MAD matters blog

MAD matters
Ecology, Environment, and Education Blog

MAD matters

Floristic Quality Assessments

By: Jenny Adkins

May 12, 2021

This year, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Great Parks of Hamilton County, conducting a Floristic Quality Assessment (FQA) for several of their conservation and public parcels. This year marks the 6th field season that we’ve completed these surveys for Great Parks. We’ve covered a lot of ground in the Cincinnati area, and it’s always been an adventure.

This year, Jenny and Logan teamed up to survey the predesignated plots. It was an especially wild sampling run with rain, sun, snow (and all of the associated temperature fluctuations), long hikes, flooded boots, Lonestar and dog ticks, poison ivy, nettles, but all of that was worth it for the new plant finds, wildflowers, breathtaking forest views, and wildlife.

For those unfamiliar with the botanical world and associated surveys, the FQA is a quantitative survey that measures plant diversity and quality within a unique habitat to determine how intact (disturbance free) it is in comparison to reference communities throughout the state. It was developed by the Ohio EPA’s Division of Surface Water and Wetland Ecology Group in 2004. Basically, every native plant known to occur in Ohio was given a Coefficient of Conservatism (C of C), ranging from 0-10, that indicates how specific a plant is in the habitat it will grow. For example, your common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) has a C of C of 1, indicating it is a highly tolerant species capable of growing (naturally) in many habitats under a variety of conditions. In contrast, sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) the iconic white-trunked trees growing along stream and riverbanks have a C of C of 7, indicating it is much more specific in the habitat you will naturally find it growing. While it is adaptable, it primarily grows along moving water systems and associated floodplains with moist, well-drained soil. Some plants are so finicky that you’ll only find them on north-facing forested slopes, or on certain plants’ roots, or limestone barrens.

So far, our team has recorded over 230 plant species- all mostly floodplain species growing near the Miami Whitewater River or tributaries. Since 2013, the first year we surveyed, we’ve logged around 800 plant species within the 1,300 or so plots. Its certainly a labor of love and we never tire of plants- though by dusk we’re certainly ready for a warm, non-granola meal!


We hope you’ll enjoy these photos of our FQA adventures in Hamilton County, Ohio.

Spring Beauties

By: Jenny Adkins

April 12, 2021

Today, we highlight the dainty and captivating Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica).

This common wildflower is one of the first to bloom in the spring, bringing a cheerful presence to the forest floor. It blooms throughout the spring, opening towards the sky on sunny days and closing to a nod on dreary days. Native bees, flies, ants, and Lepidoptera frequent Spring Beauty as a source of pollen and nectar.

It grows throughout central and eastern North American dry-mesic woodlands where it thrives on nutrients from leaflitter and can complete its life cycle before trees leaf out and prohibit sunlight from reaching the forest floor. It spreads by seed and corm, which are hard, bulb-like storage reserves that sprout new stems.

Interestingly, we looked into the variation in petal color (dark pink to light pink, to white) and found a great post from the In Defense of Plants blog, summarizing the work of Dr. Frank Frey at Colgate University. Essentially, the white variants are passed over by herbivores (good), but less frequently visited by pollinators (bad). On one hand, you’re not eaten and have another year to attempt seed production. On the other, you’re not putting your all into a good seed yield this year and your chance of reproductive success is low. The variants with more pink coloration (pigment compound cyanidin) are more attractive to pollinators and generally produce more viable seed. Amazingly, if there are neighboring populations of white flowered plants, the Spring Beauty is more likely to be pink due to competition for pollinators. Fascinating, right?!

Let’s Talk Lesser Celandine

By: Jenny Adkins

April 8, 2021

Everyone seems to be aware of our woody invasive plant species like honeysuckle, callery pear, wintercreeper, privet, etc. One thing we’re noticing this year is people gushing over the plant featured here- lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria).

Yes, it’s beautiful. It’s one of the first things to come up in spring along floodplains and mesic soils, carpeting the ground in lush green foliage and cheery yellow flowers. You’ll notice at second glance that beneath that lush carpet, there’s NOTHING else growing under or around it. These areas should be loaded with diverse wildflowers- harbinger of spring, bluebells, anemone, phlox, ginger, bloodroot, solomon’s seal, ramps, trout lilies, spring beauty, Dutchman’s breeches, geranium, orchids, twin leaf, trilliums, toothwort, cresses, violets, mayapple, larkspur, hyacinth…just to name a few fan favorites.

Yes, you’ll see pollinators on the flowers. This does not make up for the array of plant species our native insects have coevolved with. One plant does not a balanced diet make. There’s also research showing a reduction in seed set for native ephemerals because pollinators are transferring celandine pollen to them (Masters and Emery, 2015).

There’s much to learn regarding the treatment of celandine and the recovery of once infested areas. Anecdotally, we’ve observed other non-native species and adventive natives trying to muscle out one another near or within areas where celandine is prevalent. We’ve also observed that when an area is cleared of one invasive, another (often a vine) delights in the open space and begins to creep and climb over unoccupied area. Therefore, one must be vigilant of opportunists and other invaders when creating a management plan.

Unfortunately, there’s not much to do aside from herbicide. We currently have crews finishing up foliar applications of systemic herbicide to highly infested areas. There’s a narrow window in which to treat before it’s in full bloom and still able to produce seed. Dense infestations may require more than one treatment because lower leaves aren’t adequately covered and thus don’t effectively transport the herbicide to the root system.

You can voice your concern to land managers and do your part on private land to reduce the spread of this highly aggressive plant.

Do enjoy the pollinators though!

