Ohio Dragonfly Survey – Spring Training 2018

Last Thursday, MaLisa Spring, state coordinator of the Ohio Dragonfly Survey, gave the introduction to a series of talks about dragonflies and damselflies, how to identify them (Bob Glotzhober), how to photograph them (Jim McCormac) and how to report them on iNaturalist (Jim Lemon).

The audience was captivated by stories such as dragonflies being ferocious hunters, some have even been reported to prey on hummingbirds (albeit rarely).

On the other hand, watching dragonflies glide over open water on a warm summer day can be very peaceful and give us appreciation for their beauty and flying ability.

Bob Glotzhober even speculated that the origin of the shape of the Valentine’s heart can be found in the mating ritual of some dragonflies. What do you think?

So how does one identify a dragonfly?

And how do you distinguish a dragonfly from a damselfly?

But be careful, size is not the only difference and may be deceiving: in the tropics some damselflies grow to 7 inches in length!

If you want to learn more about dragonflies, visit the Ohio Dragonfly Survey website or attend the Odonata conference in June 22-24 2018 in Findlay, Ohio.

Save the date for Odo-Con-18! June 22-24, 2018

To identify dragons and damsels in the field, we recommend that you download the ODNR guide (booklet pub 320).

If you enjoy fishing, you may catch a dragonfly in its larval stage and the Atlas of the dragonfly Larvae may help you identify it.

As always, feel free to post any questions right here on our blog.

About the Author:  Angelika Nelson is the curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics and the social media manager for the museum.

Follow us on Facebook.

 

Explaining Science – plant genomics

Brandon Sinn performing molecular lab work

Brandon Sinn performing molecular lab work

Brandon Sinn, PhD graduate from the OSU herbarium, now a postdoctoral fellow at West Virginia University, recently published a paper on molecular work he did to better understand the evolution of genomes in Asarum (Aristolochiaceae), commonly known as wild ginger. The work was done in collaboration with Dylan Sedmak, an OSU undergraduate student, Lawrence Kelly, Associate VP of Science, New York Botanical Garden and John Freudenstein, Professor and Chair of EEOB and Brandon’s PhD advisor.

We interviewed Brandon to get a better understanding of his research findings:

Brandon: “Evolutionary relationships in the flowering plant genus Asarum served as the focus of my dissertation research, and I continue to study the group.  In this particular project we studied six Asarum species, which each represent one of the six major evolutionary lineages within the genus.

Flowers of some Asarum species found in southern Appalachians

Flowers of some Asarum species found in the southern Appalachians

Asarum is a poorly-understood genus of approximately 115 species found in temperate forests across Asia and North America. Some Asarum species are common and widespread across the continents where they are found, while the majority have highly restricted ranges – for example, one species is known only from a single gorge in North Carolina and others are found in only a few counties in the southeastern United States.

During the course of sequencing DNA for my dissertation research, I realized that the genes of some Asarum species were not in the expected order. This departure from expectation was surprising, since the clade, or evolutionary neighborhood, that Asarum belongs to is very old and had been partially characterized as having slowly-evolving and highly conserved genomes. For example, the genome of another member of the same clade has been called a “fossil” genome. It was because of this unexpected observation that we decided to sequence complete genomes from one species from each of Asarum lineage. ”

This lead to the following research questions: Note: A plastome is the genome of a plastid, the organelle responsible for photosynthesis in plants.

1) Have the plastomes of all Asarum species been destabilized and their gene order rearranged?

2) Is the plastome of Saruma henryi (commonly called upright wild ginger), the closest relative of Asarum, of typical arrangement or is it more like that of Asarum?

3) Can we understand how the ordinarily highly conserved and stable plastomes become destabilized by comparing the plastomes of many Asarum species to that of Saruma henryi?

Saruma henryi, a flowering plant in the family Aristolochiaceae, endemic to China

What should we know to understand this research?

Brandon: “Each plant cell contains at least one copy of three distinct genomes. It is easy to imagine that each cell has a copy of the plant’s genome, but many people forget that two types of plant organelles, mitochondria and plastids, also have their own genomes. Plastids, from which chloroplasts develop, have a very small genome that is relatively easy to completely sequence and the sequence of more than 2,000 are publicly available today. The sequencing of thousands of plastomes has resulted in several general trends: 1) plastomes change more slowly than the plant’s own genome; 2) the plastome is made up of three functional regions, the small single copy, large single copy, and inverted repeat regions; 3) the physical order of genes is highly conserved across even distantly related species; 4) there is very strong selective pressure on the preservation of photosynthesis, which most likely constrains the evolution of plastomes in green plants. Our knowledge of the typical layout of the plastid genome, or plastome, has long been relied upon to sequence DNA in order to study plant evolutionary relationships. Traditional DNA sequencing techniques require prior knowledge of the order of genes or regions of a genome. If this order is not as predicted, then the DNA sequencing will fail.”

What method did you use to study your research question?

Brandon: “For this study, we sequenced entire plastomes from six Asarum species and that of Saruma henryi, the closest relative of Asarum. Since traditional DNA sequencing is not useful in destabilized and dynamically rearranged genomes, and we wanted to sequence entire plastomes that we hypothesized were rearranged, we needed to use a technology called massively parallel sequencing. A major advantage of massively parallel sequencing is that a researcher can extract DNA from a tissue, break the DNA into short pieces, and simultaneously sequence all of these fragments without prior knowledge of their physical relationship to one another. The resulting millions of DNA sequences are then assembled, much like a puzzle, using specialized software. The assembled  plastomes can then be compared.”

