Category Archives: Native Ecology

Unexpected Guests

When packing up for a short paddling trip in mid-September I noticed a monarch chrysalis on the side of my canoe. I carefully removed it and using masking tape attached it to a wire suspended from my house. Weeks passed and other monarchs matured and emerged but this chrysalis turned very dark, then faded to tan. I eventually brought it inside where it hung on my refrigerator. Why? Because it looked too cool to toss into the garden.

A few weeks ago while packing my lunch for work I noticed dozens if not hundreds of tiny (harmless) parasitoid wasps emerging (I know a few people would not be excited by this discovery at 8:00 in the morning). Before leaving for work I popped the chrysalis into a glass tube to photograph at Prairie Moon Nursery.
During my 30 minute drive another 20-30 wasps emerged. Later that morning I was able to photograph the wasps as more emerged.

I forwarded these photos to the Monarch Joint Venture at the University of Minnesota and Carl Stenoien, a Graduate Research Fellow with The Monarch Lab at UMN was kind enough to reply: “These are probably Pteromalus cassotis, but I can’t be 100% sure without seeing them under a microscope.”

As we well know, monarch butterfly larvae depend exclusively on milkweeds and adults rely on the nectar of other native flowering species. I had never considered the less familiar species that depend on monarchs. How many other species go unseen? Like monarchs they too are in peril due to habitat loss but even a small garden with native plants can do a world of good (especially for these tiny Pteromalus wasps). •

A follow-up from Carl Stenoien: “I received the wasps today (and some were still alive!). They are, indeed, Pteromalus cassotis, a potential specialist on monarchs.”

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Vivid warmth in the ridge winds
today’s distant problems
keep a brisk pace
while Killdeer run ahead
giving away their secrets

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When spring winds blow

and the frost evaporates into sunlite

the Pasque Flowers make a push

the annual awakening

for a most hopeful appearance

despite the deserts adjacent

and the tanks of chemicals

property of the new paradigm

when spring means less

less than it did under a century before

Slow down and look around

Photos taken at Breidel Coulee, La Crosse County Wisconsin

on August 27th, 2014

1. Monarch Butterfly on Eupatorium perfoliatum (Boneset)

2. Spur Throated grasshopper (sp.?) on Helenium autumnale (Sneezeweed)

3. Variegated Meadowhawk on Scirpus atrovirens (Dark-green Bulrush)

4. Various insects on Asclepias incarnata (Rose Milkweed)


The early pollinator

A Syrphid fly visits Pasque Flower on a windy spring afternoon.

What can you do, in a seasonal desert,

but search for perfection, means of living or dying,

not by illness, or natural selection,

but the economists algorithm.

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On Neonicotinoids


Neonicotinoids (neo-nih-CAH-tin-oids) are systemic chemicals, which are absorbed into the plant’s vascular system, leaving the entire plant toxic to both target and non-target insects.  Systemic chemicals affect the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis and death. This class of insecticides is particularly harmful to bees as accumulated neonicotinoids are consumed by adults or stored, concentrated, and fed to developing young.

These days we are hearing more reports of Honey Bee die-offs and Colony Collapse Disorder, though the European Honey Bee is but one species of invertebrates facing a precarious future. Native insect species all over the world are subjected to a deadly combination of stresses (with undiscovered species disappearing completely before being properly studied or understood). These stresses are widespread and stem directly from human activity. Habitat loss, fragmented ecosystems, alien organisms, industrial farming practices, climate change and the proliferation of lawns are a few major sources of invertebrate decline. Pesticides, which indiscriminately kill insects by design, pose the most immediate danger to invertebrates worldwide.

Following registration in the mid 1990’s, neonicotinoid use has grown to make this the most widely used class of insecticides in the world. While large-scale agricultural applications account for the greatest levels of cumulative harm (chronic lethal exposure), landscaping and garden use result in higher rates of death (acute lethal exposure) in non-target insects. The most notible victims of neonicotinoid exposure are pollinator species, which perform a key role in over one-third of our food system. This disproportionate frequency of non-target insect mortality is largely due to the abundance of unregulated insecticides available in retail stores, and a lack of understanding by those who use them.

