2015 Ohio Natural History Conference

Yesterday I attended the Ohio Biological Survey’s annual Ohio Natural History Conference at the Ohio History Center in Columbus. The meeting was very well organized and had several hundred people in attendance. Extra excitement was added throughout the day as OBS executive director Greg Smith raffled off Ohio Biological Survey publications, including the excellent Amphibians of Ohio. Of course, the primary focus of the meeting was the program of oral and poster presentations. As I watched the presentations, it seemed to me that two major themes emerged.

The first theme was the power of intertwining human and natural stories when teaching about the environment. Jen Brumfield’s keynote address on her Lake Erie birding adventures was a great example of this. She initially captured our imagination with a tale of competition among birders to observe birds (particularly jaegers) around the great lakes. Then she kept us engaged by combining stories of the growing relationship between her birding groups and their boat captain with observations and amazing natural history comments of birds on Lake Erie. I think that by the end of her talk, most of the audience was ready to sign up for a boat trip!

The second theme was that many gaps still exist in our basic understanding of how species are distributed over space and how their abundance changes over time. Filling in the gaps in our knowledge is critically important for successful conservation. Here are just a few of the many examples from the meeting of people who are working to fill these knowledge gaps.

  • Derek Hennen described his efforts to update the information on Ohio millipedes. Despite the ecological importance of millipedes, no modern key exists for Ohio species, and the last survey of their distribution in Ohio is 90 years old!
  • Marlo Perdicas of Summit Metroparks described how 10 years of bat capture data had helped improve our understanding of the habitat needs of bats as well as provided evidence for the effects of white-nose syndrome.
  • Katherine Krynak, a graduate student in my lab, described how the skin microbial communities and anti-microbial peptides of cricket frogs varied across their geographic range.
  • Kaitlin Campbell demonstrated changes in mite diversity – and noted how little we still know about their species-level taxonomy and effects on ants.
  • Marc Behrendt showed surprisingly large (county-wide!) gaps in distribution records for even common species of reptiles and amphibians, and explained his efforts to fill in those gaps.

There were many other oral presentations and posters; a summary of conference tweets can be found on Storify. You can also read abstracts from the program of oral and poster presentations.

Thanks to all of the organizers and presenters. It was another fantastic meeting, and I look forward to the 2016 Ohio National History Conference!

Conway mastodon skeleton at the Ohio History Center

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