THE COVER PICTURE is a view of the Great Sand Dunes National Monument near Alamosa, Colorado. This picture and many others in this issue were taken by Dr. Ryan.
ABOUT THIS ISSUE
Published by The Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia
Prepared and Issued by The Department of Biology, with the cooperation of the Division of Education
Acting Editor: Carl W. Prophet, Department of Biology
Editorial Committee: Ina M. Borman, Robert F. Clarke, Helen M. Douglass, Gilbert A. Leisman, David F. Parmelee
Online format by: Terri Weast
The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of charge, to Kansas teachers, school board members and administrators, librarians, conservationists, youth leaders, and other adults interested in nature education. Back numbers are sent tree as long as the supply lasts, except Vol. 5, No.3, Poisonous Snakes of Kansas. Copies of this issue may be obtained for 25 cents each postpaid. Send orders to The Kansas School Naturalist, Department of Biology, Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas.
The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April of each year by The Kansas State Teachers College, 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas. Second-class postage paid at Emporia, Kansas.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Edward J. Hyan, M. D. is a well known Emporia physician who is actively interested in various aspects of ecology and conservation. It was his tract of land in Chase County on which the research for Microclimate (Vol. 10, No. 1 , of The Kansas School Naturalist) was done. The present issue of The Naturalist is an adaptation of his banquet address before the 1964 annual meeting of The Kansas Ornithological Society, of which Dr. Ryan is an enthusiasitc member. The photographs were selected from his extensive collection of 35 mm. transparencies, many of which he showed during the course of his address.
The dictionary defines ecology as follows: "That division of biology which treats of the relations between organisms and their environment; the science and study of communities."
To me, the science of ecology means more than this, may possibly be more romantic than this definition would imply. It may be as broad as a continent or a world, or as intimate as the interrelationship of plants and animals, and their physical environment, in your own back-yard.
A splendid elementary review of ecology is presented by John H. Storer in his book, The Web of Life. The recently published volume, Ecology, in the Life Nature Library is a fine summation of the subject. So broad is the scope of ecology that scarcely a book on biology, biochemistry, or biophysics will fail to deal with some aspect of this branch of biology.
In discussing the field of ecology, this interdependence of all living things, plant and animal, and their environment which makes life possible, I would like to elaborate on three topics.
THE BASIC FACTORS
The creation of environment, that situation which will support and maintain life in this world, hinges upon four basic physical factors: air, water, sun, and rock. Each plays a basic role. Let us briefly consider the importance of these foundation factors:
Without soil, there would be only limited plant life, without plants no animal life, but without rock, there would be no soil. It is the parent structure. Whether it be a bare and wind-swept mountain peak, a rocky plateau, or a ledge of rock in the Flint Hills, it is steadily undergoing erosion, a slow process of wearing away, a grinding to the fine structure which ultimately forms the basis of soil. This process is facilitated by alternate freezing and thawing, by erosive action of driving wind, by the slow grinding of water and glacier. Distribution of the resulting dust over the surface of the earth has been the result of various vehicles; water, gravity, wind, and glacial action. It is a process which can be measured only in eons. It is the foundation structure for soil on
the earth today.
Accompanying this immeasurably slow process have been repeated and violent upheavals in the earth's crust, creating new mountains, new piles of rock to be worn away, and more important, bringing to the surface new and varied minerals which are mixed with rock in the erosive process, and which are essential to maintenance of plant and animal life.
Water and air, the second and third of the four essential ingredients in creation of life and its environment, may be considered together. Water covers a high percentage of the earth's surface. Life originated in this liquid environment, and water is essential to all life. The water of the world is in a constant state of flux, and if properly managed, is ever used, yet ever renewed. Warmed by the sun, ocean water vaporizes. Rising, it is carried by the winds of the world, to be retained while the air is warm, to be deposited as rain or snow when the air is chilled. After serving its many functions, physical, chemical, and biological, water returns again to the sea, and the cycle is complete.
But air is more than a vehicle for the transportation of water vapor. Air in motion has many actions, not the least of which is erosion. In it, too, are the ingredients essential for life and growth, oxygen for metabolism in animal life, carbon dioxide for conversion by plants into energy and growth.
