|INTERVIEW with Rick Gardner, Botanist, Division of Natural Areas and Preserves
What do you do to preserve plants and natural areas in Ohio?
I inventory rare and native plants that occur throughout the state in nature preserves and natural areas. Prairies, for example, can be very rich in botanical diversity and rare plants. My main duty is to track more than 600 rare plants and provide data about these plants for the Ohio Natural Heritage Database. The division uses this database to track all rare plants and animals in Ohio.
What type of data do you collect about plants?
In the field, I document the size of plant populations and describe the ecological niche of plant species. A niche is the particular place a plant grows; it includes specific soil, water and light conditions. Rare plants can have unique niches. For example, the pitcher plant grows in a fen or bog where few other plants can grow.
I also collect morphological data about plants. This physical data is an important way to identify the species of a plant. I first try to identify the plant species in the field. To verify my field identification, I sometimes cut a specimen and bring it back to my office for closer observation. I use a scope to identify tiny features such as hairs or dots of coloration on the stem of a plant. Using these physical traits, I consult a taxonomy reference to identify the specimen. When I am certain of my identification, and am finished recording the information, I donate the dried specimen to a herbarium.
What do you do with this information?
After I identify a rare plant at a particular location, I create a record that is entered in the Heritage Database. Sometimes the data I collect is used to help our division identify new locations in Ohio that qualify as nature preserves. Sometimes other researchers use my data to write articles and construct reports. I may also use information about plants to write an article for a botanical journal. In 2000, I discovered a plant species never before found in Ohio. I published an article about it in a professional journal called Castanea. That was really exciting!
Is there anything else you do?
Yes. I also make presentations about botanical-related topics and conservation issues at conferences and to community groups. I also lead field trips in natural areas.
What is most challenging about your job?
Keeping track of 600 plants in the database, updating information about them and ensuring that they are protected is very challenging, because there are thousands of places where these plants grow in Ohio.