|INTERVIEW with Tom Arbour, Ecologist, Division of Natural Areas and Preserves
What do you do to preserve plants and natural areas in Ohio?
I document where rare plants and animals exist in Ohio so they can be protected. I work primarily with the Ohio Natural Heritage Database. It's a geographic information system that contains approximately 16,000 records of known locations of rare plants, rare plant communities, rare animals and geologic features, such as caves and natural arches.
How big are these locations?
They range from a square meter to a square mile. Many of these locations exist within state nature preserves or natural areas managed by the division. We target some of these locations for field research to verify or update the rare species records in the Heritage Database. For example, records about Irwin Prairie indicate that twenty-two rare plant species and six rare animal species may be found there. Since my job includes researching plant species, I may be called on to verify or update records about Irwin's rare plants. It is always rewarding to confirm the division is protecting these rare species.
We also search for rare species in new locations not currently recorded in our database. This information is captured in a record that may pertain to one rare plant or animal or a community of the same rare species. Here's the form we use to record information in the database.
How else do you use geographic information in the database?
I have used the data to make maps for the division's field managers and the general public. Once, I used my computer to apply mathematical functions to analyze 11,000 records of rare and endangered plants and animals.
I used these computations to construct the map to the left which shows the density of rare species records in Ohio. It also shows the highest concentrations of rare species records occur in northwest Ohio, in Lucas County and in the south, in Adams County. It indicates that other areas also have a lot of rare species records, yet many places in Ohio have none at all.
There are, however, at least some rare species records in every Ohio county. Beware that this map is not an indication of biodiversity or the number of rare plants in an area. It documents places with the most reports of rare species. Some of the dots may indicate many reports about the same species. We made a poster of the map. At the left is a picture of the poster.
What is most challenging about your job?
I constantly learn new methods and techniques to use computers every day. Finding new locations of rare plants in the field is also very challenging, since Ohio has been very well studied.