Monday, February 22, 2016

National Invasive Species Week> Creeping Buttercup

Creeping buttercup patch - click for larger image
Creeping buttercup
(Ranunculus repens)

Creeping buttercup is a perennial species of buttercup native to Europe; now found across North America and throughout much of the world. Creeping buttercup loves moist soils and is invasive.


> perennial
> height up to 1', generally shorter
> leaves dark green with light patches, divided into three toothed leaflets
> central leaflet on the plant stalk
Creeping buttercup Flower - click for larger image> flowers generally have 5 (sometimes doubled to 10) bright yellow (glossy) petals and grow singly on long grooved stalks
> flowers generally bloom March to August/September
> "fruits" are firm clusters of 20-50 achenes on round-prickly heads, each producing 20-150 seeds, dispersed by wind, water, and animals
> seeds can last up to 80 years in waterlogged soils

> creeping stolons (runners) with short swollen stems, can root at stolon nodes


Creeping buttercup is very invasive and competitive, crowding out other plants, especially in moist soils. A single plant can spread over 40' square per year. Creeping buttercup generally has a negative impact on other plants and is toxic (can be fatal) to animals. It also depletes soils of potassium.

Creeping buttercup stolons - click for larger imageHabits

Creeping buttercup responds to immediate environmental conditions, spreading via seeds and/or stolons depending upon which is most most favorable in the conditions. The structure of the stolons even responds to the environment: number, length, numbers of branchings, etc.
Creeping buttercup can overwinter as a rosette or die back to ground level, storing nutrients in short swollen stems that growth rapidly the next spring.


In the case of Creeping Buttercup, slow and steady wins the race. Protect other species while working on control the buttercup, moving from less to more heavily infested areas. Creeping buttercup will also grow in moist sandy and gravel-based soils and will tolerate salinity. In woodlands, this buttercup is mainly restricted to clearings, forest margins and paths. It is frost tolerant and will survive moderate droughts. Creeping buttercup is a very tolerant plant: frosts, moderate droughts, shade (forest margins, paths and clearings), soil compaction (trampling and grazing).

Creeping buttercup infestation on Longfellow Creek - click for larger image
To prevent, control, and eradicate creeping buttercup:
> promote healthy grass by over-seeding, fertilizing as needed, and not over-grazing;
> add lime to improve grass health and keep buttercup from re-establishing (lime won’t control buttercup that is already well established);
> improve soil drainage and reduce compaction by aerating and avoid trampling when soils are wet;
> clean mowers and other equipment to avoid spreading buttercup seeds;
> remove all of the runners, roots and growing points by trowel (this is most effective from fall to spring while the soil is moist and roots break off less);
> incomplete removal of roots and stems may increase the buttercup population (they can sprout from nodes along stem and root fragments);
> soil can increase seed germination (the number of seeds in infested soils can be immense compared to the number of plants present);
> creeping buttercup’s growing point is at soil level, so plants resist mowing and quickly re-sprout when cut;
> regular cultivation can kill the buttercup but plants buried by cultivation can grow back up through deep soil and re-establish themselves and long-lived seeds in the soil can germinate and re-infest the area once cultivation ceases;
> herbicides can be used if allowed and appropriate for the site and land use (use great care to follow all label directions to ensure safe and effective use).
> usually requires at least two or three applications to eradicate creeping buttercup because of the seed bank and because some mature plants will generally recover;
> carefully monitor the treated area for re-growth and pull up any new seedlings before they establish runners.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Happy Darwin Day!!!!

Today is Charles Darwin's 207th birthday, and seems like an absolutely perfect day to really get Quest off the ground.

As we all know, Charles Darwin was the father of modern evolutionary biology. Darwin wasn't responsible for the idea that life changes over time, but he (well, and Alfred Russel Wallace, but it's not his birthday!) was responsible for proposing and supporting the theory of evolution by natural selection (or as you may have heard of it, "survival of the fittest") and many of the mechanisms by which we know evolution to work.

You have probably heard about Darwin and his finches, but have you heard of Darwin's fossils? As an evolutionary and quasi-paleobiologist, I think it is important to take a moment to appreciate the contributions of Charles Darwin's "geologizing" to the birth of modern evolutionary biology. It is quite possible (and I think quite likely) that this is part of why he got it right where others did not. As Theodosius Dobzhansky said, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution". I'm not saying that evolution only occurs over geologicc timescales, or that that is the only place to study it, just that the power of evolutionary mechanisms at creating differentiation is best appreciated over such timescales. Luckily, in the geology department, Darwin really knew his schist.

On the voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin described many organisms that were previously unknown to science, but he didn't stop with living fauna. On the coast of South America he described fossils of, among other critters, nine <largely> undescribed extinct species of megafauna. What's interesting is that these critters were things like ground sloths, giant armadillos, capybaras, and camelids. Sloths and armadillos are both unique groups with very unusual features, as to varying degrees are the other fossils he encountered. Most of these were also relatives of critters that Darwin had been eating a lot in his time in South America, so he had seen a lot of the bones of the modern forms. It was through comparison of the fossil and living organisms that Darwin realized how strong a force evolution was and how what might be advantageous in one time and place might not be in another.

Here are some pictures of the extinct critters and their extant relatives that helped Darwin piece together the processes of evolution.

Megatherium (Paris Natural History Museum): a giant ground sloth

Does actually look a bit like this guy on the inside!

Or there's Glyptodon, an ancient genus of giant armadillo!

And our more familiar looking friend the nine-banded armadillo

If you would like to know more about Darwin, his contributions to paleontology and geology, or the voyage of the Beagle, here are some great resources!
-This is a particularly nice National Geographic essay:

Great Backyard Bird Count 2016! (the basics!)

The Great Backyard Bird Count starts today! (Feb. 12-15)

"We invite you to participate! Simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, February 12-15, 2016. You can count from any location, anywhere in the world, for as long as you wish!"

Begun in 1998, by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, they share birding data in near-real-time online!
Throughout the count, you can check out what others are seeing locally and around the world. New this year! you can add images and audio to your bird checklist. Read more.
This is an assortment of birds, flocking in snags of cedars.

 Their site even provides simple, straight-forward online identification information and links to birding apps!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Happy 207th Birthday, Charles!!!

Happy 207th Birthday, Charles!!!

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. paraphrased from Charles Darwin

Darwin's finches in danger ...