Neonicotinoids are systemic chemicals, which are absorbed into the plant’s vascular system, leaving the entire plant toxic to both target and non-target insects. Neonicotinoids exhibit long periods of toxicity, with two of the most widely used insecticides persisting in soil at toxic levels for many months and even years. Metabolites (the breakdown product of complex substances) and synergisms (combined substances which result in a greater potency than the original) could make neonicotinoids even more toxic and persistent than is already known.

The accumulation of neonicotinoids may adversely affect many invertebrates beyond those targeted through the initial application. Routes of unintended exposure can originate from spray drift, residual contact, particle exposure (from mechanized planting of treated seeds), as well as exposure through contaminated soil, nesting resources, water, pollen and nectar. Pollen and nectar contamination is especially worrisome for bees as accumulated neonicotinoids may be stored, concentrated, and fed to developing young. Adults can also suffer from chronic and acute exposure, through foraging and ingestion of toxic nectar. The sublethal effects on Honey Bees range from inhibited flight, navigation and taste, in addition to a decrease in learning and foraging ability. Sublethal effects on native bees, such as bumblebees and solitary bees, include reduced food consumption and reproduction success, decreased worker survival, reduced foraging and delayed development.

Environmental stresses are pushing native pollinators to the edge of ecological collapse, with cascading effects seen globally. You can begin helping pollinators right away by conserving and promoting native habitat, gardening with native plants and avoiding insecticide use. Your contributions are essential to curbing the decline of native pollinators and invertebrates. Over one-third of your food supply hangs in the balance.

Reference sources for information on this page were publications of the Xerces Society. For more information visit the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation at, or view their special reports on Neonicotinoids (also available in printed form) at and

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Townline Road Summary 2013

DSB_0694Red cordage marks my west seeding boundary

The Townline Road property is located two miles SE of Leaf River Illinois. Consisting of a dry-mesic  limestone hill with wet-mesic oak savanna remnant at the base, the property was inherited by my mother and totals 40 acres. This property has been in continual grazing for at least fifty years. Due to family pressures the property will most likely be grazed for at least another 2-3 years.

My knowledge in identifying native plants only truly blossomed around May of this year (2013), though I expect next year to provide more extensive results. Some species recorded despite the overgrazing include: Ranunculus fascicularis, Bouteloua curtipendula, Verbena Stricta, Geranium maculatum and Helenium autumnale.

This PDF is my initial planting list (PDF – 2013.SeedCollection). The number of species is modest, though next year will be more successful as I plan on making a special effort to search for plants more frequently. With the exception of Amorpha canescens (within ten miles) all species planted were found within five miles of the site, most were found within one mile.

For 2013 my primary goals were two-fold. First, I set to work building a 100 x 100′ exclosure in the oak savanna. My main intent was to protect the aging oaks while allowing existing plants to grow unimpeded by grazing. Second, I established an 80 x 100′ exclosure along the top slope where some native plants had already been found. I seeded this exclosure (PDF – 2013.SeedCollection) and plan to utilize the area as a nursery for future seeding and expansion.

Inevitably I wish I could have collected more seed, built more fence and recorded more species, though for a first year project I am pleased with the progress so far.

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On frac sand


With only 1/100th of 1% remaining, tallgrass and shortgrass prairies are one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet. Once expansive mosaics of interconnected diversity, these biomes extended through most of our midwestern states. Today prairie remnants are small functionally extinct islands of great biodiversity, surrounded by seas of GMO monoculture, development and invasive species.  Despite such precious rarity these prairie “postcard” relics, which survived the plow and pylon, face immense dangers.

Much attention has been directed toward the looming disaster which is Hydraulic Fracturing, but recognition must also be focused on the atrocity which is Frac Sand Mining. The destructive consequences of mining are well known and often too common, including habitat loss, air and water pollution, hazardous dust, excessive carbon emissions, high traffic frequency and noise pollution. These byproducts of mining are not new to our world of endless development and sprawl, but the stakes are higher now than ever before.

