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Rhode Island Natural History Survey » Natural History
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Animals &Events &Lectures &Natural History &News dgregg on 21 Sep 2011

Public Lecture Sept. 27: What’s the Deal with Seals?

RINHS will host a lecture “Seal Biology & Ecology in New England: Insights Through Strandings” by C.T. Harry, on Tuesday evening, September 27th, at 7:30 p.m. in Corless Auditorium on the URI – Graduate School of Oceanography, Bay Campus in Narragansett (URI-GSO).

The Natural History Survey’s 17th Annual Meeting will precede the September 27 lecture, beginning at 5:30 p.m. and be held in the Hazard Conference Room at the Coastal Institute, URI-GSO. Light dinner fare will be served, please RSVP to programadmin@rinhs.org if you plan to attend. Executive director David Gregg and president of the RINHS board Robert Kenney will discuss accomplishments, challenges, the role of the Survey in the course of environmental science and management in Rhode Island in the past year, and share plans for the future. The annual meeting is free and open to the public.

From 6:45 – 7:30 p.m. a Dessert Social will be held in the Corless Auditorium Lobby at URI-GSO.

At 7:30 p.m., CT Harry, Assistant Stranding Coordinator for the Marine Mammal Rescue & Research Division at the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Yarmouth Port, MA, will speak. From the Gulf of Maine to the Mid-Atlantic States, seal populations (gray, harbor, hooded & harp) are on the increase. Additionally, all species are being consistently observed outside of their historical distribution ranges. These changes, in concert with our rising human population, and more frequent excursions into seal habitats, have lead to increasing contact between humans and seals. At the same time as seal watching has emerged as an industry, conflict with fishermen and concerns about disease vectors has increased as well. Come explore with Harry, the natural history parameters that contribute to these recent changes, and then embark on discussion of what may lie ahead for seal populations? Changes to federal protection? The carrying capacity of the environment in which they live? And finally, some thoughts on future research that will assist scientists and managers in understanding and managing their increased presence among us.

CT Harry’s lecture is the first in the 2011-2012 Mark. D. Gould Memorial Lecture Series organized by the Natural History Survey. The series will focus on animal interactions with humans, or, as Executive Director David Gregg puts it “animals we didn’t used to have to deal with but now they’re living all around us”! And, will culminate in a conference in April 2012. Support for the lecture series is generously provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The entire evening is free and open to the public. For more information and directions call 401-874-5800 or click here for a Google Map.

Conferences &Events &Natural History &News dgregg on 14 Jan 2011

2011 RINHS Conference April 28, on Salt Ponds

This year, RINHS’s annual ecology conference focuses on southern New
England’s salt ponds and coastal lagoons. These special landscapes
help characterize coastal Rhode Island and other parts of southern New
England. They form a complex boundary between sea and land and are
loci of dynamic natural processes, diverse habitats, and intense
pressure from human activity.

In southern New England, salt ponds and coastal lagoons serve valuable
and unique functions for a variety of stakeholders in tourism and
recreation, environmental sustainability, and resource-extractive
industries such as fisheries. Yet many elements of these systems are
undergoing historic changes due to climate and sea-level change, land
conversion, surface water and groundwater contamination, invasive
species, restoration projects, and new aquaculture practices. The
difference between good and bad management could have a dramatic
effect on the future viability of salt ponds and coastal lagoons,
therefore the need for sound scientific understanding of the processes
and functions of these valuable yet fragile ecosystems has never been

The keynote speaker is Dr. Judith S. Weis, Professor of Biological Sciences, Rutgers University, an environmental toxicologist, and author of the 2009 book, Salt Marshes: A Natural and Unnatural History. Other confirmed speakers include Dr. Jennifer Bowen, Assistant Professor of Biology, UMass. Boston, speaking on microbial biodiversity and Dr. Kevin Kroeger, US Geological Survey, Woods Hole, speaking on groundwater inflow and nitrogen. Other speakers will be announced. In addition to the keynote, the program will feature topical sessions, a panel discussion, and presentation of annual RINHS awards, and be concluded with a social hour.

