Welcome to the Class of 2018!

1-20-2018 group class pic copy

Welcome to the 2018 Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory (FMEL) Volunteer Nature Stewardship Class for the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA), shown above the south ORCA entrance near the FMEL Boathouse. Special thanks to FMEL Director Dr. Jorge Rey for welcoming the class to the FMEL and to Indian River County Historian Ruth Stanbridge who spoke on behalf of the Indian River County Historical Society.

This is the twenty-first free nature stewardship class conducted by FMEL and is underwritten by the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area Environmental Education Fund, an endowment held by the University of Florida Foundation.

The green strappy growth of the Florida butterfly orchids (Encyclia tampensis) — for which the barrier island in Indian River County is named Orchid Island — were full and lush, despite the recent travails of Hurricane Irma. Lots of the terrestrial toothpetal false reinorchid (Habernaria floribunda) was flowering …

Wet, wet, wet trail conditions on 10/8/17

Yes, the trails at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) were flooded on 10-8-2017, when Steve Goff (Class of 2006), Judith Filipich (Class of 2016), Gayle Lafferty (Class of 2012), and Janice Broda took a walk to the Observation Tower. The hammock loop is underlain by hardpan, a clay like soil substrate , and tends to hold water as a result. Conditions were not as wet as earlier in the week or as bad as expected.

Most of the trails were dry with some notable exceptions: the hammock loop, a  bit of the scrubby pine flatwoods underlain by hard pan, and, of course, near to the coastal wetlands.

Muddy places were a bit slippery, and boots were definitely the best footwear. Reflections in the pooled water brought a special beauty to our first post-Hurricane Irma walk at ORCA …

The plants, of course, are easy to photograph. They stay in place.

Steve Goff pointed out this mangrove skipper (Phocides pygmalion) on a red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), its larval host food. It refused to pose atop a leaf.

Gayle Lafferty spied this little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) hiding out amongst the mangroves.

Galls – Intimate Interactions

Galls are a long-evolved interaction between a plant and a gall-maker. The gall-maker could be an insect, mite, bacteria, fungus, virus or nematode. Gall-makers generally are “tied” to one species of plants or a genus of plants and tend to be associated with a particular part of a plant — leaves, leaf buds, stems, flower buds, flowers, roots or branches. The plant reacts to the gall-maker with abnormal plant growth that can range from a simple indentation to a complex structure in which the gall-maker receives nourishment and protection.

The photo above of a stem gall on a sand live oak (Quercus geminata) was taken at the Ansin Tract Conservation Area on 8/5/2017. This gall also has been seen at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) on the south side of Oslo Road. Dr. Amanda Hodges, Associate Extension Scientist and Director, Doctor of Plant Medicine Program, University of Florida, identified this gall from the photo above as the handiwork of an oak bullet gall wasp, Disholcaspis sp. She is the co-author of Insect Galls of Florida, which can be purchased through the University of Florida Bookstore.

Gall wasps are quite tiny (.04 to .24″ bodies) and easily overlooked. They do not sting people.

Most gall wasps have a complicated life cycle that involves an alternation of an asexual (all female) generation and a sexual generation. These generations are structurally different and gall different parts of the host plant. This phenomenon is known as heterogeneity.

Disholcaspis quercusvirens likely is the culprit in the development of the multi-chambered (polythalamous) gall shown above. This stem gall is the handiwork of the asexual generation. The sexual generation is a bud gall. Disholcaspis quercusvirens also uses live oak (Quercus virginiana) and can become so prevalent in nurseries that the trees are “disfigured” by commercial standards.

Galls, to me, are like Christmas ornaments — decorations that remind us of the complexity and majesty of the natural world.

Throwback Thursday: The Wettest Year … 2016

2016 was the wettest year at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) since the preserve was purchased in 1991. During the seasonal fall high tides, the trail usually floods near the coastal wetlands — but not at the junction of the hammock loop trail and the “turn-off” to the rest of the trail system shown above on 1/30/2016.

Even the trails in the scrubby pine flatwoods, the “high and dry ground, ” were flooded …

Natural areas provide flood protection and many other social “ecosystem services“. Flood insurance rates for the surrounding area were reduced when Indian River County and St. Johns Water Management District purchased the 298 acres on the north side of Oslo Road in 1991, which included:

  • 233 acres of coastal wetlands
  • 40 acres of hammock
  • 24 acres of scrubby pine flatwoods
  • ~1 acre of freshwater wetlands

The wet conditions of 2016 encouraged the growth of epiphytes especially Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) and of water-loving plants like herb-of-grace (Bacopa monnieri) shown below in brackish  water …

Natural areas protect public health and safety!