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Native Plants Summit: Current Status, Conservation, and Outlook for Plants of the Northeast (2015)

The northeastern U.S. hosts a rich diversity of native plants, many of which play essential roles for humans and the environment. Alarmingly, a significant number of these species are experiencing a precipitous decline. Many are imperiled as a result, including one-quarter of species native to New York State. Despite these figures, no comprehensive or integrated program exists to study trends across the region. Through a series of compelling presentations, followed by a panel discussion, this Summit will address the gaps in our knowledge by bringing together experts to present and discuss the state of the area’s plant species, plot the best course forward, and highlight ways in which everyone can make a difference for native plants in the Northeast.

Friday, September 18, 2015; 9 a.m.–3 p.m. 

Speaker Topics & Bios

Robert Naczi: Floristic Change in the Northeast

The New York Botanical Garden
Arthur J. Cronquist Curator of North American Botany

The northeastern U.S. and adjacent Canada embody a large, densely populated, and ecologically and botanically diverse region. During the past several decades, the flora of the Northeast has been changing in ways that have been little studied and are even less understood. Of greatest concern are the native plant species that are declining across the Northeast—apparently, a substantial proportion of our flora, but studies of declines are few and geographically narrow in scope. In this presentation, Naczi will evaluate the evidence for landscape-level floristic changes, identify likely causes of these changes, and discuss the effects of these changes on the botanical diversity of the Northeast.

About the Speaker:
Robert Naczi is a plant systematist whose research focuses on the flora of the eastern United States, the sedges (Cyperaceae), and the Western Hemisphere Pitcher Plants (Sarraceniaceae). Naczi uses a multi-pronged approach in his research, utilizing field, herbarium, and laboratory methods. His field work has given him first-hand knowledge of the flora of much of North America. Presently, he and collaborators are writing a comprehensive account of the Northeast's spontaneous plants, New Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. He co-authored Mistaken Identity? Invasive Plants and their Native Look-alikes: An identification guide for the Mid-Atlantic(2008). He has published widely on Carex, the largest genus of flowering plants in North America (500 species) and in most temperate regions of the world (2000 species world-wide). His work on pitcher plants aims to reveal fundamental aspects of their biology, which is still poorly known despite their popularity in horticulture. Naczi earned a B.S. in Biology from St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia, and a Ph.D. in Botany from University of Michigan.


Bernd Blossey: Invasive Plant Species in New York: Hitchhikers or Important Ecosystem Engineers?

Cornell University, Department of Natural Resources
Associate Professor

All habitats and their fauna and flora are currently facing unprecedented challenges of simultaneous pressures from global climate change, invasive species, habitat fragmentation, and increasing deer herds. Detailed assessments suggest a minor role of invasive plants but invasive earthworms and deer as the most important factors for plant endangerment. Conservation efforts should focus on substantial reductions in the white-tailed deer herd—management of most plant invaders will not result in the sought-after conservation benefits.

About the Speaker:
Bernd Blossey, Ph.D., was born and raised in northern Germany. In 1992, he moved to Cornell University, where he is currently an Associate Professor directing the Ecology and Management of Invasive Plants Program in the Department of Natural Resources. Blossey develops and implements biological weed control programs; among his target plants are purple loosestrife, garlic mustard, and invasive Phragmites. Ever-increasing foci of his team are investigations into impacts of multiple "stressors" including invasive and native plants, earthworms, slugs, and deer on a wide range of native organisms. He is intimately involved in different approaches to deer management at Cornell and in the surrounding municipalities; he has developed a network of deer exclosures to study impact of deer on many species and processes; and is developing bioindicators to assess effects of different stressors, including deer. The ultimate aim of this work is to increase the conservation values of all lands through development of best management practices.


Rebecca Dolan: Urbanization–The Bad, The Good, and The Very Good

Butler University, Department of Biological Sciences
Director of Friesner Herbarium

Great strides have been made in studying effects of urbanization on plant life in recent years. However, much remains to be learned about how the urban environment acts as a filter on flora. There is some evidence that environments in cities are so similar that they all select for the same plants or plants with the same suite of characteristics, resulting in biotic homogenization, but the jury is still out. We do know that some cities harbor a thriving and diverse native flora. Dolan will talk about what cities can do to increase the chances for long-term survival of native plant species.

About the Speaker:
Rebecca W. Dolan grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, always loving to look at plants and liking them even better when she knew their names and understood their biology. She earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, both in Botany. For 25 years she has been Director of the Friesner Herbarium at Butler University. She is now busy building an online atlas of Indiana plants. Rebecca is the author of over 25 scientific articles on restoration ecology, urban botany, and genetics of rare plants. Recently she has been exploring urban flora in Indianapolis. Rebecca is interested in understanding how urban environments filter regional flora and to what extent cities across the globe share spontaneous flora. She collaborates with colleagues in Butler University's Center for Urban Ecology and through the National Science Foundation-sponsored UrBioNet Research Coordination Network. She is managing Editor for the new journal Urban Naturalist.


Jerry Jenkins: Lowland Boreal Plants: Distribution, Ecology, & Vulnerability

Wildlife Conservation Society, Adirondack Program
Project Coordinator for Forest Management

Plant species of northern distribution are an important component of ecosystems of the Northeast. In this presentation, Jenkins will discuss the diversity and ecology of lowland boreal plants, especially in the Adirondack lowlands. Specific topics that he will cover include how habitats are structured, where northern plant species are located, what environmental factors sustain them, and how climate change is affecting northern plants.