The 2011 conference is sponsored by the Rhode Island Natural
History Survey and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Rhode Island
Refuge Complex. Display space and additional sponsorship opportunities
are available, contact RINHS for more information.

RINHS conferences are widely regarded for convening a broad spectrum
of people sharing a curiosity about southern New England’s animals,
plants, geology, and ecosystems. They are excellent venues for
researchers and organizations to showcase what they do in a collegial
environment. For more information on RINHS conferences, visit

RINHS is seeking contributed papers for the program from anyone working on a subject relevant to the science and management of salt ponds/coastal lagoons. See the conference page for complete information on submitting an abstract.

A preliminary program with abstracts of accepted papers and posters and the 2011 REGISTRATION FORM will be available around March 15.

Exec's Blog &Invasives &Natural History &News &Plants dgregg on 03 Jan 2011

Memories of Les Mehrhoff

With the unexpected death, on December 22, of Les Mehrhoff, the natural history family lost one of its greatest, most visionary members. Les–botanist, ecologist, teacher, founder and leader and leader of IPANE (Invasive Plant Atlas of New England), and all-round invasive plant guru–suffered a massive heart attack at his home in Connecticut. Les was working hard right to the end on one of the greatest priorities in conservation, one that he did much to bring to all our attention–mitigating the environmental damage caused by invasive plants. Les had been a long time adviser and supporter of RINHS and was a frequent companion to RINHS staff, board, and members in the field, at meetings and conferences, and in all manner of regular communication. Les presented at three of RINHS’s annual conferences–1999, 2003, and 2007–each time addressing a different aspect of invasive plants. Whomever was the nominal keynote speaker at the CIPWG (Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group) annual meeting, everyone looked forward to Les’s appearances just as much.

Events such as Les’s unexpected passing, like the sudden loss of member and mycologist Doug Greene this spring, remind us how much we naturalists owe to each other for our interests and passions and how each such loss highlights a responsibility to share and promulgate those interests and passions so they do not pass with us, when it is eventually our time.

There will be a celebration of Les’s life organized in Storrs, CT, later in the winter and RINHS will pass word when we know more. You may also contact the RINHS office to be kept up to date. Les’s family has asked that we remember him by performing an act of kindness for the preservation of our environment.

Websites remembering Les include:
Published obituary
UConn Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Walking the Berkshires [blog]

Animals &Bioblitz &Events &Exec's Blog &Natural History &News &Plants &Rare Species dgregg on 14 Jun 2010

BioBlitz 2010 A Success

The teams are just back in from BioBlitz 2010 and I’m sure people are working hard to unload gear, hang out sleeping bags and tents out to dry, and catch up on sleep. Thank you all for your tremendous efforts that made the event such a success. Thanks to the Block Island community for their help and hospitality. The preliminary count is 916 species, which is great by any standard and for an island and rainy weather, it is terrific. We have a lot of work to do to cross check the numerous data sheets, especially for the marine organisms, and we look forward to receiving the many specialist reports, so I am confident that the final number will be higher, perhaps approaching the magic 1,000 barrier.

A special shout-out to the art team. It was great to have you with us this year, you added a lot and helped put the biodiversity and the event into a whole new light. Should we be looking forward to a gallery show in the fall? Can’t wait.

Platanthera flava

Platanthera flava

Notable finds: American burying beetle, pale green orchid, wood duck, spiny skate, jonah crab, citrine forktail. We will post more details on the finds as they come in.

One special and sad note: Doug Greene, who had just done lichens for the BioBlitz, collapsed on his way to the ferry and, despite the best efforts of emergency medical personnel, died on the island. Doug helped in 7 RI BioBlitzes, incl. the 1st one, in 2000, and contributed to many other science efforts. We will be sure to get word out about a service or other memorialization when we know more.

Doug Greene, at the 2007 BioBlitz at Trustom Pond
Doug Greene, at the 2007 BioBlitz at Trustom Pond

Exec's Blog &Natural History &Research dgregg on 03 Jun 2010

Proof that Naturalists are Smarter?

New research reported from the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego shows a positive correlation between learning and exposure to a common soil bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae.

