2013 Accomplishments of Thicket of Diversity
Measuring biodiversity is an important first step to acquire knowledge on the health and sustainability of planet Earth. Inventories, as assessment tools, provide the valuable data needed to describe the status of living organisms. Costa Rica, a nation recognized for exceptional conservation efforts, initiated biodiversity inventory research under Dr. Daniel Janzen. His work served as a model for All Taxa Biodiversity Inventories (ATBI’s) conducted by the National Park Service and their partners. Great Smoky Mountains National Park established the first ATBI through Discover Life in America. It has since been joined by approximately 12 other parks. The Big Thicket National Preserve’s ATBI is called the Thicket of Diversity (ToD). It targets not only park lands but other public and private properties with an eye on management and conservation.
Since the ToD’s establishment in 2006, 118,752 specimens have been collected or observed and 2,790 species have been identified according to the December 2013 Taxa Tally. Of those, 12 are New to Science, 267 are New to the Preserve, 133 are New to the State, and 1 is New to the United States.
In 2013 the work of JoVonn Hill of the Mississippi Entomological Museum on Orthoptera (grasshoppers, roaches and crickets) and Hymenoptera (ants, and wasps and bees) produced a check list for the Thicket of Diversity. Thus far, 42 ant species have been collected in the Big Thicket. Two new state records for Texas ants and, additionally, six exotic species of which three were extremely abundant, even in apparently undisturbed areas, have been documented. In October 2012 Dr. Hill presented a “Preliminary Survey of ants and grasshoppers of the Big Thicket region of Texas” at the Mid South American Entomologist 59th Annual Conference. In 2013 he gave the presentation poster to Thicket of Diversity. It is now displayed in the Big Thicket Field Research Station.
Edward Realzola, a Sam Houston State University graduate who studied under Dr. Jerry Cook, continued research on Gyrinids (whirligig beetles). To date, 971 whirligig beetle records were submitted from 18 GPS locations.
David Lewis, President of the Gulf States Mycological Society, guided several mushroom forays, including lending his expertise to Rice University’s multi-day Bioblitz. His work is most impressive. Lewis is internationally known and has 3 mushrooms named after him. Photographs of Lewis’s inventory work are archived at Lamar University.
The ToD Director, Mona Halvorsen, initiated discussion with an amateur naturalist, Dan Johnson, whose research on crawfish is being compiled for a book Crawfish of Texas. She discovered this contact from internet data mining. Johnson has recorded the discovery of a new species of crawfish “Fallicambarus kountzae, Big Thicket Burrowing Crawfish.” The ToD shared his story and in 2013 it was published in local papers.
The ToD Director guided Dr. T.O. Powers of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and his team to numerous sites in the Big Thicket in December 2012 and March 2013 to collect Nematodes (roundworms). Soil cores were taken, site data recorded, and soil bagged for further investigation in university laboratories where they are extracted from the soil, measured, photographed and subjected to DNA barcoding.
University of Nebraska students collecting nematodes among Dwarf Palmettos in the Lance Rosier Unit
Photograph by Mona Halvorsen
According to Dr. Powers, “DNA barcoding allows us to get a precise identification and also lets us examine relationships between Big Thicket nematodes and those in similar plant communities outside the Preserve.
Dr. Michael A. Barger of Peru State College in Nebraska began research of parasites of aquatic ectotherms in 2007. He has consistently conducted inventories since that time. In 2013 Barger was the recipient of a National Science Foundation grant to further his research, allowing him to continue providing data for the ATBI project.
Dr. Neil B. Ford and personnel from the University of Texas at Tyler conducted 33 mussel surveys in 4 units of the Big Thicket National Preserve along the upper Neches River and along tributaries and oxbows off the mainstream. 584 live and 313 dead mussels of 23 species were recorded. Ford suggested that the smaller bayous and creeks found in the lower units of the Preserve may be critical for maintaining the diversity of mussels in East Texas. 6 of the 23 species identified are considered “State Threatened” by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
Past BTA President Mary C. Johnston submitted an application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP). In 2012 “Wetland Species and Ecosystem Analysis” was approved. In 2013 a separate bank account was setup for receipt of mitigation monies and quarterly reports are submitted to TCEQ as required. This new source of funding will contribute to sustaining future inventory work by researchers.
A Bioblitz facilitated by Dr. Scott Solomon was conducted through Rice University’s Biological Diversity Lab. Students collaborated with experts to inventory the flora and fauna of the Big Thicket National Preserve. The students were joined by Dr. Nancy Grieg (Director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences), Dr. Cassidy Johnson, (Houston Toad Research Coordinator at the Houston Zoo), Dr. Kevin W. Conway (Assistant Professor and Curator of Fishes at Texas A&M University), Dr. Cin-Ty Lee (Professor of Earth Science at Rice and an expert on birds), Dr. Evan Siemann (Professor and Chair of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Rice), and David Lewis (President of the Gulf Coast States Mycological Society).
Preliminary data documented nearly 200 different species including 8 mammals, 25 birds, 7 reptiles, 3 amphibians, 11 fish, 16 butterflies and moths, 10 ants, 25 trees and 84 fungi.
Rice University students organizing and collecting freshwater mussels
Photographs provided by Scott Solomon
Grant funding supported the implementation of an intern program, the hiring of 3 interns and the purchase of technology equipment. Interns assisted researchers with the collection of inventory specimens, entered data into the ATBI database, guided a field trip, hosted a Science Café and designed interpretive materials. These materials included the creation of a Virtual Vascular Plant slide show created by photographing a BTA historical collection, PowerPoints, a trail guide brochure and a variety of maps. An intern created an interactive base map with layers of inventory locations for specific taxa. The map is an excellent tool for quality control as it demonstrates accuracy of the researcher’s GPS readings.
Five BTA members and staff attended the 2013 Discover Life in America National Convention in Gatlinburg, Tennessee where a poster of ToD Accomplishments was displayed.
In addition, the ToD Director negotiated the donation of a modular office system and used volunteers for their installation. This created a more efficient work area in the Big Thicket National Preserve’s Field Research Station. She displayed the posters created by researchers throughout the building to highlight the efforts of Big Thicket research.
The information collected through All Taxa Biodiversity Inventories is extremely significant as it provides natural resource managers increased knowledge of the species that occur within their aquatic and terrestrial management areas. The data can provide baselines for further exploration to measure pollution, degree of invasion of non-native species and the effects of climate change or natural disasters.
The major sponsors for ToD 2013 included Park Partnership funding through the National Park Service, the Brown Foundation, the TLL Temple Foundation, Entergy Charitable Foundation and mitigation funding acquired through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
By Mary Catherine Johnston, BTA Past President
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