18 September 2021

Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need

There are several different levels or lists of species whose populations warrant some sort of monitoring and/or protections. These include federal and state endangered, threatened ("T&E") and special concern lists; and the species of greatest conservation need generated by the US state-level Wildlife Action Plans. I've served on the Michigan T&E technical committees for birds and for insects since 2014.

More recently, an effort has been underway to compile lists of Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need (RSGCN) to more accurately reflect species' ranges and harness the management power and shared priorities of multiple organizations across regional landscapes. These lists start with all the species listed on each of the states' Wildlife Action Plans, determine which have populations that are primarily within the Midwest region, and then utilize expert opinion regarding concern levels, threats, and other factors. Two of these lists have been completed: the 15-state Southeast Region and the 13-state Northeast Region

Over the past year, I participated on two taxa teams (birds and Odonata) for the 13-state Midwest Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need sponsored by the Midwest Landscape Initiative of the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (MAFWA). There were just 8 experts on the Odonata taxa team; I represented Michigan along with Dave Cuthrell of the Michigan Natural Features Inventory.

13 states in MAFWA region

Data on Canadian provinces were considered although as this is a US-based initiative, representatives from Canada were not involved in the committees. There is also some overlap in US states in the various regions, accounted for in the lists.

Nine Michigan dragonfly species are on the list of Midwest RSGCN; 10 species were designated "Watchlist - Assessment Priority" due to there being concern, but insufficient or variable data across the states; and 2 species (Ebony Boghaunter, Williamsonia fletcheri, and Brown Spiketail, Cordulegaster bilineata) are on the Watchlist but "deferred" to other regions that have greater proportions of the population. I have updated the Michigan Odonata Survey website with the Midwest RSGCN species, where you can see all the species that have some sort of conservation or rarity status.

If you'd like a wider view, take a look at the data table which can be viewed here. The table contains all the data on all taxa from all states. You'll there is the ability to sort and filter, similar to spreadsheets like Excel. To just see Michigan's Odonata, go to Filter and choose Where Taxa is Invertebrates: Dragonflies and Damselflies and add the condition Where MI_Occurs is Yes. You'll see many other ways to filter and sort the list. There are a lot of columns, some of which indicate the various criteria used to make determinations. If you are interested in the details of methodology, there is a large report with appendices, and there will be a website coming out in the next month or so where all of the methods and data will be much more easily accessible (leave a comment if you would like a copy of the report sooner). 

Meanwhile, the Illinois Natural History Survey is hosting an online presentation on September 28 that will explain the process and give an overview of the results.

If you're interested in the bird list, I've written a similar blog post over at Net Results.


31 August 2021

Old books and their stories

The Urban Dragon Hunters have been very busy. We've done relatively little field work the past couple of years, sadly, but both our field work and research has yielded interesting results which we will be sharing over the next weeks and months.

In the course of some of the research, very old literature was consulted, some of which I was lucky enough to inherit as duplicates or discards. One book, which I honestly never thought I'd have to look at or cite, was the Synopsis of the Neuroptera of North America by Hermann Hagen, published in 1861. You might recognize the name from Hagen's Bluet (Enallagma hageni) or being listed as the author (describer) of many species of dragonflies and damselflies.

My copy is discolored and sports some interesting stains that appear to be dried up mold growth.

Probably the main reason I haven't parted with this volume is that it once belonged to Clarence H. Kennedy, a prolific and accomplished entomologist whose name is memorialized, for example, in Kennedy's Emerald (Somatochlora kennedyi). Nick Donnelly wrote a short biography of Kennedy and his Odonata work in this issue of the Argia (PDF). Kennedy was close friends with an equally notable character, Edward Bruce Williamson, the curator of Odonata at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology from 1916-1933.

Kennedy was also a scientific illustrator, and designed several
of his own bookplates.

This book has marginalia here and there, and also had various notes and sketches tucked into its pages.

My favorite tidbit of history, though, comes from a penciled note at the back of the book. It reads, 

"This volume was lot from Stechart for $3.75
was soaked in the Galveston hurricane Aug. 20, 1915
was bound at Raleigh, N.C. Oct. 1918 for $1.50
C.H. Kennedy"

Below it was the note: "Robbers All!"

I believe the original purchase was part of a "lot" of books from the New York book dealer Stechert-Hafner. The hurricane reference certainly explains the condition of the pages. This hurricane (not to be confused with the more devastating Galveston hurricane of 1900) actually struck southwest of Galveston, TX on August 17, but remained a fearsome storm for days, resulting in heavy flooding in the Ozarks and beyond. At the time, Kennedy was working for Cornell prior to attending Stanford University, so I suspect the book endured the hurricane in the possession of a prior owner. As for the postscript on monetary value, it might have been Kennedy himself who wrote it. However, the book was later owned by Williamson; his stamp appears in several places. Thus, this little commentary may have been incribed by him.

I found the information I was looking for in this book, and so much more.

20 May 2021

The mystery of baskettails

Since we are on the cusp of the dragonfly season here in southern Michigan, a quick note regarding the problem with Epitheca baskettails is timely. 
 
As it turns out, "common" baskettails in southern Michigan (and perhaps beyond, it's unknown until more are collected and examined) are not identifiable from photos, and often not in the hand. 
 
The Common Basketail (Epitheca cynosura) hybridizes with Slender Baskettails (Epitheca costalis, which used to be called Stripe-winged Baskettail), but northern populations show much variability in the amount of brown at the base of the wings, as do E. cynosura in this region. We've collected a lot of baskettails around here, and the majority of them are intermediate forms, as diagnosed by Nick Donnelly from NY who works on several cryptic/hybridizing/new species complexes. This probably indicates that the two species are hybrids and produce fertile offspring and, in turn, backcrosses.

The New Jersey Odes website, though inactive, has a nice comparison of Common versus Slender, while acknowledging that field identification is iffy, and the Minnesota Dragonfly website has some nice comparisons of Common, Spiny (E. spinigera) and Beaverpond (E. canis).
 
Other strange Epitheca's can be found. Here is a post we did (with a link to a short paper we wrote) on a Common Baskettail with extensive dark wing tips.
 
There is so much to understand regarding the status and distribution of this species complex in Michigan. More specimens are needed, especially across southern Michigan, for future researchers to go examine so that these mysteries can be unraveled.


Further reading:

Donnelly, N. [T. W.] 2001. Taxonomic problems with North American Odonate species -- a last appeal for information. Argia 13(2):5-10.

Donnelly, N. [T. W.] 2003. Problems with Tetragoneuria! Argia 14(4):10-11.

Donnelly, N. [T. W.] 2006. Rediscovery of Intergrade Epitheca in Southern Indiana. Argia 18(2):12-13. Scroll to page 12 and read this brief note -- it sums up the problem in the region nicely!

O'Brien, M. 2004. Epitheca costalis (Stripe-winged Baskettail) in Michigan: Update. Williamsonia 8(3):1-2. (PDF

O'Brien, M. 2005 How to identify Epitheca costalis. Williamsonia 9(1):7-9 (PDF)