Climate change and its impact on herbaria, plants and animals
NKU Herbarium director explains climate change’s effect on plant and animal life
July 25, 2019
Dr. Maggie Whitson, director of the NKU herbarium, said that climate change has started to cause animals to die in their current habitats because the climate’s temperature is increasing.
So, animals are having to be moved north in order to be returned to an environment suitable for them. She also said that mosquitoes from places like Costa Rica, which can carry dangerous diseases, are also adapting to the warming climate, and may eventually come into the United States.
Because of climate change, emerald ash borers, pests who eat the insides of ash trees and kill them, are starting to move north, she said. However, this problem is being solved because the ash borers are only moving through the area, so people are freezing ash tree seeds in order to replant them when the ash borers move out.
Whitson explained that even if people walking through a field of plants may only say “Ooh, look, a bunny,” without noticing the differences between, as well as the importance of, the plants that they are surrounded by. Plant preservation is essential to human life because plants provide us with food and oxygen, as well as feeding animals like cows, which we, in turn, eat.
Whitson also listed the processes involved with running the NKU herbarium. She presses the plants in order to dry and preserve them, pickles fish, reptiles and fragile insects, and pins the less fragile insects. The birds, bats, and mammals are kept in jars, stored on shelves separate from the plants and other animals.
She also explained that instead of shipping out specimens to other Herbaria, she uses a high-resolution camera setup to send pictures instead. Whitson also receives calls from people seeking the help of the herbarium to identify whether a snake that has bitten them was poisonous.
The NKU sciences building also includes a rain garden outside, created out of local plants that soak up the water runoff from the flat rooftops of the neighboring buildings. This rain garden includes milkweed for the monarch caterpillars to eat. House Finches also make v-shaped marks in certain plants when they take bites out of them in the rain garden.
Finally, Whitson showed us the greenhouse on the roof of the science building. Then, she explained that cacti are full of slimy liquid to preserve water. She also introduced us to lemongrass and orange trees by their smells.