Last of the four essential ingredients is sunlight, the energizer. This energy, were it in the form of heat alone, would be received, stored temporarily, and quickly and uselessly dissipated. Fortunately, through the green plant compound, chlorophyll, and the physico-chemical process of photosynthesis, this energy is harnessed, and carbon dioxide and water are converted into carbohydrate through the action of sunlight. Upon this foundation the intricate process of plant growth ensues, and from plant life ultimately comes energy for maintenance of animal life in the world.
The combined action of weather and organisms reduce rock to soil.
So, thus briefly reviewed, we have the fundamental of maintenance of life: Pulverized rock with its constituent minerals for soil, water as the vehicle for transportation and the agent and medium in chemical exchange, air as a transporting and eroding agent and a supplier of essential elements, and sunlight as the energizer. Now consider living organisms and their interdependence.
On original poor soil, pulverized rock, only the most primitive and hardy plants will grow. Their growth is dependent upon mineral elements from the soil, poor as it is, and on the action of water, air, and sunlight. With growth they take little from the soil; with death they add much to it; for they add organic matter to enrich the original rock particles. Individually, each contribution is negligible. Multiplied by millions and extending over years or ages of time, the steady addition of organic plant materials builds that most important of earth's ingredients, topsoil. Many other organisms contribute their part to the process. Bacteria and molds by the billions multiply in the developing soil and aid decomposition, their numbers fluctuating with the seasonal incidence of plant food. Earthworms digest the decomposing plants and plow the soil as they progress. Many insects, in one or more stages of their development, live in the soil, contribute to decomposition and aid in the plowing process. Other insects facilitate decomposition by eating the plant-eaters. Moles, shrews, and other small mammals plow the soil and add their excreta to enrich it. Finally all of these living organisms eventually add their mortal remains to further enrich the soil. Meanwhile, the soil is held together by the root systems of growing plants, a system so vast that practically every particle of soil comes in contact with a rootlet or root hair.
As topsoil grows slowly through the ages in this intricate, living, complex, but balanced fashion, the remains of incompletely decomposed plants accumulate year by year to form finally a rich and porous sponge, humus. This sponge is capable of receiving and holding vast quantities of water. It is probably the best defense ever devised against the evil effects of drought or the disastrous effects of flood.
As the soil increases in depth and richness, the plant life it supports will increase in variety and complexity. Finally, dependent upon many factors such as altitude, temperature, annual rainfall, and type of soil, forest or prairie will develop. Within each such community, complex interrelationships exist to maintain a fluid and shifting state of natural balance. When one or more of these physical factors are deficient or extreme, desert may result.
Predators are essential to maintain a balance in Nature.
Hundreds of crayfish inhabit the burrows in this picture. This behavior enables the crayfish to survive until the ditch is again flooded.
In the developing forest, a series of gradual and progressive changes in tree types occurs, until finally one or more species dominate and a stable situation, described as a climax forest, exists. The process may be as follows: In the high country, at altitudes from 7,500 feet up, the initial tree growth in an open area will almost invariably be the aspen. It grows well in clearings, in bright sunlight, and in relatively poor soil. But the aspen sows the seed of its own destruction. For in the more sheltered and shady environment provided by the aspen grove, seedlings of fir, spruce, and pine find a favorable environment. They grow, outstrip their protectors, and finally convert the area into a forest of pine or spruce, with aspen growing only at the sunny margins. At lower altitudes, initial growth may be by such rapidly growing trees as cottonwoods, willows, or sycamores. Again the slower growth trees, the oaks, elms, hackberries, and walnuts, may find their favorable environment in the shelter of the earlier trees, eventually crowd them from their place in the sun, attain full maturity, and establish a climax forest.
A climax forest is a world in itself, pulsating with life, shifting with the seasons, ever changing, but constantly in a state of well maintained balance. The trees are dominant, and set the pattern. In early spring, the forest floor is covered with flowers, which bloom and then seed and die as the developing tree leaves rob them of sunlight. Shrubs grow where sunlight filters to the ground. Ferns and mosses thrive in damp and shady places. Springs flow from water stored in rich and spongy humus, or break through from underground sources.
