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  • March 24, 2022 11:58 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In an effort to care for our plants and animals the best way possible while minimizing any negative impact on the environment, Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden applies integrated pest management practices wherever possible. Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is a five-step plan that starts with identifying the pest.

    Once you know what you are dealing with, monitoring pest activity is the next step to help determine the action needed for each situation. Every pest has a life cycle; understanding it is critical to establish control measures. We follow a handy flow chart to help determine the best action and choose the controls that work best for the situation. Controls include physical/mechanical, cultural, chemical or biological methods. Sometimes all are used in order to handle the task at hand, but we start with those that have the least potential impacts. At MPZ&BG, we tend to use chemical controls as a last resort once other measures have been exhausted. 

    The botanical department uses all measures of IPM. In the 10,000-square-foot Amazonia rainforest, taking care of plant pests such as mealy bugs and scale can be a challenge. In order to keep animals and people safe, we do not use insecticide sprays inside Amazonia. Physical controls involve keeping leaf litter cleaned up to minimize hiding spots and breeding grounds. Cultural controls include providing plants with optimal conditions, including proper humidity, lighting, and water. Maintaining plant health is vital because pests tend to attack stressed plants the most. Our biological controls involve releasing beneficial insects. One of our favorites is the Cryptolaemus montrouzieri or mealy bug destroyer. As their common name suggests, these beetles lay their eggs in the cottony masses of mealy bug nests. Once they hatch, the larvae voraciously eat mealy bugs. Crytomleamus beetles are beneficial in both adult and larval stages and are great to use in Amazonia as well as the three support greenhouses on zoo property. Aphytis melinus are tiny wasps used for scale control and lacewing larvae are employed for other soft bodied insects including aphids.


    While the use of beneficial insects doesn’t always eradicate the pest problems, it maintains a healthy balance for plants to thrive as well as keeping our staff, visitors, and animals safe from pesticide exposure.

    The addition of Amazonia in 2008 created the perfect environment for the creatures intended to live there and some that were not—including roaches! Animal food and lots of hiding spots were big attractions to several roach species. Again, we followed the steps to identify and decide which control methods would work best for the situation, then got to work to keep roaches in check. Early on, we implemented a control program that consisted of monitoring and assessing numbers, then releasing a parasitic wasp, Aprostocetus hagenowii, biweekly. The wasp will seek out roach egg cases and lay its eggs inside. Once the wasp eggs hatch, the larvae eat the contents of the roach egg case. The adults then emerge to find more roach eggs to parasitize. Once established, the wasps help to control roach populations. Nearly 14 years later, we think they may still be at work. Another release is planned this year to continue the process. While this doesn’t eliminate roaches completely, it works in tandem with other control methods to keep them in check. 


    Another cool IPM program we use is to control filth flies that tend to attack the ears of animals such as wolves and tigers. The horticulture and animal departments work together to release another type of predatory wasp that helps control filth flies. Every other week from April until September, fly egg cases parasitized by wasps arrive and are distributed to different areas of the zoo. The horticulture staff fill and leave bottles for each animal area at the commissary to be picked up along with animal diets. Zookeepers and staff then add them to the proper release containers in the animal and compost areas. With these two departments working together, we help to reduce the number of annoying flies that can spread bacteria and disease and are a nuisance to animals.


    When adding new animal habitats like Penguins of Patagonia, IPM is factored in from the beginning. Mosquitos can carry West Nile virus which is a primary health concern for our precious birds. Many IPM measures have been put in to place to keep them safe. Physical control includes oscillating fans to create air movement as mosquitos dislike turbulence. Culture controls involve assuring that gutters and other areas are clear of standing water. Biological controls include planting plants that deter mosquitos in the landscaping around the habitat as well as installing bat boxes and releasing native mosquito fish to surrounding ponds. Chemical controls are available, but we are confident that by controlling breeding conditions for mosquitos, we will successfully control the population. 

