Zahner Conservation Lecture Series

Since its founding in 1927, the Highlands Biological Station has had a wider scope than research alone. A quote from Ralph Sargent’s book “Biology in the Blue Ridge” (1977) summarizes this idea nicely – “[The Highlands Biological Station] has sought to interest local residents, visitors, and the general public in the full natural and cultural history of the region and to bring to them awareness of and care for the whole environment, physical, biological, and human of the southern mountains.” One of the Station’s most enduring avenues for spreading this interest has been the tradition of weekly summer lectures. Every summer the Highlands Nature Center hosts evening lectures on Thursdays focused on the theme of natural history and conservation, a tradition that began in the 1930s. Today, these lectures are known as the Zahner Conservation Lecture Series. Named for the significant contributions of Dr. Robert Zahner and his wife Glenda, of Highlands, to land conservation efforts on the Highlands Plateau, the Zahner Conservation Lecture Series serves to educate and inspire the public through a series of talks from well-known regional scientists, conservationists, artists, and writers. The series is made possible by the Highlands Biological Foundation, and from donations from numerous individuals and local organizations. The public is invited to participate in these free lectures, which will be held each Thursday evening at 6:30pm at the Highlands Nature Center at 930 Horse Cove Road in Highlands.

All lectures are held at 6:30pm at the Highlands Nature Center. These lectures are free and open to the public.

Download the 2016 flyer here.

2017 Schedule (Descriptions coming soon)

July 7

Saving Our Salamanders: Natural History, Ecology, and Conservation in the “Salamander Capital of the World”

Dr. JJ Apodaca, Professor, Warren Wilson College

July 13

Highlands Botanical Garden–A View from the Top: The Highest Botanical Garden in Eastern America

Dr. Larry Mellichamp, Professor Emeritus, UNC-Charlotte

July 20

Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again: Returning Elk to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Dr. Joe Yarkovich, Wildlife Biologist, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

July 27

The Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of an Iconic American Tree

Lisa Thomson, President and CEO, and Dr. Jared Westbrook, Director of Science, American Chestnut Foundation

August 3

Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory

Dr. James T. Costa, Executive Director, Highlands Biological Station

August 17

2017 Carolina Total Solar Eclipse

Christi Whitworth, Director of Learning Esxperiences, PARI Institute

August 24

Woodpeckers and Hoover Chickens in the Southern Piney Woods

Robert Abernathy, President, The Longleaf Alliance

August 31

Eastern Cougar: Their Ecological Importance and Their Prospects for Recovery in the Southeastern USA

Dr. Ron Sutherland, Conservation Scientist, Wildlands Network

September 14

A Bird’s-Eye View of Climate Change: Black-Throated Blue Warbler Populations in the Southern Appalachians

Dr. Robert Cooper, Professor, University of Georgia

2016 Schedule

July 7    

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Fungi of the Highlands Plateau

Dr. Andrew Methven, Professor Emeritus, Eastern Illinois University

The southern Appalachian Mountains are world-renowned for an incredibly rich diversity of fleshy fungi, especially mushrooms. This lecture will introduce participants to the natural history of the southern Appalachian Mountains, major forest types, and some of the common and unusual fungi that can be encountered on a walk through the woods in the vicinity of Highlands. We’ll examine fungi that parasitize other organisms (insects and plants as well as other fungi), fungi that carry out important ecological roles in the forest (litter decomposers, wood rotters, and mycorrhizae), and interesting modes of spore dispersal. Attendees are encouraged to bring mushrooms for identification before or after the lecture.

Andrew Methven is professor emeritus of mycology in the Department of Biological Sciences at Eastern Illinois University. A native of California, Andy’s formal education in mycology began under the tutelage of Dr. Harry Thiers at San Francisco State University and continued as a doctoral student in Dr. Ron Petersen’s lab at the University of Tennessee. While living in Illinois, he has traveled extensively throughout eastern North America collecting, photographing, and identifying fungi. Andy has published three books as well as numerous scientific and popular articles on mushrooms, led mushroom identification courses in Michigan and North Carolina, and presented lectures and workshops on fungi to a variety of audiences. He now lives in Savannah, Georgia with his wife Cheryl.


