ecology

Ep. 38 - Ants in Our Plants

Ep. 38 - Ants in Our Plants

Have you ever heard of myrmecochory? It may not pop up much in casual conversation, but this strange word is your doorway to a tiny, fascinating world of ant-plant interactions. Myrmecochory is seed dispersal by ants (don’t worry, we cover how to pronounce it in the episode), and while it may seem simple on the surface, it’s a beautifully complex spectrum of behaviors and benefits, , including some questionable ones.

Myrmecochory has long been considered a classic example of mutualism, in which two species benefit from a shared interaction, but recent research has called this idea into question. Are the ants really benefiting? Is it possible that plants are parasitizing the ants? Are the ants inadvertently ‘cleaning’ the seeds, inoculating them against harmful soil microbes? There is so much more to myrmecochory than Bill and Steve ever imagined! Join the guys as they hit the trail, exploring the seldom-seen world of ants and plants.

Ep. 34 - The Downy-Hairy Game

Ep. 34 - The Downy-Hairy Game

Did you ever wonder why Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers look so much alike? No? Neither did we, but it was because we always assumed they were simply closely related species. Maybe you did, too, but thanks to the wonders of DNA analysis, we now know that these two look-alikes are not even in the same genus. So, what gives?

Researchers recently looked into this stumper-of-a-problem, and, in this episode, Bill and Steve break down what might be the cause.

Oh, and Bill talks about how he might have Lyme disease.

Enjoy!

This episode was recorded at the Owens Falls Sanctuary in East Aurora, NY on January 6, 2019.

Ep. 33 - Hart's-Tongue Fern - Restoring an Endangered Species

Ep. 33 - Hart's-Tongue Fern - Restoring an Endangered Species

“Richer than millionaires! Happier than Kings! Envied by multitudes! May be said of hobnobbers with Hart’s-tongues.”

So said one enthusiast of the Hart’s-tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum) long ago, and we think you’ll agree. This species is exceptional in many ways; its appearance (it doesn’t look like your typical fern), its uncommon habitat, and it’s rarity all add to the Hart’s-tongue fern’s mystique.

This month, the guys hit the road, traveling to central NY and hitting the trail with Mike Serviss, a conservation biologist working with New York State Parks. Among his many duties, Mike is researching the most successful ways to restore this picky plant to its habitat, and he’s also a fantastic science communicator.

Join us as Mike helps us peel back the mystery of what’s involved in restoring an endangered species.

Enjoy!

Ep. 29 - Jack-in-the-Pulpit, AKA George-Michael-in-the-Banana-Stand

Ep. 29 - Jack-in-the-Pulpit, AKA George-Michael-in-the-Banana-Stand

This is the story of two guys who enter the woods looking for Arisaema triphyllum, the graceful woodland wildflower known to many as Jack-in-the-pulpit. Not only is it beautiful to behold, but this member of the Arum family has a fascinating natural history; it can switch its sex, fool midge flies, and cause botanists to have heated debates about subspecies. During the episode, Steve makes a contribution to botanical history by coming up with the best alternative common name Bill has ever heard (see title), and we wrap things up with Bill eating some of this toxic plant. Listen to the end to see if Bill dies. Enjoy! 

Ep. 26 - Don't Hassle Me, I'm Local: Ecological Restoration and Local Ecotypes

Ep. 26 - Don't Hassle Me, I'm Local: Ecological Restoration and Local Ecotypes

Can one specimen of a native plant be more "native" than another?  For those ecologists who are working to restore damaged ecosystems, whether or not they should use local ecotypes is an important question to consider. In this episode, Bill and Steve hit the road to visit Sonnenberg Gardens and the NYS Parks staff working to help restore ecosystems with an emphasis on natives and local ecotypes.

Ep. 21 - A Pain in the Grass: Restoring Grassland Bird Habitat

Ep. 21 - A Pain in the Grass: Restoring Grassland Bird Habitat

Grasslands birds and the habitats they depend on are some of the most threatened components of our North American landscape. But take heart! Because people like this month's guest co-host, Kyle Webster, are working to restore and maintain grasslands for the birds (and other organisms) that require them. As a member of New York State Park's environmental field team, Kyle works to use the latest research to understand and improve the management of these critical habitats. Join Bill and Kyle (Steve's still in Illinois) as they discuss birds, burns, and conservation biology.

Ep. 20 - Get the Buck Out!

Ep. 20 - Get the Buck Out!

So, how do you feel about deer? Over the past 100 years, populations of the White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) have gone from scarce to ubiquitous. There’s a significant body of research pointing to the detrimental impacts of deer overbrowsing on our forests. Here at The Field Guides, we don’t like to exclude anyone, but we are interested in learning about deer exclosures – structures designed to keep these plentiful herbivores out of an area. Usually they are placed to allow for forest regeneration or to study the effects of deer exclusion; often, it’s done for both reasons. So what does the research show? Does excluding deer lead to healthier forests? This episode will shed some light on the answer. Listen to this rare, Steve-less episode as Bill is joined by Kristen Rosenburg, an environmental educator with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. They discuss deer exclosures, check some out at Kristen’s work site, and talk about what happens when researchers “Build That Wall!”. Special thanks to Kristen for sharing her time and expertise with us, as well as to the NYS DEC for allowing us to steal Kristen away for a morning.

Ep. 15 - The Subnivean Zone - A Winter UNDER-land

Ep. 15 - The Subnivean Zone - A Winter UNDER-land

Winter is often perceived as a time of dormancy and inactivity, but underneath the snow, in the subnivean zone, a complex and fascinating world of plant and animal interactions exists. Weasels hunt through snow-roofed tunnels, herbivores graze on grasses, bark, and seeds, and occasionally the taloned feet of an owl punch through the roof, searching for a meal. In this episode, Steve and Bill pull back the snowy curtain, sharing recent research into what’s happening in the subnivean zone and the impacts of climate change on this intriguing and unseen winter world. This episode was recorded in the Shale Creek section of Chestnut Ridge Park, located in Orchard Park, NY.  

Ep. 13 - What the Flock is a Murmuration of Starlings?

Ep. 13 - What the Flock is a Murmuration of Starlings?

What the flock is up with murmurations? And what's the difference between a swarm, a herd, a school, and a flock? In this first of a two-part episode, Bill and Steve explore the world of collective behavior, and take a specific look at murmurations of the European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). This species gathers in large flocks (sometimes numbering into the tens of thousands!) that dive and swoop across the sky, creating beautiful, shifting forms that delight, amaze, and mystify. Researchers from numerous fields study these formations, and this month, the Field Guides share the latest research into this stunning natural phenomenon.

Ep. 10 - Witch Hazel: An Explosive Late Bloomer

Ep. 10 - Witch Hazel: An Explosive Late Bloomer

Exploding seed pods?!? Flowers in the winter?! Many species have evolved unusual strategies for reproduction, and this month’s target species is no exception. Witch Hazel (Hamemelis virginiana) is a small tree of the eastern forest understory that is easy to miss. It’s small and unassuming, but closer inspection reveals an array of fascinating adaptations that make it unique among our woodland species. Join Steve and Bill as they hunt for this wonder of the woods and share what they learned about it.