NYFA is proud to present the following winners in our Northeast Natural History Conference 2012 Botany Award
Best poster presentation - "Can't See the (Herbs in) the Forest for the Trees"
Jack Henning / Department of Biological Sciences / Lehman College - CUNY
Urban regions are typically depicted as biotically depauperate zones rife with non-native flora that outcompete natives. Despite a select number of admittedly problematic non-natives, not all non-natives are necessarily invasive. A growing body of research cites non-natives as inflating species-richness compared to surrounding regions, which warrants investigation given that urban green spaces provide many of the same ecological functions as intact woodlands. A multiyear, park-wide survey of Van Cortlandt Park in the NW Bronx, New York City (42' 53' 00"N, 73' 53' 00"W), returned an unusually species-rich assemblage of native and non-native plants, representing a 195% increase in taxa compared to a 1981 quadrat survey. Some of this increase is attributed to non-natives, which previously comprised 31% of the 1981 survey (107/347), compared to 45% of the current survey (464/1022). Surprisingly, the greatest overall increase in taxa, however, constitutes native herbaceous plants, indicating the complexity of the herb-layer, which had been previously overlooked. For the last 60 years, the Park has been dissected by three major multilane highways creating East/West divisions. To see if this interruption has affected plant groupings, an initial parsimony analysis using presence/absence data was conducted, which instead resolved the park into North/South divisions, perhaps reflecting disturbance from the populous SW neighborhoods that bracket the park compared to the more residential NE end.
Best student presentation - "Ecology of Roadside Mosses"
Edward Richter / Department of Biology / St. Lawrence University
With 6.3 million km of public roads in the United States, roughly 1% of the land surface is directly impacted by the presence of roads, making them one of the most prevalent features of the modern landscape. Mosses are widely and easily dispersed, high in abundance, sensitive to their microhabitat, and one of the few types of plants that are capable of growing in the highly disturbed areas along roadsides. We tested the hypothesis that mosses may be used to describe roadside soil chemical and physical conditions. Twenty-four locations of varying road types were sampled across central Vermont and New Hampshire, and Northern New York. Replicate plots were sampled at four distances from the road edge. Sample plots were measured for ground cover (soil, rock, litter, tree/shrub, herbaceous, graminoid, and cryptogams), soil physical characteristics (depth, hardness, and texture), and soil chemistry (pH, CEC, organic matter, N, P, K, S, B, Ca, Na, Mg, Fe, Zn, Cu, Mn, and Al). All species of moss occurring in the plots were collected and identified. Plot ground cover and soil chemical and physical measurements differed among the three states. Presence of moss colonies was significantly correlated with selected plot ground cover, soil chemical measurements, and distance from road edge. Moss species differed in their response to ground cover, soil physical measurements, and soil chemistry, suggesting that mosses may be useful indicators of roadside microenvironments.
Overall best presentation - "Guerrilla Taxonomy, the Ecological Species Concept, and the Spruce Problem"
Jerry Jenkins / Eagle Bridge, NY
The species descriptions in botanical manuals are in fact hypotheses. They imply that certain morphological characters associate reliably and can be used to distinguish populations that are ecologically meaningful. Like all hypotheses, descriptions can be true or false. You will not know which they are until you test them. When you test them, you will often be surprised by the results. Over the last 30 years, I have developed a process of making local tests of taxonomic hypotheses that I call guerrilla taxonomy. It starts by examining local populations to see if they have the morphological stability and ecological consistency I require in a species. If they do, their variations patterns are compared to the characters described in the manuals. Glenn Motzkin and I devoted a chapter to this method in the Harvard Forest Flora; I give an example here. Picea mariana (Black Spruce) and P. rubens (Red Spruce) are common in lowland boreal habitats of the Northeast. They have strong ecological identities but overlap morphologically. At least 14 characters for separating them have been proposed at various times. One question is which of these characters work. Another is whether the trees of intermediate habitats are intergrades. A guerrilla-taxonomic study in Vermont and the Adirondacks had surprising results. First, all our spruces are highly variable: 11 of the 14 characters supposed to separate them associated freely in ecologically homogeneous populations and were useless for separating species. And second, ecologically intermediate populations resembled bog populations, and seemed to be all or mostly Black Spruce. Similar investigations of other species pairs suggest a general conclusion: botanical manuals greatly underestimate local within-population variability, and thus over-estimate the distinguishability of species. For some pairs of close species, like the spruces, there are core characters that are stable and useful. For a surprising number of others, there are not.