2022 Zahner Conservation Lectures:

The annual Zahner lecture tradition continues this summer! These lectures feature speakers with expertise in a wide range of topics, and they will be held in-person at the Highlands Nature Center (930 Horse Cove Rd) each Thursday evening at 6:00 p.m. between July 7th and September 8th.

These lectures serve 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 Zahner Conservation Lecture series is named for the significant contributions of Dr. Robert Zahner and his wife Glenda, of Highlands, to land conservation efforts on the Highlands Plateau.


Several lectures are available to view virtually via Zoom.  Links for each of these are available in the lecture descriptions below.

Get to know our 2022 featured speakers by clicking HERE.  Scroll to see our upcoming lectures topics and dates.


PARKING: Please note that parking is limited on campus.  Parking can be found behind and across from the Highlands Nature Center (930 Horse Cove Rd), in the Valentine House parking lot (888 Horse Cove Rd), and at our admin. building (265 N. 6th Street). For those who are able, some parking is available at our North Campus area (111 Lower Lake Rd) with a ~15 to 20 minute hike to the Nature Center.  After 5:30 p.m., parking is also available at Hudson Library (554 Main St.) with a ~15 to 20 minute hike to the Nature Center along Horse Cove Rd (note that the sidewalk switches to the opposite side of the road once you reach 6th Street, so please use caution as you cross the street).

2022 Past Lectures:


Lecture 1 - Precontact Native American Cave Art in the Southeast

Featured Speaker: Dr. Jan F. Simek, Distinguished Professor of Science and President Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Date: Thursday, July 7th
Time: 6pm – 7pm
Cost: FREE

Sponsored by Kathy & Bestor Ward.

The indigenous peoples of the Appalachian region saw their homelands as sacred places, connected to the spiritual world at every turn. In nearly 100 caves in the region, they made cave art to materialize some of those connections. This art has great antiquity, beginning some 7000 years ago and continuing into the historic period. This lecture will provide an overview of the ancient cave art of Appalachia and how it relates to both early and living Naïve American cultures in the region.

Lecture 2 - Unpaved Roads, Ditches, Missing Riparian Buffers, Fertilization: Why Many Mountain Streams Aren't Cold, Clean, and Pristine

Featured Speaker: Dr. C. Rhett Jackson, John Porter Stevens Distinguished Professor of Water Resources, Warnell School, University of Georgia

Date: Thursday, July 14th
Time: 6pm – 7pm
Cost: FREE

Sponsored by Kim and Rich Daugherty.

Low-density rural development in the Blue Ridge mountains has shifted rural valley streams from wide, complex, shady, cold, clear, litter-dependent systems to narrow, simple, well-lit, warm, turbid, nutrient-subsidized, algal-dependent systems. Consequently, fish, amphibian, and macroinvertebrate communities have become more like Piedmont communities. Application of known Best Management Practices previously developed for forestry and agriculture could greatly reduce water quality effects of low-density rural development, and riparian forest restoration could mitigate the effects of a warming climate. The question is how to promote and incentivize BMP application in multiple-use watersheds with few local tax resources.

Lecture 3 - Meet the Conservation Heroes Who Are Saving the Wild South

Featured Speaker: Georgann Eubanks, Writer, Consultant, and Executive Director of the Paul Green Foundation

Date: Thursday, July 21st
Time: 6pm – 7pm
Cost: FREE

Sponsored by Miriam & Vernon Skiles and Mary Todd & Jimmy Davis.

The American South is famous for its astonishingly rich biodiversity. In her latest book, Saving the Wild South: Native Plants on the Brink of Extinction, Georgann Eubanks takes a wondrous trek from Alabama to North Carolina to search out native plants that are endangered and wavering on the edge of erasure. Even as she reveals the intricate beauty and biology of the South’s plant life, she also shows how local development and global climate change are threatening many species, some of which have been graduated to the federal list of endangered species. Why should we care, Eubanks asks, about North Carolina’s Yadkin River goldenrod, found only in one place on earth? Or the Alabama canebrake pitcher plant, a carnivorous marvel being decimated by criminal poaching and a booming black market? These plants, she argues, are important not only to the natural environment but also to southern identity, and she finds her inspiration in talking with the heroes—the botanists, advocates, and conservationists young and old—on a quest to save these green gifts of the South for future generations. 

