USA National Phenology Network

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Courtesy USA National Phenology Network

The study of recurring plant and animal life cycle events is phenology. It is the calendar of nature. This includes when plants flower, when birds migrate and when crops mature. Phenology is relevant to interactions between organisms, seasonal timing and large-scale cycles of water and carbon. Phenology is important to us for many reasons. Farmers need to know when to plant and harvest crops and when to expect pests to emerge. Resource managers use it to monitor and predict drought and assess fire risk. Vacationers want to know when the best fall colors will be or when the wildflower blooms will peak. Timing varies but we can discern patterns.

The USA National Phenology Network monitors the influence of climate on the phenology of plants, animals and landscapes. They encourage people to observe phenological events such as flowering, migrations and egg laying. The Phenology Network provides a place to enter, store and share these observations, which are then compiled and analyzed nationwide. Participants range from individual observers in their own backyards to professional scientists monitoring long-term plots. My husband and I monitor leafing and flowering of lilacs, a key species in the program.

These observations support a wide range of decisions made routinely by citizens, managers, scientists and others. This includes decisions related to allergies, wildfires, pest control, and water management.

I urge you to participate. The National Phenology Network has many public, private and citizen partners. It is a great way to become involved in a nation-wide effort to better understand our environment. All this information and much more is available at the National Phenology website, to which there is a link from our Wild About Utah website.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Text: Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Additional Reading:

USA National Phenology Network, http://www.usanpn.org/

North American Bird Phenology Program, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bpp/BecomeAParticipant.cfm

Bark Beetle Mania

Pine beetle damage to ponderosa pine
in Dixie National Forest
2000 USDA Forest Service

Hi, I’m Holly Strand of Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

For a creature that’s typically less than six millimeters in size, bark beetles certainly have a mammoth footprint. Outbreaks of the tiny insects in forests across western North America have changed millions of trees into shriveled, rust-colored sentinels of a changing ecosystem. In Utah alone, between 1990 and 2005, wood-boring beetles ate their way through more than 466,000 acres which equals 3% of Utah’s total forested area.

Bark beetles are native to our forests and evolved together with their respective hosts. For example, the Douglas-fir beetle evolved with Douglas firs, and the spruce beetle with Engelmann spruce. The mountain pine beetle is the least discriminating. It attacks lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine and, more recently, high elevation species such as whitebark pine, limber pine, and bristlecone pine.

Douglas fir beetle galleries
beneath the outer bark
2000 USDA Forest Service

At healthy population levels, bark beetles renew forests by killing older and declining trees, allowing young, more productive ones to flourish. Female beetles initiate the assault, simultaneously attracting males using pheromones. Within hours the tree becomes the site of a “mass attack” of thousands of beetles. Then the females begin to reproduce. An individual female may lay over 100 eggs. As eggs hatch, larvae construct feeding galleries in the inner bark of the tree. These galleries eventually girdle and kill the tree by cutting off the exchange of nutrients between the roots and the crown of the tree.

Some of the biggest outbreaks in Utah have occurred in the Dixie and the Manti La Sal National Forests. The spruce beetle is responsible for thousands of acres of dead Engelmann spruce trees in both of these forests. The Piñon Ips beetle also thrives in piñon pines in southern UT. Meanwhile, on the other end of the state, the mountain pine beetle is causing serious outbreaks in the Uintas. The Wasatch Range forests have yet to experience extensive diebacks but the mountain pine beetle, Douglas fir beetle and spruce beetle are all causing higher mortality rates than they have in the past.

Certain forestry management practices are partially responsible for the unprecedented bark beetle outbreaks. Dense, homogenous forests with repressed fire regimes are more susceptible to attack. On the other hand, uncrowded, variable age stands composed of lots of different species are healthy and resilient.

Warming climate conditions have also contributed to the severe bark beetle outbreaks. Early fall and late spring freezes, and extremely cold temperatures help repress bark beetle populations. I’ll try to keep this in mind when it’s snowing in June here in Cache Valley. At least our pine trees will be healthy and safe from the bark beetle.

Barbara Bentz, research entomologist with the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station and adjunct faculty member with Utah State University’s Department of Wildland Resources, provided the scientific information for this piece.

Thanks to the USU College of Natural Resources and the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topics. For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Images: UDSA Forest Service: Assessment and response to bark beetle outbreaks in the Rocky Mountain aea. Report to Congress from Forest Health Protection (see below)

Text: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Bentz B, Allen CD, Ayres M, Berg E, Carroll A, Hansen M, Hicke J, Joyce L, Logan J,MacFarlane W, MacMahon J, Munson S, Negr?n J, Paine T, Powell J, Raffa K, Régnière J, Reid M, Romme W, Seybold S, Six D, Tomback D, Vandygriff J, Veblen T, White M, Witcosky J, Wood D (2009) Bark Beetle Outbreaks in Western North America: Causes and Consequences. University of Utah Press, ISBN 978-0-87480965-7, 42 p.
http://www.amazon.com/Beetle-Outbreaks-Western-North-America/dp/0874809657

Logan, J.A., Powell, J.A. 2001. Ghost forests, global warming, and the mountain pine beetle (Coleoptera: Scolytidae). Am. Ent. 47(3): 160-172.
http://www.usu.edu/beetle/documents/Logan_Powell01.pdf

Samman, Safiya, Logan, Jesse tech eds. 2000. Assessment and response to bark beetle outbreaks in the Rocky Mountain aea. Report to Congress from Forest Health Protection, Washington Office, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-62. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 46 p.
http://www.usu.edu/beetle/documents/2000186_5Samman_Logan.pdf (accessed June 22, 2009)

Autumn Colors

Autumn Colors: Fall Colors in Cache County Photo © 2006 Bridgerland Audubon Society
Fall Colors in Cache County
Photo © 2006 Bridgerland Audubon Society

In autumn, our days shorten noticeably and frosty dawns become the norm across most of Utah. Now leafy plants must be preparing for winter. Their summer of intense metabolic activities must gradually give way to winter’s dormancy. Photosynthesis and respiration are gradually shut down as nutrients and sugars are withdrawn from leaves, to be shunted to the stem and roots for storage.

