Monday, April 13, 2015

Spring in Oklahoma: Scientists Go Outside

The Oklahoma Academy of Science had its spring field meeting this past weekend at Sequoyah State Park near Muskogee. Fortunately we missed the torrential rains that started falling today. It was gently cool, and softly overcast—which made the green of the new leaves very intense. On Saturday morning and afternoon we had field trips.We saw beautiful and interesting plants. Examples include the mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum in the Berberidaceae):

And spiderwort (Tradescantia ernestiana in the Commelinaceae):

We also saw the mycotrophic orchid Corallorhiza wisteriana. It does not have chlorophyll. It gets its nutrition from decaying wood. But not directly. It is mycotrophic rather than saprophytic because mutualistic fungi absorb the nutrients from rotting wood and provide them to the orchid.

On one of our hikes we visited a nearby Boy Scout camp owned and operated by the family of Andrea Blair, a graduate student at Oklahoma State University Tulsa campus.

We saw a magnificently blooming buckeye (Aesculus glabra in the Hippocastanaceae). But it was on the other side of the creek so I had to wade across to get photos of it. This would have been a simple matter except that the rocks were just the right size to hurt my tender old feet.

Especially in the afternoon, the field trips combined forces to gain a multi-disciplinary view of nature. Liz Bergey of OU found a slime mold. And we all wished for a competent paleontologist when we found abundant fossils near the lake shore. In this photo, you can see many crinoids (a kind of echinoderm, with stalks that look like stacks of coins), corals, and bryozoans (now known as ecoprocts). The bryozoans were of the genus Archimedes and looked more like a fish backbone. That’s what I thought they were at first, but I never saw any “fish ribs” with the “backbones,” which meant I had to be wrong.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, guest speakers provided fascinating presentations. On Friday, Charles Brown of University of Tulsa told us about his over three decades of research into the costs, benefits, and evolution of colony behavior in cliff swallows. You think you’ve had bedbugs? But a single little swallow nest can have hundreds of them. On Saturday, Ron Bonett of University of Tulsa told us about salamanders in Oklahoma, and about the repeated evolution of species in which juveniles become sexually reproductive. In the photo, field meeting organizer Connie Murray (of Tulsa Community College Metro campus) talks with Charles Brown.

Every spring and fall, OAS has wonderful field meetings. There are always lots of interesting things to see, and wonderful people to explore with. My thanks to everyone who made the meeting a success, including our Executive Director David Bass who had to make sure everything happened.

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