July 14

The Florida Wildlife Corridor: Protecting and Conserving Existing Natural Pathways

Ms. Mallory Dimmitt, Executive Director, Florida Wildlife Corridor

The Florida Wildlife Corridor is a conservation advocacy organization focused on connecting, protecting and restoring corridors of conserved lands and waters essential for the survival of Florida’s diverse wildlife. The organization showcases the need to protect the missing links in the Corridor, preserve Florida’s waters, and sustain working lands and rural economies from the Everglades to Georgia and Alabama. A dedicated statewide Corridor will benefit wildlife, watersheds and people for generations to come. The centerpiece of this strategy is the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, which is a section traversing the Everglades ecosystem.

Mallory is the Executive Director of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Prior to this position, Mallory led The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado Plateau Initiative from Telluride, Colorado, and before that she directed the Southwest Colorado Project. Mallory earned her B.S. in Natural Resources from the University of the South and was awarded a Doris Duke Conservation Fellowship at Duke University, where she earned a Masters of Environmental Management in Environmental Economics and Policy. Mallory specializes in large landscape conservation and the nexus of agriculture and conservation, freshwater resources, and payments for ecosystem services.


July 21     

Birds of a Feather Researched Together: Bird Monitoring in the S. Apps.

Mr. John Gerwin, Research Curator, NC Museum of Natural Sciences

John Gerwin is a 27-year veteran with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. His work with birds includes research and educational projects, in collaboration with other biologists. These projects have taken him around the State and into the tropics. For this presentation, he will discuss a few of those projects that relate to the southern Appalachians. These include work with the breeding population of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker; a new project with Hermit Thrush; and work on the Black-throated Green Warbler in the Uwharrie mountains (with a tangent in the southern Appalachians). He will discuss a collaborative effort on Veeries and possible future work on Saw-whet Owls.

John currently conducts research on the life cycles of migratory birds in North and South Carolina, with a focus on breeding biology, but he works on the non-breeding component of some species as well. He primarily uses radio telemetry to study how these birds use the habitats they live in, and their nesting chronologies and reproductive success. John also co-leads ecotours to local, national and international destinations and has been co-leading an annual bird banding/ecotour trip to various Shade-coffee plantations in northern Nicaragua. John enthusiastically conducts outreach events to groups of all ages throughout the State of NC, and occasionally elsewhere. He is fluent in Spanish. He enjoys gardening, especially with native plants, and attracting butterflies. He does programs and blogs on this topic as well, and leads butterfly walks in the Raleigh area.


July 28   

Insights into the Ecology of Phytoplankton: The Ocean’s Invisible Forest

Dr. Adrian Marchetti, Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina

Phytoplankton are responsible for a large majority of global primary productivity and are the base of many aquatic food webs.  Their evolution is complex and their diversity is staggering.  Due to their importance in sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, geoengineers have proposed fertilizing large swaths of our oceans to mitigate global climate change.  In this talk, Adrian will share recent findings from his research group where they examined both individual phytoplankton isolates in the laboratory as well as natural mixed assemblages on research cruises using a combination of novel molecular techniques with more traditional approaches to gain insights into their evolution and the important roles they play in marine environments of the past, present and future.

Adrian is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina, where he teaches Marine Sciences. Adrian received his B.S. in Biology from McGill University in Montreal, after which he started spending weeks at a time out at sea on various research cruises. Since then he has gotten his Ph.D. in Botany from the University of British Columbia, and has continued his research at sea during the summer, published nine papers since 2009 as well as a software program, and teaches during the academic year.


August 4      

Venomous Snakes and Their Contributions to Science

Mr. Carlton Burke, Carolina Mountain Naturalists Educator

Venomous snakes are feared and persecuted by almost every segment of our society, but like all living things, they deserve our respect and understanding. In this program we will explore human attitudes about snakes both venomous and non-venomous, discuss the various species of venomous snakes in the southeastern United States and facts concerning their natural history, and learn how their venom and other attributes have benefited science and the medical fields. There will also be live examples of venomous snakes on display.

