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John Abbott shares aquatic insects at Native Plant Conference

published: 10/17/2017

John Abbott shares aquatic insects at Native Plant Conference

John Abbott is Director of Museum Research and Collections for the University of Alabama Museums. His research focuses on aquatic insects, particularly the systematics and biogeography of dragonflies and damselflies (Odonata). He has served as President of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas and as their Editor-in-Chief. He is currently Managing Editor for the International Journal of Odonatology.

Abbott comes to Birmingham Botanical Gardens October 26-29 for Native Plant Conference. He'll be presenting the concurrent sessions "Dragons & Damsels: Creating Water Features to Attract and Nurture Our Dragonflies and Damselflies." To see the entire weekend schedule of events and field trips, and to register online, visit bbgardens.org/npc.

Abbott shares more about what he'll discuss.

You're in Alabama, but much of your focus on aquatic insects has centered on Texas. Are populations significantly less here?

No....I just moved here in January 2016 after spending most of my life in Texas and all of my career up until coming to the University of Alabama. Having said that, Texas does have the greatest diversity of dragonflies and damselflies in the U.S. by far, but Alabama is up there.

Where are we most likely to spot aquatic insects in Alabama? What kind conditions are necessary for these insects to thrive?

Alabama is #1 in many freshwater groups (fish, turtles, salamanders and mussels for example), because of the diversity of freshwater environments. You will find aquatic insects of some type in pretty much every type of freshwater environment there is in Alabama.

Is it complicated to create a landscape that will attract aquatic insects?

Not really....the key is heterogeneity...provide a diversity of depths, substrates, vegetation, etc.... Abbott will help conference attendees realize how to attract aquatic insects to their own landscape at Native Plant Conference. To register for his sessions and others, visit bbgardens.org/npc.

Mark Bailey to discuss the red-cockaded woodpecker at Native Plant Conference

published: 10/13/2017

Mark Bailey to discuss the red-cockaded woodpecker at Native Plant Conference

Mark Bailey returns to his native Birmingham for Native Plant Conference. Bailey spent nine years as a zoologist for The Nature Conservancy of Alabama and for the past 20 years, he has worked as as a consulting biologist for his own company, Conservation Southeast. During this year's conference, he'll lead the concurrent "Conservation of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker in Alabama."

Native Plant Conference returns to Birmingham Botanical Gardens October 26-29. To see the entire schedule for the conference and to register for sessions online, visit bbgardens.org/npc 

He recently shared more about his work and what to expect from the conference.

What do you do through your work with your group Conservation Southeast?

I am a consulting biologist specializing in conservation and management of rare species and the land that supports them. I also do rare species surveys, conservation easement baselines and various writing projects.

What led to the decline of the Red Cockaded Woodpecker?

The primary reason is habitat loss. These birds are primarily (but not exclusively) found in the longleaf pine ecosystem, which once covered over 90 million acres. Also, the birds require old living pines (with a heartwood fungus) for excavating roost cavities and an open, park-like forest that is maintained by frequent fire. Old pines and fire-maintained forests characterized the natural landscape 200 years ago, but these conditions today are found mostly on public lands and only a few private properties.

How have you worked to improve those populations?

My work has been exclusively on the last two populations remaining on private lands in Alabama, one south of Hurtsboro in Bullock, Macon, and Russell counties and one on Mitchell Lake in Coosa County. One of the most important things I do is installing artificial roost cavities in trees that otherwise are too young for the birds to use. I also remove cavity competitors like flying squirrels, and conduct monitoring of nesting and fledging success. The Bullock County population was so small when we started in 2007 that it needed to have birds from nearby Fort Benning moved there, and I was involved in that process, always working with state and federal authorities. It has grown from four breeding groups to 32 breeding groups in just ten years, which is quite a success.

Where can they be found in Alabama and how difficult is that search?

There are only six populations in Alabama. The easiest places to see them are at our National Forests. There are RCWs at the Conecuh, Oakmulgee, Shoal Creek and Talladega Ranger Districts. There are none on the Bankhead or Tuskegee. The birds live in small territorial family groups occupying 50 to 200 acres, roosting at a cluster of cavity trees that are usually within sight of each other. You might find them by looking for the white paint bands that managers use to mark the cavity trees, but it's probably best to stop at the District Ranger's office and ask directions. The birds range widely during the day, and are most easily seen at the clusters in the first hour or so after sunup, and again at dusk as they return to roost. Anytime during the April-May nesting season when they are busy feeding their young is a good time to observe them; just don't disturb them by getting too close.

To register for Bailey's sessions and others, part of this year's Native Plant Conference at Birmingham Botanical Gardnes on October 26-29, visit bbgardens.org/npc.

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