In one way or another, I have been involved with the world of plants and insects since early childhood. So when I heard about the volunteering opportunities available at The New York Botanical Garden, I knew exactly how I wanted to spend my spare time.
Under the guidance of Project Coordinator Mari Roberts, I worked on herbarium records for the Tri-Trophic Thematic Collection Network (TTD-TCN). The TTD-TCN is an ambitious database that connects universities, museums, botanical gardens, and other partners to organize and study records pertaining to plant-insect relationships, particularly those of the “true bugs” (the insect order Hemiptera, which includes aphids, cicadas, and leafhoppers, among others), their host plants, and the insects that parasitize the true bugs (the order Hymenoptera, which includes wasps, bees, and ants).
This project held distinct meaning because it was not the first time that I had encountered such complex interactions Last summer, I reared dozens of cabbage white caterpillars (Pieris rapae) to adulthood. In the process, I discovered that their host plant, kale, was also home to an interesting array of multi-legged denizens, including the cabbage aphid (Brevicoryne brassicae), the larvae of the diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella), predatory hoverfly larvae, and the parasitoid wasp Cotesia glomerata. I watched with both awe and horror as multiple wasp pupae erupted out of one caterpillar and how, subsequently, its behavior changed.
Scott A. Mori, Ph.D, is a Curator Emeritus associated with the Institute of Systematic Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. His research interests are the ecology, classification, and conservation of tropical rain forest trees. He is also interested in the plants of Westchester County, where he lives.
In 1986, R. S. Mitchell calculated that 1,081 of the 3,022 known species of flowering plants in New York State have been introduced from other parts of the world (A checklist of New York State Plants. New York State Museum and Science Service 458: 1-250). That means 36 percent of the plant species found in the Empire State are exotic, or not native.
One of these introductions is the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima of the mostly tropical plant family Simaroubaceae), which was introduced several times into the United States from China and Taiwan due to its ornamental and medicinal properties.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture Plants Database, the tree of heaven has been recorded in all but seven states in the contiguous United States. This species is particularly aggressive because it is able to become established in many different habitats; grow rapidly, which gives it the ability to produce seeds in a short time; be pollinated by many different insects, such as bees, beetles, and flies; grow in contaminated soils; produce stems from suckers; and generate winged fruits, which enable it to be efficiently dispersed by the wind.
The tree of heaven is easy to identify because of its long, pinnately compound leaves placed alternately on the stem and its flowers, with the ovaries divided into five separate parts, each of which can produce a winged fruit called a samara. The tree of heaven is especially conspicuous at this time of year because of the abundant fruits that are first yellow and then red at maturity.
Highways produce the sunny conditions that the tree of heaven thrives in, thereby providing a migration route that facilitates its movement from one area to other. As a consequence of its ability to produce abundant seeds, it easily moves from one locality to another, and once established, suckers allow it to produce additional stems. With time it will become more and more abundant along our highways and other open habitats.
Jessica L. Allen is a graduate student in the Commodore Matthew Perry Graduate Studies Program, and James C. Lendemer, Ph.D., is an Assistant Curator at the Institute of Systematic Botany, both at The New York Botanical Garden. Lichens, which include a fungal component, are their primary research interest.
Every day, thousands of fungal species throughout the United States perform essential jobs all around us for free. They are vast networks, above and below ground, that facilitate nutrient transportation, form soil, provide natural fertilizers, and add delightful variety to our diets. If fungi went on strike, everybody would notice.
In the United States approximately 10 percent of fish and mammals are protected by the Endangered Species Act, including such American icons as the bald eagle and the American paddlefish. Yet fungi, which constitute an entire kingdom in the scientific classification of species, are effectively excluded from the dialogue. Of the nearly 40,000 known fungal species in North America, only two are protected by the Endangered Species Act!
Is it because we know so little Are there no threats to fungi? Are fungi immune to the threats posed to plants and animals? As is outlined in a recent issue of Endangered Species Research, the answer to all of these questions is a definite “No.”