Here’s the link: SMARTER

So don’t be a dumby, get out there and play in the dirt. And perhaps more to the point, bring the kids. They’ll pick up on your enthusiasm for nature and outdoors and they could just end up smarter!

Animals &Exec's Blog &Natural History dgregg on 12 Aug 2009

New salamander genus found in U.S.

We’ll never know so much about the world around us that there’s nothing left for naturalists to discover and just to prove that point, scientists recently announced the discovery of a new species (in fact it belongs to a whole new genus) of lungless salamander in the hills of Georgia.  Urspelerpes brucei , as it will be known, is the first new genus of four footed vertebrate found in the U.S. since 1961 (another lungless salamander, in fact). You can READ MORE from the BBC or go to the source, the abstract and paper in Journal of Zoology. So get out there and start scrounging around. You never know if the next creature you encounter might be your ticket to immortality! (Immortality among a select community of naturalists, that is.)

Exec's Blog &Natural History dgregg on 15 Jun 2009

Overheard in the Taxonomy Dept…. “Hello? Anyone here?”

One thing that RINHS is here for is to encourage the practice of taxonomy: connect those with taxonomic expertise with those interested in learning and otherwise to facilitate by preserving systematic collections, maintaining a reference library, and organizing and publishing the results.

All this is useful (necessary, in fact) if you want to know what’s going on in Rhode Island’s environment, but it is also our small contribution to improving the prospects for taxonomy generally. Hopefully, as she picks up her nobel prize in biology, the next great taxnomist will cite the encouragement she received at BioBlitz! Here’s a very interesting assessment of the field of taxonomy, its importance and prospects, that was brought to my attention by Lisa Gould (my predecessor as Director for the newbies in the audience).

Link to taxonomy article in The Scientist.

Exec's Blog &Natural History dgregg on 26 May 2009

Marine Life Ethnohistory

Someone recently asked me why some plants are considered invasive while others, that arrived here earlier (after all they all arrived here from somewhere else because RI was once all glaciated), are considered native. You can give ‘em the usual cliche about how it’s invasive if it is reproducing outside its normal range to the detriment of native species, but even the least astute could pretty quickly respond that every organism reproduces to the detriment of something.  Hopefully, you’re not making assumptions about a pristine time zero before Europeans came because of course Native Americans modified the environment, too, so you end up thinking about time-depth and speed of change. Since my training is as an archaeologist, this is pretty much my natural state, but in this case it seems generally appropriate.

Once your brain is in “deep time depth” mode, you start to ask all sorts of new questions. There have been a couple of very interesting research projects recently that take that perspective in looking at the state of fish stocks and the degree of degradation in the marine environment and I recommend them. The first, which was in the news quite a bit when if first came out, is by Scripps Oceanography graduate student researcher Loren McClenachan and appeared in Conservation Biology. She looked at the fish in photos of Key West charter boat catches back through time and was able to show just how great has been the change in species and size into the present.  Here’s a link to the Scripps press release about the paper, or look it up in CB if you have access to it: Scripps Release

A whole raft of research on deeply historical fishing trends was recently announced by the Census of Marine Life. By using a wide variety of ancient sources, a number of researchers were able to reconstruct marine life trends back to classical times. Here’s a link to a news story about the research: Historic Fishing Reconstructed

In the interests of full disclosure (and in a self-serving bit of marketing),  you might be interested to know that RINHS helps to facilitate the Census of Marine Life by administering grants for some of its activities. Just another example of the good work made possible by your membership dollars! (If you’re not already an RINHS member, click HERE for information on how you can help make great research possible!)

Exec's Blog &Natural History dgregg on 22 Jan 2009

DNA Attacks High School Science Teacher

I’m not even that old and what I learned in high school biology class is getting VERY out of date. The New Scientist is running a fantastic article in its 24 January issue on the changes being wrought on evolutionary theory by advances in gene sequencing. Speaking for myself, at least, I welcomed this easy to understand summary of new thinking on the development and organization of life. Maybe I’m older than I think….

Link to full article at New Scientist

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