The greatest human flaw is a failure to recognize the big picture, an inability to see the interconnectedness of everything. In 1863 a settler could live lightly off of a few acres and would see endless undeveloped land in every direction. Under such low population density the use of natural resources was easily absorbed by the native biome (of course the Native Americans were the best example of sustainable living). As population grew the “settled” spaces began to expand outward. Then the small sections of land started to touch resulting in the need for legal definition and fencing. As agriculture became industrialized the fences were pulled out and the soil was turned under without restraint. Only islands of natural history exist today, usually protected by flooding or shallow top soil. In 2013 a land owner may look at forty acres and say “there are plenty of trees here for birds, I’ll just cut down a few”, though arrogantly fails to look beyond the fence row. On the outside of each boundary may sit thousands of acres, striped, plowed and sterilized by industrial agriculture. Over 150 years the islands of habitat are shrinking in frequency and size. The damage from fragmentation has already been done, but those who worship the winking dollar still want more.

Now new technologies are squeezing profits out of previously considered “useless land”. These ecosystems, once protected from human hands by their pure rugged terrain, survived the plow but are now falling to the blasting fuse and shovel. Remnants of 1/100th of 1%, more endangered than rainforests, are being blasted, dug, stripped and leveled to provide a necessary product for another destructive human practice. Underground, the  concealed pollution and destruction caused by hydraulic fracturing requires a terrestrial travesty that is frac sand mining. Just as before, the industrial need to exploit our native biomes pushes forward, fulled by money, and legalized by filthy political inventions.

Just as it has happened for hundreds of years, the pursuit of profits shows no concern for anything beyond exploitation and wealth. The most disgusting fact of this exploitation is that we now collectively know better. History and validated research have told us that plundering any and every resource from the earth will result in adverse affects. A brief look at the Dust Bowl should be enough to shock every American into a mindset that values environmental protection, but we seem to have poor memory and the advertisements tell us not to worry.

If our society continues to ignore science the push for endless growth will cover us in sand. America will become a vast desert as native ecosystems are carelessly destroyed for meaningless numbers in a bank account, or hollow shares in a company. Only one species on earth makes such irrational and cataclysmic decisions based on the values of imaginary currency. It’s time that we figure out a better way.

On frac sand 131019.001 DB

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Field notes

An enthusiastic burden to the trained lover, I walk along the paths of forgery, complimenting through words but condemning through my eyes.

The best intentions of most are circular variations of ones own selfish desires.

I nod to the hum of wealthy meaninglessness, for the apathetic occupant holds no merit to my guide.

Only the insects seem to accept this reality, pollinators of time.
Flowers, the counters of time and resources, insects the metronome of reason.

Most generally I should accept the reality and be glad to see some sanctity, the holiness of thoughtfulness, even blind thoughtfulness.

For many, the finite beauty of the native world seems a conquerable challenge, they see only the illusion of infinite.

My challenge is to observe, analyze, and collect.

To forge the connections in solid steel, so that no soul can forget the truth of our native ecosystems.

Keep your eyes open, listen, don’t forget to make connections and remind others when necessary.



On Connections


Despite the destruction of native forests and meadows, irregardless the plunder of prairies and mountain tops, there is a chance of promise ahead. There may be a glimmer if enough minds make the connection. The relationships between all living things are complex and difficult to see. We must make sure that we see, despite all of the distractions which lure us away.

So fallible is human desire, to dream of the new shiny button, to sacrifice such impossible preciousness, for illusions. If only we could collectively look away from the screens and bank account balances, if not forever at least for five minutes. Look instead at a part of the world which we do not understand. Study something that frightens us. Think about the connections, think about the cause and affect of each action.

Pretend you weigh 2 ounces and have traveled two-four-eight hundred miles under your own power, only to find your destination is now a depleted desert of mowed lawns and fields, hundreds of acres wide. Plowed fields, planted root to root, with alien species that harbor no insects. To add an additional level of hazard, the methods used to indiscriminately kill all insects has in addition left every plant, every surface and every spoonful of soil, toxic in some capacity. Diverse flora has been systematically cleared, plowed over, burnt, mowed under by blind ignorance. There is no safe place for you to live, nothing to eat. The only choice is to move on, keep moving, the options are becoming more and more limited. Even in exhausted demise, life energy is wasted as there is no coyote or fox to pass it on. Rather, an unceremonious rot, which no ants or earthworms will remedy. These are the places where life ends. The sterile existence of a modern, capitalist driven society.

The tone is alarming, though I still think there is hope. The time for making connections has never been more urgent.

Biology study 2013.07.04.01

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