Biodiversity at Chert Hollow Farm

From American Crows and Asters to Zucchini and Zebra Swallowtails, Chert Hollow Farm is full of life. Some organisms are beautiful, some annoying, some delicious, some poisonous, but pretty much all are interesting. The biodiversity section of our website consists of a series of special posts intended to (start to) catalog the diversity of life on the farm; each post represents a different species or variety, usually with photos and/or information about the organism.

The biodiversity pages are (and certainly always will be) a work in progress. This is a side project among all the other things we do, and content will probably grow slowly over time.

Scope

Any and all types of organisms that we can observe and/or document as being present on the farm at some time are fair game for inclusion. This includes native species as well as cultivated varieties, and it includes us. We are part of the ecosystem, as are our crops. Many people view the world with a black-and-white line dividing the natural landscape from the human one, but for us that line is blurred. For example, are the paw-paw and red mulberry trees (native Missouri species) that we plant here part of the human or natural landscape? What about aronia berry, which is native to Missouri, but only occurs “in the wild” at Crowley’s Ridge? Past and present land use affects the tree species present in our woods, as we and our predecessors shape the forests through action or inaction.

The inter-species interactions (such as herbivory, predation, symbiosis, parasitism, etc.) that are the basis of ecosystem processes certainly don’t respect boundaries between what is “natural” and “human-influenced.” An Eastern Phoebe (a native species) may nest on our house (certainly an “unnatural human construct”) and eat insects (probably a combination of ones that are native and introduced by humans from other continents), many of which probably do or could interact with our crops. Ticks and mosquitoes see us as food sources. On our plates, we let wild black raspberries and venison mingle with our domesticated crops and animals. We’re part of the ecosystem. We don’t pretend to understand all of the interactions, but we think it is valuable, interesting, and rewarding to pay some attention to who the players are. Thus, one species or variety at a time, we are slowly working to catalog the life of Chert Hollow Farm.

We have a particularly special symbiotic relationship with the crops we grow and the animals we raise; they may produce extra leaves (lettuce), sweeter & bigger fruits (strawberries), plumper seeds (corn), or more milk (goats) than their undomesticated counterparts, and they do so in return for receiving support from their care-taker species (Homo sapiens) to help protect them from herbivores/predators and to ensure that they reproduce or propagate. Sometimes crops are overlooked by conservationists as “unnatural” and not in need of attention for preservation or protection. To the contrary, we feel that maintaining a great diversity of crop genetics is vastly important. In addition, the need to always continue to push along the evolutionary process within domesticated crops is critically important, but that’s another topic. In short, our crops are introduced, but they are essential to us, and they are subject to ecological interactions within the context of the other species that are here. We feel they should be cataloged side-by-side with wilder counterparts.

Purpose

This is a project that we’re pursuing for a number of reasons:

  • We think it is too often forgotten that diverse life can exist in combination with human food production; farms are too often written off by naturalists and conservationists as lost causes or dead zones. Thus, we have an educational goal: To provide a peek into the diversity of life that can be found on a farm with a complex set of habitats, in particular a farm that is managed with multiple goals of food production, economic self-sufficiency, and biodiversity in mind.
  • Because of all of the time that we spend outside, we see lots of interesting things: for example, a black rat snake hatching from an egg, a recently fledged barred owl on the forest floor, or a spider that has snared a butterfly on an okra plant (sorry, didn’t have the camera for that third one). We may not always be able to share the direct experience, but we can at least share some of the photographic results.
  • There’s a practical component: Documenting the crops/varieties that we grow is useful for being able to communicate with customers about what products are available at a given time. Customers can also comment on their favored crops (or ones they don’t like), and we can use that feedback to decide what to grow.
  • Another practical component: Other farmers & gardeners can find out what varieties we grow and consider to be our favorites. If they order the seed and grow these crops too, that helps to maintain the genetics of the crops we like.
  • This project provides a bit of extra motivation for us to be more systematic and comprehensive when it comes to paying attention to life on the farm. It is effectively our personal version of the National Park Service’s Inventory & Monitoring program.
  • This system doubles as an organized way for us to catalog other observations about various species. For example, we hope to use this system to track some phenological observations  (such as flowering dates of daffodils).
  • Since leaving our former career paths in academic/government science,  we’ve found that it is sometimes hard for lowly farmers to be taken seriously. Surely, no one outside of an Ivory Tower can understand the workings of the natural world, right? (Especially if they’re not running computer models on at least half a dozen computers at a time.) We feel that we’ve learned a tremendous amount through casual, qualitative observations, and we hope to build a bit of respect for what can be seen by detaching oneself from a computer (for a while) and paying attention to what’s going on outdoors. Not to mention what can be accomplished outside the restrictive grant-funding cycle. (That said, if you’re a scientist with funding and want to do some research here, by all means get in touch.)

