Hollows, Peepers, and Highlanders
An Appalachian Mountain Ecology
Publication Year: 2004
Published by: West Virginia University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
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I owe a great deal to many generous people. John Ailes, Maurice Donohue, Marshall Sprague, and David Vis encouraged me to make the commitment. The following highlanders provided literature: Jerry Atkins, Russell LaFollette, Gerald Lewis, Harold Parsons, Andy Rogers, Bob Smith, Gary Strawn, Charlie Streisel, Roger ...
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It is not that there are rocky, majestic peaks here; quite the contrary: Eons of erosion have delivered rounded highlands that are approachable and gentle on the eye. But beneath Appalachia’s soft exterior run myriad short-lived scenes, each being played out by an individual organism competing for its part in the evolutionary play. ...
Stage and Theater
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Most authorities agree that the Appalachian Mountains are a loose group of peaks and ridges that form the sinuous axis of eastern North America, that they roughly parallel the Atlantic coast, and that they stretch about eleven hundred miles as the raven flies. We also agree that the chain’s southern limit extends into northern Georgia and Alabama, where ...
3. Forest Design
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The structure of a forest — both the three-dimensional architecture and the kinds of species that comprise the forest community — changes over time. Through ecological time, whether measured in terms of several years or a few generations, new plant assemblages replace old ones in a process called ecological succession. Within ...
4. Creating Diversity
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Thirty species of birds breed in one spruce-fir woodlot in Maine. At least twenty-one species of lungless salamanders (not just any type, but terrestrial vertebrates without lungs!) prowl the hollows of West Virginia. If you look, you will find similar diversity in deciduous trees, ferns, shrews, and darters. How has it come to pass that no ...
5. Catastrophe and the Appalachian Quilt
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Take, for example, the question of how the males of a particular bird species, like the wood thrush, distribute themselves across a landscape. They could appear uniformly distributed when viewed on the small scale, being spaced evenly by their mutual territorial repulsion. Since the birds’ territories only occupy certain habitats, the ...
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From an ecological perspective, a bald is a patch of naturally treeless vegetation occupying a well-drained site below tree line in a predominantly forested region. At least eighty of these inexplicable breaks, ranging in area from two to twenty acres, are strewn from Virginia to Georgia, most at elevations above four thousand feet. Similar treeless ...
7. The Asian Connection
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... The forests of eastern Asia and southern Appalachia are so similar that if you were swept from one to the other, you would be hard pressed to tell them apart. These regions share many similar plants and some animals, even though intervening areas host vastly different organisms. Living things with fractured geographical distributions are termed ...
8. The Improbable Lady’s-slipper
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... through the pine thicket to spy on the incubating broad-winged hawk, hiking up Pine Cabin Run to study nest-building chubs, and hunting for morels — all these activities have been interrupted, commandeered would be a better word, by a lady’s-slipper. That flash of pastel, which I usually detect peripherally, demands ...
9. Sexual Decisions of Jack-in-the-Pulpit
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... a knee-high, deciduous, perennial herb of eastern North America, is one of over one hundred related species found mainly in the temperate forests of China, Japan, and India. Only two species of this disjunct group inhabit North America. Widely distributed from Maine to Florida and west to the prairie’s edge, Jack-in-the-pulpit thrives in the moist, species-rich woods ...
10. Nuptial Gift of the Hangingfly
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... tickle my arms as I sit on the ground in a cove forest watching the sex life of the black-tipped hangingfly. I’m close enough to see the medium-sized (0.8 inch), slim, brownish body, long thin legs, and four narrow, black-tipped wings of each hangingfly. Named for their habit of dangling from foliage by their front legs, they hang with wings outstretched rather than folded over ...
11. Femmes Fatales of Twilight
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In his poem Fireflies in the Garden, Robert Frost is so taken by the spectacle that he flirts with equating fireflies and stars, but in a final line of reflection, demurs. Poetic license is fair, but he was wise to change his mind, for beneath the twinkling pageant is a society of liars and cannibals. ...
12. Small Fishes in Shallow Headwaters
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... drivers of Appalachian dirt roads, we are at least subliminally aware of the schools of fish that dash madly about as we splash through a ford. The most common fishes (two or more fish species) flushed by our tires are members of the minnow, sucker, sunfish, and perch families. Within these comparatively few taxa, ...
13. Darter Daddies
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Darters in the genus Etheostoma draw my attention because of their multifarious forms of parental care. Males alone care for the eggs after the females have deposited them. Some lay their eggs on plants, logs, and other exposed substrates; others form a multi-layered cluster of eggs on the undersides of flat-bottomed rocks; the remainder ...
14. To the Brook Trout, with Esteem
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On the one hand, a stream-dwelling population of native brookies elicits admiration, even reverence, for these fish have been self-supporting since their origin — no hatchery-reared fish here. Painful to say, they seem to be losing the evolutionary battle. Brook trout live only in cool, clean water, and that kind of habitat is dwindling. Consider this essay first ...
15. A Lungless Salamander Trilogy: Primer
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Yet if asked which animal best symbolizes the Appalachian highlands, I would nominate a salamander. Of Appalachia’s thirty-four species of “spring lizards,” my candidate is one of the woodland species of lungless salamanders, members of the genus Plethodon in the family Plethodontidae. They, more than any other group of living things, ...