About the Speaker:
Jerry Jenkins is a botanist and ecologist from White Creek, New York. He was trained in physics and philosophy, and has 46 years of field experience with northern floras. He works as a scientist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, is the founder and director of the White Creek Field school, and the director of the Northern Forest Atlas Project. His books, among others, include The Adirondack AtlasAcid Rain in the Adirondacks, and Climate Change in the Adirondacks: The Path to Sustainability. He is the recipient of the Harold K. Kochschild award from the Adirondack Museum, the Arthur E. Newkirk award from the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the W.S. Cooper award in geobotany from the Ecological Society of America. His current work, the Northern Forest Atlas Project, is preparing graphical guides to the natural history and ecology of the northern forest of the eastern United States and adjacent Canada.


David Werier: Mobilizing Citizens for Studying, Conserving, and Appreciating Native Plants in New York

New York Flora Association
Recent Past-President

Werier will explore various ways that New Yorkers are engaging with and becoming interested in native plants, including an overview of the organizations and institutions that teach about and inspire interest in native plants. These educational and inspirational roles have been shifting from higher-education institutions to botanical and native plant societies, but also to more "under-the-radar" groups, such as native plant nurseries, nature centers, botanical gardens, primitive skills organizations, and wild and medicinal plant schools. This presentation will also include an examination of both "traditional" and up-and-coming trends related to inspiring citizens about native plants.

About the Speaker:
David Werier is a botanist who has his own consulting business based out of the Ithaca, New York area. His botanical interests focus on understanding the vascular plants of eastern North America (primarily New York State) through field work in conjunction with herbarium and literature research. His work often centers on conservation of the flora of this region. He has an undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Buffalo and decades of self-inspired studying and learning about the regional flora. He is involved in many of the botanical and native plant societies in New York, having been a founding member of the Finger Lakes Native Plant Society and recent past-President of the New York Flora Association. He has consulted on botanical conservation-oriented projects for many governmental and private conservation organizations in New York. Currently, David is revising the New York State vascular plant checklist and is co-author of the New York Flora Association's New York Flora Atlas.


Donald Leopold: The Promise of Native Plants and their Communities for Restoring Degraded Landscapes and Creating Sustainable Green Systems

State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF),
Department of Environmental and Forest Biology
Chair and Distinguished Teaching Professor

All plant species have ecological functions. But native plant species have unique relationships with other native species of organisms (e.g., birds, insects, fungi, bryophytes) and are a part of our natural heritage. Collectively, these native plant species in natural communities can be sustained with minimal management while not creating a less functional monoculture that typically results from non-native plant species, especially those deemed "invasive." Leopold will present a summary of the ecology of native species in natural plant communities and their function. The information presented will be applicable to home gardens as well as urban projects and larger-scale restoration of degraded industrial landscapes.

About the Speaker:
Donald J. Leopold earned his Ph.D. in forest ecology from Purdue University in 1984, his M.S.F. in forest ecology from the University of Kentucky in 1981, and B.S. in ornamental horticulture/nursery management from the University of Kentucky in 1978. He is a Distinguished Teaching Professor and Chair in the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology at SUNY-ESF. Don has published over 60 journal papers, six books, and many additional publications, all generally about topics in forest and wetland ecology, and native plants. Don's fifth book, Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening and Conservation (2005, Timber Press), is a guide to over 700 native trees, shrubs, vines, graminoids, wildflowers, and ferns that are valuable for garden and restoration plantings. In August 2006, this book received the Garden Writers Association Silver Media Award for excellence in horticultural writings. In August 2009, Don received the NYS Nursery and Landscape Association George L. Good Gold Medal of Horticulture Award for outstanding contributions to horticulture in New York State. His research focuses on examining drivers of diversity at micro to macro scales, and applying ecological principles from natural communities to the development of sustainable green systems and restoring badly degraded landscapes.


Mary Klein: The Best Way Forward for Plant Conservation

President & CEO

Plant conservation efforts are at a crossroads. There is renewed interest in addressing the imbalance in funding for plant conservation compared to other wildlife. The botanic community can help catalyze this change by taking three key steps illustrated at this summit: 1) coming together in support of a broadly accepted taxonomy to focus conservation efforts; 2) highlighting the links between native plants, ecosystem function, and human health; and 3) engaging citizen scientists in monitoring plants to guide planning and restoration actions. Taken together, these three steps create a powerful basis for growing a new, native plant conservation movement.

About the Speaker:
Mary Klein, President and CEO of NatureServe, has been an active proponent for the conservation of species and ecosystems for nearly 30 years. She leads an international network of more than 1,000 conservation professionals who provide the scientific basis for effective conservation action—responding to more than six million information inquiries each year. In this role, Klein guides the identification, mapping, and analysis of species and ecosystems. This knowledge is used by governments, companies, and conservation organizations to direct limited resources towards the conservation of the Earth's most unique and imperiled places. In addition to her work at NatureServe, Klein serves on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility Governing Board, the IUCN Red List Partnership, the Wildlife Habitat Council Board of Directors, the External Advisory Board for the National Science Foundation's iDigBio specimen digitization initiative, University of Florida's Advisory Council for the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, the U.S. National Advisory Committee for the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), and the Teaming With Wildlife Committee of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, among others. She earned her M.S. in Wildlife Biology from the University of Florida, and holds a B.S. in Environmental Science from Lehigh University.

Selected Titles from the Mertz's Research Collection