    IPM is a responsible and environmentally friendly way to control pest populations. This method can be used to control flies, plant-sucking insects, roaches, and many other undesirables. While pests are always challenging, it’s fun to be creative with management methods on zoo grounds. IPM encourages collaboration between departments and promotes a well-rounded way to keep our plants, animals, staff, and visitors safe.

    Misty Minar, Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden

  • February 13, 2022 12:20 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By AZH member Andrew Lyell, Senior Gardener, Los Angeles Zoo

    The path of Cupid's arrow is straight and true:  the target is a lover's heart. But some of us need a little extra assistance, which can be found abundantly in the garden. The gift flowers to your beloved is ancient and very effective. But there are other ways of expressing love with plants. In addition to the classic bouquet of roses, champagne, perfumes, and chocolate are common gifts to lovers. All are plant based...

    The common names of some of the plants we grow are full of romance. Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena, is one of my all-time favorites. It is a small annual grown for its light-blue or white flowers and also for the dried seed pods that follow the blooms. Their complex shape is fascinating and both are beautiful.

    Nigella damascena, Love-in-a-Mist

    Bleeding Heart, Lamprocapnis spectabilis, is a rhizomatous perennial that produces inflorescences that look like strings of small hearts held aloft and dangling in the breeze. Love-Lies-Bleeding, Amaranthus caudatus, is another wonderfully named plant that will easily establish itself in many gardens, but can become weedy if not kept in check. The genus name comes from the Greek word for “unfading”: amarantos. The long red, tassel-like flower sprays add splashes of color followed by seeds that are edible.


    Lamprocapnis spectabilis, Bleeding Heart

    Forget-Me-Not, Myosotis, is a small plant commonly used as a groundcover with clusters of pretty blue flowers. As the name implies, its traditional meaning is remembrance. There are dozens of Myosotis species, several of which are native to the Americas. The sassy Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia) is a medium sized plant native to Africa that is grown for its tall flower spikes of red, orange, and yellow. It’s also known as Torch Lily, in case you are still carrying a torch for someone.


    Myosotis, Forget-Me-Not, 

    One of the many common names for yarrow (Achillea) is "devil's plaything" because it was used for fortunetelling and spell casting. In the past, people also believed that placing yarrow under their pillows would make them dream of matters of love.

    Many plants have heart-shaped leaves that also serve nicely as symbols of love. Cyclamen is sometimes used as an annual bedding plant. Its heart-shaped leaves enhance beautiful blooms of red or pink, common colors for Valentine’s Day. Redbud trees (Cercis) also produce heart-shaped leaves, which on some cultivars such as ‘Forest Pansy’ are dark purple, adding eye-catching color to the landscape. In early spring when the tree is still leafless the whole tree explodes with light purple flowers. It is a stunning sight to see several of them flowering en masse.


    There are several Sweetheart Plants. Heart-Leaf Philodendron is is an easy to grow houseplant, and maybe the best example of a heart shaped leaf is Hoya kerrii. The cute little hearts are planted in small pots and sold at supermarket florists as Valentine's Day gifts. (Though the leaves alone will root, they won’t develop into vines unless a stem node is included. These singles are “blind leaves.”) And for steadfast streamers of Valentines, Ceropegia woodii, string of hearts, is another sweet selection.


    Many of us like to celebrate our Day of Love by enjoying a meal at a nice restaurant with a bottle of champagne or good wine. Or maybe a cocktail or two. These drinks wouldn't exist if it wasn't for plants. Grapes, Agaves, hops, cereal grains such as barley, wheat, and rice, plus many types of fruit including elderberries, apples, peaches, and cherries have all been used for hundreds of years to produce intoxicating beverages, which have long been used as aphrodisiacs. Nutmeg, saffron, and ginseng, among many other plant products have shown to be effective in improving the amorous reactions for some people.