How to explore & navigate

There are three ways to explore the biodiversity posts:

  • Taxonomic categories: This hierarchical listing (shown on the website’s right sidebar) is a simplified version of detailed biological taxonomies. The taxonomic categories used here are intended primarily to facilitate browsing by subdividing the represented organisms into manageably sized groups.
  • Biodiversity tags: These tags, which are shown in a cloud at the bottom of the page, represent a non-hierarchical system of keywords that can be used to explore the farm biodiversity.
  • Search: Do a search of the whole website. Use the search tool that is built into the website (see the right sidebar).

Unidentifieds

There are plenty of species on the farm that we don’t have the expertise (or the reference books or the microscopes or the DNA sequencing technology) to identify. There are many insects, spiders, grasses, sedges, and more that we’re simply not going to be able to identify down to a species level. We’ll do the best we can, but we plan to list some organisms as “unidentified.” And we’re hoping that the power of the internet might help us figure out what some of these are. If you (or someone you know) can identify one or more of these for us based on the photos, we’d appreciate it. We’ll happily acknowledge credit to individuals who can help us with identification.

If you think that we have misidentified something (or if you find anything else in need of correction), PLEASE tell us. Send an email to the address in the contact section of the website.

Copyright

This website is copyrighted. The biodiversity section of the website, in particular, contains a large number of images that represent a very significant amount of time, effort, and intellectual property. We’ve included some reasonably high resolution images, and we’d like to keep it that way. Don’t ruin it for everyone else by using content from this website without permission.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about copyright http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright and fair use http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use. Please contact us with questions or requests for permission &/or licensing. We’ll be nice to those who contact us; don’t expect the same courtesy if we have to contact you.

 References

For species name & current taxonomic relations, we refer to wikipedia. For identification, we typically rely on printed references, though we also make use of various resources on the internet when the print versions fail us. Here’s a listing of the references that we dominantly rely on for identification purposes.

Invertebrates:

  • Borror, Donald J. and White, Richard E., 1970, A Field Guide to Insects, The Peterson Field Guide Series, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.
  • Cranshaw, Whitney, 2004, Garden Insects of North America, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ.
  • Spencer, Lori A., 2006, Arkansas Butterflies and Moths, Ozark Society Foundation, Little Rock, AR.
  • Wagner, David L., Caterpillars of Eastern North America, 2005, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Amphibians & Reptiles:

  • Johnson, Tom R., 2000, The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri, 2nd edition, Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.

Birds:

  • Crossley, Richard, 2011, The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
  •  Sibley, David Allen, 2000, The Sibley Guide to Birds, Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Mammals:

  • Miller, Dorcas S., 1981, Track Finder, Nature Study Guild Publishers, Rochester, NY.
  • Schwartz, Charles W. and Schwartz, Elizabeth R., 2001, The Wild Mammals of Missouri, 2nd revised edition, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, MO.

Plants:

  • Denison, Edgar, 1998, Missouri Wildflowers, 5th edition, Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.
  • Hallowell, Anne C. and Hallowell, Barbara G., 2001, Fern Finder, 2nd edition, Nature Study Guild Publishers, Rochester, NY.
  • Kurz, Don, 2004, Shrubs and Woody Vines of Missouri, 2nd edition, Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.
  • Kurz, Don, 2003, Trees of Missouri, Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.
  • Petrides, George A., 1998, A Field Guide to Eastern Trees, The Peterson Field Guide Series, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.
  • Yatskievych, George, 1999, Steyermark’s Flora of Missouri, Volume 1, revised edition, Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.
  • Yatskievych, George, 2006, Steyermark’s Flora of Missouri, Volume 2, revised edition, The Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St. Louis, MO.

Fungi:

  • Miller, Orson K., 1979, Mushrooms of North America, E.P. Dutton, New York.
  • Stone, Maxine, 2010, Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.