2017 Lecture Series Archive

Below are the lectures BRIT has hosted as part of the 2017 Brown Bag and Visiting Lecture Seminar series. To view upcoming lectures, please click here.

 

February 7, 2017

Peter Fritsch, Ph.D., BRIT - Biodiversity and species discovery in the Philippines

The more than 7,000 islands of the Philippines Archipelago contain a remarkable diversity of life, harboring perhaps the greatest concentration of unique species per unit area in the world. About 9300 species of vascular plants are native to the islands. This stunning level of biodiversity is critically threatened by habitat loss while still being poorly documented, even while the country has among the highest rates of current species discovery anywhere. Among the discoveries in the past 10 years include 16 new species of mammals, a striking two-meter-long monitor lizard, and many species of the bizarre parasitic plant Rafflesia.

Dr. Peter Fritsch will summarize the history of floristic work in the Philippines including current efforts at BRIT, and highlight three of his recent expeditions to Luzon and Mindanao. He will discuss new species discoveries in the blueberry group and explain how scientific exploration and education can help save the forests of these fascinating islands.

 


 

March 7, 2017
Kelly Bradley, Fort Worth Zoo - The Anegada Iguana Conservation Program

Animals are important seed dispersers for many species of plants and can have enormous impact on plant populations and community compositions. Lizards (as a group) are becoming recognized as an important group of frugivores or fruit eaters. Interestingly, of the 280 documented species of frugivorous lizards, 174 live exclusively on islands. Islands typically have high density of lizards, low density of arthropods (the primary diet of most lizards), and very little predation. These island conditions force lizards to expand their trophic niche by exploiting available resources: fruit being an important one.

Anegada is the second largest island in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) (39 km2). This unique environment is home to the critically endangered Anegada iguana (Cyclura pinguis). The population has suffered an estimated 80% decline since the late 1960s due to the effects of invasive species. Equally threatened is the tropical dry forest habitat found on Anegada. The Anegada iguana is dependent on its tropical dry forest habitat, given its herbivorous diet, but it is less understood how this species maintains its habitat through seed dispersal.

Kelly Bradley will summarize the history of the Anegada iguana conservation program, and highlight her research into the relationship between the iguana and the plant species that make up its habitat on Anegada, with particular focus on rare and threatened plant species.


 

April 4, 2017
Ed Barnes, Tarleton State University - Reptiles and amphibians of the western Metroplex.

Ed Barnes, graduate student of herpetology and ecology at Tarleton State University, will discuss the reptile and amphibian species of the western metroplex. The talk will include identification of the more common species in the area including identification of the venomous snakes and how to recognize the calls of the local frogs. He will also bring along some animals to see and hold, including his labmate Benny, a gorgeous wild-caught bullsnake.   

The Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex sits at a crossroads of ecological diversity. It is here that the forests of the east join with the Great Plains of the north and the deserts of the southwest. The intersection of these regions provides a variety of habitats for herpetofauna. It is at this intersection that eastern and western species overlap. In terms of total species, Texas ranks first among the 50 states in herpetofauna diversity. The Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex has 82 reptile species and 36 amphibian species.

These animals are often misunderstood, maligned, and feared. It is Ed’s hope that those in attendance will leave with a greater understanding of the beauty and value of these creatures.

 

 

May 2
Research Month, BRIT Research Staff 
Join us as members of the BRIT Research team share news of their new and ongoing research projects.

 

Heather Bass

The effects of landscape design on pollinator abundance, water use, and net carbon footprint.
All landscapes, whether urban, suburban, or rural, have the potential to provide ecosystem services. Although landscaping with native plants is becoming increasingly popular, little is known about how site-scale design and management choices affect ecosystem services. With this ongoing research project, we address the following questions: (1) Which landscape choices result in reduced water usage, and how much water can be saved? (2) Which landscape choices benefit pollinators in urban landscapes, and what is the magnitude of effect on native pollinator diversity, abundance, and visitation rates? (3) Which landscape choices are most effective for minimizing net carbon footprint of designed landscapes? To address these questions we identified a range of landscape design and management strategies, and explored how those affect pollinators, water use, and carbon footprint. Preliminary data show that some small landscape design decisions could promote and enhance ecosystem services in urban landscapes. Research plots containing native plants best adapted to dry soil conditions were able to go without supplemental irrigation for an average of 25 days. In some cases, the water needs of the plots were entirely supplied by rainfall, with no supplemental irrigation required. Plots with greater native plant richness saw a greater abundance of unique pollinator taxa and overall abundance of pollinators per plot varied widely within one observation period. These data suggest that pollinators do respond differentially to landscape design at small spatial scales. Landscape maintenance time varied widely among plots and carbon footprint associated with landscape maintenance increased with greater turf-grass cover. Early findings demonstrate that intentional design decisions in urban systems can result in high-performing landscapes that remain aesthetically pleasing while minimizing water use, maximizing benefits to pollinators, and reducing carbon emissions associated with urban landscape construction and maintenance.