Insects of great variety are everywhere; in the ground and on it, in the air, and on plants and trees. If undisturbed, they would quickly destroy all plant life and indirectly all animal life. They are controlled by changes in food supply, seasonal temperature change, and by constant predation by other insects, small mammals, and birds. All of these insect destroyers, in turn, are particularly adapted to find their food supply in definite environmental situations; deprived of such environment they perish. For example, the leaves in the upper reaches of the trees are protected by warblers, vireos, and gnatcatchers, among others. Winged insects are natural prey for flycatchers, nighthawks, whippoorwills, and swallows. The bark of the tree is scoured by chickadees, titmice, creepers, nuthatches; and insects under the bark are suitable for woodpeckers of many kinds. In shrubs and on the ground catbirds, thrashers, thrushes, towhees, and ovenbirds find insect food. Moles, shrews, and mice contribute their share to insect destruction. Contributing to the control picture are sparrows, juncos, grosbeaks and others which eat weed seeds by the millions.
These seemingly beneficial creatures could also multiply to the pest level were there not other controlling factors to prevent it. The most obvious of these controls is available food supply. But other controls are in constant action. These include hawks, owls, snakes, and the so-called predatory mammals such as coyote and fox. As an aside it might b e mentioned that prolific rodents in the natural state are best held in abeyance by factors in their environment, particularly predators. To me, this is the one most potent argument against expensive, wasteful programs of so-called "predator control," whether at the Federal or State level.
Within the outwardly serene arena of the climax forest, life and death are constantly in progress. And overhead the vulture sails, ready to aid the flies and beetles, the bacteria and the molds, in disposing of any carcass not eaten on the spot.
The situation is one of constant change, yet constant balance. The plant population sets the pattern; and in, and around, the plant-eaters and those who eat them are constantly in action but always in fluid balance, so that no one species will dominate and with such dominance, ultimately destroy its food supply, its environment, and itself.
Much the same developmental story applies to prairie as to forest, but grass rather than trees becomes the deciding factor in regulating the creatures that live under, in, and above it. Originally, a range of tall prairie grasses, Indian grass, big and little bluestem, and others, extended through all the prairie belt in the central United States. Farther west, with decreasing rainfall, shorter grasses, such as wheat grass, little bluestem, June grass and others dominated. Still farther west and with still less rainfall, was the "short grass" country of the high plains. Each produced its own habitat or environment, with characteristic but overlapping animal
life. Grazing and plowing have destroyed original prairie even more completely than cutting and lumbering have destroyed the original forest. It has reached the point where any stretch of unchanged prairie, even a few acres in extent becomes a mecca for the efforts of conservationists.
Forest or grassland, seashore, lake or river, swamp or mountaintop or desert, each has it own fascinating
history of development, each is a characteristic environment which supports certain typical forms of plant and animal life, which, in turn, are fitted to cope with that environment, to be maintained by it, and to remain in a state of balance which permits each species to survive by the involuntary help of other species.
THE CHASE COUNTY TRACT
In Chase County, Kansas, on the South Fork of the Cottonwood River is a tract of land which I know well. It is roughly rectangular in shape, only twenty acres in extent and is bisected from south to north by the river. From my familiarity with this locale I would like to record just a few observations which illustrate some of the points discussed earlier.
The eastern two or three acres of this rectangular area are the highest and are continuous with bluestem pasture beyond. The northeast corner of this small segment is higher than the rest, is rocky, and the soil is poor. The environment might be described as semi-desert. Horned toads and other lizards are common. Copperheads are the only poisonous snakes we have observed, and they are not unusual in this location. Vegetation in the rocky soil is sparse and hardy; however, it is the only area where wild roses grow, and
they are numerous. Cacti grow here, as they do in other similar sites in the Flint Hills.