    Fragrant plants can also evoke feelings of affection and more. The seductive scent of lavender (Lavandula) can induce a sense of ultra-relaxation. It is also used in sachets to perfume clothing drawers and garments worn close to the skin. Romans considered basil (Ocimum) the herb of love. Its aromatic leaves are used in many cultures and during food preparation, when sweet smells can fill the kitchen and adjacent rooms—perhaps even the bedroom. ;-)


    A powerful way to show you love someone is to cook a favorite dish using herbs and vegetables from your garden. The sacred act of nourishing our bodies with food we have grown and raised ourselves from our gardens is always a joy.

    Harvest some love from the plants you grow in your garden. Then share your love. Show your love for AZH by reaching out to fellow members to say hello and to rekindle acquaintances.

    Photo credit:  Andrew Lyell, Sandy Masuo

  • October 06, 2021 8:01 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    2020 AZH Plant Conservation Grant recipient Valerie Pence and Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden have put together a free symposium and workshop on using cryotechnology in plant conservation programs.

    Join the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s free three-day symposium and workshop October 19-21, 2021. You’ll hear from leading experts in the field of exceptional plant conservation and cryopreservation. Using oaks as a sample species, attendees will learn about the potentials of cryotechnologies and how they can be applied to a wide range of exceptional species. This event is free, but registration is required. Learn more and register here.


  • September 23, 2021 12:29 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Submitted by Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

    Eagle Passage isn’t just a forever home for rescued, injured bald eagles, or an immersive experience that inspires visitors with a conservation success story. Now, the unique habitat at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park has also been nationally recognized with top honors in the 2021 Exhibit Award category from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

    The award was presented online at the AZA Virtual Annual Conference on Wednesday, September 22.

    Image

    “Receiving this award is a high honor for Northwest Trek,” said Alan Varsik, director of Northwest Trek and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. “Our visitors know how special Northwest Trek is, and it’s wonderful to have national recognition of the work we do. Eagle Passage is the result of our staff’s creativity and commitment to conservation, and the generous support of the Northwest Trek Foundation. This award recognizes that on a national level.”

    Eagle Passage opened to the public on August 3, 2019 as both a way to tell the bald eagle conservation story and as a home for rescued bald eagles injured in the wild. Enclosed with high airy netting, it utilizes many existing old-growth Douglas firs, with cables and mesh attached to the forest giants via a unique, bolt-free block-and-collar system that allows the trees free growth. A walkway through the center allows visitors to see majestic bald eagles close-up while giving the birds – all of whom have some degree of long-term wing injury – a safe passage between habitat sections.

    In addition, Northwest Trek operations staff created safe perches for the injured eagles using 100-year-old dead tree snags repurposed from where they had fallen in other areas of the park. Cheveyo, an eagle with a completely amputated wing, was given her own exclusive area with low perches and branches covered with anti-slip material to help her balance.

    To complete the experience for visitors, interactive displays tell the timeline story of how this iconic American species was saved from extinction by community action, as well as giving children a chance to “measure their wings” against a life-size graphic and climb inside a life-size concrete “nest.” Northwest native plantings, including 30-year-old sword ferns salvaged from construction sites, fill out both the habitat and the bigger ecological story.

    “My goal was to make Eagle Passage look and feel like where you would find bald eagles in the wild – up at Mount Rainier or on the Olympic Peninsula,” said wildlife park horticulturist Jake Pool.

    Eagle Passage cost a total of $578,474, which was raised by the nonprofit Northwest Trek Foundation from community donations. Key donors are recognized with bronze “feathers” on a low outside wall which surrounds a majestic bronze eagle statue by local artist Ed Kroupa.

    Image

    Native to North America and once plentiful across the United States, bald eagles were close to extinction in the Lower 48 states by the middle of the 20th century. The Endangered Species Act and other laws, such as a ban on the pesticide DDT, afforded them the ability to safely reproduce. The species is no longer endangered and is more than a national symbol; it is an example of how people working together can help protect wild animals and wild places.