Carlton S. Burke is an interpretive naturalist and educator who lives in Mills River, North Carolina, located in the mountains of the western part of the state between Asheville and Hendersonville. He took an early retirement in 2005 from the Western North Carolina Nature Center where he had been on staff for over 25 years, serving most of that time as the Curator of Exhibits.

Carlton operates Carolina Mountain Naturalists, an educational service that offers live wildlife and nature programs to various organizations such as schools and camps. He also serves as a field instructor with Muddy Sneakers, a non-profit educational organization based in Brevard, NC. Carlton also teaches various classes for the Blue Ridge Naturalist Certificate Program, works as a seasonal educator with the Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association, and is a NC State and Federally Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator and Licensed NC State Wildlife Damage Control Agent. He is also the co-host of the weekly radio program NATURE NEWS, that airs on WTZQ 1600, AM and 95.3 FM out of Hendersonville, NC on Saturday mornings.


August 11                 

Why Do Humans (and Only Humans) Keep Pets?

Dr. Hal Herzog, Professor, Western Carolina University

Early records show that humans have kept pets for nearly 15,000 years, beginning with the domestication of Asian wolves in 12,000 B.C.E., as far as we can tell. Since then, cats, birds, fish, and tortoises (among other animals) have become common household members across the world, bringing up the question “why?” Why is it that only humans keep pets and why have we begun to humanize them? For example, in 168 A.C.E. Chinese Emperor Ling Ti fell so in love with his dogs that he gave them the rank of senior court officials, which allowed them to eat the finest food available, sleep on oriental rugs, and even have special bodyguards. There are various evolutionary explanations of pet-keeping, mostly revolving around biological and cultural evolution. Join Dr. Hal Herzog for a more in-depth explanation of the history, moral implications, and scientific claims on the health benefits of pet ownership.

Hal Herzog, professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, has been investigating our interactions with other species for three decades. His research has included studies of the moral thinking of cockfighters and of animal rights activists, gender differences in attitudes towards animals, and the impact of pets on human health. His publications have appeared in journals such as Science, the American Scholar, BioScience, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and the American Psychologist. He also writes for media outlets including the New York Times, the Washington Post, New Scientist, Wired Magazine, and the Huffington Post. He is the author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals, and in 2013, he was given the Distinguished Scholar Award by the International Society for Anthrozoology.


August 18        

Darwin’s Oddball Army

Mr. Richard Milner, The American Museum of Natural History

Richard Milner’s entertaining talk, “Darwin’s Oddball Army” recounts the strange history of such naturalists as Charles Waterton, who fooled his colleagues with a mysterious humanoid made from monkey parts; Sir John Lubbock, founder of the “prehistory movement” who attended scientific meetings with a tame pet wasp perched on his shoulder; John Garner, who lived in a cage to study wild apes in the African jungle; Barnum Brown, the dinosaur hunter, oil prospector, and spy; Bashford Dean, who pioneered the analysis of both human armor and armored fossil fish; and William Hornaday, the soft-hearted taxidermist who saved the American bison from extinction by breeding them in the Bronx Zoo. If encouraged, Milner may perform a few of his delightful songs about evolution.

Richard Milner, anthropologist and historian of science, is director of the Alfred Russel Wallace Centenary Celebration, which is funded by the John Templeton Foundation. His books include Darwin’s Universe: Evolution from A to Z and Charles R Knight: The Artist Who Saw Through Time. In July 2015, at London’s Natural History Museum, he was awarded the bronze Wallace Medal ‘for outstanding contributions to the public understanding of Alfred Russel Wallace’s life and work’. For more than a decade, he served as Senior Editor at Natural History magazine, where he edited paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould’s popular essays. An Associate in Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, Milner has performed his one-man musical Charles Darwin: Live & In Concert all over the world – including in the Galapagos Islands. He is now creating a new project about animal behavior and its evolution.