In the remainder of this higher two or three acre segment, Flint Hills pasture and river valley meet. The dominant vegetation is a shrub, buckbrush, but there are patches of bluestem grass more luxuriant than
that in the adjoining pasture, possibly because this small area is not burned over every year or two. There are a few small trees, elms, locusts, and walnuts. Field sparrow, lark sparrow, and meadowlark are dependable seasonal inhabitants. Other species come and go, but rarely if ever have I seen one of the first named group in the river valley immediately adjacent. They seem chained by their environmental requirements to this open upland area. Marsh hawks course the adjacent pasture. Turkey vultures sail lazily along, setting their course roughly by the margin of the hill. Upland plovers are visitors. Generally, however, bird life is less abundant than in the valley. Mammals also seem less numerous, although well defined game trails are visible.
This upland area shelves off sharply and slopes steeply toward the river. The hillside is rocky and soil seems poor. Nevertheless, tree growth takes over sharply at the crest of the hill and is luxuriant throughout much of the valley. The dominant tree on this steep slope is the chinquapin oak, a rather low-growing tree with gnarled and twisted branches. It must be hardy to survive the sparse water and poor soil of this steep grade. There are a few burr oaks and one superb red juniper. Redbuds are common. Underbrush is minimal. This area is popular with jays, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and kinglets. On a similar nearby slope a few years ago I found a poorwill's nest with two eggs.
The remainder of the twenty acres is river bottom, about twelve acres of it to the west of the river. The soil is rich, as it should be; whenever the river floods, all or part is covered and a fresh layer of topsoil is laid down. Trees are numerous where no clearing has been done. At the extreme west margin is an acre of undisturbed woodland, where the situation approaches that of the climax forest previously described. Dominant trees are burr oaks, hackberries, and elms, with an occasional sycamore and massive cottonwood. By contrast there is an area, six or eight acres in extent, which was cleared by some former owner in an abortive effort at farming. I have no quarrel with his farming inclinations, but the area is sufficiently gullied to make farming impractical, and the run off from his cleared land certainly did nothing to decrease the magnitude of the gullies. This area filled in first with weeds, then grass, and now it is covered by trees six to fifteen feet tall, a dense second growth woodland.
Birdlife in this locale of woods, brush, and small clearings is much greater than in the upland area, paralleling the shelter, food supply, and varied environment.
Mammalian life is difficult to enumerate unless box traps are set and a reasonably accurate census taken. However, judging by tracks in the mud of the river bank or in snow, this valley area teems with small mammals, most of which are active at night. Those we have identified include rabbits, opossums, raccoons, fox squirrels, coyotes, wood rats, various mice, and moles. We find bones of mice in owl pellets, and occasionally we observe beaver cuttings on the river bank. We have seen two whitetailed deer in the area.
On any visit to this twenty-acre outdoor laboratory, one can; with just a little observation, note one or
more of the factors which contribute to balance in an environment. As elucidated by Storer, there are certain principles which maintain environmental balance. These he has described as the laws of adaptation, succession, multiplication, and control. In what might be described as the natural state, this balance will be interrupted only by the slow process of evolution, by mutation, and by some major natural catastrophe, such as forest fire or earth-quake.
THE EFFECT OF MAN
But a relatively new factor in the ecologic picture has produced more change in a thousand years than in millenia before, and more change in the last fifty years than in the previous thousand. That factor is man. With axe and plow, and then with power machinery, he has changed the face of the earth. Yet man is still a part of the ecologic scheme, and he cannot escape the ultimate effect of environmental conditions. A pent-house apartment off Fifth A venue in New York does not completely divorce him from contaminated water or polluted air, from Bang's disease in Texas cattle, or a drought in the wheat fields of Kansas.
With a few random examples let me illustrate the importance of man in his effect on ecologic balance:
The original American prairie must have been a sight to thrill the soul of naturalist or sportsman. Big game animals abounded-buffalo and antelope, elk, deer, and bear. Grass ranged from kneehigh to taller than a man. Except for a few protected remnants and certain pasture grasses, all of this has gone, victim of gun, plow, and grazing. We now have a variety of imports, some started voluntarily, some accidentally. Among these may be mentioned Johnson grass, dandelion, hawkweed, chicory, yarrow, and even ragweed. With the last named, the hayfever sufferer is caught in the ecologic web.