    “Eagle Passage was designed to tell the recovery story of the bald eagle, reinforce our vital conservation mission and, most importantly, offer a message of hope to our guests and community about what we can do if we all care together,” added Varsik. “This award recognizes Northwest Trek’s cultural relevance, as well as our commitment to animal welfare.”

    The Eagle Passage habitat can be found in the main walking area of Northwest Trek, every day that the wildlife park is open. For more information, see the website.


  • June 30, 2021 11:22 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Welcome To CPC: Zoo New England

    Based on CPC Application

    Our network is growing, and with it grows our ability to save rare and endangered plants from extinction. Zoo New England (ZNE), located in Boston, Massachusetts, has a mission “to inspire people to protect and sustain the natural world for future generations by creating fun and engaging experiences that integrate wildlife and conservation programs, research, and education.” To that end, ZNE has been developing new organizational practices, weaving conservation into their onsite visitor experiences, and spearheading plant conservation projects to advocate for plants and biodiversity. These efforts made ZNE an excellent candidate for the CPC network, and the CPC Board of Trustees voted to approve their admission to the network in February 2021.

    Image of Bryan Windmiller (ZNE Field Conservation Department) measuring density of flowering New England blazing star stems at Kennebunk Plains Conservation Area, Maine, one of the source sites for their reintroduction program (2015). Photo: Emilie Wilder

    In recent years, ZNE has placed strategic focus on honing their expertise in plant conservation to equally emphasize both plant and wildlife conservation in their work and onsite experiences. They have led small-scale reintroductions of a rare plant species in the Metro Boston area, the state-listed species, New England blazing star (Liatris novae-angliae), and they have worked with regulatory agencies to monitor populations of threatened Britton’s violet (Viola brittoniana) and the related Viola pectinata. ZNE’s robust plant collection – a highlight of their onsite visitor experience – includes pollinator plants in their butterfly exhibit, an organic garden, and a rain garden. To strategically expand existing plant collections, ZNE recruited horticulturists who collaborate with conservation staff in developing curated plant collections that reflect the geographic regions their animal collections are endemic to and also educate visitors about the role of plants in an animal’s ecosystem. Additionally, their team is developing new collections of native plants, succulents, carnivorous plants, and more.

    On an broad scale, ZNE has partnered with Dr. Bryan Connolly of Eastern Connecticut State University to conserve several species of rare Solanum native to the Caribbean. Utilizing ZNE greenhouses, the team has established captive populations of Solanum conocarpum from the U.S. Virgin Islands and Solanum ensifolium from Puerto Rico. Both species are critically endangered, with Solanum ensifolium believed to be nearly extinct in the wild. ZNE staff members have traveled to St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, to assist with local reintroduction projects for Solanum conocarpum. ZNE hopes to eventually assist with reintroduction projects of two additional critically endangered Virgin Islands species, Erythrina eggersii and Eugenia earhardtii.

    Image of Cara McElroy (ZNE Field Conservation Department) and volunteers Warren Lyman and Jacqueline Edgett planting 2 year-old New England blazing stars in both fenced and unfenced plots at one of Zoo New England's reintroduction sites (Foss Farm, Carlisle - 2020). Photo: Bryan Windmiller

    As they continue in this crucial work, Zoo New England is eager to connect and collaborate with other Participating Institutions and to contribute to our collective efforts to Save Plants. Their team’s dedication to plant conservation and educating the public on the critical importance of biodiversity for all life on Earth makes them an exciting addition to the CPC network.


  • January 21, 2021 3:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Association of Zoological Horticulture

    2020-2021 Commitment to Plant Conservation

    Zoo horticulture involves more than enhancing the landscape for its resident animal populations as evidenced by the thousands of dollars used to protect and conserve the natural environment within our zoos and around the world.