Lecture 4 - Managing the Coastal Zone in a Changing Climate: Everything We Are Doing Is Wrong

Featured Speaker: Dr. Rob Young, Director, Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, Western Carolina University

Date: Thursday, July 28th
Time: 6pm – 7pm
Cost: FREE

Sponsored by Karen Patterson.

Coastal Geologist Rob Young will explore how climate change is impacting the coastal environment and coastal development in the USA. He will also discuss the grand failure of government at all levels to act on the crisis in an organized and sensible way. Instead, we have disorganized programs that cost taxpayers billions while failing to address community vulnerability and degrading the coastal environment.


Lecture 5 - The "Lit" Lives of Dark Fireflies

Featured Speaker: Dr. Luiz Felipe Lima da Silveira, Assistant Professor, Western Carolina University

Date: Thursday, August 4th
Time: 6pm – 7pm
Cost: FREE, no registration necessary

Sponsored by Suzanne & Don Duggan, Julie Farrow, Florence & Tom Holmes, Ruthie & Franko Oliver, and Adele & Nick Scielzo

Fireflies are usually remembered for their light signals, which can be readily seen in our region as the Summer approaches. Male and female fireflies may use light signals to find and choose partners. However, many – if not most – firefly species do not rely on light signals for reproduction. Instead, the so-called dark fireflies rely more heavily on airborne chemicals, the pheromones. Yet, the lack of light signals does not mean that their sex lives is less “lit”. On the contrary, dark fireflies display an amazing array of reproductive strategies, which are mirrored in their diverse male and female morphologies. In my talk, I will present basic aspects of firefly reproduction, with emphasis on putative cases of sexually selected traits of dark fireflies.


Lecture 6 - Connecting Conservation to Save Wild Spaces: A Benefit to Flora, Fauna, and Economies

Featured Speaker: Mallory L. Dimmitt, Chief Executive Officer of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation

Date: Thursday, August 11th
Time: 6pm – 7pm
Cost: FREE

Sponsored by Kathleen & Jim Milby.

In this talk, Mallory Dimmitt introduces a collaborative advocacy approach to large-scale landscape conservation. Mallory will dive into methods used for connecting high quality habitat through wildlife corridors, and the positive impacts they provide for ecosystems and economies with emphasis on the accomplishments made in Florida and throughout the global corridor movement.


To learn more about the Florida Wildlife Corridor, click HERE.

Lecture 7 - The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Biological Dependency: Plant and Fungal Support Networks on the Highlands Plateau

Featured Speaker: Dr. Paul Manos, Professor of Biology, Duke University

Date: Thursday, August 18th
Time: 6pm – 7pm
Cost: FREE

Sponsored by Dollie Swanson.

Several common plant species on the Highlands Plateau display unusual forms and habits. These phenomena send signals to even the casual observer that something different is going on here. But what? A deeper dive reveals ancient support networks with consequences that will alter your perception of basic plant structure and function, both below and above ground.

Lecture 8 - A Light in the Dark: How Light Pollution Affects Avian Conservation

Featured Speaker: Murry Burgess, Urban Ecologist, North Carolina State University

Date: Thursday, August 25th
Time: 6pm – 7pm
Cost: FREE

Sponsored by Anonymous and Vicki & Donny Ferguson.

Light pollution impacts birds on all levels, including migration, reproduction, metabolism, and development. Most of the problems that light pollution causes start with a lack of sleep and can lead to more serious conditions like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease – for both wildlife and humans! This talk covers light pollution, its sources, its impact on birds and humans, and – most importantly – what we can do to mitigate these consequences.


