Category — Conservation
In August, CREW staff traveled down to Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky to accompany the US Forest Service in their annual survey of our Cumberland sandwort experimental outplanting. The Cumberland sandwort is a small, delicate plant that clings precariously to the sandy soil of sandstone rock formations in the Cumberland Plateau of southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee. It is endangered, in large part due to trampling by hikers and people scavenging for Native American artifacts. CREW has been working with the US Fish & Wildlife Service to help preserve and protect this little plant.
Using seeds collected in 1994 from Pickett State Park in Tennessee, CREW established 10 genetic lines of the Cumberland sandwort in our tissue culture lab, and we banked each line in liquid nitrogen in our CryoBioBank. In 2005, to test whether the plants grown by tissue culture could be used to re-establish a population if needed, CREW and the US Forest Service planted 77 plants from our tissue culture lab in a sandstone cave in Daniel Boone National Forest that had a habitat similar to the native habitat of the sandwort. On our August 2013 trip to that experimental outplanting, we counted 160 plants!
It looks like our experimental outplanting is flourishing in its new location, so now we want to look at the genetic diversity of the outplanting. Genetic diversity in a population is important because it allows the population to adapt to changing environments, or to survive and develop resistance to disease. Although we had started with 77 plants, they were all clones of the 10 original genetic lines established in our tissue culture lab. On our trip, we collected leaf samples from 35 individuals to analyze using microsatellite markers. For comparison, we also traveled down to the two locations in Pickett State Park that our original seeds were collected from and collected about 150 total leaf samples from the two large populations. Now we’re working on extracting DNA from the nearly 200 leaf samples collected this August. We should be able to compare the amount of genetic diversity generated in the experimental outplanting with the amount of genetic diversity naturally found in the original populations. This study is part of a larger study where we are evaluating the genetic stability of tissues that have been stored in liquid nitrogen for up to 20 years – a project that is supported in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, as well as CREW’s Eisenberg Fellowship. It should give us insight into how to manage and protect threatened and endangered plant populations more effectively. Keep an eye out for our results!
September 3, 2013 No Comments
On September 1, 1913—the passenger pigeon was one year away from extinction. Martha, the last of her species, lived here at the Cincinnati Zoo and was an aged bird. Efforts had been made for years to find a mate for Martha that would provide a chance for the species to survive. In truth, the fate of the passenger pigeon had been sealed several decades before by modern communications (telegraph), transportation (rail), rampant commercial-scale harvest of the birds and the felling of large expanses of hardwood forest habitat. For Martha and her species, it was a waiting game. The eyes of the nation watched for the inevitable to happen.
The inconceivable loss of the most common bird species on the planet shook society out of its torpor. There had been billions of passenger pigeons only 50 years before—racing up, down and across the continent like a biological storm, consuming the fruits of the forest in its quest to fulfill their mission to feed, nest and make more pigeons. Few would have believed that there would soon be none. Those that were concerned were not influential enough to prevent it. By the time it was clear to the majority what was going to happen, it was just too late to do anything about it. It was the first time we could be certain that humans had caused a species’ extinction. It was, and is, a heavy burden, yet it was also a catalyst for change.
There is good that came from this extinction. Many species considered common today were on the brink of the same fate at the end of the 1800s. American bison, wild turkey, white-tailed deer and pronghorn antelope were all on the same path to extinction as the passenger pigeon. After the loss of the passenger pigeon, people got to work to save these species from the same outcome. President Roosevelt began the National Parks program and wildlife conservation efforts sprang up all over the country. The wildlife conservation effort we know today was born out of the loss of the passenger pigeon. In a very real way, modern zoos as well as countless other conservation organizations around the globe owe their existence to this one event. It is an impressive legacy and one to be celebrated in the coming year.
Over the next year, the Zoo will celebrate what works in the world of wildlife conservation as a commemoration to Martha. To start, we will renovate the current Passenger Pigeon Memorial at the Zoo to include a hopeful message that celebrates the success of wildlife conservation rather than mourning the loss of a single species. We will highlight the work of our Zoo in species conservation and celebrate the work of others in our community and beyond. We will be blogging each month with updates on the renovation of the Passenger Pigeon Memorial and more, and hope you will join our story and celebration in the coming year.
September 1, 2013 3 Comments
In the middle of August at the Cincinnati Zoo it is hot, uncomfortable, and difficult to stay cool. Unless, of course, you’re a rhino. Sumatran rhinos, Suci and Harapan, are built to tolerate this muggy, hot weather. At least, their ancestors have adapted to it. In the wild, Sumatran rhinos find relief from the heat in wallows that have filled with rain water. These pools also keep biting flies and insects from bothering them. The rhinos frequent these wallows and put their own personal touch or signature on them by rolling, digging the sides, and likely spraying urine on the trees and vegetation nearby. These behaviors tell other rhinos and animals in the area that this wallow already belongs to someone and to please leave it the way they found it. Here in Cincinnati, Suci and Harapan also have their wallows and they put them to good (and frequent) use. It’s our jobs as keepers to keep the wallows, and all exhibit areas (inside and out), fresh and clean. Yes, clean mud is difficult to attain but necessary. We do this by adding fresh water daily and periodically adding fresh soil. In the wild fresh rain water is added almost daily and during the dry season a rhino will move on to another wallow near or closely adjacent to a stream.
Harapan, the handsome young stud born here in April of 2007, and who has spent some time in Florida and San Diego California over the years, returned here on July 3, 2013. His behavior indicates he is happy to be home. Most days he eats his first meal of ficus browse ( tree cuttings) and fruits and vegetables and then he saunters over to the wallow to get himself good and muddy. The unique part of his behavior is that he then goes into his pool for a quick rinse. Next he wanders inside and checks up on the keepers to see how our day is going. Then, repeats all the steps over again. People often ask zoo keepers if the animals “ know you “ or know they are back home. After this experience, I can honestly say Yes. Harapan is without a doubt happy to be here and we are happy to have him home.
‘ Till next time- Paul Reinhart, Cincinnati Zoo Ungulate dept.
August 30, 2013 4 Comments