Brandon explains one of the key figures in his manuscript:

A cruciform DNA structure that has likely destabilized a region of the plastome in Asarum species. Structure courtesy of Eric Knox.

A cruciform DNA structure that has likely destabilized a region of the plastome in Asarum species. The end of the ndhF gene is shown in red. Structure courtesy of Eric Knox.

DNA is made of only four chemicals (which we abbreviate as the letters A, T, C and G) and is not entirely unlike a spiral staircase, where each handrail is a string of these letters. Holding this structure together are bonds that form between certain letters – A-T and G-C. We call these letters nucleotides. Sometimes the nucleotides making up DNA cause the molecule to form complex shapes, such as the cruciform structure shown here. Cruciform, or cross shaped, DNA structures form when the same nucleotides are repeated very close to one another, which is depicted in the vertical “stems”.

plastomes

Cruciform DNA structures can be difficult for the molecular machinery in cells to work with. For example, sometimes molecules that interact with DNA get stuck on the stems, and these structures compromise the integrity of the DNA molecule. When these structures break, which you can imagine by separating the red and black halves of DNA for Saruma henryi, the cell tries to put them back together. But, repairing DNA does not always work perfectly. The results of our research suggest that faulty repairs made to this DNA structure throughout the plastomes of Asarum species have resulted in varying degrees of DNA duplication. Notice that the ndhF gene (shown in red) is typically at one end of the small single copy region, as shown on the Saruma henryi plastome. In Asarum, this gene often has a long stretch of nucleotides that can be “pasted before or after it. In other Asarum plastomes, such as Asarum canadense, we find that all of the small single copy region has been duplicated. The duplication of the formerly single copy region is most likely due to faulty repair of the cruciform DNA structure, where identical strings of nucleotides close to one another led to bonding of two identical DNA regions (as seen in the Asarum canadense cruciform structure).”

Why is this research important?

Brandon: “When you learn about DNA in high school science classes, everything sounds very concrete and well understood, but even gene function in humans is not exhaustively understood. Our basic knowledge about how genes and genomes evolve is in a constant state of improvement. This knowledge is necessary for future breakthroughs in genome engineering, evolutionary and conservation biology, and improving genome stability.  Just as it is important to understand biodiversity at the level of species, it is equally important to understand genomic diversity – the content and structure of genomes, in order to understand how mutations in particular regions of genomes can lead to genome-scale changes over deep time and how these changes affect evolutionary lineages.”

What should you take away from these findings?

1) Just because a species is a member of a very old evolutionary lineage, we should not expect that it is a living fossil and that its genome has changed little.

2) A plastome can function even when gene order is changed and more than half of its genes are present more than once.

3) Small, likely randomly generated repetitive motifs in DNA sequence that is not part of a gene can decrease genome stability, and lead to genome rearrangement and gene duplication.

*******************************************************

Wow, we are now certainly asking questions and getting answers with new techniques that we could not have imagined decades ago. If you want to follow Brandon’s further research, click here.

About the Authors: Brandon Sinn photoBrandon Sinn earned his Ph.D. in 2015 from the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, where he was a member of the Freudenstein Lab in the Museum of Biological Diversity. Brandon has held a postdoctoral research position at the Pfizer Plant Research Laboratory of the New York Botanical Garden, where he worked on the Planteome Project. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology of West Virginia University where he studies orchid genome evolution as a member of the Barrett Lab.

Angelika Nelson is the curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics and the social media manager for the museum.

Follow us also on Facebook.

 

 

Reference:
Sinn, B. T., Sedmak, D. D., Kelly, L. M., & Freudenstein, J. V. (2018). Total duplication of the small single copy region in the angiosperm plastome: Rearrangement and inverted repeat instability in AsarumAmerican journal of botany105(1), 71-84.

Interview with the coordinator of the Ohio Dragonfly Survey

MaLisa SpringMaLisa Spring, State Coordinator for the Ohio Dragonfly Survey, sat down with us to talk about the Ohio Dragonfly Survey and its focus – dragonflies and damselflies!

Hilary: “Tell us about yourself!”

MaLisa: “I completed a Bachelor’s in Biology with a minor in Spanish at Marietta College, Ohio. While I was there I did a couple of research projects related to insects and completed my senior thesis on bee diversity. It was then that I decided that I wanted to go to grad school, and I ended up attending OSU, where I received my Master’s degree in Entomology.

I worked with native pollinators for my undergraduate, but I also did a small project on lady beetle diversity and completed an internship on insect diversity. Overall, I’m just broadly interested in entomology and so when there was a mention of a dragonfly survey coming up and that they were interested in hiring someone for the survey, I was all for it – it sounded great! I then landed the job as the state coordinator for the Ohio Dragonfly Survey in May of 2017.

Hilary: “What is the Ohio Dragonfly Survey and what is its goal?”

