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Today, my guest Dr. Stuart Weiss tells us about an amazing and unexpected series of discoveries that connect cows, cars, and conservation, all triggered by the study of the threatened Bay Checkerspot butterfly. These discoveries have had reverberations across ecological circles and have led to amazing conservation successes, despite a senior US Air Force official calling the tiny butterfly a national security threat.
Before we get into that, a bit about Dr. Stuart Weiss. Dr. Weiss has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Stanford University, and is the Founder and Chief Scientist at Creekside Center for Earth Observation. He has 29 peer reviewed publications and has wide-ranging research experience in conservation and population biology, microclimate characterization, and statistical analysis.
Today’s episode begins with a bit of background to set the stage, describing the land where these discoveries occurred, what makes them unique, and then a bit about the Bay Checkerspot. This butterfly had been in decline for decades, first due to direct reduction of habitat due to development and invasive non-native plants. But Dr. Weiss’s systematic study showed that something else was happening, leading him to unravel the mystery, revealing an unexpected relationship between cars, cows, and the checkerspot that we discuss today.
Dr. Weiss’s work also showed that landscape and population connectivity was a critical, and missing, component. This was at a time where connectivity was not well understood – and even today policymakers and the general public is often unaware of how important it is.
Ultimately, the story of the Bay Checkerspot and the cascade of conservation discoveries and actions is an amazing success story that continues to grow.
I hope you enjoy the discussion. I promise you’ll learn a bit about not only the checkerspot, but also soil ecology, the nitrogen cycle, the nuance of land management and grazing, tule elk, and much more.
Note that there was a bit of scratchy audio at a few spots, but stick with it because we did get it worked out.
Lastly, I expect to release an episode specifically covering wildlife connectivity and wildlife crossings in the next few weeks, as well as another that will deep dive into soil ecology. So if you enjoy those aspects of today’s story, stay tuned for those upcoming episodes!
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Links To Topics Discussed
Bay Checkerspot butterfly
Committee for Green Foothills (now just Green Foothills)
Cows, Cars, and Checkerspot Butterflies – Dr. Weiss’ 1999 Research Publication
Edith Allen at UC-Riverside
Howard Baker and the Snail Darter Controversy – wikipedia
Opening – Fearless First by Kevin MacLoed
Closing – Beauty Flow by Kevin MacLoed
Both can be obtained from https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/