Lecture 9 - Land Protection and Path Forward for Climate Resilience in the Southeast

Featured Speaker: Dr. Maria Whitehead, Vice President and Director of Land, Southeast, Open Space Institute

Date: Thursday, September 1st
Time: 6pm – 7pm
Cost: FREE

Sponsored by Martha & Michael Dupuis, Monte & Palmer Gaillard, and Melanie & Tom Mauldin.

Conservationists are faced with a new reality in this changing climate. Indeed, today, climate change is the lens through which we view all of our work. This lecture will explore some of the challenges faced by conservationist, tools for addressing those challenges, and how natural solutions to climate change may increase resilience for both natural and human communities.

Lecture 10 - George Masa's Wild Vision: A Japanese Immigrant Imagines Western North Carolina

Featured Speaker: Brent Martin, Executive Director, Blue Ridge Bartram Trail Conservancy

Date: Thursday, September 8th
Time: 6pm – 7pm
Cost: FREE

Sponsored by an anonymous supporter.

In this lecture, Brent Martin will present on the photography and life of early 20th century Japanese immigrant, Masahara Izuka, aka George Masa. Masa’s stunning photographs of the southern Appalachians were used to promote the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Mt. Mitchell State Park, the Appalachian Trail, the town of Highlands, and much more.

George Masa’s Wild Vision: A Japanese Immigrant Imagines Western North Carolina is available for purchase at the Highlands Nature Center’s gift store.

2021 Lectures:


Lecture 1 - A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia: A Conversation with the Editor

Featured Speaker: Rose McLarney, Associate Professor of English, Auburn University

Date: Thursday, July 15th
Time: 6pm – 7pm                                                                            Location: Virtual via Zoom
Cost: FREE

Link to purchase book HERE. Also available for purchase at the Highlands Nature Center gift shop. 

A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia, a new literary and natural history anthology published by University of Georgia Press, combines natural history information with original art and poems commissioned from the writers who make up the region’s rich literary community. This event will include a reading of poems from the field guide and brief guided discussion of a selection of pieces suitable for both poetry lovers and those who would like to feel more comfortable approaching poems. The editor will also speak about multidisciplinary collaborations, how the natural world informs poets’ craft, and ideas for your own creative writing and nature observations.

Lecture 2 - Cowboys and Scientists: Coupling Ecosystems and Agriculture in Florida Ranchlands

Featured Speaker: Dr. Hilary Swain, Executive Director, Archbold Biological Station – Venus, Florida

Date: Thursday, July 22nd
Time: 6pm – 7pm                                                                            Location: In-person at the Highlands Biological Station meadow (behind the Nature Center)
Cost: FREE, no registration necessary

Sponsored by Jennie Stowers, Lindy and Robbie Harrison, Kim and Rich Daughtery, Kathy and Bestor Ward, & Amy and Cecil Conlee

Dr. Swain’s talk will introduce Archbold Biological Station and describe its operations, from ridge to ranch to river, in the headwaters of the Everglades, a vast watershed north of Lake Okeechobee, Florida. She will focus on scientific research on Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, established in 1988, which is a 3,000-head working cattle ranch representative of the region’s subtropical ranchlands. Drawing from the case study of Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, the talk will address synergies and tradeoffs among cattle production and other ecosystem services on working ranches in Florida, and the path towards sustainable agriculture.

Lecture 3 - Density, Distribution, and Diet: How Salamanders Connect Ecosystems

Featured Speaker: Philip Gould, Ph.D. Candidate, School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University

Date: Thursday, July 29th
Time: 6pm – 7pm                                                                            Location: Virtual via Zoom
Cost: FREE

Sponsored by Frances & Obie Oakley

Ecosystems often rely on processes that import nutrients produced elsewhere. Animals can facilitate the movement of nutrients if they move between different ecosystems or live at the margins of distinct habitat. In the Appalachians, forested streams rely on connections between upland forests and streams. There, salamanders likely have an important role in connecting upland and stream ecosystems. This presentation will delve into current research on how animals connect ecosystems, with a particular focus on what role salamanders have in the Appalachians. The presentation will include results from recent work done in Macon County, supported by the Highlands Biological Foundation and the Highlands Biological Station.

