Lichens 101 with Dr. Manuela Dal Forno, research botanist, BRIT

Lichens 101 

Wednesday, October 7 — 7 pm

Dr. Manuela Dal Forno, research botanist, Botanical Research Institute of Texas

Zoom link   

Our presenter for October is Manuela Dal Forno, aka Manu, a research botanist at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT). In this presentation, you will learn what lichens are and what they are not, how to identify them, where to look for them, and so much more.

Lichens are complex symbiotic systems formed by a main fungal partner (the mycobiont), a green algal and/or a cyanobacterial partner (the photobiont), along with a diverse community of microorganisms formed primarily of bacteria and fungi (the microbiome). Lichenization is a fungal lifestyle, based on nutritional strategy, which has evolved multiple times throughout the fungal tree of life. There are approximately 20,000 species of lichenized fungi recognized so far and many more yet to be discovered.

For a preview of her research, check out her website and this 3-minute video.

For more information on local lichens, check out this iNaturalist page and BRIT’s Lichen Study Guide for Oklahoma and Surrounding States.

Manuela Dal Forno is originally from Santa Cruz do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, where she also went to school for a B.S. in Biology. Later she did her masters in Botany in Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil working on the diversity of Graphidaceae (a family of crustose lichen-forming fungi in Ascomycota) in Restinga (a type of coastal vegetation) in Southern Brazil. She moved to the United Stated in 2009 to become a land management intern at the Audubon Center of the North Woods, Sandstone, MN. While there, she applied and was selected for a PhD at George Mason University to work with the systematics of the Dictyonema clade (a group of lichen-forming fungi in Basidiomycota). She completed her degree in 2015 and in 2016 was awarded a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology to work on the microbiome of lichen specimens.  Before joining BRIT in late 2019, Manu was a Peter Buck Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Botany Department at the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution) working with whole genome sequencing of both symbionts of the lichen symbiosis Cora-Rhizonema.

Dal Forno’s work focuses on multiple aspects of the evolution, diversity, genome and microbiome of lichens. She has carried out fieldwork in Brazil (South, Southeast, Northeast); Colombia (Central Andes); Costa Rica; Ecuador (Continental and Galapagos Islands); Jamaica; Puerto Rico; United States; and Thailand.

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Triple-pane photo of Manuela Dal Forno provided courtesy of Audubon Naturalist Society. Additional photo provided by Dal Forno. Photos of lichens at Southwest Nature Preserve’s Iron Ore Knob by Amy Martin.
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How to Join the Fun Experience of Being a North Texas Master Naturalist

Sam Kieschnick, chapter advisor and TPWD District 5 urban biologist, teaches on environmental ethics.

Interested in becoming a Texas Master Naturalist with the North Texas chapter? This short video will give you great insight into this enlightening experience.

Texas Master Naturalist program is sponsored by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Learn more about the program in this terrific brief video.

Applications can be obtained at our new class page and will be accepted through November 30, 2020. Because of Covid restrictions, class size is reduced from 50 to 30, making getting selected even more challenging. So read the info below first.

What Does it Entail?

Are you up to the Texas Master Naturalist challenge? Training begins March 2, 2021 and continues each Tuesday from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. and continues for 13 weeks through May 25, 2021. Class size is limited to 30 people.

  • 40 hours of study in online classroom sessions that will allow for student interaction — see the graphic below for specifics, or scroll down here.
  • class project (5 to 10 hours between February and May
  • homework (1 to 2 hours per week)
  • 3 field trips*

Within their first year, students will need to complete 40 hours of volunteer time and 8 hours of additional training.

Dana Wilson leads a student fieldtrip on tree identification.

*Students will attend live class field trips, plus other live small-group, outdoor, masked, socially-distanced events: nature walks, gatherings to see Master Naturalist projects, and opportunities to earn volunteer hours—all following current health guidelines.

How to Be Selected

Competition is stiff for the 30 spots. So starting thinking about how to make your application shine. Here are some sample questions from the application to consider:

  • What about the Master Naturalist program inspires your desire to apply and commitment to participate?
  • How do you plan to take what you learn in the class and apply it in your local community?
  • NTMN members at work at a chapter project at Lakewood Elementary.

  • From your work, student, volunteer, and life experience, what skills, knowledge, and abilities will lead to your success as a volunteer and as a North Texas Master Naturalist?
  • What is your favorite flora, fauna, or rock and why?

Priority is given to applicants who:

  • Are willing and available to devote time to volunteer service or are already volunteering.
  • Have a commitment to complete the rigorous coursework, homework, and field trips.
  • Express a willingness to serve in leadership roles.

Please join us! Go to the new class page and follow instructions carefully. We’ll be excited to see you out helping nature.

NTMN Insect Instructor Mike Merchant Retires from TAMU

After more than 30 years with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, professor and entomologist Mike Merchant will retire on August 31 . He became renowned for his development of integrated pest management (IPM) system of varied methods for controlling pests while keeping people and the environment safe. His work on crepe myrtle scale and fire ant control was also groundbreaking.

Merchant was a long-time instructor of the insect curriculum for NTMN. “I did not even know I was so interested in insects until I heard his presentation as I was going through the Master Naturalist program,” said Ellen Sexton Guiling. “I became entranced!”

