Thursday, July 28, 2016

CNHP Undergraduate Researcher Discovers New Relationship Between Rare Butterfly and Ants

Myrmecophily is a mouthful of a word that refers to positive interactions between ants and other species. Such relationships are well known among the ant and butterfly specialists of the world. CNHP undergraduate researcher Tristan Kubik is a bit of a prodigal ant expert, spending time as a high school student collecting and cataloging ants, and mapping ant colonies. Kubik teamed up with Rob Schorr, a CNHP zoologist, to assist Schorr in studying populations of the rare hops blue butterfly (Celastrina humulus). For his part, Kubik has focused on determining if myrmecophily plays a role in the hops blue butterfly life history. Kubik recently spent weeks monitoring eggs and larvae of the hops blue butterfly and has documented that ants tend larvae (see pictures below). Kubik has observed larger ants, such as carpenter ants, defending the larvae from predation. The caterpillars dissuade the ants from eating them by using pheromones and providing protein and sugar-rich secretions. This marks the first documentation that myrmecophily exists for hops blue butterflies and ants. It is theorized that ants provide defense for the larvae in exchange for the nutritional benefits from the nectar that the larva can excrete (mutualistic symbiosis). Alternately, some believe that the nectar is simply a calming agent that minimizes ant aggression (commensalism). Kubik and Schorr are excited about identifying what the advantages may be and how this discovery can play a role in butterfly conservation.

Tristan Kubik with a female hops blue butterfly.
Ant crawling on larvae.

Hops blue butterfly larva (Celastrina humulus) on a hops leaf. (Humulus neomexicanus).

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Remembering Dr. Sylvia "Tass" Kelso

by Denise Culver, CNHP Wetland Ecologist

Sylvia "Tass" Kelso, Professor Emeritus at Colorado College, passed away on June 8, 2016 after an 18-month struggle with pancreatic cancer.

Since 1987 she was a member of the faculty at Colorado College, teaching courses in botany, conservation, and evolutionary biology, among others, and was Curator of the Carter Herbarium (COCO). She was dedicated to sharing her enthusiasm and teaching about plants with students and with the public.

Awards and honors include the Colorado College Burlington Northern Award for Faculty Achievement in Teaching (1992); the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor at Colorado College (1992--1994); the Verner Z. Reed Professor of Natural Sciences endowed position (2004--2007); and she was recognized as Outstanding Volunteer by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program.

Tass’s botanical specialties included the systematics and reproductive biology of the Primulaceae, on which she authored numerous papers. She also studied and published papers on the arctic and alpine flora and its phytogeography, the floras of southeastern Colorado and the Pikes Peak region, edaphic endemism, grasslands, the influence of Quaternary environments on plant distributions, plant reproductive biology, and the continuing importance of floristic exploration. Her research on Primulaceae has resulted in most of her contributions, culminating most recently in treatments of Primula, Androsace, and Douglasia in Volume 8 of Flora of North America and Dodecatheon and Primula in the revision of the Jepson Manual of the flora of California.

Tass and her husband George Maentz have been wonderful supporters of CNHP for over 20 years. The “Bed and Breakfast on Mesa Road” in Colorado Springs is a favorite with staff. Several CNHP staff have been students of Tass over the years, so Tass’s legacy continues. On a personal note, one of my favorite memories is of Tass running through the short willows (Salix glauca) on the South slope of Pike’s Peak with her plant collection bag bouncing along her side!

Tass’s botanical expertise, intellect, and friendship will be greatly missed.

Tass Kelso (right) and Denise Culver (left) collecting cut-leaved groundsel (Senecio eremophilus) on the south slope of Pike's Peak. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

CNHP and Colorado Department of Agriculture Recommend Best Management Practices for Managing Noxious Weeds near Rare Plant Populations

CNHP and the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Noxious Weed Program have created guidelines for managing noxious weeds in the vicinity of rare plants. Geared towards such stakeholders as natural resource and land managers and decision makers, the document recommends best management practices (BMP) for effective weed control while minimizing harm to nearby rare plant populations. Rare plants are threatened not only by displacement by noxious weeds, but also by unintended negative impacts through certain weed management practices. Native plant species designated as G1 or G2 are threatened by these activities due to their restricted habitat; this habitat may be a target project area for implementing a BMP. Recommended BMPs are provided for site assessment, harm avoidance, and weed management techniques to outline where and how these G1 and G2 rare species are to be protected. The document is co-authored by Cecily Mui, former Noxious Weeds Specialist for Colorado Department of Agriculture, and Susan Spackman Panjabi, CNHP Botanist.

Grand Mesa penstemon (Penstemon mensarum) is a rare plant that is occasionally found near roadsides. The BMPs in the 2016 report provide guidelines on effectively managing roadside noxious weeds without harming rare plants.