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 6:00pm at the Highlands Nature Center at 930 Horse Cove Road in Highlands. 

2019 Lecture Schedule

Carnivorous Plants of the Highlands Plateau - July 11

Dr. Larry Mellichamp, Director Emeritus, UNCC Botanical Garden

Sponsored by Lynda Anderson & Ken Conover and Bryding Adams

The Highlands Plateau is a unique region for carnivorous pitcher plants, sundews and bladderworts. These Mountain bog habitats are among the rarest left on earth. Highlands Botanical Gardens has an unparalleled collection of conserved pitcher plants in captivity. I will also talk about related species on the coast (such as Venus Flytrap), why they are all so fascinating and endangered, and how to grow many at home in an artificial bog garden.

Dr. Larry Mellichamp is recently retired Professor of Botany and Horticulture and was director of the Botanical Gardens at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Larry is an expert on carnivorous plants and other plants of all kinds, and has received several teaching awards and written several books, including the recent Native Plants of the Southeast…the best species for the garden (Timber Press, 2014). He has been assisting for several years with updating activities in the Highlands Botanical Gardens. He is the 2016 recipient of the Tom Dodd Plantsman Award of Excellence from the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference.

The Creation of a Piet Oudolf Meadow Garden - July 18

July 18

Gregg Tepper, Horticulturist, Historic West Laurel Hill Cemetery

Sponsored by Cheryl & Hugh Sargent

A Bears and Fire in the Southern Blue Ridge - July 25

Adam Warwick, Fire and Stewardship Manager, The Nature Conservancy – North Carolina Southern Blue Ridge Program

Sponsored by Monte & Palmer Gaillard and Melanie & Tom Mauldin

The western North Carolina bear population has made a remarkable recovery over the last fifty years. Not too long ago many wildlife professionals believed that bears and humans could not coexist.  Today, there are about 15,000 bears in the state, 6000 of which occur in the mountains. Bear sightings are becoming increasingly common across western North Carolina and as bear populations grow and expand their search for food, human-provided foods are becoming a greater proportion of bears’ diets while their natural foods are declining.  When living near humans, bears enjoy greater protection, greater amount food, and have more offspring.  Adam will talk about why food drives where bears live and how lack of fire and forest management impacts bear foods. He will also share insights into The Nature Conservancy’s efforts to restore fire to the Southern Blue Ridge and chart a path forward restoring open diverse forest habitat and open areas, and learning to live with bears to reduce the bear-human conflicts.

Adam Warwick spent nearly ten years managing human-bear conflicts in northern Florida and learned quite a bit about bears and their behavior. So much so that prior to departing, he was asked to co-author Florida’s Black Bear Management Plan. In 2013, Adam was chosen as the Fire and Stewardship manager for The Nature Conservancy’s Southern Blue Ridge Program, based out of Asheville. He oversees management of about 20,000 acres of the rarest natural communities, established and directs a 20-person fire crew that brings fire back to the mountains, and leads the Bog Learning Network.  Adam obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology from the University of Tennessee and a Masters of Science in Fisheries and Wildlife from the University of Missouri and is world famous for his rescue of a drowning black bear.   

The History of Climate Change on Planet Earth for the Last 65 Million Years and What It Means for the Future - August 1

Dr. Jeffrey Chanton, Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, FSU

Sponsored by the Pattersons

Sixty five million years ago, the earth was in a “hot house” state.   There was not a single ice cube on the planet.  Two million years ago, the earth was dominated by glaciers and was in an “ice house” state.   What caused this drastic and systematic change?  Can historical changes in climate reveal anything about what future climate on the earth might be like? 

Jeff Chanton is a Gulf Coast Native.  He received his PhD from UNC Chapel Hill and has been on the faculty of Florida State University in Tallahassee since then.   He is a bio-geo-chemist which means he studies chemical reactions on the earth that are biologically mediated.  He is currently working on projects relating to the storage of carbon in terrestrial environments, such as peat lands and permafrost, and on the fate of the oil deposited on the deep seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico from the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill.  