“The North Texas Master Naturalists thank you for many years of instructing our new trainees.  Your class was always a favorite among our students. You opened our eyes to the fascinating world of insects and helped us appreciate their contributions to our earth,” said new class director Nancy Wilson. “We have also enjoyed participating in the Citizen Science opportunities you have worked on. Very best wishes for a happy retirement!”

Carol Leonardi Clark concurred: “He’s an extraordinary teacher! So many will miss his knowledge and skills.” Connie Cotton Koval added, “A wonderful resource and a great teacher. Wishing him the best!”

Merchant was instrumental in developing Texas’s Master Naturalists’ Volunteer Entomology Specialists, a rigorous course of study that stimulated many to pursue a deep study of insects, such as Laura Kimberly who wrote: “Thank you, Mike Merchant, for the Master Volunteer Entomology Specialist program.”

“I took the multi-day entomologist training at the AgriLife office a few years ago, and Dr. Merchant’s down-to-earth approach to the largest group of critters on the planet—insects—seems manageable,” said Dana Wilson. “The wide array of speakers, presentation techniques, and training materials reflected Dr. Merchant’s incredible knowledge and a real flair for teaching.”

His reach extended to generations of master gardeners, another AgriLife Extension program. “Mike Merchant spoke to the Dallas Master Gardeners school every year.I was in the 2012 class and learned so much from him,” said Jo Holdeman. “I attended several more of his lectures the last 8 years. He was always well prepared and passionate about his subject material. He made such a good impact on our community! May he find goodness in the next chapter of his life.”

All photos from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

A Chapter Tribute to Judy Parsons

A fond farewell to Judy Parsons, a NTMN stalwart who is moving with her husband to San Antonio to be closer to grandkids.

“Judy was the quiet person working tirelessly behind the scenes of many NTMN efforts,” says Ellen Guiling, “with the Junior Master Naturalist program and the Coppell Biodiversity Education Center as two focus areas. As president, she was a calm and level-headed leader. She was very supportive of all efforts to grow and strengthen our chapter.”

“Working with Judy to develop the Junior Master Naturalist program as a collaboration between the Perot Museum and NTMN has certainly been a highlight in my career and life,” says Jessica Crowley. “Judy’s enthusiasm for sharing knowledge and engaging with nature is what makes her such an extraordinary educator.  I know she will continue to share her love of the outdoors with the lucky folks in San Antonio.  She will definitely be missed in Dallas!  Best of luck Judy!”

John Pauley concurs: “Judy has been a great mentor, encourager and friend to me and many others since I became a TMN. Many times I have witnessed the incredible way she works with children and the Junior Master Naturalist program. She has left a big impact on the Coppell community and she will truly be missed. Thank you, Judy!”

“I will always be grateful to Judy for helping Jessie get the Junior Master Naturalist program started at the Perot Museum,” says Tim Brys. “I learned a lot through the program myself, met a lot of really excellent people and we all touched a lot of lives through it. I’m glad to have met Judy and gotten to work with her as long as I did. I’ll miss having her nearby.“

Judy was a big part of the Junior Master Naturalist program expanding to the Biodiversity Education Center in Coppell. “Judy has been a wonderful mentor to me for both the North Texas Master Naturalists and Coppell Nature Park programs,” says Christine Wordlaw. “I am inspired by her amazing teaching abilities during programs for children and admire her for her patience and guidance with teaching me how to be a better educator as well.”

Cynthia Contreras, Education Coordinator for the Biodiversity Education Center, elaborates: “Judy Parsons served on the Friends of Coppell Nature Park board since its inception. Her vision, passion, and ongoing commitment helped bring Coppell Nature Park and the Biodiversity Education Center into reality. She helped establish the Junior Master Naturalist program at the BEC in 2018. Coppell Nature Park is covered by Judy’s footprints, and her departure will leave a huge void. Yet, as with any healthy ecosystem, I anticipate other Naturalist in the community will fill this void in their own creative ways!”

“I have enjoyed working with Judy as a fellow volunteer on the Junior Master Naturalist Program for five years,” says Stalin SM. “She is extremely passionate in connecting kids with nature. She is meticulous in helping setup the class. She makes sure that everything needed to keep the kids comfortable and engaged are taken care of. At the end of the class she is often the last person wiping down the tables and organizing the supplies back into their closets. This is the best thing I will take away from my time with Judy: There is more work behind the screen that goes into running a smooth and effective nature program than what meets the eye. On a personal level, she is always cheerful and pleasant to talk to. I wish her all the very best. We will miss her.” 

“Thank you Judy for your work to establish the Junior Master Naturalists programs and for your service to the North Texas Master Naturalist chapter,” says Laura Kimberly. “You provided leadership and boots on the ground. Our insect habitat reconnaissance hike at LLELA preparing for the Junior’s entomology field trip was one example—and such fun to boot (in our boots). I enjoyed volunteering with you and appreciate all your encouragement. All the best to you!”

Linda Donnelly wraps it up: “Judy, it has always been such a pleasure working with you. Your positive attitude and beautiful smile will be missed!” 

Hats off from every at NTMN to Judy Parsons. Enjoy this slide show, compiled by Stalin SM, of Judy in action.