 

Dr. Harold Keller

Selection of students for team-building field research projects: tree canopy biodiversity in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Strategies are presented for effective and efficient recruitment of undergraduate and master’s degree students for a large field research project using a case study involving Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Presentations by project leaders and former students were given at departmental seminars, student orientations, in biology courses, and at conferences, highlighting the project, research results to date, and student feedback. Informational flyers were posted around campus and distributed at annual conferences. Recruitment of students emphasized experiences beyond just research, such as travel opportunities, professional and academic networking, international collaboration, media and outreach activities, and grant-writing and fundraising experience. Student selection included review of transcripts, a written essay, letters of recommendation, and a personal interview. Questions were directed to determine student interest relative to three project phases: Adventure Phase, Laboratory Phase, and Publication Phase. In-person interviews included assessment of student ability to follow instructions and safety protocols, foster team spirit/attitude, and develop interpersonal skills essential for a large collaborative effort. Review of extracurricular activities was especially important, with interviews designed to determine relevant skills from involvement in team sports, 4-H projects, farm experience, regular chores, small business activities, art and music activities, conservation groups, collection activities, leadership positions, and special awards. Selected students were required to keep a personal journal to encourage and improve observational skills and reflection and to participate in group and individual publications. Feedback and methods assessment from former students are discussed along with additional suggestions that others may consider in their development, promotion, and support of field research.
 

 

Kim Taylor

Filling Knowledge Gaps to Conserve Rare Texas Plants.
Texas is home to over 4,700 native plant taxa, the second highest number in the United States following California. Among these are 449 taxa recognized by Texas Parks and Wildlife as species of greatest conservation need (SGCN). The Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), along with the other Texas CPC institutions, are building a Texas Coalition to outline a statewide plant conservation plan to protect these rare species. The Texas coalition has identified several first steps, including working to fill the major knowledge gaps about the status of the state’s SGCN. BRIT’s Plant Conservation Program is focused on filling these gaps, with current projects analyzing the distributions of 79 taxa. Progress made by the coalition as well as BRIT’s 2017 Plant Conservation program objectives will be discussed.

 

Back to Main Lecture and Seminar Series Archive

 

 

May 2
Research Month, BRIT Research Staff 
Join us as members of the BRIT Research team share news of their new and ongoing research projects.

 

Heather Bass

The effects of landscape design on pollinator abundance, water use, and net carbon footprint.
All landscapes, whether urban, suburban, or rural, have the potential to provide ecosystem services. Although landscaping with native plants is becoming increasingly popular, little is known about how site-scale design and management choices affect ecosystem services. With this ongoing research project, we address the following questions: (1) Which landscape choices result in reduced water usage, and how much water can be saved? (2) Which landscape choices benefit pollinators in urban landscapes, and what is the magnitude of effect on native pollinator diversity, abundance, and visitation rates? (3) Which landscape choices are most effective for minimizing net carbon footprint of designed landscapes? To address these questions we identified a range of landscape design and management strategies, and explored how those affect pollinators, water use, and carbon footprint. Preliminary data show that some small landscape design decisions could promote and enhance ecosystem services in urban landscapes. Research plots containing native plants best adapted to dry soil conditions were able to go without supplemental irrigation for an average of 25 days. In some cases, the water needs of the plots were entirely supplied by rainfall, with no supplemental irrigation required. Plots with greater native plant richness saw a greater abundance of unique pollinator taxa and overall abundance of pollinators per plot varied widely within one observation period. These data suggest that pollinators do respond differentially to landscape design at small spatial scales. Landscape maintenance time varied widely among plots and carbon footprint associated with landscape maintenance increased with greater turf-grass cover. Early findings demonstrate that intentional design decisions in urban systems can result in high-performing landscapes that remain aesthetically pleasing while minimizing water use, maximizing benefits to pollinators, and reducing carbon emissions associated with urban landscape construction and maintenance.

 

Dr. Harold Keller

Selection of students for team-building field research projects: tree canopy biodiversity in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Strategies are presented for effective and efficient recruitment of undergraduate and master’s degree students for a large field research project using a case study involving Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Presentations by project leaders and former students were given at departmental seminars, student orientations, in biology courses, and at conferences, highlighting the project, research results to date, and student feedback. Informational flyers were posted around campus and distributed at annual conferences. Recruitment of students emphasized experiences beyond just research, such as travel opportunities, professional and academic networking, international collaboration, media and outreach activities, and grant-writing and fundraising experience. Student selection included review of transcripts, a written essay, letters of recommendation, and a personal interview. Questions were directed to determine student interest relative to three project phases: Adventure Phase, Laboratory Phase, and Publication Phase. In-person interviews included assessment of student ability to follow instructions and safety protocols, foster team spirit/attitude, and develop interpersonal skills essential for a large collaborative effort. Review of extracurricular activities was especially important, with interviews designed to determine relevant skills from involvement in team sports, 4-H projects, farm experience, regular chores, small business activities, art and music activities, conservation groups, collection activities, leadership positions, and special awards. Selected students were required to keep a personal journal to encourage and improve observational skills and reflection and to participate in group and individual publications. Feedback and methods assessment from former students are discussed along with additional suggestions that others may consider in their development, promotion, and support of field research.
 

 

Kim Taylor

Filling Knowledge Gaps to Conserve Rare Texas Plants.
Texas is home to over 4,700 native plant taxa, the second highest number in the United States following California. Among these are 449 taxa recognized by Texas Parks and Wildlife as species of greatest conservation need (SGCN). The Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), along with the other Texas CPC institutions, are building a Texas Coalition to outline a statewide plant conservation plan to protect these rare species. The Texas coalition has identified several first steps, including working to fill the major knowledge gaps about the status of the state’s SGCN. BRIT’s Plant Conservation Program is focused on filling these gaps, with current projects analyzing the distributions of 79 taxa. Progress made by the coalition as well as BRIT’s 2017 Plant Conservation program objectives will be discussed.