Swainson Who?

Ever wonder why there are so many animals named Townsend or Wilson or Audubon or Swainson? To this day, 19th Century naturalists rule our lives.  At least, that’s how it feels to students of biology who memorize long lists of species.

I mentioned in a previous post about the fight between Wilson and Audubon on classifying nightjars, but if you’d like a quick read on these luminaries of the past, check out this post on the Audubon web site.

Migration Mysteries Solved


Satellite Transmitter on a Common Loon. Source: USGS

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we spend much of summers chasing birds to look at their breeding habits. For the rest of the year, migrating birds spend their time elsewhere.  I’ve mentioned what happens to migrating Common Nighthawks  here and here, but what about the rest of the birds?

Until recently, bird migration has been largely understudied, due to lack of funds to travel to Central and South America. Some organizations, like Golondrinas, have targeted scientists in the southern hemisphere to fill in the blanks.

But, now due to expanded efforts to recruit citizen scientists in other parts of the world, like Cornell’s eBird, and the lower costs and smaller sizes of satellite transmitters that permit scientists to download data without recapturing birds, the mysteries of the other months of the year are starting to be solved.

If you would like to see the larger migration patterns of a year generated by eBird data, check out this animated movie found at this post. Biologists pair the data with land cover analysis from ArcGIS to discover which habitats are crucial to the annual life cycle of birds.

More information is always needed, especially as we face the increasing challenges of the Anthropocene that include land use and climate change, pressures on the land due to food and water shortages, ecotoxins, and invasive species.

Neglected Species


The mighty Pheasant

Recently, Oregon Public Broadcasting posted a two-part series on the challenges Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife face in protecting their threatened non-game species, like bats, amphibians and turtles.

This is a challenge that many wildlife managers face.  How to fund conservation for animals the general public either fears or is apathetic toward?

Here in South Dakota, the Ring-necked Pheasant hunt brings in much-needed tourism to our state.  The pheasants have had a positive effect on grassland conservation, but they are an exotic species that does compete with native grouses and partridges.

This is also an important area for migrating and breeding waterfowl.  Much of the Duck Stamp money has been used to protect wetland areas.  This benefits not only waterfowl, but also the arthropods, fish, native plants and amphibians that rely on wetlands.

These species that receive side benefits of these conservation actions are a rare few. Agencies will continue to face challenges in funding nongame species, especially as federal conservation funds are cut back.

Women in Science

In 2016, students at University of South Dakota started a Women in STEM (WiSTEM) group.  We’ve met to network and organize outreach efforts.

In April, we attended South Dakota’s Women in Science day in Pierre.  It was a day filled with workshops we (and other women around the state) led, teaching middle to high school girls.


Jillian shows the students an Ornate Box Turtle, a threatened prairie species in South Dakota.


Students make demagnetized and magnetized goop, without and with copper flakes, respectively.


Students learn about solar power.


A student holds a young Fox Snake.