The brilliant autumn yellows of our aspens, ash trees and cottonwoods, as well as the crimsons of our maples and sumacs, are all indicative of leafy plants frugality with their valuable nutrient stores. The foliar pigment phytochrome first registers the lengthening nights, initiating the cascade of physiological events that prepare a tree for the icy blasts of winter. Before discarding their leaves, deciduous trees and shrubs rescue and store what they can of sugars and nutrients found in their leaves.

The key photosynthetic green pigment, chlorophyll, and its attendant enzymes are all broken down, their components moved to storage for recycling next spring. Essential nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, are likewise extracted from foliage for later reuse. With chlorophyll gone, the other colorful leaf pigments are revealed in all their glory. These accessory pigments have been there all along, they just have been masked by the dominant green of chlorophyll.

These accessory pigments serve several functional purposes for the leaf. Some pigments protect the leaf from sunburn, some scavenge free radicals, but most capture energy from wavelengths of light missed by chlorophyll. The multi-hued spectrum of sunlight, as revealed by a prism or a rainbow, not only allows us to see splashy fall foliage colors, it is the reason for their existence.

For the plant physiologist and chemist, then, the palette of colorful leaf pigments have complex functional explanations. More mysterious psychological stirrings accompany the aching beauty of our autumn foliage, but it gives an undeniable tug at my heart. Standing before a blazing yellow stand of aspens, I smile to think that recycling can be so beautiful.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy www.bridgerlandaudubon.org
Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society – Jim Cane, Linda Kervin

Additional Reading:
Utah Scenic Byways, http://www.utah.com/byways/fallcolorstour.htm
Utah Fall Colors, http://travel.utah.gov/Fallcolors.htm

Remembering Euell

Serviceberry

Remember Euell Gibbons? He was famous as a naturalist and connoisseur of wild foods in the 1960’s. His best known works were the book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” and the commercial where he asked “Ever eat a pine tree? You know …some parts are edible.” Well, I made fun of him when I was little, but now I understand that Euell was right. There’s good eating out there—and plenty to munch on in Utah. A word of strong caution for beginning trailside snackers: Take along a professionally written plant guide or preferably a plan expert before chowing down.

If you’re in the mood for something with a bit of a punch, then wild onions are for you. They are found in open meadows especially moist ones. Wild onions feature multiple flowers on a single stalk which create a globe shaped inflorescence. Identification is confirmed by the pungent onion aroma. All parts of the plant are edible: flower, leaves and root.

While difficult to harvest, stinging nettle can be pretty tasty. The stinging nettle has minute hollow hairs filled with formic acid–the same toxin produced by red ants,–which causes a painful, red rash when the plant is touched. Early season nettles have a sweeter taste and the very top of the plant has the tenderest leaves. Pinch leaves firmly between fingers and thumb; this will crush the hairs and prevent any stinging. Saliva neutralizes the effects of the acid, so leaves placed carefully into the mouth won’t sting.

Watercress is sweet yet with an acidic aftertaste. It’s found in moving or still water and has white or pink flowers typical of the mustard family. The peppery leaves are wonderful –it’s great as a snack or on salads with other greens. It is important to rinse off watercress leaves well with clean water before eating to avoid ingesting microorganisms such as giardia.

In late summer and fall you’ll find a number of berries to eat. Eat the tangy purple elderberries as the red ones will make you sick if they aren’t cooked; Thimbleberries resemble raspberries but with more seeds—they taste like raspberries too. The thimbleberry bush is thorny with large five-pointed leaves. Oregon Grape is a low-lying plant recognizable by its yellow flowers and holly-shaped leaves. Its sour berries are edible either raw or cooked—but sweet tooths might want to add sugar. Don’t forget the juicy, purple serviceberry which is common in riparian habitats on moist, wooded hillsides up to alpine elevations.

These are just a few examples of the many edible possibilities out there. Remember to double check with an expert or a reliable guide before eating any plants that are new to you. From all of us at Stokes Nature Center: Bon Appétit!

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy WaterwisePlants.Utah.Gov: http://www.waterwiseplants.utah.gov/default.asp?p=PlantInfo&Plant=313

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Cassey Anderson

Sources & Additional Reading

Tilford, Gregory L. Edible and Medicinal Plants of The West. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Montana, 1997.

Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Museum of New Mexico Press, New Mexico, 2003.

The Basic Essentials of Edible Wild Plants and Useful Herbs Jim Meuninick. Globe Pequot Press, Connecticut, 1988.

Jack Greene – Many different educational hikes 2000-2008

Euell Gibbons advertising GrapeNuts, YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XJMIu18I8Y (accessed July 16, 2008).

Euell Gibbons in the Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. “,” http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/GG/fgi38.html (accessed July 16, 2008).