Lecture 4 - Nurturing Life in Your Backyard; Choices Within Our Control

Featured Speaker: Sonya Carpenter, Co-Owner of Canty Worley and Company

Date: Thursday, August 5th
Time: 6pm – 7pm                                                                            Location: The Highlands Community Building (building located by the Highlands baseball field); MASKS required
Cost: FREE, no registration necessary

Sponsored by Dollie Swanson + Miriam & Vernon Skiles

Over the past year, most of us have had our lives significantly disrupted by forces beyond our control. World-wide crises such as the pandemic and the climate crisis may leave us feeling helpless. By committing to simple changes in our own gardens and communities, we can nurture the other species by improving the environment that we share. Learn more about how native plants support native species of insects, birds and other wildlife and how practices in your own garden can lead to big changes.

Lecture 5 - Ant Invasions in the southern Appalachian Mountains

Featured Speaker: Dr. Robert Warren, Associate Professor, SUNY Buffalo State

Date: Thursday, August 12th
Time: 6pm – 7pm                                                                            Location: The Highlands Community Building (building located by the Highlands baseball field); MASKS required
Cost: FREE, no registration necessary

Sponsored by Sarah Morgan & Walter Wingfield

Southern fire ants are working their way into mountain valleys and upward toward high elevations, but rarely enter the forests. On the other hand, Asian needle ants are taking over the foothill and Piedmont regions, and are making forays into the mountain edges. I will discuss how these two non-native ant invaders succeed and how they impact native ants and plants in Southern Appalachian forests.


Lecture 6 - Salamander Ecology in the Salamander Capital of the World

Featured Speaker: Dr. John Maerz, Josiah Meigs Distinguished Professor, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia

Date: Thursday, August 19th
Time: 6pm – 7pm                                                                            Location: The Highlands Biological Station Amphitheater (behind the Nature Center), registration required
Cost: FREE

Sponsored by Monte and Palmer Gaillard, Melanie and Tom Mauldin, & Martha and Michael Dupuis

While the majority of amphibians in the world are frogs, the majority of amphibians in North America are salamanders. In the Appalachian Mountains, approximately 70% of amphibian species are salamanders. The diversity of salamanders in the region is a product of ancient mountains and steep environmental gradients, and salamanders are influential in key ecosystem processes. A variety of human-forced changes including introduced species, land conversion, and climate change are impacting salamander communities. This presentation will cover the aspects of Appalachian Mountain ecology that create and sustain salamander diversity, the threats to their persistence, and what efforts are underway to conserve these remarkable animals.



Lecture 7 - Supremacy or Stewardship? An Exploration of Modern-Day Anthropocentrism

Featured Speaker: Owen Carson, Botanist, Equinox Environmental

Date: Thursday, August 26th
Time: 6pm – 7pm                                                                            Location: The Highlands Community Building (building located by the Highlands baseball field); MASKS required
Cost: FREE, no registration necessary

Sponsored by Kathleen & Jim Milby

For millennia human beings have shaped their surrounding environment to make their lives simpler. From the clearing of forests, to the removal of mountaintops, to the straightening of streams, shortcuts have been created that expedite the exploitation of resources and further the ability of our societies to grow and expand. However, only within the recent past have scientists begun to realize and address the ramifications of our actions. This lecture will explore major anthropogenic changes made to our southeastern landscapes over the past century, the lasting ecological impacts those changes have created, and our recent attempts to mitigate, restore, and prevent further large-scale destruction of natural habitat.


