium polypodioides associated with rainfall and wetting”, Jackson (2006) found the micro-organism community changes as the resurrection fern moves from a dry state to wet state. Additionally, the researchers found that certain populations of microorganisms increase their enzyme activity after the fern revives. The researchers concluded that these microorganisms are responding to the secretion of sugary organics released through the plant’s surface once the fern is back to its robust, green state. Changes in phyllosphere extracellular enzyme activity are seen first as an initial burst of activity following rainfall and a subsequent burst approximately 48 hours later as additional nutrient sources emerge.

Figure 5 Revived fern

Cultural studies have shown that Native peoples historically recognized the significance of the resurrection fern. It has been used as a diuretic, a remedy for heart problems, and as a treatment for infections. Benefits of the resurrection fern are not lost on the modern pharmaceutical industry. Recent medical research confirming these cultural reports have shown that extracts from the fern have anti-arrhythmic cardiac properties—truly a potential for resurrection of the heart.

Figure 6 Resurrection Fern up close

Thanks in part to the training provided by dedicated FMN program instructors, in this case our resident dendrologist Jim McGlone, I am aware of trees like never before. I see trees, I see what lives in trees, I see ferns, and I see the need for conservation. What I need to see more clearly and we all need to experience is the indelible, spiritual, personal relationship people need to have with nature. People are the caretakers of the gifts we have been given on earth, and people need to be the stimulus for conservation. As John Muir (1911) elegantly journaled, “How fine Nature’s methods! How deeply with beauty is beauty overlaid!” It is inspiring to me that something as small as a fern encouraged awareness, understanding, appreciation and, yes, resurrection of “nature’s fine methods”.

 

Works Cited

Big trees. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.americanforests.org: www.americanforests.org/get-involved/americas-biggest-trees/bigtrees-search/bigtrees-advanced-search/

Century Farms. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.vdacs.virginia.gov: www.vdacs.virginia.gov/conservation-and-environmental-virginia-century-farms.shtml

Diamond, J. M. (2005). Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. New York: Viking.

Jackson, E. F. (2006). Changes in the phyllosphere community of the resurrection fern, Polypodium polypodioides, associated with rainfall and wetting. FEMS microbiology ecology 58.2, 236-246.

Muir, J. (1911). My First Summer in the Sierra. Boston: Houghton Miffin.

Oak and Fern. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.sciphotos.com: www.sciphotos.com/2016/01/oak-tree-resurrection-fern.html

P. Polypodioides. (n.d.). Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleopeltis_polypodioides

Phyllosphere. (n.d.). Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phyllosphere

Plant Signaling. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256378

Q. Alba. (n.d.). Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quercus_alba

Virginia Cooperative Extension (n.d.). Virginia Big Tree Program. Retrieved from ext.vt.edu: http://ext.vt.edu/natural-resources/big-tree.html