MaLisa: “The Ohio Dragonfly Survey is a citizen science project with the goal of getting people outside, to notice dragonflies and damselflies, and to submit their observations to the survey via iNaturalist.org. Our goal right now is to figure out where species are throughout the state and to document the status of the threatened and endangered species. Ohio has 167 species of dragonflies and damselflies and we have 23 species that are state-listed as either endangered, threatened, or a species of concern, but there could be several more species added to that list. Additionally, the Hines Emerald (Somatochlora hineana) is the only federally endangered species in our state and it hasn’t been seen since at least 1989, so it might be extirpated (locally extinct, but surviving elsewhere).”

Double-striped bluet (pond damselfly)

Double-striped bluet

Hilary: “What are some of the greatest threats to dragonflies?”

MaLisa: “There are many threats to dragonflies and damselflies. Habitat loss and degradation are two of the biggest ones. Compared to the species richness between now and say the 1950s, there’s a huge difference. For example, Ohio used to have the Great Black Swamp, a several county-large swamp up in northwestern Ohio, but it was drained and turned into agricultural fields. Reducing hectares of wetlands into ditches created a vastly different habitat for the dragonflies and damselflies of this region, resulting in a significant change in the number of species that used to live here.

Other challenges are pesticides and especially herbicide run off.  Herbicides affect plants and certain species of dragonflies and damselflies lay their eggs inside of specific plants. If those plants aren’t there for them to lay eggs in, then the species cannot survive. They also need plants at the edge of water, so if people are mowing down plants at the edge of ponds or other ideal aquatic habitats, then the dragonflies and damselflies don’t have anywhere to emerge after their larvae stage to spread their wings to dry, and so they die.”

Hilary: “What is the life cycle of a dragonfly or damselfly?”

MaLisa: “Immature dragonflies and damselflies, also referred to as water nymphs (naiads) or larvae, reside in the water or aquatic systems, where they can live anywhere between 3 weeks to several years (it depends on the species). Some species are migratory, so they migrate to and from Ohio, but others overwinter in Ohio as larvae in the water systems and then emerge in either the spring or summer (again, it depends on the species) as adults, where their lifespans can range from two weeks to up to a couple of months.

Hilary: “How can you tell a dragonfly and a damselfly apart?”

MaLisa: “Dragonflies and damselflies are in the order odonata and are divided into two separate groups, Anisoptera and Zygotpera. You can differentiate the two based on the wing positioning for the most part, but not always. Dragonflies tend to hold their wings out like a biplane, whereas damselflies tend to hold their wings behind their back like a sailboat.

Another way to differentiate them is based on their size. Most dragonflies are larger than damselflies. But again, there’s an exception to the rule with the body of some damselflies being longer than that of some dragonflies. If you want to get into the nitty gritty to tell them apart, you can look at their eyes to see how separated they are from each other. All damselflies have their eyes well separated on their head, whereas most dragonflies (excluding the Clubtails) have their eyes at least touching.”

Hilary: “For the public to get involved in the survey, do they need to collect specimens?”

MaLisa: “For the most part, we’ve learned that the public doesn’t want to collect specimens, which is okay as photographing them instead is perfectly acceptable. However, if they are interested in collecting specimens we ask that they look on our webpage and follow our collection protocols.”

Hilary: “Will you be at the Open House for the Museum of Biological Diversity on April 7th?”

MBD Open House April 7th, 2018

MaLisa: “I will definitely be here for the Open House event, if anyone wants to ask me any dragonfly questions!”

To learn more about the Ohio Dragonfly Survey, access this link: http://u.osu.edu/ohioodonatasurvey/

Contributing to the survey is as easy as taking photos of dragonflies and damselflies and submitting them to iNaturalist.org! Learn more here.

Want to learn more about dragonflies and damselflies? Check out this page for upcoming talks, presentations, and community events. Or download a guide to dragonflies and damselflies of Ohio from the Ohio Division Wildlife.

Hilary HirtleAbout the Author: Hilary Hirtle is the Faculty Affairs Coordinator at the OSU Department of Family Medicine; her interest in natural history brings her to the museum to interview faculty and staff and use her creative writing skills to report about her experiences.

Theme(s) and Variation(s)

A few weeks ago Ardine Nelson, Professor Emerita, OSU Department of Art’s Photography program, and Fredrik Marsh, instructor at Columbus College of Art & Design and The Ohio State University, visited our Insect, Fish and Tetrapods collections in order to take photographs of specimens for a new series featuring specimens from EEOB’s Museum of Biological Diversity.

Why Museum specimens? To quote Ardine: “Since my first visit to an open house at the OSU Museum of Biological Diversity, I remain intrigued by the specimens. They are beautiful, terrifying, and at times even repulsive, yet they are a visual curiosity with an innate quality that draws one in even closer.”

Ardine showcases photographs of specimens, in their drawers, just like they are preserved in the museum collection. Her master piece in this show is The Research Board (last one in this slide show).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fred features scans of specimens, most of them larger than life-size.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To appreciate the large photographs and scans you have to see them yourself. The first selection is on display at the Fort Hayes Shot Tower gallery where you can admire their stunning art Monday – Friday 8am-5pm until April 27 (Please note, the gallery is closed for spring break March 30 – April 8). More information about the exhibit and the artists can be found through ColumbusMakesArt.

One of Grant Terrell’s specimen sheets is featured in this photo – the remains of an American Kestrel:

A big THANK YOU to the curators of the collections, Marc Kibbey (Fishes), Luciana Musetti (Insects) and collection manager Grant Terrell (Tetrapods) for hosting the artists and providing access to specimens!