Lecture 8 - Did COVID-19 Lockdown Alter Urban Bat Activity Patterns? A Case Study in North Carolina

Featured Speaker: Dr. Rada Petric, Postdoctural Researcher

Date: Thursday, September 2nd
Time: 6pm – 7pm                                                                            Location: The Highlands Biological Station meadow (behind the Nature Center)
Cost: FREE, no registration necessary

Sponsored by the Pattersons

Did you know animal activity differs on the weekend when human disturbance is at its peak (called the weekend effect)?  So how do animals respond when human recreation ceases during weekends? The COVID-19 pandemic induced stay-at-home orders and eliminated the typical human weekday-weekend temporal patterns, providing researchers with a unique opportunity to investigate the effects of human disturbances on urban bats. Using 2018-2020 year-round bat acoustics monitoring data, Dr. Petric examined bat activity patterns between weekdays and weekends – before and during COVID-19 restrictions at four different sites (2 in the city center, 2 in the city periphery) in Greensboro, North Carolina, USA. This lecture will delve into the findings of this study and explore their implications.



Lecture 9 - Conservation and Culture - The Necessary Convergence

Featured Speaker: Dr. J. Drew Lanham, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife and Master Teacher, Poet Laureate of Edgefield, SC

Date: Thursday, September 9th
Time: 6pm – 7pm                                                                            Location: The Highlands Biological Station meadow (behind the Nature Center)
Cost: FREE, no registration necessary

Sponsored by Don and Suzanne Duggan, Tom and Florence Holmes, Adele and Nick Scielzo, & Ruthie and Franko Oliver

Science leads us from phenomenon to facts; the objective data that tells us what’s what, when, why and sometimes how. It is the basis for the “truths’ we know as “ologists”. The heart is the subjective data feeder and filterer. Through it we come to know the facts in different ways that can lead us to care beyond the data to hopefully conserve the world around us. Using birds and his own brand of “cultural ornithology”, Dr. Lanham will blend natural history of the region with a prismed bend through culture, to make conservation “fly” through both head and heart to inspire action as well as deeper thought.

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 has hosted 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.

View Our Summer 2020 Zoom Zahner Lectures Below!

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Foundation had to adapt to new circumstances during the summer of 2020 and hosted three abbreviated virtual Zahner lecture webinars via Zoom. These lectures were free for all and a wonderful opportunity to get to know more about your local environment. The webinars are now available to watch any time. See video links below.

On August 13th: “I Have Been Assigned the Single Bird: A Daughter’s Memoir” with naturalist, activist, and Florida writer Susan Cerulean.

In this webinar, Cerulean will share readings and insights from her just-released memoir from University of Georgia Press. In Single Bird, Cerulean trains a naturalist’s eye and a daughter’s heart on the issues of caregiving and service, both of beloved humans and the natural world. She explores an activist’s lifelong search to steward and advocate for wild shorebirds, particularly in the face of the climate crisis, as she also cares for her father at the end of his life.

Click here to watch.


August 20th: “The New Pollution: Microplastics in the Little Tennessee River and its Tributaries” with Jason Love, Associate Director, Highlands Biological Station.

Since the 1950s, plastics have become an increasingly important and pervasive part of our everyday lives. However, the attributes that make plastics useful – they are durable, long-lasting, and cheap to produce – are the same factors that cause them to be persistent, major sources of pollution. This presentation will delve into some of the current research on plastic pollution. Emphasis will be placed on microplastics, those plastics that are <0.5 cm in length and include fibers from our synthetic clothes, fragments of plastic grocery bags, and microbeads from hand soap. The presentation will also include results from recent research from Macon and Jackson Counties in the Little Tennessee and Tuckasegee Rivers.

Click here to watch.


On August 27th: "Monitoring Bird Populations at Highlands Biological Station: A Long Term Survey" with Mark Hopey, Southern Appalachian Raptor Research (SARR).

In this webinar, Hopey will discuss the Highlands Biological Station’s newest research endeavor as it recently became home to a new bird banding station for the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program – an initiative that began just over 30 years ago to assess trends in avian demographics in a wide range of habitats in North America.


Click here to watch.


Photo of Tufted Titmouse courtesy of Greg Clarkson.