    One of the core values of the Association of Zoological Horticulture (AZH) is conservation of rare plants and plant diversity.  This commitment to plant conservation through the AZH Plant Conservation Grant program began in 1992 and has awarded over $475,000 to projects spanning the country and the globe.

    AZH plant conservation grants encourage plant conservation activities and partnerships within and between AZH members, member zoos and member zoo partners.  Grant monies are provided through the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF), AZH member donations, and auction proceeds from annual conferences. AZH Plant Conservation Grants are awarded for both in-situ and ex-situ plant conservation work.

    Congratulations to the recipients of the 2020-2021 AZH Plant Conservation grant program!

    Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden

    Establishment of a community-based tree nursery for landscape enrichment and community engagement in the buffer zone of a newly established 2000-acre reserve in the Guatemalan Dry Forest 

    San Diego Zoo

    California Native Oak Conservation 

    Atlanta Botanical Garden 

    Seedbanking Georgia’s critically imperiled native plant species on the Chattahoochee Oconee National Forest 

    Naples Botanical Garden 

    Building Capacity for Conservation of Native Trees and Shrubs in Puerto Rico

    Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden

    Advancing Cryobiotechnology Research, Networking, and Information Sharing for Oak Conservation


    The Association of Zoological Horticulture is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the advancement of zoo horticulture in zoological parks, gardens, and aquariums. AZH works to highlight the importance of plants within zoos and aquariums, and seeks to support the horticulturists who work in a zoological setting.


  • November 30, 2020 11:40 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Halloween may be over, but common fungal diseases on tropical plants ensure that spooky season never ends in our interior exhibits. According to the Ohio State University fact sheet on the topic, fungal diseases wreak more havoc on plants than any other group of plant pest or pathogen. Estimates hover around 85% of plant diseases are caused by fungal agents. The spores and hyphae of these mysterious, understudied organisms are lurking in your water, soil and air, waiting to strike like the masked psycho in a horror movie.

    The very lack of what we understand about the Kingdom Fungi can make management difficult, however. They obtain nutrients by sending thread-like filaments throughout their food sources – you, me, a loaf of bread, your favorite plants, your jack o’lantern. They often hang around dead and decaying things (spooooky!) but not always. Sometimes they are straight-up evil parasites of living things. But, of course, evil is in the eye of the beholder – in this case, the beholder is the zoo horticulturist attempting to protect their tropical collections from the undead fungal hordes. Nevertheless, we should never forget the beneficial fungi that collaborate in vast mycorrhizal support systems for plant communities, as well as the yeasts that make sourdough bread and beer possible.

    But we are here today to discuss the villains! Below are some of the common symptoms of fungal infections in interior plantscapes:

    Leaf spots – Leaf spots are indicative of several different fungal species. Look for roughly circular tan/ reddish brown spots, concentric rings and small black fruiting bodies. If infection progresses, lesions may join together, killing off the growing tip or spread to branches of plants.

    Powdery mildew – Powdery mildew is not just one but several fungal species. What starts as powdery spots on upper leaf surface can join together to cover the entire leaf. Powdery mildew is often found in temperate, humid climate conditions - temperatures above 86 do not support powdery mildew.

    Stem canker – This infection is similar to an abscess- dark and mushy spots on stem. If an infection gets this far, the plant is usually not salvageable.

    Black sooty mold – This fungus looks as grimy as a Victorian street urchin. Black sooty mold grows on the honeydew exudate of aphids, scale, and other sap-suckers. That high sugar content encourages the growth of black sooty mold. If the mold gets heavy enough, it can shade out the plant and stunt its growth. The horticulturist’s first response is to take care of the insect pest, which removes the source of the problem.

    If fungal infections were like a horror movie, they would be like “The Thing”, starting off with small, seemingly innocuous symptoms but slowly infiltrating the plant completely and consuming it from the inside out. But unlike “The Thing”, the wise horticulturist does not need to blow up an entire Antarctic field station to contain the damage. Prevention and speedy diagnosis, as always, are going to be the most effective way to keep your plants healthy. Keep in mind that spores can live a long time and be carried by air currents, water, soil, tools and clothing, so our mantra for fungi should be “CONSTANT VIGILANCE” (shout-out to Mad-Eye Moody!).