About the Author: Angelika Nelson is the curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics and the social media manager for the Museum of Biodiversity.

Staff spotlight – Jacqualyn Halmbacher

Jacqualyn Halmbacher, Research Associate at The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Freshwater Mussel Conservation and Research Center, gave us an inside look on her research regarding freshwater mussels for this month’s staff spotlight.

Hilary: “Tell us about yourself!”

Jacqualyn: “I graduated from Ohio University in 2012 with a degree in Freshwater, Marine, and Environmental Biology. After I graduated, I worked in a seasonal position at the Columbus Zoo for five months, before eventually being hired by The Ohio State University as a Research Assistant in  2012. Since 2016 I have been a Research Associate at the Freshwater Mussel Conservation and Research Center.”

Hilary: “What is a freshwater mussel?”

Jacqualyn: “Freshwater mussels are mollusks that are similar to their cousins, clams and oysters.  Mussels are bivalves, meaning that they have two shells that are held together by two adductor muscles and they feed by filtering food such as zooplankton, detritus, algae, and bacteria from the water with their gills. Mussels are an ancient species, actually being traced back to the Triassic Period – 250 million years ago! They’re found on every continent except Antarctica and one third of the world’s mussels are found in North America, with about 80 species of mussels in Ohio alone – with more species found in Little Darby Creek than all of Australian and European species combined!”

Hilary: “Can you tell us more about the facility?”

Jacqualyn: “The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Freshwater Mussel Conservation and Research Center is a research and educational facility that’s dedicated to freshwater mussels and other freshwater organisms. Animals we house in this facility are for research purposes and will be sent back to the river systems that they came from. Some stay here long-term. Also, another large portion of the animals housed in this facility are for host work, which is important in propagation and knowing where the reared mussels should be released.”

Hilary: “How does the life cycle of a mussel work?”

Jacqualyn: “Freshwater mussels have a unique life cycle that includes a larval stage where they parasitize a fish. Once a female mussel’s eggs have been fertilized, they develop into larvae called glochidia, which will attach and develop on the gills of fish once the female mussel releases them into the water. They will remain on the gills of fish for up to two weeks, where they will receive the nutrients necessary to grow and develop as they metamorphose into juveniles. Once the full transformation is complete, they will leave the host to live independent lives. What I’m doing in my current research with in vitro is simulating the conditions that the glochidia experience when they are on a host fish.”

 

Hilary: “Propagation? Can you tell us more about this?”

Jacqualyn: “We propagate species naturally by using host fish, but recently we have been working on propagating them artificially in vitro. Freshwater in vitro is accomplished using cell culture techniques, which is removing cells or tissues from an animal or plant and placing them in an artificial environment for survival. The requirements for mussel survival include an environment with controlled temperature, maintaining a particular pH, osmolality, and a growth medium. The culture medium is generally composed of amino acids, vitamins, glucose, salts, proteins, hormones, growth factors, and antibiotics.”

 

Hilary: “Why is this important to study?”

Jacqualyn: “It gives us the ability to produce more juveniles in one dish than what we could get from several fish, while simultaneously allowing us to see mussel growth and development. Overall, studying mussel growth and development allows us to create successful conditions for breeding and conservation efforts for mussels, which in turn also helps us better protect their freshwater environment. 70% of mussel species are endangered and 37 species of mussels are extinct. Such species loss may have cascading effects through entire stream food webs, so the research we’re undertaking is important to protecting entire stream ecosystems.”

Hilary: “What projects are you working on now?”

Jacqualyn: “We have a propagation project going on in Illinois in conjunction with BP to propagate and release federal and state endangered species in the Kankakee River. I’m also trying to improve mussel rearing methods.”

Hilary: “What’s your favorite part about working at the facility?”

Jacqualyn: “The challenges that the research presents. There is constantly a new problem that needs to be solved in order to move forward. And I love the new microscope we have! I’ve been able to focus on details that you would never even realize were there.”

Hilary: “Have you made any recent discoveries?”

Jacqualyn: A personal accomplishment of mine is using in vitro to propagate mussels. I know that other researchers have been successful with it, but one thing that I’ve learned is that reading a research paper about an experiment and actually trying to duplicate it is something completely different. There are just so many components involved and so many things that happen that you just don’t account for until you’re in the middle of it.

poster - Meet Dr. Tom Watters: mussel man

If you want to learn more about freshwater mussels in Ohio and how to identify them, consider attending one of the mussel ID workshops regularly held at the Museum of Biological Diversity. Please contact Tom Watters, curator of mollusks, directly.

 

Hilary HirtleAbout the Author: Hilary Hirtle is the Faculty Affairs Coordinator at the OSU Department of Family Medicine; her interest in natural history brings her to the museum to interview faculty and staff and use her creative writing skills to report about her experiences.

Staff spotlight – Scott Glasmeyer

We met up with Scott Glassmeyer, a student research assistant in the Fish Division, to get an inside view on his role in the Museum of Biological Diversity.

Scott Glassmeyer holding a Rock Bass (fish)Hilary: “What is your major?”

Scott: “My major is Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife, with a specialization in Fisheries and Aquatic Science. I’d always loved fish since I was a kid and before I got into this program, I didn’t know that you could go to college to study fish, or do anything relevant with fish in a job, besides working to commercially collect fish. So, I did research to see if there were any higher education programs that involved learning about fish and aquatics and I found that Ohio State had this program.”