Not far from here, in an area which I observe frequently, there is a rather extensive corn field, bounded on one side by a steep hill, on the other side by a small river. Each year, it seems to me, in order to add one more row of corn, the owner destroys more from the pitifully narrow band of trees growing along the river. As periodic floods convert this peaceful stream into a raging erosive torrent, I anticipate the time will come
when he will have no trees, no corn, and no field.
He and his neighbors for miles around compound this encouragement of erosion by burning their Flint Hills bluestem pastures every year or two. Each spring, miles of these gently rolling hills are silhouetted in flame, which eliminates potential richness of the soil and lays it open to the forces of erosion.
Close to our community, on the bank of a clear and attractive creek, there used to be a beautiful stretch of undisturbed woodland. Then the farmer who owns the area decided he did not have enough land under cultivation. So he cut the trees. uprooted the stumps, "cleared" the land, and now he has extended his corn field by about twelve acres. The deep and spongy humus of the woodland has been converted to billiard ball smoothness, the better to facilitate run-off and flooding. On a minor scale, this typifies a situation all too common in Kansas and elsewhere.
In 1890, the president of the American Acclimatization Society brought eighty starlings from Europe and released them in Central Park. Next year, he liberated forty more. Not all adapted, but enough succeeded to start an avian avalanche. Now, as all are aware, starlings as cover the country from coast to coast. Thousands upon thousands of dollars have been spent in efforts to eradicate them from limited areas, usually without success. They roost on city buildings and country trees. They are noisy, dirty, pugnacious, and adaptable. Most harmfully, they compete successfully with native birds for food and environment.
Much the same story applies to that well known import, the house sparrow. One report has it that the house sparrow population has passed its crest and is on the wane, due presumably to replacement of manure by grease and oil. One is forced to agree with the latter statement but I would differ with the former. I can detect no decrease in the house sparrow population. In fact, these hardy and adaptable birds seem to be on the increase in both town and country.
The soil of the high plains country is especially productive because rainfall is relatively light and there has been but little leaching of minerals from the soil. Wheat is a money crop, is hardy, and requires relatively little care. What more natural then than to plow up the buffalo grass and replace it with wheat. The results of this policy were all too evident in the past with the blinding dust storms of the thirties. And today we have bins, sheds, tents, warehouses, and ships all loaded with wheat, while production, subsidization, and acreage allotment go on.
In former years, in certain areas, competition for grazing land was keen, and cattle were a money crop too. The result: Over-grazing with gradual reduction of rich grassland to desert status. Storer describes a large fenced field in Arizona. In this field, the soil is rich, black, and moist, and the native grasses grow luxuriantly. Around this one field for many miles in all directions is desert cacti and mesquite; the soil is dry and powdery and gullies crisscross. Yet this whole area was once as rich as the one oasis of verdure. The cause: Over-grazing. The fence kept out the cattle and sheep, and with them the desert.
Urbanization and power machinery are changing the ecologic picture in this nation and the world. A more subtle agent of change, one with greater possible and potential menace, is the indiscriminate use of pesticides and herbicides. The details of this problem have been documented or predicted by Rachel Carson in her book, Silent Spring. This volume, the last major opus by this gifted writer prior to her untimely death, is recommended reading.
Ocotillo, foreground, is typical of the vegetation of the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Deserts.
In this connection, I was chatting with a farmer friend not long ago. He stated he had put no stock in that book called Silent Spring until he took a trip which traversed the fruit country of Washington State. He had driven for miles when he realized that something was peculiar - he had not seen nor heard a single bird in that long stretch. He talked to a local resident who had noted the same thing. He made the astute observation that mass destruction of life must occur in areas where mass pesticide spraying is done by aircraft, as would be true in this extensive orchard section. Truly, in such a region "no birds sing."
I do not mean to imply, by these examples, that all the effects of man on ecologic balance are disastrous. As comprehension of cause and effect becomes more general, we can, I hope, expect a more intelligent handling of our natural assets; there may be less plunging headlong into some radical procedure without analyzing possible consequences. Perhaps the engineer and the politicians may condescend to consult the ecologist and biologist. Man must realize that when he plows a field, or cuts a forest, or strip-mines the land, or imports a foreign bird, mammal, or plant, he is breaking a link in a long established chain. Often the results are unforseen and may occur many miles away; sometimes they may be disastrous.
