BioBlitz reveals potentially rare stinging ant, mushroom, spider & possible new plant invaders

May 29th, 2010 by Jennifer Youngman, Program Coordinator

With more than 100 citizen scientists, university students and professionals scrutinizing Washington Park Arboretum’s nooks and crannies during Seattle’s first BioBlitz, there were bound to be a few surprises. A potentially rare native stinging ant, a potentially rare Amanita (mushroom) not often seen on the west coast, a potentially new species of spider and a couple of unexpected plants displaying suspicious behavior are just a few of the discoveries. Plus, a spider that is regionally rare appears to be common on Foster Island.

The inventory of the Arboretum’s birds, bats, lichens, fungi, reptiles, amphibians and plants (not counting the Arboretum’s plant collection, which is already documented) started at 3:00 PM May 21 and lasted 24 hours, including night-time shifts for cataloguing nocturnal life. One nocturnal lesson: participants collected regurgitated barred owl pellets, dissolved all of the material but bones, and identified bones and skulls to determine that the Arboretum’s owls dine primarily on Norway rats.

BioBlitz plants & animals mapped using handheld devicesThe après-BioBlitz is now in session. Data is being processed. Plant and invertebrate identification continues. Rare species are being confirmed. And plants such as Lonicera periclymenum, an ornamental Eurasian vine not known to be invasive here but found scrambling over plants, will be investigated to see whether they are potential new invaders in this region.

BioBlitzes have served as vehicles for biodiversity data collection for several years in locations ranging from the Nisqually Delta to Cape Cod and New York City’s Central Park. Seattle’s BioBlitz will be useful in establishing baseline data before the Highway 520 bridge project gets underway. Dr. Sarah Reichard, professor and co-associate director of the UW Botanic Gardens, worked with the Washington NatureMapping Program to organize this major undertaking, and the Arboretum Foundation funded it. Although insects were underrepresented due to cold weather and no bats were netted, more than 400 species of plants, animals, lichens and fungi were recorded. View the species tally to date and a list of predicted vs. observed birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

Check out the photo gallery accompanying this Seattle Times article. Thank you to all who contributed time, effort, expertise and enthusiasm to the BioBlitz.

Climate Change Garden designed to be replicated

April 6th, 2010 by Jennifer Youngman, Program Coordinator

The UW Botanic Gardens Climate Change Garden is doing more than monitoring the effects of a changing climate on plant growth and survival. (What’s the Climate Change Garden?) It’s part of a nationwide climate change education initiative entitled Floral Report Card.

Sponsored by Chicago Botanic Garden, Floral Report Card aims to integrate existing phenology citizen science programs into elementary, middle and high school classrooms through garden replication on school grounds. The UWBG Climate Change Garden serves as the model demonstration garden for teachers, students and community members in our region who want to be involved in the Floral Report Card project. The project is currently funded through an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) planning grant that supports collaborative development for adapting Climate Change Gardens and related curricula and technology for schools, teachers and students.

Plants are laid out for planting in the Climate Change Garden

Allison McCarthy plants the Climate Change Garden

Floral Report Card program implementation is in its planning stages, and recruitment of interested educators and community members is underway. In May, Master of Environmental Horticulture Candidate Allison McCarthy will host a teacher focus group with local educators who have expressed interest in being a part of the Climate Change Garden.

Educational goals of the Floral Report Card include:

  • Engaging formal education institutions and communities in citizen science, field studies, and scientific research skills;
  • Increasing visitor awareness of climate and climate change impacts;
  • Understanding the social, cultural, and economic effects of climate change;
  • Understanding how plants and people can mitigate the effects of climate change;
  • Bringing more botany into the formal education curriculum; and
  • Nurturing and empowering students and citizen scientists to be “local experts” on climate change.

Allison McCarthy and Washington Park Arboretum Education Supervisor Patrick Mulligan are presenting at the “Cool School Challenge Training Workshop with a Special Focus on Climate Change and Plants” Saturday, May 1, at the Center for Urban Horticulture. Registration is currently open for this workshop.

Content by Allison McCarthy. Photos by Jennifer Youngman.

Top left: Species are laid out for planting in the Climate Change Garden. Top right: Allison McCarthy plants one of 16 raised beds in the UWBG’s Climate Change Garden.

UWBG pilots Climate Change Garden project

March 30th, 2010 by Jennifer Youngman, Program Coordinator

UW Botanic Gardens is partnering with botanic gardens across the country in the installation of a network of Climate Change Gardens that will create a nationwide “ecological antenna” to monitor the effects of a changing climate on plant growth and survival. Each Climate Change Garden features genetically identical plant species selected for their biological responsiveness to temperature. Garden monitors will record climate data and a set of standard phenological events, from first leaf to flower to fruit set. The data will be used to help predict the impacts of climate change on plants and services they provide to people and wildlife.

Annie Bilotta and David Zuckerman plant Chinese lilac

Soo-Hyung Kim plants Monarda fistulosa

On March 23, 2010, Principal Investigator Soo-Hyung Kim, Ph.D, Master of Environmental Horticulture Candidate Allison McCarthy, Washington Park Arboretum (WPA) Horticulture Staff Supervisor David Zuckerman, Center for Urban Horticulture (CUH) Gardener Annie Bilotta and WPA Education Supervisor Patrick Mulligan planted a Climate Change Garden at the CUH. It includes cloned plants of eight species, each collected from four USDA hardiness zones.

Allison McCarthy lays out the plants for the Climate Change  GardenView more photos of planting day.

Climate Change Gardens are replicated in a range of climatic conditions, yet they maintain standard growing conditions and eliminate the confounding effects of genetic variance with the use of clones. Plants in these gardens therefore act like a network of climate sensors or “phytometers.”

Plant responses to the different climates of participating gardens will allow inferences about how the species might respond to future climate change. For example, how will zone 5 plants respond if the climate becomes more like zone 7? The species selected are long-lived  species that exhibit a variety of breeding systems and wide geographic ranges, which allow them to be planted in different climates across the country. They have flowering times that are initiated by temperature, are easy to clone, and are attractive in a garden setting. Each species will be represented by four ecotypes from each of the USDA hardiness zones 4, 5, 6, and 7. The Climate Change Garden offers a methodology for citizen scientists to explore the implications of climate change for plants.

Plant species to be monitored:

  • Aster novae-angliae, New England aster, blooms August- September
  • Baptisia australis, blue wild false indigo, blooms May-June
  • Monarda fistulosa, wild bergamot or bee balm, blooms  July-September
  • Panicum virgatum, switchgrass, blooms  July-February
  • Penstemon digitalis, beardtongue, blooms  April-June
  • Physostegia virginiana, obedient plant, blooms  June to September
  • Schizachrium scoparium, little bluestem, blooms  August-February
  • Syringa rothomagensis, Chinese lilac, blooms late May- July

Text by Allison McCarthy. Photos by Jennifer Youngman.

Top left: Annie Bilotta and David Zuckerman plant Syringa rothomagensis. Top right: Soo-Hyung Kim plants Monarda fistulosa. Bottom: Allison McCarthy lays out the plants for planting.