Will whip-poor-wills continue to call from the forest edge behind our house or the aspen grove at the cabin up north for long enough for our son to hear them and remember them, so that he might recount them once they are gone, or will last year be the last year we heard them? Spring has become a time of anticipation, but it’s also a time of trepidation. Our landscape has probably already crossed a threshold that dooms these ridiculous gaping-mawed birds, and my hopes are now centered on the lesser goal of projecting their memory a generation or two deeper into posterity. It occurs to me that many of my peers living in eastern North America have never heard a whip-poor-will. Our grandparents have, if they grew up in the humid East outside of the big cities. This brings me sadness, because the whip-poor-will’s call through the afterlight or pre-dawn spring air is truly an earthly delight.



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A Brief Comment on The Economic Value of Grassland Species for Carbon Storage

On April 5, Science published a research article by Hungate et. al that put a value on the carbon storage gained at different levels of species richness in grassland restoration (reconstruction) projects. They used relationships between carbon storage (in plants and soils) and species richness from two experiments to determine the dollar value that could be gained by adding additional species in grassland restorations.

My quibble is their application of this to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Our work (reference 34) and four other studies were used to get an estimate of the species richness of CRP and reference, remnant grasslands.

Here’s the thing; our work did not use CRP grasslands, and that should have been obvious to anyone that actually read it.  We did mention CRP, so maybe someone that did a search and then just read the Results could be confused. Further, we were studying how plant communities in restored prairies develop with age, so basing estimates on that work brings restoration age in as a variable. They claim our study was using paired restoration and remnant prairie plots. It wasn’t. It evaluated a chronosequence of reconstructions (those of different ages since seeding) against a set of plots from several different remnant prairies. Again, did they not read it? Read the work you cite, folks, and definitely read any work that you pull numbers from for an analysis.

What does this tell me? It tells me that the authors’ estimates of the value of carbon storage that could be gained by enhancing richness in CRP are flawed, because the data they used to underpin them were not the right data–at least 20% of the data weren’t.

It’s also a red flag. It hints at hasty and sloppy work. A flaw that basic should not exist in a Science paper. One person among four reviewers and one editor should notice it.

To add insult to injury, there’s nothing that gets under my skin more than monetizing biodiversity. Monetizing something like carbon alone isn’t even meaningful, but even a more comprehensive monetization of the value of an ecosystem concedes all of the ground that yielded the modern conservation movement. Profits are taken quarterly, so monetizing a grassland is really making a counter-argument to conservation.

There ends my post-coffee rant. Note that the opinions expressed here are mine alone.


One of the remnant prairie sites from Carter and Blair (2012)


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Conserve Plant Diversity First

At least that’s the message I take from a recent study published in Nature Communications entitled Ecological networks are more sensitive to plant than to animal extinction under climate change.

In particular they found a higher risk of animal co-extinction with plant extinction than vice-versa in mutualist networks. This may be because animals often provide redundant services to plants, and plants have alternative pathways (e.g. self-pollination, parthenogenesis, seed banks, clonality, and/or adult plant longevity) for the reproduction services provided by animals.

While this study used data from Europe in its simulations, the mechanisms invoked should apply to terrestrial ecosystems more generally.


Many insect pollinators depend on a few species of locally occurring early flowering plants like this small white violet (Viola Macloskeyi). The violet has less at stake. Sure, open pollination is good, but it will follow up on this display by producing inconspicuous closed flowers that self-pollinate (cleistogamous), ensuring a means by which to perpetuate itself regardless of insect visitation.

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