Peter Farb has summarized some of our problems in his book on Ecology. He says: "As man looks about him at the noosphere he has created, he is tempted to call a moratorium on technology and give himself the opportunity for needed soul searching, hopefully to come up with the answers to problems that threaten his very survival. But stopping the clock does not solve ecological problems any more than closing the banks solves economic ones. In ecology there are no Gardens of Eden, no Utopias, no ways of turning the clock back to a simpler existence. It is, in fact, probably of the essence of the human animal that he consciously pursues change. This has set him apart from the rest of the natural world by leading him to abandon the tropical environment to which he was biologically adapted, and has brought him ultimately to the changes he has wrought during his bid for control of nature. Man's estate seemingly is to live with unsatisfied aspirations; it is what has led to his present predicament of being a ruler over the earth without knowning the rules."
FUTURE NUMBERS OF THE KANSAS SCHOOL NATURALIST
The publication schedule of The Kansas School Naturalist is quite flexible and indefinite, but plans are taking shape for several future numbers. An early issue will be "Lizards of Kansas" by Dr. Robert Clarke of the Biology Department. Other possible issues are "Beneficial Insects," "The Story of Conservation," "The State Flower, Bird, and Tree," and "Crustacea." Additional numbers in the three series - Recent Science Books for Children, Let's Build Equipment, Let's Experiment - are in progress.
Suggestions are always in order, both for desirable topics for future Naturalists, and for authors or groups of authors to write them.
IT IS NOT TOO EARLY to think about the 1965 Workshop in Conservation, which will be a part of the 1965 Summer Session of the Kansas State Teachers College. As in the past, the Workshop will cover water, soil, grassland, and wildlife conservation, with emphasis on conservation teaching. There will be lectures, demonstrations, discussion groups, films, slides, field trips, projects, and individual and group reports. You may enroll for undergraduate or graduate credit.
Exact dates, fees, and other details will appear in later issues of The Kansas School Naturalist. For further information write the director, Mr. Thomas A. Eddy, Department of Biology, KSTC, Emporia.
Dr. Carl Prophet, Associate Professor of Biology, will serve as Acting Editor of The Naturalist during the 1964-1965 year in the absence of Dr. John Breukelman. Dr. Breukelman is currently a Fullbright Lecturer in B. S. C. S. Biology, Onderwijskundig Studiecentrum, Amsterdam. He will lecture to Dutch biologists and biology teachers throughout the Netherlands, and will work with pre-service as well as with in-service
high school biology teachers. In addition, Dr. Breukelman will visit Dutch universities involved in the preparation of teachers, and he will assist in translating and adapting B. S. C. S. materials for the Dutch
Statement required by the Act of OCtober 1962: Section 4369, Title 39, United States Code, showing Ownership, Management and Circulation. The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April. Editorial Office and Publication Office at 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas, (66802). The Naturalist is edited and published by the Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas. Editor, John Breukelman, Department of Biology.
AUDUBON SCREEN TOURS
The Department of Biology presents the eighth Audubon Screen Tour Series in 1964-65. This series consists of five all-color motion pictures of wildlife, plant science, and conservation personally narrated by leading naturalists. All pictures are presented in Albert Taylor Hall at 7:30 p.m. on the dates listed below. Both group and single admission tickets are available; for further infomraiton write Dr. Carl W. Prophet, Department of Biology, KSTC, Emporia.
Allan D. Cruickshank, River of the Crying Bird, Sept. 30, 1964.
Emerson Scott, Our Changing Heritage, Oct. 21, 1964.
D. J. Nelson, Inherit the Wild, Dec. 4, 1964.
Walter H. Berlet, Northwest to Alaska, Jan. 8, 1965.
Roy E. Coy, Missouri Northwest, Feb. 4. 1965.
Those printed in boldfaced type are still available, free of charge except Poisonous Snakes of Kansas, which is sold for 25¢ per copy postpaid, to pay for the increased printing costs due to the color plates.
The out-of-print issues may be found in many school and public libraries in Kansas.
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