An Alfred Russel Wallace Companion: Celebrating Wallace's "Central and Controlling Incident" and Beyond - August 8

Jim Costa, Executive Director, Highlands Biological Station & Professor of Biology, Western Carolina University

Sponsored by Jennie Stowers

Nineteenth-century naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace is doubly famous as co-discoverer with Darwin of the principle of natural selection and founder of the field of evolutionary biogeography — just two of the great achievements connected with Wallace’s 8 years of exploration in southeast Asia, the watershed experience that he later called “the central and controlling incident of my life.”  2019 marks the 150th anniversary of Wallace’s rousing memoir of those travels: The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-utan, and the Bird of Paradise, a classic of exploration and travel literature that has never been out of print.  Marking this anniversary, HBS Executive Director and Wallace scholar Jim Costa and colleagues have produced An Alfred Russel Wallace Companion (University of Chicago Press, June 2019), featuring twelve chapters by nine contributing authors, treating the full range of Wallace’s social and scientific interests.  In this Zahner Lecture Jim will share new insights into Wallace’s life and thought from the Wallace Companion, and celebrate the lasting impact of Wallace’s epic journey.

Jim Costa is Executive Director of the Highlands Biological Station in Highlands, NC, and Professor of Biology at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC, where he has taught courses in genetics, entomology, biogeography and evolution. An entomologist with a special interest in social evolution, Jim has been a Research Associate in Entomology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology since 1996, and has authored numerous research papers and reviews on insect social behavior and evolution, as well as the book The Other Insect Societies (Harvard, 2006).

Over the past dozen years Jim’s research and writing have largely focused on Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, and the history of evolutionary biology, including three books with Harvard University Press: The Annotated Origin (2009), On the Organic Law of Change (2013), and Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species (2014).  He was awarded the Wallace Medal by the London-based Alfred Russel Wallace Memorial Fund in 2017 for his contributions to Wallace scholarship.  That year also saw the publication of Jim’s latest book, Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory (W. W. Norton).  A finalist for the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Prize, Darwin’s Backyard is a life of Darwin seen through the lens of the naturalists’ incessant and charming “experimentising.”

Jim has held fellowships at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (2004-2005) and the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study (2012-2013).  A Trustee of the Charles Darwin Trust in London, he lectures widely in the US and Europe, is a regular travel program leader/lecturer for the Harvard Alumni Association, and for many years co-instructed Harvard’s Darwin summer program at the University of Oxford, England.

Forests of the Southern Appalachians: Windows into their Past and Future - August 15

Dr. Lindsay R. Boring, Retired Director and Scientist, Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway

Sponsored by Lucy & Steve Trawick, Margie Bauer, and Lane & Mark Murrah

Appalachian forest ecosystems span broad sites and environmental conditions in our region.  Climate, topography, soils, and other influences have interacted with human land use history and many disturbances to shape the forests of the 21st century.  There are many connections between historic human influences and how our changing climate and current land uses will affect the Appalachian forests of the future.  Scientifically sound and practical knowledge should be a key cornerstone for future stewardship and management of these vast forests and their amenities.

Lindsay Boring is a forest scientist and ecologist whose career has spanned over forty years at the University of Georgia and the Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway.  His early years at UGA were focused upon research and education activities related to Southern Appalachian forest ecosystems and watersheds, largely through collaboration with the US Forest Service’s Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory and the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research Program.  From 1992-2017 he served as founding Director and Scientist at the Jones Center at Ichauway, supported by the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation.  Those activities focused upon longleaf pine forests, their dependence upon prescribed burning and sound restoration and management,  and their exceptional role in providing watershed and wildlife benefits in addition to traditional forest values.  He and his spouse, Dr. Kay Kirkman, have recently retired and now reside in Waynesville NC.  He continues to serve on the UGA Graduate Education Advancement Board and the Georgia Forestry Foundation Board.

The Plant-Pollinator Love Affair That Keeps Our Planet Humming - August 22

Phyllis Stiles, Bee City USA, An Initiative of the Xerces Society

Sponsored by Kim Coward

Join pollinator advocate Phyllis Stiles to learn about the plant and pollinator love affair that supports the reproduction of nearly ninety percent of the world’s flowering plant species. Responsible for 1 in 3 bites we eat and the reproduction of almost 90% of the world’s flowering plant species, hundreds of thousands of species of bees, butterflies, bats, beetles, wasps, moths, birds, and flies have co-evolved with plants for their mutual benefit. Stiles will explain why they are declining and how each of us can help reverse those trends.

