#26: Dr. Doug Tallamy on the Magic of Oaks

#26: Dr. Doug Tallamy on What Makes Oaks the Most Important Tree Nature's Archive


My guest in this episode is Dr. Doug Tallamy, and let me say up-front that the episode title doesn’t really do justice to our wide ranging discussion!

Doug Tallamy is the T. A. Baker Professor of Agriculture in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, where he has authored over 100 research publications and has taught insect related courses for 40 years. Chief among his research goals is to better understand the many ways insects interact with plants and how such interactions determine the diversity of animal communities. His book Bringing Nature Home  was published by Timber Press in 2007 and was awarded the 2008 Silver Medal by the Garden Writers’ Association. Nature’s Best Hope, his 2020 book, was a New York Times Best Seller, and his latest book The Nature of Oaks was released by Timber Press in March 2021. Dr. Tallamy is also the recipient of numerous awards for his conservation and communication efforts. 

Dr. Doug Tallamy, photo by Rob Cardillo

As you can tell from that introduction, Doug is widely known as a passionate advocate for treating personal property as critical habitat. Today we discuss his most recent work on this theme, the aforementioned book, The Nature of Oaks.

It turns out that oaks aren’t just “a little” important, but they stand well above others in terms of the number of insects they support. Why is this important? As you’ll hear, the majority of birds require insects to raise young, and not only that, but immense numbers of caterpillars. And this is just scratching the surface of the food web impacts. We also talk about gall-making wasps that use oaks, and the parasitoid wasps that rely on those gall-making wasps! Dr. Tallamy gives a great introduction into gall maker life histories.

We also discuss a few basic ecological concepts in relation to oaks, including keystone species, trophic levels and energy transfer, and more. We also consider the roles oaks played back when our forests were more diverse, before the American Chestnut was wiped out by disease, before Dutch Elm Disease wiped out 75% of mature elms in the United States, and before the current die-off of eastern Ash trees.

Oaks also have interesting semi-random cycles of acorn production, called masting. Doug reviews the four fascinating hypothesis as to why this is.

Doug has also started a nonprofit called Homegrown National Park (instagram). Homegrown National Park helps people understand the critical connection they have with functional food webs and ecosystems. We discuss how Homegrown National Park came to be, some of the concerns people may have in making their yards more ecologically functional, and some tips and suggestions for connecting with people if you too want to advocate for this good cause.

While you are welcome to listen to my show using the above link, you can help me grow my reach by listening through one of the podcast services (Apple, Google, Stitcher, etc) linked on the right. And while you’re there, will you please consider subscribing?

People and Organizations

California Native Plant Society’s CalScape native plant finder

Homegrown National Park – put yourself on the map!

Kenneth V. Rosenberg – the lead author of the study that shows 3 billion birds have been lost

Michelle Alfandari – Partnered with Dr. Tallamy to create an online presence for the Homegrown National Park idea

Tammany Baumgarten – advocate for the “10 step program” – take 10 steps back from your plants and all of your insect problems disappear

Books and Other Things

Bringing Nature Home – by Doug Tallamy

Nature’s Best Hope – by Doug Tallamy, Dr. Tallamy’s 2020 release

The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees – by Doug Tallamy, 2021

Sudden Oak Death – a relatively new problem impacting oaks in much of the USA

Note: links to books are affiliate links

Milkweeds with Dr Carrie Olson-Manning and Sydney Kreutzmann

The Pollinator Posse discussed creative ways to bring attention to pesticides, fungicides, and native plants

Plant Galls with Adam Kranz – The ecology of oak galls and plant galls in general.

Music Credits

Opening – Fearless First by Kevin MacLoed

Closing – Beauty Flow by Kevin MacLoed

Both can be obtained from https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/

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