    • Include fungal symptoms in scouting regimen
    • Check new plants for symptoms before installation
    • Sanitize tools and containers regularly
    • Eliminate cracks/ drafts if you suspect diseases are coming in from outer environment
    • If fungal diseases are a significant and ongoing issue in your exhibit, consider resistant plant varieties
    • May need lab analysis to pinpoint exact pathogen – most symptoms can be caused by wide array of fungal species

    The next best way to manage fungal infections is to focus on plant health care and adjusting conditions to be better for plants, but worse for fungi. In the horror movie realm, this would be analogous to if you never build a summer camp, you are less likely to get a masked murderer hanging around.

    • Reduce overall humidity
    • Water early in the day to allow plant surfaces to dry
    • Water to avoid wetness on surface of leaves, reduce overhead watering – dry leaves are less supportive of fungi. At Butterfly Pavilion, we often syringe our tropical exhibit for pest management, but we’ve gotten more focused over the years, so that we aren’t indiscriminately wetting leaf surfaces.
    • Increase air circulation through strategic pruning and thinning.
    • Remove debris from the ground regularly.
    • Follow a balanced fertility program to avoid too much or too little of key plant nutrients
    • Avoid wounding or stressing plant material as much as possible.

    If cultural methods are not effective, you may want to consider the ultimate in physical methods – removing the infected plant entirely from the exhibit before it can be a source of new infections. Fortunately, you’ll have better luck with plants than in most horror movie franchises; those monsters just keep returning and returning!

    Chemical controls can used to protect new tissue, but keep in mind that nothing can be done about the old infected tissue. Chemical fungicides, just like any chemical tool, require caution. Different fungicides are effective against different species of fungus, so checking the label is key. Fungicides can be irritating to skin, eyes and respiratory system, while chronic exposure may lead to negative health effects on the nervous system. Also, runoff and contamination, if it reaches the outside world, can negatively impact aquatic ecosystems and other organisms. For example, copper sulfate has been shown to have a negative effect on bees. Now that’s the real horror story!

    Amy Yarger, Horticulture Director at Butterfly Pavilion

  • October 25, 2020 3:45 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Honoring an accomplished person whose passion for life reflects ours.

    All too often in everyday life as horticulturists we experience the philosophical mindset of people who view plants as an inferior form of life to animals and/or the inability to appreciate the unique features or aesthetics of plants. We are focused on changing this mindset.

    In this regard, the Horticulture Team at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens would like to thank AZH for selecting us as a recipient of the 2020 Wendy Andrew Cultivation Grant. Despite being the “Covid-19” year, we were eager to share with the public our role in the Zoo and Garden dynamic.

    Choosing and planting a Southern live Oak (Quercus virginiana) was a conscious choice among our group because of the declining oaks in that area and the majesty of the mature tree.

    I personally started from seed (basically at no cost to the zoo during the pandemic) the Shasta Daisy (Chrysanthemum maximum) and Verbena speciosa 'Imagination' to use as colorful, bee and butterfly attracting undercover plantings!

    We eagerly await a recognition sign that’s design is currently in progress and I am personally excited to see the finished result. Once the sign is installed we will send an updated photo.

    A lot of time and hard work went into this project and I hope you agree that we accomplished the respect it deserves.

    Thank you for this opportunity and for your support,

    Robin Vancil

    Horticulture Technician II Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens


  • September 30, 2020 12:11 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Join international experts on 13 – 15 October 2020 to discuss actions for protecting and sustainably using the world’s plant and fungal biodiversity for the benefit of people and the planet.

    https://www.kew.org/science/engage/get-involved/conferences/state-of-the-worlds-plants-and-fungi-symposium

    This online symposium brings together experts to discuss findings presented in the report and to motivate actions for protecting and sustainably using the world’s plant and fungal diversity. The outcomes of the discussions will be used to inform policies and research aimed at exploring and sharing knowledge and benefits associated with plants and fungi around the world. 