Hilary: “How long have you been a student research assistant in the Fish Division?”

Scott: “Since spring of 2016, but I started as a volunteer in January of 2016 where my primary role was to take older jars containing fish specimens and place them in new ethanol, to better preserve the fish.”

several fish in ethanol in glass jar

Fish in ethanol

Hilary:  “What is the mission of the Fish Divsion?”

Scott: “To preserve historical records of species of fish for future reference and overall long-term data collection and education. It’s a way to validate that this species of fish was recorded in a particular area and a specific species was recorded in general, as fish get misidentified a lot. So it improves a lot of accuracy regarding records.”

Hilary: “What fish are housed here?”

Scott: “Mostly Ohio fish, but we have some from the entire 50 states as well. There are also some fish species from other countries, some saltwater fish, and some aquarium fish here as well.”

Hilary: “Are the specimens here largely donated?”

Scott: “A lot of the specimens are collected through the museum, as well as the Ohio EPA. The Ohio EPA has a division that monitors streams and stream quality statewide and they will collect fish in the process and send them to us.”

collecting fish with seine nets

Staff collecting fish with seine nets

 

Hilary: “How are the fish preserved?”

Scott: “The way the preservation process works is that you put the fish specimens in formaldehyde for a certain amount of time, then you place them in water for about a day, before you start adding the ethanol bit by bit, as you slowly add larger amounts of ethanol to build up the tolerance – and that’s what they stay in. It takes up to a week and a half to two weeks to put them in this preserved state.”

Hilary: “Why is it important to study these fish?”

Scott: “It’s really important to study these fish because it helps you not only understand the water quality of their habitat, but also the intrinsic value of their ecosystems. For example, if you have a stream that’s just concrete because it was filled in, this could possibly only allow for about 5 species of fish to live there, whereas before, when the stream had natural morphological features and geological shapes, there were a lot more species of fish living within in this habitat.”

“A good example of this is from about 6 or 7 years ago, when the 5th Avenue Dam along the Olentangy River near campus was removed. Trees, plants, and wetlands were added along the bank and this natural state contributed to the value of the stream, not just for people, but for the fish as well, as this improved quality increased the level of biodiversity within in and around the river.”

Scott Glassmeyer holding Giant bottlebrush crayfish

Scott Glassmeyer holding a Giant bottlebrush crayfish

Hilary: “What’s your favorite part about working in the Fish Division?”

Scott: “I love going outside, putting waders on, getting in the stream and finding fish. You can read all you want about how healthy a stream is, but when you go out there and you see the biodiversity in the water as you collect data, you can tell just how healthy the water is and it’s wonderful.”

“I also really like the people who work here with me. Everyone’s very patient here and they take the time to help you out as your learning, which is really nice as learning to identify fish for the first time involves a learning curve.”

Hilary: “What is a project that you’re working on now?”

Scott: “I’ve been editing photographs of fish taken by Brian (my colleague who is the Sampling Coordinator in the Fish Division) and getting them ready to be put into the field guide version of the Fishes of Ohio.”

book cover Fishes of Ohio by Milton B Trautman

“The Fishes of Ohio was a guide written in the ‘50s, by Trautman, and then it was revised in the ‘80s by Trautman, and so what we’re working on now would be the next revision. There’s around 190 species or so of fish in Ohio, including invasive species and extinct species, so we’ve been photographing each species listed in the field guide, oftentimes with more than one picture, as you’re taking pictures of what you use to identify them. For example, for some of the sucker species of fish, you have to show the mouth, as that helps with identification. So with these species, there’s some photographs detailing the mouth from underneath, and there’s some side photographs, so that you can see the shape of the head and the mouth from the side for identification.”

 

Hilary: “Do you photograph the fish in their habitat?”

Scott: “It depends. There was one species of fish where we went out during their spawning season and had the tank set up to photograph them. We caught them, put them in the tank, and took a picture quickly, as they can lose their colors pretty fast. If a fish we find doesn’t have a particular color, we take them, put them in a cooler with an aerator, and take them away from location to photograph them. It’s a time consuming process, with the drive to the specimen’s location, the set-up, hours of wading for fish, and then the tear-down of equipment and the drive back from the site, so taking them away to photograph them can be easier than doing it onsite.

Hilary: “You said that fish lose their colors – what does that mean?”

Scott: “Fish have pigments in their skin, underneath their scales. There’s a lot of colorful fish in Ohio, like darters and minnows, that will have breeding colors and so, during certain times of the year and certain times of the day (or even after they eat) they’ll get a lot of pigment and colors in them. And even if they’re not a colorful fish, their colors can change. For example, you can take a large mouth bass that has some pattern to it and put it into a bucket that’s really light and pull the fish out ten minutes later, and the fish will look really pale. But if you put it in a dark cooler, the fish is going to remain dark and have more color. The stress levels will impact them.”

Hilary: “Do you have a favorite fish species?”

Scott: “This question’s hard. So, my answer changes every month when I discover a new fish, but currently my favorite fish is the Common Dolphin Fish, or the Mahi-mahi. There’s a reason why I like it: So, over 50% of its diet is flying fish, and that’s pretty cool to me. Also, its maximum life span is five years. A marlin or a swordfish can live to be about 27 years of age, and a medium sized Ohio fish species can live to about 15 years. However, the Dolphin Fish lives such a short span of time compared to these fish, yet it grows extremely quickly, as they get up to 36 pounds in 8 months. And it’s really fast too, swimming speeds up to 50 miles an hour.”

