Category — Conservation
Guest blogger: Christina Del Greco, CREW Plant Lab Intern
Hi! My name is Christina Del Greco. I’m a college sophomore studying biology at the University of Notre Dame. Thanks to a grant from the Association of Zoological Horticulture (AZH), I had the wonderful opportunity to be a plant lab intern with the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) this summer.
As a CREW intern, I worked on the oak tree conservation project. Scientists store seeds in seed banks for many plants, especially endangered ones, as a precaution in case the wild population of a plant gets too low. However, you can’t do that for oak trees, as the acorns don’t stay viable if they are frozen. This means that there has to be another way to build up a bank of oak tissue. CREW has been pursuing oak stem tip culturing, in which the tips of oak seedlings are put into test tubes filled with media meant to help the plants grow. This way, we can store test tubes of seedlings instead of acorns.
The problem is there are so many different types of media with different concentrations of various nutrients the plants need, and each species grows differently than the others. My main project was to work on a Design of Experiments (DOE—a statistical method of setting up experiments) project in which 26 different types of media are used for four different oak species to compare growth on different media and gather data in order to compare them.
I took pictures of each of the plants after one month in culture, and then again after two months in culture. I also kept track of things such as whether the plants were infected by bacteria or fungus, how tall they grew, if the medium they were in turned brown, if any leaves were growing, and more. All of these variables are able to potentially tell us something about what makes the oaks grow better or worse.
The data is sent to a collaborator at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) who knows far more about statistics than I do, and he can use the results to determine if any of the particular nutrients had a noticeable effect on the growth of the oaks. In the future, once all of the statistical results come back, we can use that data to create what we hope to be the optimal medium on which an oak shoot can grow.
I worked on a few smaller side projects as well. One was to try and determine at what point you should trim off the tip of an oak seedling to put it in the medium. Generally, we clip off the stem tips relatively early in the plant’s development, but there has never been any consistency, so I chose three relative stages in three different species and put them in culture to see which one grew best.
I also started a few petri dishes to try to initiate somatic embryogenesis, which is a process in which we try to force plants to make embryos by placing non-embryonic parts of the plant (somatic tissue), such as small leaves, on a special medium in the dark to try and force an embryo to form on its own.
And, when an incredibly old red oak tree fell in the middle of the Zoo, I had the opportunity to collect samples to see if there was any way we could regrow the tree in the future, allowing me the opportunity to use all of the methods I had learned about at once.
I learned so much over this internship. Besides learning all sorts of new lab techniques, I had no idea there were so many different ways to try and conserve different species of plants. I also didn’t know that there are so many different endangered oak trees. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had to work at CREW for the summer and learn all about conservation efforts both here and at zoos and botanical gardens all over the world.
August 16, 2016 1 Comment
It’s World Elephant Day, and we’re going BIG this year with our celebration! In partnership with the 96 Elephants campaign, we are joining more than 150 institutions in an attempt to break the Guinness World Records title for the largest display of origami elephants. The current record is 33,764. Collectively, we’re looking to fold 35,000 of them—the number of African elephants lost to poaching each year for their tusks.
Come on out to the Zoo today and fold an origami elephant with us at the World Elephant Day station set up in Elephant Reserve between 10am and 3pm. We’ll collect all of the folded elephants and send them to 96 Elephants to be part of the display. If you can’t make it to the Zoo today, you can still participate in the origami folding at home by following the directions here.
In addition to spreading awareness, the Zoo directly supports elephant conservation in the wild. In Sumatra, elephants and people often come into conflict when elephants wander into human settlements. These elephants are often relocated to a Sumatran Elephant Conservation Center. Support from the Zoo through the International Elephant Foundation provides supplies and training to ensure that the elephants are cared for properly. We also provide funds for Conservation Response Units whereby captive elephants, carrying their mahouts and forest rangers, are trained to patrol the forest to deter crime, monitor wildlife, herd wild elephants away from human settlements and conduct community outreach.
When you look at the collective impact that zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) have on elephant conservation, it’s quite impressive. Over the past five years, the AZA community invested more than $6.3 million in elephant conservation efforts, across more than 240 reported projects benefitting all three elephant species: the Asian elephant, African bush elephant, and African forest elephant. Support from AZA-accredited facilities helps organizations and campaigns such as the International Elephant Foundation, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, and 96 Elephants continue their crucial mission of fostering human-elephant coexistence, reducing pressure from the ivory trade and poaching, conducting vital ecological research on wild elephants, and furthering a variety of other on-the-ground field conservation measures.
YOU are a big part of this effort! By visiting AZA zoos, you are helping us save elephants. We couldn’t do it without your support! Sabu, Schottzie, Mai Thai, Jati and their wild counterparts thank you. Trunks up!
August 12, 2016 No Comments
Today is World Lion Day, a day to celebrate one of the most majestic and revered creatures on Earth. It is also a day to recognize that we need to take action to ensure the African lion population, with fewer than 20,000 lions remaining, has a future in the wild.
In the South Rift Valley of Kenya, lion populations are growing, while elsewhere across the continent, they are in severe decline. The difference is testament to a human-wildlife coexistence approach taken by the Maasai South Rift Association of Landowners (SORALO) out of the Lale’enok Resource Centre.
At the heart of the program is a cadre of local Maasai who are employed as Resource Assessors (RA) to collect and apply ecological information directly relevant to community livelihoods, conservation and development. For example, the Rebuilding the Pride team of RAs monitor lion activity daily through various tracking methods. They share the information with local livestock herders, which enables the herders to make informed decisions on where to graze with minimal chance of conflict with lions.
Over the past nine years, the Cincinnati Zoo has supported the growth and innovation of the Centre and its programs. This past year, thanks to a grant through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Conservation Grants Fund and Disney Conservation Fund, the Zoo supported the training of Resource Assessors to develop new, effective ways to collect and communicate information about human-wildlife coexistence to communities in the South Rift.
In June, the Zoo’s COO, David Jenike, and I traveled to the South Rift to lead a Community Educators Workshop for the RAs. The purpose of the workshop was to train the RAs on how to more effectively share and disseminate the information they collect to the local community, schoolchildren and visiting international audiences. We spent several days with the group of 14 RAs, discussing and practicing education outreach and community engagement techniques and skills.
Following the workshop, Dave and I then taught the annual Kenya Earth Expeditions (EE) course. For more than 10 years, the Zoo has partnered with Miami University’s Project Dragonfly to lead graduate courses that take educators into the field to experience community-based conservation, participatory education and inquiry firsthand. The Kenya EE course focuses on co-existence between people and wildlife, and we spend the better part of our time in country working with the SORALO team at the Lale’enok Resource Centre. Having just completed the education workshop, the RAs were eager to try out their new communication skills with our EE students. They did a fabulous job, and I can’t wait to see how much more they develop over time.
Across the greater part of their range in Africa, lions are not faring as well as they are in the Kenya’s South Rift Valley. We hope that SORALO’s efforts to promote coexistence between people and lions can serve as a model for communities in other regions.
Here at the Zoo, we share the story of coexistence between people and wildlife on the African savannah with guests through our Africa exhibit and related education programs. The next time you visit, as you’re watching Henry and Bibi the hippos swim underwater, crushing on Cora the brand new baby giraffe, and admiring John and Imani the lions up close through the glass, I encourage you to reflect on the bigger picture. All of these animals you connect with at the Zoo have counterparts in the wild that rely on the capacity of our own human species to maintain a healthy planet and share our space with them.
August 10, 2016 1 Comment