    By holding it online, we’re able to bring together even more people globally – representing a diverse range of skills, experience and ethnic backgrounds.

    Programme

    The programme is based around six themed sessions in which invited experts will address a topical question through presentations and a Q&A panel discussion:

    Session 1 – Collections 
    Why are they important for averting biodiversity loss? What should we do to help them evolve to enable us to address future challenges?

    Session 2 – Biodiversity loss
    What is driving the extinction rates?

    Session 3 – Plant and fungal uses
    How can we maximise the use of plant and fungal diversity to meet global challenges?

    Session 4 – Genomics
    How do we embrace novel approaches to studying plant and fungal biodiversity?

    Session 5 – Commercialisation
    How do we optimise the economic benefits of plant and fungal biodiversity in recognition of different stakeholders’ needs?

    Session 6 – Policies   
    How can we work globally to respect and enable Access and Benefit Sharing and CITES regulations, while increasing the diversity of plants and fungi being studied?



  • September 30, 2020 12:05 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Based on information from Hong Liu, Ph.D., Florida International University

    It was nearly 20 years ago that Hong Liu, Ph.D., was awarded the Catherine H. Beattie Fellowship. Working toward her Ph.D. at Florida International University (FIU), Hong used the fellowship funds to support her investigation of the impact of fire dynamics on a rare Florida keys endemic, narrowpod sensitive pea (Chamaecrista lineata var. keyensis). The fellowship, as well as her research, were important steps on her path to becoming a plant conservationist.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) supported Hong’s research on how rare plant species were being impacted by a fire management program designed to provide forage for the endangered Key deer, an endangered species. Though the pine rockland habitat supported many species adapted to fire and shallow limestone soils, Hong found that not all fires are created equal. In early summer, the sensitive pea sinks its resources into flowering and is most vulnerable. Fires occurring in this season prevented the plants from reproducing and were more likely to outright kill them. In contrast, late August fires allowed for the survival of plants and the recently matured seed. When the narrowpod sensitive pea was eventually listed through the Endangered Species Act, Hong’s dissertation (five years of field work and simulation modelling) became part of the backbone of the USFWS’s management plan on the refuge where she conducted her fieldwork.

    This fieldwork was central to the project’s success, and the Beattie funds helped get the fieldwork done. With freedom to use the funds as needed, Hong was able to buy needed field supplies and hire undergraduate assistants to help her collect data at her numerous plots. Perhaps more importantly, the Beattie Fellowship was a confidence boost for Hong: “To have my idea endorsed by a national plant conservation organization made me very proud.”

    In some ways, things have not changed much for Dr. Hong Liu since her Beattie Fellowship. She still conducts plant conservation research through FIU – only now as an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environment and researcher in the FIU Institute of Environment. Her many research projects have focused on wild populations of endangered species. They include examining the impacts – and ways to reduce the impacts – of collecting pressure on wild orchids, the role of climate change on species, and the impact of biotic interactions on population persistence and expansion. In a current project, Hong is comparing populations of orchids that are rare in Florida (their northern distribution limit) to more populous communities of the same species in Cuba. She continues to work with pine rockland species, extending her studies to other rare plant species in this dwindling habitat type.

    Photo of South Florida pine rockland forest

    South Florida pine rockland forest.

    But Hong hasn’t forgotten the plight of narrowpod sensitive pea. She is presently seeking support for a restoration project that will help the species become established on higher-elevation islands in the Keys, to enable the plant to survive rising sea levels. Her forward-thinking work continues to make a significant contribution to the long-term survival of endemic species in Florida.

    Source - September 2020 Save Plants

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