Hilary: “With all of your experience and studies, what do you hope to do in the future?”

Scott: “I’d love to work as a fisheries biologist, working for the environment. It’s challenging to get in those types of roles, as they’re very competitive, but I’m going to try.”

 

Hilary HirtleAbout the Author: Hilary Hirtle is the Faculty Affairs Coordinator at the OSU Department of Family Medicine; her interest in natural history brings her to the museum to interview faculty and staff and use her creative writing skills to report about her experiences.

A Snapshot of Ohio Lichen Diversity 125 Years Ago

The Kellerman Displays for the 1903 Chicago Exposition

Most of the specimens at the Ohio State University Herbarium (OS) are tucked neatly into cabinets, not on display. But adorning one long wall are what at first glance look like pictures. Artfully arranged, with wood frames and a glass front, a close look reveals they are not paintings but are in fact real, once-living, plants and fungi.

Framed specimens at The Ohio State University Herbarium

The displays are quite pretty and they’re obviously rather old, but I never stopped to consider just how old they are, or how they came to be. A modern interpretive sign explains that they, along with four larger, more intricate panels of Ohio trees, were assembled for display at the World’s Columbian Exposition, a big world’s fair held in Chicago for six months in mid-1893.

write-up by Ronald L Stuckey about Kellerman's Columbian exposition mounts

Write-up by Ronald L Stuckey about Kellerman’s Columbian exposition mounts

At the top of each 18 x 22-inch panel is a printed heading “Flora of Ohio,” and beneath that, in ornate old-style penmanship, are the words “Prepared by Professor and Mrs. W. A. Kellerman.” William A. Kellerman was remarkably energetic and wide-ranging in his botanical interests. Making these panels was an appropriate hobby for a person whose life revolved around plants and fungi. An Ohio native born in 1840, he attended Cornell University for undergraduate studies and later received his Ph.D. from the University of Zurich, Switzerland. He taught at schools in several nearby US states before returning home to become OSU’s first botany professor and Chairman of the Department of Botany when it was formed in 1891. That same year, he established the Herbarium in a building aptly named “Botany Hall” that unfortunately no longer exists on OSU’s oval. Since then the Herbarium has moved twice, first to the also aptly named “Botany and Zoology” building (now Jennings Hall) and then to its present location as part of the Museum of Biological Diversity on West Campus (1315 Kinnear Rd.). While his principal research interest was rust fungus diseases of crops, Kellerman’s numerous works on the flora of the regions where he lived reveal an extraordinary breadth of knowledge. He wrote a guide intended principally for use by teachers entitled “Spring Flora of Ohio” (1895) and co-authored, beginning in 1894 and subsequently updated several times, “A catalogue of Ohio Plants.” Sadly, while Kellerman was on a research trip to study fungi in Guatemala, he contracted a fever (most likely malaria) from which he died in 1907.

Photo of WA Kellerman in the Journal of Mycology

Photo of W.A. Kellerman in the Journal of Mycology

The panels are an interesting snapshot of the flora of Ohio. While aesthetics and enthusiasm for particular plants may have played a major role in their selection by the Kellermans, the panels were indeed portrayed to fairgoers as indigenous representatives of our flora. As there have been substantial changes in the composition of our vegetation, especially for such pollution and disturbance-sensitive organisms as lichens, they arouse curiosity about the past versus present status of these organisms.

Lichens are dual organisms consisting of fungus plus alga. The algae are single-celled photosynthetic organisms. The fungus, which constitutes most of the body of a lichen, provides a home for the algae, usually in a layer just beneath the surface. Most lichens fall into one of three growth-form categories: (1) usually small “crustose” lichens that are tightly attached to the substrate and so don’t have a discernable lower surface; (2) small to medium-sized “foliose” lichens that are flattened and can usually be separated from the substrate, and (3) “fruticose” lichens that have a bushy shape, either standing upright from the surface they are growing on, or dangling off a tree branch or trunk. Most of the lichens in the panels are foliose species.

Illustration of three growth-form categories of lichens

Three growth-form categories of lichens

There doesn’t seem to be a strict organization scheme for the lichen panels; they’re not in alphabetical or taxonomic order, except that one panel consists mostly of crustose species, while the few fruticose ones represented are grouped together, sharing space with some foliose ones. I suspect that the paucity of fruticose types is attributable to the display method only being suitable for flat or readily flattened specimens.

Each panel includes 9 specimens, with handwritten labels. The classification of lichens has undergone substantial change in the past century and a quarter, hence many of the names written by the Kellermans are not in use today. Fortunately, an on-line database called “Consortium of North American Lichen Herbaria” lists specimen records for lichens residing in collections spanning the continent, and the site lists all the names by which a species has been known in the past.

The present distribution of lichens in Ohio is well described in The Macrolichens of Ohio by Ray E. Showman and Don G. Flenniken, published in 2004 by the Ohio Biological Survey, and distribution maps presented on the web site of the Ohio Moss and Lichen Association. The status of the lichens more broadly is set forth in a monumental book, Lichens of North America by Irwin M. Brodo, Sylvia D. Sharnoff and Stephen Sharnoff, published in 2001 by Yale University Press, along with an updated companion volume by Brodo published in 2016 by the Canadian Museum of Nature, Keys to Lichens of North America: Revised and Expanded.

