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CREW Plant Lab Intern Helps Save Endangered Oaks

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.

Christina Del Greco

Christina Del Greco

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.

Oak shoots after one month of growth on different media

Oak shoots after one month of growth on different media

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.

Oak seedlings in the CREW greenhouse

Oak seedlings in the CREW greenhouse

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.

Small oak leaves used to initiate somatic embryogenesis

Small oak leaves used to initiate somatic embryogenesis

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   2 Comments

Visit the Zoo’s EcOhio Farm and Buy Native Plants

On May 14, we invite you to come out to the Zoo’s EcOhio Farm and Wetland. Learn about the land’s history and take a piece of it home with you as we host our annual Native Plant Sale from 9:00am to 1:00pm. Nearly 200 species of native wildflowers, trees and shrubs, including those that you see throughout the EcOhio ecosystem, will be for sale. Cash, check, and credit card will be accepted.

Coneflower (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Coneflower (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Over the past few years, we’ve been hard at work on this off-site property formerly known as Bowyer Farm. This nearly 530-acre site in Warren County now offers a 24-acre reclaimed wetland, a 100-acre organic farm, newly established honeybee hives, and an abundance of birds and other wildlife that has moved in or stopover during their migration.

Gadwall spotted at EcOhio wetlands (Photo: Brian Jorg)

Gadwall spotted at EcOhio wetlands (Photo: Brian Jorg)

You can also learn about Pollen Nation and what this group has been doing to support pollinator conservation. Fifteen new beehives on EcOhio Farm are home to thousands of honeybees that help pollinate the entire ecosystem. Observe honeybees up close through an observation frame, and learn how these busy creatures keep us, and their hives, fed.

Honeybees

Honeybees

Zoo staff and master gardeners will be on hand throughout the day to share how this unique ecosystem is all connected and how you can recreate it in your own backyard. See the farm, hike the wetland, and learn about the Zoo’s future plans for this thriving oasis in the middle of the suburbs.

EcOhio Farm is located at 2210 north  Mason-Montgomery Road, Lebanon, OH 45036.

*Please note this is a working farm and ecosystem. Bathrooms may not be available.

 

May 9, 2016   1 Comment

Taking Root: Nearly 200,000 Trees Planted So Far

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – African proverb

girls hug treeIt’s Arbor Day, the day to take notice of all the wonderful things our leafy green neighbors provide us – beauty, shade, clean water and oxygen, just to name a few. Planting a tree isn’t just about what it can do for us today; it’s an investment in our future.

Join us in support of the Taking Root campaign, a region-wide initiative to plant one tree per person (two million) in the Tri-state by 2020. Last year around this time, nearly 85,000 trees had been planted and registered with Taking Root. This year, that number is approaching 200,000 and growing fast as the campaign gains momentum.Taking Root logo

Greening the Flying Pig

Last year, Taking Root teamed up with the Flying Pig Marathon to plant trees along marathon route that will offset the carbon footprint of the event. The goal is to plant 26 trees for 26 miles. If you’re running the Flying Pig Marathon this Sunday, look for several trees that have already been planted along Victory Parkway and Pete Rose Way.

Tree planted along the Flying Pig Marathon route (Photo: Taking Root)

Tree planted along the Flying Pig Marathon route (Photo: Taking Root)

Make a Difference Day

Taking Root also kicked off its first annual, region-wide tree planting event on National Make a Difference Day on October 24, 2015. On that day, 29 teams in 22 different Tri-state communities planted 1,100 trees! This year, Taking Root plans to make an even bigger difference on National Make a Difference Day on October 22, 2016.

make a difference day planting

(Photo: Taking Root)

Connecting People with Resources

If you can’t plant a tree in your own yard, consider joining a tree planting event at your local park or organize a tree planting at your church or school. In fact, if you have a project in mind, Taking Root is happy to help connect you with the resources you need. That’s what the Cincinnati Recreation Commission did when they needed help planting trees at the Olden Recreation Area in East Price Hill last week. Taking Root was able to connect them with expertise from Holscher Hackman Garden Center and volunteers from Macy’s to get the job done. Submit your project application here.

Planting trees in East Price Hill

Planting trees in East Price Hill (Photo: Taking Root)

Wherever you find yourself on this Arbor Day, take a minute to appreciate the trees around you and consider supporting the Taking Root campaign to ensure a healthy planet for future generations.

April 29, 2016   No Comments