Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Minnesota Biological Survey

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

One way to think about ecology is in terms of the distribution and abundance of species. 

Fortunately, Minnesota has an agency which does this. It is a unit of the Department of Natural Resources known as the Minnesota Biological Survey. Its meters and dials provide an index of the health of the environment by knowing what is there and how well it is doing or not doing.

The job description is straightforward. The "MBS systematically collects, interprets, monitors and delivers data on plant and animal distribution as well as the ecology of native plant communities and functional landscapes."  The work, of course, is more bendy and windy

The March-April 2020 issue of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer provides "a decades long assessment of the state's ecological health" in an article entitled "The Big Reveal." It was written by MBS plant ecologist Hannah Texler. She tells a story of the thrill of the hunt, discoveries of the rare and unexpected, how the data are stored and then used, and what's left to be done. A lot.

But this has been a glorious start, one for which we should be glad.

So by the numbers, this is one way to look at our overall ecological health. "Over the past 150 years, Minnesota has lost about 50 percent of its wetlands, 40 percent of its forests, and more than 98 percent of its prairies to agriculture and development." Texler provides a visual assist in understanding what these numbers mean by places six maps (forests, prairies, wetlands) side-by-side, three based on the work of F. J. Marschner "who mapped the state's historic vegetation using land survey data gathered between 1848 and 1907" and three based on recent data. 

We are an expensive, demanding species to support to the style to which we have grown accustomed!

Not all the news is bad and Texler closes with some of the good news, perhaps not as much as we would like. Minnesota's northern patterned peatlands are largely unaltered and house a unique flora and fauna. We've managed not to destroy the dwarf trout lily (found on 600 acres (~243 hectares) in three counties) and we have more wolves "than any state but Alaska."

In future the reach of the MBS will grow as important information will be collected about insects, lichens, mosses, fungi, birds and also and  as importantly "how biodiversity is changing through time" as "climate change, land use, and invasive species affect native plants communities."

No comments:

Post a Comment