One panel caught my eye. This is a group of mostly rather large foliose lichens, including several “lungworts,” members of the Lobaria –robust broad-lobed species found on bark.

Display of a group of mostly rather large foliose lichens

A group of mostly rather large foliose lichens

Among the most easily recognized of all lichens, lung lichen, Lobaria pulmonaria, was once widely distributed across Ohio, but no more. All but one of the 14 county records for lungwort are pre-1945, with the other one record being sometime between 1945 and 1965. Extensive searching has failed to find lung lichen today.

Why is it lung lichen gone from Ohio? It’s probably due to a multiplicity of factors that prevailed during the late 19th, and early 20th centuries: air pollution and disturbance of old-growth forests. Now that conditions are better for it to grow, perhaps a lack of propagules is keeping it from reestablishing itself. While eventually a warbler or vireo might fly in from some north woods with a little piece of lungwort on its foot, this might be a good candidate for a deliberate reintroduction.

Photo of lungwort growing on a tree in Maine

Lungwort growing on a tree in Maine

This is what lungwort looks like, growing on a tree in Maine. It’s a beautiful lichen and that just might still be growing in in a bottomland forest somewhere in Ohio, or it might soon return. Keep an eye out for it the next time you go hiking!

About the Author: Bob Klips is Associate Professor Emeritus in the department of EEOBiology at The Ohio State University. He currently assists with moss and lichen databasing in the OSU herbarium. His research focuses on bryophyte ecology.

Staff Spotlight – Grant Terrell

Grant Terrell proudly presenting a specimen of yellow-bellied marmot

Grant Terrell proudly presenting a yellow-bellied marmot

We sat down with Grant Terrell, the Curatorial Assistant for the Tetrapod Collection, to learn more about him and his role within OSU’s Museum of Biological Diversity.

Hilary: “Are you a student at OSU?”
Grant: “Yes, this is my third year at OSU. When I first started my education here, I was an evolution and ecology major in the EEOB department, but I later added a history double major and a paleontology minor.”

Hilary: “What is your job at the Museum of Biological Diversity?”
Grant: “I’m currently the Curatorial Assistant for the Tetrapod Collection.”

Hilary: “How long have you been in this role?”
Grant: “I’ve been in this role for about 6 or 7 months now, so not too long, but I’ve been with the museum for three years. I actually had my first day of work before my first day of class at OSU! I reached out to the museum before I was a student, as I really wanted to work at the museum and it was a deciding factor in whether or not there was a place for me at Ohio State, as I was so fascinated with museum life and and I wanted to be a part of it. So, eventually I was hired as a Research Assistant, doing basic curatorial tasks, then moved onto Curatorial Assistant and am now the acting Collections Manager.”

Hilary: “What is a tetrapod?”
Grant: “The modern way to define it would be a group that contains mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and birds – their last common ancestor and then everything in between. So, dinosaurs are tetrapods, mammoths are tetrapods, and so on. Modern biology uses these types of definitions (they’re called clade-based definitions) for groups so as to avoid the arbitrary things that you can gain or lose in evolution – like legs.”

these are tetrapods: bullfrog, turtle, hedghog, squirrel, birds

These are all tetrapods

Hilary: “Why is it important to study tetrapods?”
Grant: “The Earth is a system and it depends on the inner workings of many organismal groups. Tetrapods are only one component of this system, so I believe studying tetrapods is only as important as the study of any of these other groups. Still, it’s rather impossible for one person to comprehensively study all components of this system, and so we are forced to specialize.”

Hilary: “What is your favorite part about working in the Tetrapod Collection?”
Grant: “Being surrounded by diversity at all times of the day. For my spring break, I took a trip to Costa Rica (which is a biodiversity hotspot), but the diversity of animals in the tetrapod collection is at a magnitude much more dense than what I’ve ever experienced before, even in Costa Rica. And it is all right here in the museum – just drawers and drawers of specimens who have unique stories behind them.”

Hilary: “What is a discovery that you’ve made while working here?”
Grant: “When you start skinning and preparing the specimens, every mammal or bird, even something as common as a house sparrow – every single one is different. Not a single one is the same and when you’re with this specimen for hours preparing it, you start thinking about it’s life – about how it grew up, what it did throughout its day, what it was doing before it died – just with each individual one, you recognize that no one specimen is the same.”

Hilary: “You mention ‘skinning’ and ‘preparing’ specimens – can you elaborate on this? Is this something that you do on a day-to-day basis?”
Grant: “Typically, what I create are called study skins, which are different from taxidermy mounds. Taxidermy is more of an art form where you’re trying to depict an animal in a realistic lifelike pose, while study skins are to give you more of a general shape and visual idea of that particular individual, so you can look at things like molt patterns, color variations, differences in measurements – and they’re made to fit into a museum drawer. Preparing a specimen can sometimes feel like performing surgery, as some of the specimens that we receive have injuries, so you have to be careful with the work that you’re doing so as not to further damage the specimen.”

“Usually just about once a week at most I’ll do skinning because it’s so time consuming and once you’ve started on a skinning project, you can’t necessarily stop. But, if a specimen needs prepared, I prioritize by what I have time to do, what we have room for, and what would be valuable for the collection.”

