Community Nature Study Series

The Community Nature Study Series is offered Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 am-12 pm in January and February. Classes are based in our indoor classroom in the James Learning Center and include a hands-on lab and/or field component. The number of participants per class is limited to ensure low student-teacher ratio.

March 24th – Where the Wild Birds Are: Avian Biogeography in Arizona’s Changing Climate

Eric Hough, Maricopa County Parks

Would you like to learn more about where to find birds in Arizona? Then this workshop is for you! We will learn about the diverse vegetation zones that provide habitat for Arizona’s birds through interactive exercises and a bird walk around the center’s grounds, as well as learn about how climate change has already been affecting bird distribution in our state and the predicted changes yet to come.

Past Community Nature Study Series offered a wide range of topics from Bats, and Fossils to Monsoons and Bark Beetles!

Check back soon to see the 2021 series!

January 21 – Bat Diversity in the Neotropics and Arizona

José g. Martínez-fonseca, NAU

Bats are one of the most common animals portrayed in media and lore throughout the centuries. What is so special about this critter, and why are there so many different species? The first presenter of our 2020 Community Nature Study Series will answer that and so much more! There are 28 species of bats in Arizona alone, making our home a hotspot of bat diversity. Echolocation, diet, and unique behaviors are all important parts of each species’ story. Come to this talk, and bats might just become your favorite animal!

January 23 – Life in Stone: The Long and Extraordinary History of Life in Our Backyard

Christa Sadler, Grand Canyon Conservancy Field Institute

The Colorado Plateau region is one of the finest earth science laboratories in the world, and paleontological discoveries that are being made here are answering questions, solving mysteries, and making connections that help us understand the history of life worldwide. This presentation begins in our region over a billion years ago, following the story of life from the earliest single-celled bacteria to the abundance and diversity of life that we see today. An extensive collection of real and cast fossils will be on hand for participants to explore.

January 28 – Biomimicry: Tapping into Nature’s Genius for Sustainable Solutions

Lily Urmann, ASU

Biomimicry is the conscious emulation of life’s genius, and offers a new perspective for a sustainable and regenerative future by asking the question: what lessons can we learn from the natural world? By observing organisms that have managed to survive in harsh environments like the desert, we can create more efficient and low-impact designs and technologies that work for instead of against life. Biomimicry is studying a leaf to invent a better solar cell, or a bird beak that inspires an efficient fast-speed train. The compelling core of this new field is that nature has already solved many of the challenges we are currently facing: energy use, food production, climate control, non-toxic chemistry, transportation, and more. Ultimately, biomimicry acknowledges that “life creates conditions conducive to life”, and we aim to integrate these lessons learned in our built world to be better neighbors on this planet. We share our world with over 30 million elder strategists and mentors. We will begin this hands-on workshop by first exploring successful strategies from our local ecosystem: and start asking questions such as “How does nature store water, build resilient structures, or protect itself?”. Participants will learn to tune into the genius of nature through careful observation techniques and dive deeper into the realm of bio-inspired design. This workshop will guide you through the biomimicry process: identifying organism function and strategy, synthesizing design principles, and brainstorming applications for how we might learn from these time-tested solutions.

January 30 – Communication and evolution of Sceloporus lizards in North America

Julio Rivera, ASU

Sceloporus lizards, also known as fence or spiny lizards, are native to North America and are known for their bright blue bellies that they use to communicate with other lizards. But, sometimes a species loses its blue patches, how then can a lizard with no color communicate with other lizards? This program will focus on answering questions like how do lizards communicate when a trait has disappears and how does this shift in communication reflect on their skull shape.

February 4 – Exploring Environmental DNA: A New Tool for Ecological Monitoring

Catherina Benson, Hillary Eaton and Matthew Valente, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

During this Nature Studies Presentation, you will be introduced to environmental DNA (eDNA) and its use as a tool for ecological studies. All organisms, from bacteria to humans, leave a genetic fingerprint in their environment, and researchers can detect these signals using modern molecular biology techniques. In this program, we will explore work from the ERAU Conservation Genetics and Wildlife Forensics Lab, as well as case studies in eDNA, ranging from its use in tracking insect pollinators to invasive species! Activities will include a DIY DNA extraction using your own cells and an exercise in eDNA metabarcoding, an exciting new technique that can be used to identify entire groups of organisms. We hope to see you there!

February 6 – Evolution of the North American Monsoon

Dr. Dorothea Ivanova, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Have you ever wished you could predict the onset of these intense desert rainstorms? Embry-Riddle professor Dorothea Ivanova brings us a presentation on a very Arizona-relevant aspect of climate science: monsoons! Dr. Ivanova will lead you through computational research that has changed the way we view weather. These climate systems are not limited to local cause-and-effect, but are a reflection of what is happening all over the world – land and sea.

February 13 – Hotter and drier: How will trees respond to more extreme and frequent drought?

Drew Peltier, NAU

Trees drive global climate, and drive the structure and function of forest ecosystems. As climate warms and dries, droughts are happening more frequently and they are also more extreme, being both hotter and drier. This new climate regime is pushing trees towards the limits of their physiological tolerance, and we have observed widespread, regional tree mortality events across the western US in numerous tree species over the past two decades. Despite this, our understanding of tree mortality remains somewhat limited. Trees are large, long-lived, complex organisms that do not often die. They also can store and rely on sugar reserves for decades to stay alive, and so determining the cause of mortality is very difficult. In this Community Nature Series presentation, Drew will talk about a large precipitation manipulation experiment in New Mexico designed to help us learn how trees die under drought. This work is in collaboration with researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Oklahoma State University, and the University of New Mexico and will help us learn more about how water stress, carbon starvation, and beetle attack interact to influence tree mortality under drought. Participants will learn about the impacts of drought and tree growth, and the physiological processes that drive tree mortality.

February 18 – Cattle impacts on protected rivers in the Mogollon Highlands

Joe Trudeau, Center for Biological Diversity

Since 2017 the Center for Biological Diversity(CBD) has surveyed nearly 400 miles of streams on US Forest Service lands in the Verde and Upper Gila Watersheds in Arizona and New Mexico for the presence of livestock grazing. These streams – including the Verde, Gila, San Francisco, Blue, Fossil Creek and others – provide critical habitats for a number of threated or endangered riparian and aquatic dependent species, such as yellow-billed cuckoo, southwestern willow flycatcher, narrow-headed gartersnake, and loach minnow. The CBD has documented livestock grazing on many of the surveyed river miles. 

This workshop will explore balancing endangered species conservation with other uses of natural resources. 

February 20 – A Day in The Life of Bark Beetles

Sneha Vissa, NAU

This workshop will explore the biology and ecology of bark beetles, with an emphasis on bark beetles native to the southwest United States. We will learn about the life cycle of bark beetles, how to identify different bark beetles (from beetle specimens and from tree barks), and how to diagnose the signs and symptoms of bark beetle attacks. We will also explore the micro-organismal community associated with bark beetles and the roles they play in making beetles tick. Finally, this workshop will also touch on the effect of a changing climate on bark beetles and what we might expect from beetle outbreaks and forest health in the years to come.

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