August 25       

Ancient Plants: How They Continue to Impact the World

Mr. Jose Santamaria, Executive Director, Tellus Museum

Tellus director Jose Santamaria will take us back to a time over 300 million years ago when lush, humid forests thrived in swamps at the western edge of the evolving Appalachian Mountains. These forests became the coal deposits of the region; these deposits, in turn, have produced a diversity of plant fossils that reveal the environment in which they flourished—hot, humid and swampy. Santamaria has been collecting and classifying these paleo-botanical specimens for 20 years. His lecture will cover the different types of plants found; their descendants, which can sometimes (and coincidentally) be found near their fossilized ancestors; and the geologic processes that supported this environment then later altered it to fuel and fossils.

Jose has been the director of Tellus Science Museum since 1996. Born in Cuba, Jose grew up in Atlanta, where he earned a Degree in Visual Arts at Georgia State University. Prior to entering the museum field, he worked in the restaurant business and ran an art studio for 15 years. His life-long interest in geology, minerals, and science in general led him to his current position at Tellus. Jose is co-author of The 50 Coolest Things at Tellus (2015), based on the museum’s most iconic exhibits, and editor of Minerals of Georgia (2016), the most comprehensive book on Georgia mineralogy to date. Jose is a past president of both the Georgia Mineral Society and the Rome Georgia Mineral Society. He lives in a restored 1890s Victorian house in downtown Rome, Georgia with his wife Maia and their dogs and cats.


September 1

What Threatens Birds Today? Conservation Challenges and Solutions

Dr. Olga Milenkaya, Assistant Processor, Young Harris College

The modern world is changing at an ever-increasing rate due to human influence, and we sometimes forget that these changes influence the species around us, too. Bird populations all over the world are being affected by these changes and contemporary threats are increasingly more complex and multifaceted, making them more difficult to solve. Buildings, roads, and even housecats are all part of the issue, but what can we do to fix it? Come learn more about these issues and hear some solutions

Olya Milenkaya is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Young Harris College. She particularly enjoys teaching ornithology, conservation biology, and animal behavior, and is starting a new research project on cavity nesting birds in collaboration with Highlands Plateau Audubon Society. She earned her Ph.D. from Virginia Tech by researching crimson finches (Neochmia faeton) in northern Australia, and has worked on various avian research projects from Maine to Mongolia.


September 8

Watershed Moments: Exploring Science and Math in Cullowhee Creek

Dr. Karen Kandl, Assistant Director, Highlands Biological Station and Dr. Patricia Bricker, Associate Director and Associate Professor, Western Carolina University

Appalachian headwater streams are increasingly at risk of impairment from development, agriculture, and other human activities. Highlands Biological Station and the Highlands Biological Foundation have partnered with Western Carolina University and a local school for an after-school program designed to impart both an understanding of the ecological and hydrological aspects of a southern Appalachian watershed and, more generally, the nature of scientific investigation through an ordered series of field and lab investigations centered around a major stream of the Tuckasegee River watershed. This program emphasizes research methods and mathematical skills using a local creek as an outdoor learning space. As participants in this program students have intimate science and math experiences through outdoor, place-based learning centered around stream ecology, hydrology, and environmental issues. They connect the local to the global as they examine authentic environmental issues of streams and think about potential solutions. They also gain confidence in their abilities to collect and present scientific data.

Karen Kandl is the associate director of Highlands Biological Station. She received her B. A. in biology from Knox College in Galesburg, IL in 1988 and her Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Georgia in 1996. Before coming to Highlands Biological Station, she taught at Western Carolina University and the University of New Orleans. At Highlands Biological Station she regularly works with the fall semester-in-residence Institute for the Environment (UNC) students. They can frequently be found in waders in one of the local streams measuring the physical and biological characteristics of the stream. Karen and Jim Costa (executive director of HBS) recently received a 3-year grant from the Burroughs-Wellcome Foundation – Student Science Enrichment Program to support this creek-based science and math outreach.