#37 Dr. Stuart Weiss – Of Checkerspots, Cars, and Cows

#37 – Dr. Stuart Weiss – Checkerspot Butterflies, Cars, and Cows Nature's Archive

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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.

Bay Checkerspot Butterfly, Photo Copyright Michael Hawk

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.

Tule Elk on Coyote Ridge, overlooking Coyote Valley. Copyright Michael Hawk.

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!

Did you have a question that I didn’t ask? Let me know at naturesarchivepodcast@gmail.com, and I’ll try to get an answer! I’ll add these Q&As to my monthly newsletter, so if you aren’t already subscribed, go here. I promise, no spam. I share the latest news from the world of Nature’s Archive, as well as pointers to new naturalist finds that have crossed my radar, like podcasts, books, websites, and more.

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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?

Bay Checkerspot butterfly

Bay Area Conservation Lands Network (CLN)

California Native Plant Society

California Rangeland Conservation Coalition

Committee for Green Foothills (now just Green Foothills)

Cows, Cars, and Checkerspot Butterflies – Dr. Weiss’ 1999 Research Publication

Creekside Science

Edith Allen at UC-Riverside

Howard Baker and the Snail Darter Controversy – wikipedia

The Moore Foundation

Tule Elk

Valley Habitat Agency

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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