Salamander Run

By: Jenna Odegard

March 1, 2021

Most of the salamanders in the family Ambystomatidae spend between 70 to 95 percent of their lives underground, hence why they are called mole salamanders. This includes Jefferson, spotted, eastern tiger, small-mouthed, marbled, blue-spotted (state endangered), streamside and unisexual hybrid salamanders. They come to vernal pools at night, often during the first warm rain in late winter to breed. This typically in occurs late January to early February in the southern portions of Ohio and through late march in the northern parts of the state. Though most live within the same 100 meters of their breeding pool, males are often the first to arrive. Their presence leaves chemical scents which then attract females to the water. Once together, they share a “dance” in which the males show off with a tail waggling display and then both sexes swim around each other.

The adult salamanders are present in pools for a short time, often just one to two weeks. The males deposit spermatophores (up to 80 per male) on leaves and sticks underwater. They lead females to the area in hopes that they will accept this donation and use it to fertilize their eggs. Females release an average of 200 eggs within a thick, firm, jelly-like mass, which is often attached to woody debris in the water in secretive locations. Some salamander species will stay nearby and guard the eggs from predators, however others, such as spotted salamanders, make no further investment of parental care. Males typically stay longer in the pool, likely to increase their chance of fertilizing more eggs. The egg mass provides moisture needed to survive as water levels fluctuate. The eggs masses are distinguishable by species based on shape, deposition location, and amount of eggs per mass.

Salamanders return underground by way of abandoned burrows of small mammals or crayfish, however the eastern tiger salamander is a proficient digger and can make its own tunnels. These tunnels vary between 1-1.5 meters in depth. Here they spend the majority of their lives, consuming invertebrates and are kept safe from freezing temperatures in winter. They do not eat during the winter, but rely on their fat storages. They will not eat again until after they have bred. In vernal pools, they eat small critters including zooplankton, fairy shrimp, spiders and worms, mosquito larvae and flies. Sometimes, especially when the pool is drying up or in times of overcrowding, they may eat other salamanders! In turn, salamander eggs are often preyed upon by adult newts, wood frog tadpoles, crayfish, and some species of caddisfly. Adult salamanders are preyed upon by birds and snakes.

The eggs that successfully develop in the vernal pool metamorphose into small larvae. The length this that process is determined by the amount of water in the pool. They will develop visible feathery gills at the base of their head, and when they become adults, they lose these gills and transition to breathing by lungs, gain eyelids and a tongue. Tiger salamanders develop more slowly and often need water present through about August, but their metamorphosis, like other salamanders, can speed up if they sense the water is drawing down.

When a salamander is mature (variable by species but typically after several years), they will try to return to the wetlands in which they were conceived, even if another pool is closer, or if moved hundreds of meters away. It is not known exactly how they do this, but chemical cues are probably important. Vernal pools and their forested buffers are critical for these salamanders to persist. These are safe areas to breed because they are seasonally dry and thus cannot support fish or other predatory residents. Leaves, sticks, logs, and other forest debris from the surrounding trees offers the cover and structure within the wetlands that these special animals have evolved to inhabit.

We hope you enjoy these amphibian harbingers of spring as much as we do!

Landscape Design and Ecological Restoration

By: Jonathan Stechshulte

February 18, 2021

The purpose of ecological restoration is in its name – to restore ecology – and that at first glance may appear counterintuitive to landscape architecture, a field sometimes characterized by its linear, inorganic concepts and questionable plant selection. However, landscape architecture, defined as “the art and practice of designing the outdoor environment”, carries an obligation that supersedes its ecological bad rap. As stewards of the outdoor environment, landscape architects and designers should look to preserve, if not enhance, the quality of landscapes on which they work. This charge extends to countless types of projects and expertise.

Enter ecological restoration, again. It could be argued that ecological restoration is a design profession that is not formally categorized as a design profession. But formalities aside, great ecological design requires an incredible amount of coordination and knowledge specific to the ecology that is being restored. Its implementation and success rides on more than just the creation of a “natural” appearance. Restoration ecology outcomes increase biodiversity, promote the conservation of at-risk systems, and restore historical ecologies from the ground up. These outcomes are quantifiable through ecological monitoring and assessment.

Bringing landscape architecture into the realm of ecological restoration is a natural combination of two fields. While restoration ecologists deal much less with the anthropogenic built environment, there is still a large amount of overlap in design and construction processes. Bringing landscape architecture into the field of ecological restoration allows a team to establish a well-rounded technical, scientific, and aesthetic suite of services for each project, as ultimately, the most successful ecological solutions are the ones that promote environmental synergy, interdisciplinary dialogue, and mutual understanding.

Restored Habitats – Built to Last!

By: Alexys Nolan

November 9, 2020

Every wetland that MAD gets to restore is guaranteed to receive meticulous, site-specific planning. And, as more data are obtained and information becomes available, we are beginning to incorporate climate change modeling into our planting plans!

As weather patterns shift, so do suitable habitats for different plant species. Fluctuating temperatures, precipitation, and increases or decreases in flooding can all determine whether or not specific plants will be able to grow at a given site tomorrow, 20 years from now, and 100 years into the future. Luckily, these environmental changes can be scientifically predicted – helping us build a restoration plan that will stand the test of time!

Below are a few examples of climate change modeling from the U.S. Forest Service’s online atlas – a useful planning tool that you can check out here!

The above example shows the current distribution of white oak (Quercus alba) on the left, and the predicted distribution of the species on the right. Suitable habitat for white oak is predicted to expand across Ohio – we will definitely want to include this in many of our plantings!

This example of climate change modeling is for northern red oak (Quercus rubra). Current distribution is on the left, and future modelling predictions are on the right. Northern red oak’s central range will begin to shift north, but it will not be excluded from Ohio. We may choose to plant this species in only the most suitable sites!

Prasad, AM; Iverson, LR; Peters, MP; Matthews, SN. 2014. Climate change tree atlas. Northern Research Station, U.S. Forest Service, Delaware, OH.