Phyllis Stiles founded Bee City USA in Asheville in 2012. Bee City USA is a national program that galvanizes communities to sustain pollinators by providing them with healthy habitat, rich in a variety of native plants, and free to nearly free of pesticides. Phyllis joined the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in 2018 after merging the Bee City USA organization with Xerces. In 2015, she was named United States Pollinator Advocate of the Year by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign. Today, there are about 150 certified cities and college campuses from coast to coast, all committed to enhancing and expanding pollinator habitat. Stiles’ career stretches from West Africa to the Mississippi Delta, to non-profit organizations in fields ranging from natural resource and farmland protection to civic leadership development. She enjoys hiking and trying to speak French and play her upright bass.


"Sublimely Awful Scenes": William Bartram's Travels through the Upper Little Tennessee River Valley in 1775 - August 29

Brent Martin, Owner, Alarka Institute; Director NC Bartram Trail Society

Sponsored by Martha & Michael Dupuis

The great naturalist and artist William Bartram travelled into western North Carolina and northeast Georgia in May of 1775, providing us with a rare glimpse into the area’s ecological and cultural features.  Along the way, he describes plant and tree species unknown to western science at the time, Cherokee villages and their inhabitants, and detailed descriptions of the mountains and valleys.  His 1791 publications, Travels, is still an invaluable resource for those interested in 18th century American botany and native American history.

Brent Martin is the co-owner/operator of Alarka Institute, LLC, a Macon county based business that offers workshops and field trips on a wide variety of cultural and natural history subjects.  He also works part-time as the Director of the NC Bartram Trail Society.  His conservation and education career spans almost three decades, including time at The Wilderness Society, Mainspring, Georgia Forestwatch, and Kennesaw and Georgia State Universities.


Coyote Settles In - September 5

John Lane, Professor of Environmental Studies and English Wofford College

Sponsored by Ruthie & Franko Oliver, Adele & Nick Scielzo, Suzanne & Don Duggan, Julie Farrow and Margaret & John Bennet Waters

In 2016 The University of Georgia Press published John Lane’s Coyote Settles the South to wide interest and critical acclaim. It was the first popular survey of the widespread presence of coyotes in the Southeast, a personal tour talking with and touring with a whole range characters, from coyote haters to advocates of the arrival of a predictor in Southern ecosystems. 

John Lane is the author of a dozen books of poetry and prose including ANTHROPOCENE BLUES, his latest. ABANDONED QUARRY: NEW & SELECTED POEMS was released by Mercer University Press in Macon, Ga. in 2012. The book includes much of Lane’s published poetry over the past 30 years, plus a selection of new poems. ABANDONED QUARRY won the SIBA (Southeastern Independent Booksellers Alliance) Poetry Book of the Year prize. He was inducted into the SC Academy of Authors in 2014.

His latest prose books are NEIGHBORHOOD HAWKS: A Year Following Wild Birds and COYOTE SETTLES THE SOUTH both published by The University of Georgia Press. He co-founded the Hub City Writers Project in Spartanburg, SC, and teaches environmental studies at Wofford College there.

Botanical Resilience Strategies in an Age of Climate Catastrophe

James R. Veteto, PhD, Executive Director, Appalachian Institute for Mountain Studies, Associate Professor of Anthropology/Cherokee Studies/Ethnobotany, Western Carolina University

Sponsored by Melissa & Richard Delany

In the Fall of 2018, the IPCC and US National climate reports made it clear that the climate crisis is upon us and we have perhaps a 20-year window to transition into fully sustainable and climate-resilient communities. In this talk, learn about prominent perennial native and non-native food crops and permaculture design at the Appalachian Institute for Mountain Studies. Every household in our Giduwagi-Appalachian bioregion should have a suite of perennial roots, vegetables, and fruits within short walking-distance as a fundamental feature of climate resilience planning.

James Veteto is an ethnobotanist who has been studying people-plant relationships in the southern Appalachians and globally for over two decades. He directs the Appalachian Institute for Mountain Studies, which houses an heirloom seedbank, heritage fruit orchard, and extensive collection of edible and medicinal native plants. He teaches anthropology, ethnobotany, and Cherokee studies at Western Carolina University.