Hilary: “Do you get these specimens as donations?”
Grant: “The majority of what we get is what we call “salvage” – specimens that are road kills or who have been victims of window strikes. In the past, people would kill the animals in the wild to add to the collection – those specimens are known as voucher specimens, which is essentially taking the species for educational purposes.”

The word "strike" is spelled out of bird study skins

“STRIKE”-An art installation created to represent building fatalities in birds. ©Amy Youngs, 2015

Hilary: “What projects are being worked on now?”
Grant: “One of the biggest projects we’re working on now is to rebuild a relationship with the zoo to try to get future deceased specimens from them. The museum used to have a relationship with the zoo many years ago, but as the years went on there was a breakdown in the relations and we haven’t been getting regular specimens from them since the 70’s, so we’re currently working on building that relationship again. A lot of the animals at the zoo are critically endangered, so we want to preserve as many endangered specimens as we can for study, data collection, and genetic analysis for future generations.”

barbet specimens from the Columbus Zoo

Barbets from the Columbus Zoo

“There’s also a lot of active research going on in the collections, and one of the big things that troubles us is space – we never have enough space and so we are working on acquiring more storage units – and we’re also undertaking projects to optimize space – such as pulling some of the older specimens that don’t necessarily have any data and trying to make room for the ones that do, so that we can add more to the collection.
I am also working on supervising weekly mammal preparations. I myself have only recently been trained in this- bird prep remains my forté – but I recently prepared a Douglas Squirrel and a Yellow-bellied Marmot, the first of its species in the collection. I plan to prepare a porcupine which we have in our freezer and I am expecting this to be quite the undertaking.”

tree squirrel specimens prepared by Grant Terrell

Tree squirrels prepared by student volunteers

Hilary: “Is everything in the collection used for research?”
Grant: “Most of it. There’s also what we call a “teaching collection” – a lot of which is stuff that is older and outside of Ohio and it’s not as valuable for research, so we usually use it for teaching and outreach.”

Hilary: “What is the craziest thing you have found in the collection?”
Grant: “A dried sheep’s stomach inside of a manila envelope. It was just sitting in a random drawer and I was going through the collection one day, trying to catalogue items that hadn’t been catalogued and I opened up the envelope and there’s this sheep’s stomach. It didn’t have any information associated with it, except a tag that said “ovis,” which is the genus that sheep’s are in.”

“Another one is a raccoon specimen that we received, who had died after getting its head caught in a mason jar and the person who had prepared the specimen had left the rim of the jar around the neck of the specimen as a reminder to how the animal had died. I like that one because, to me, it symbolizes what I was saying earlier about every one of these individuals having a story and a life behind it. It reminds you not to take all of these specimens that we have here for granted.”

Hilary HirtleAbout the Author: Hilary Hirtle is the Faculty Affairs Coordinator at the OSU Department of Family Medicine; her interest in natural history brings her to the museum to interview faculty and staff and use her creative writing skills to report about her experiences.

2018 Museum Open House – Magnified

Mark your calendars – we will have our annual open house on Saturday April 7, 2018. The event will take place at 1315 Kinnear Rd from 10am through 4pm. Following our success form the last years, we will have some kids activities outdoors – as well as plenty of things to do and see indoors.

Our motto this year is “Magnified“. Displays will focus on magnifying all small things in our collections. Have you ever looked an insect in the eye? What does the inside of a flower look like? Are bird feathers 3-dimensional? You will find answers to these and many more natural history questions at our open house.

To stay up-to-date, please follow us on Facebook or send us a message.

Junior Explorer Club of Upper Arlington visits ant lab

How do animals communicate?

ant sketch

Morgan Oberweiser introducing animal sound activities to junior explorer club

Morgan Oberweiser introducing animal sound activities to junior explorer club

The Adams Ant Lab hosted elementary school children from the Junior Explorer Club of Upper Arlington. Recent graduate Mazie Davis and undergraduate students Andrew Mularo and Morgan Oberweiser put together a program to teach the little ones about various ways that animals communicate. First the students played a bioacoustics guessing game – they listened to some diverse audio recordings, courtesy of the Borror Lab of Bioacoustics, and tried to guess what animals they came from.

Can you tell which animals make these sounds? Look for the correct answers at the bottom of this post.

mystery sound 1:

mystery sound 2:

mystery sound 3:

Next the students learned about the use of coloration for communication. They observed camouflage in northern walking stick insects and African ghost mantises, as well as warning coloration in Peruvian black velvet stick insects and yellow banded poison dart frogs.

The last animal communication system we discussed was chemical communication. The students played a game in which they were each given a scented cotton ball (peppermint, almond, vanilla) and were tasked with sorting themselves into groups using only their noses. Then they compared their skills to those of our large Atta ant colony.

Ant colonies & fungus gardens in R Adams lab at OSU-MBD

Ant colonies & fungus gardens

The grand finale of the trip was a quick tour of the tetrapod collection lead by Dr. Katherine O’Brien. It was a joy to have such wonderful and inquisitive kids come to visit – we expect to see many of their excited faces return come next spring’s Open House (April 7, 2018)!

About the Author: Morgan Oberweiser is an undergraduate (Evolution and Ecology major) research assistant in Rachelle Adams‘ lab.

Answers to animal sound quiz: sound 1 = American alligator (chickadees scolding the alligator), sound 2 = Texas leafcutting ant, sound 3 = South American catfish