16. A Lungless Salamander Trilogy: Coexistence
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In my hollow, the red-backed and slimy salamanders commonly live side-by-side. Yet a hallowed body of ecological theory and empirical evidence indicates that two or more species cannot exploit forever the same set of limiting resources. Either their resource requirements diverge through evolutionary time to reduce competition or one of the species becomes extinct. So ...
17. A Lungless Salamander Trilogy: Mimicry
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Both include some red-cheeked and some red-legged individuals. It’s as if they are copying each other. The evolutionary cause of this improbable likeness lies in the tastes of salamander predators. Any meat-eating bird that feeds by scratching the forest floor will try to eat a salamander. The blue jay, brown thrasher, and wood thrush are ...
18. Love Among the Frogs
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Although I pay polite attention to these and other harbingers, a chorus of spring peepers is my personal watershed. In his essay, “The Day of the Peepers,” Joseph Wood Krutch agreed: “I wonder if there is any phenomenon in the heavens above or in the earth beneath which so simply and so definitely ...
19. Box Turtle’s Independence
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However, most of us have vivid memories filed away of desperate swerves to avoid squashing their high domes on the road. Instead of allowing the image of a lethargic, indifferent creature to mislead you, envision these pedestrians as animals enviably insulated from the vagaries of their setting. In fact, land tortoises seem more ...
20. Copperhead’s Year
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... Pine Cabin Run — and probably throughout Hampshire County, West Virginia — I am one of those rare humans who is pleasantly surprised to encounter a copperhead. After summer rains, these vipers slither down the hill past our cabin on their way to local frog-hunting grounds. So, I come across them fairly often. ...
21. Oaks and Squirrels
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The metal roof reports the rhythm of their labors. Last summer, after some listening practice, I learned to discriminate between the pings made by the cuttings of acorn husks and the plonks of acorn bodies, which in turn allowed me to estimate the number of bites it took a squirrel to exploit an acorn — about five. Over the years, I have noticed that ...
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Most anthropologists agree that we have been here since the last ice age, about twelve thousand years ago; a few argue for a far more ancient colonization, possibly one hundred thousand years ago. I cannot settle the question, but I can suggest a sequence of human habitation in the Appalachian Mountains: indigenous Americans, ...
23. Autumn Leaves
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I’m hell-bent on splitting a pile of wood, winterizing the old truck, or jogging from the house to the lab when I feel the tug. Resist as I might, my concentration wanes. I give in, and indulge in inspecting the colorful leaves. The meander takes me farther and farther from my task. During these rambles I am reminded of a favorite yet deceptively complex question, “Why do ...
24. Window on Bird Politics
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One comes to expect this when birds have been conditioned by easy calories. When I watch casually, this is all I see. But when I critically examine the scene, I discover that my bird feeder serves as a window into a subtle world of dictators, parasites, and liars. Read this chapter on a cold winter day, feet propped up and hot chocolate at the ready, overlooking your stocked bird feeder. You ...
25. Thwarting Swords of Ice
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With an electron microscope, we can see that these tiny chambers hold criss-crossing tubules, packages of high-powered fuel, and bins of enzymes that could digest the cell itself — all suspended in jelly and wrapped in an ultra thin membrane. These fragile, interacting parts import and process food ...
26. Spring Tensions
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... first waft of warm air, the pale green brush to a hillside, the first warbler singing in a treetop — all excite our senses and push aside the day’s problems. It is fitting that the opening movement of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” captures the timid, cautious mood of the first few days of resurrection. ...
27. Dawn Chorus
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... once each spring, as dawn breaks, I hike up to our pine thicket and practice the brand of stump-sitting espoused by Charles Fergis, naturalist and curmudgeon of Pennsylvanian Appalachia. In his book, The Wingless Crow, Fergis suggested that stump-sitting would release me, allow me to open my senses to nature’s bounty, permit me to see and feel new things. But try as I may, ...
28. Trees and Caterpillars
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This is why, by late summer, it is nearly impossible to find an intact leaf. A forest of holey leaves shows that caterpillars are exerting tremendous feeding pressure on broadleaved trees. Yet the struggle between trees and caterpillars would not have become a dominant act had trees served merely as passive targets. In their own subtle ways, trees fight back. ...
29. The Remnant Archipelago
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Like cockleburs, these doubts cling to me, tainting my Appalachian experience. I can’t end this book without trying to deal with my baggage of anxiety. What is the fate of Appalachia? What will happen to our cove forests, lungless salamanders, dawn choruses, and, yes, even our copperheads? Despite a sense of urgency, I freely admit that I do not have the corner on truth. Simply, I have observed some things that concern me ...
30. Abuse, Resurrection, Hope
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Uncontrolled hunting had extirpated game, the railroad had spurred clear-cutting of the forest, and an introduced blight was decimating the elegant American chestnut. A modest reversal came with the emergence of the conservation ethic, which Aldo Leopold so forcefully expressed in Sand County Almanac: “In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror ...
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Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2004