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.

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.

Diversity and Inclusion at North Texas Master Naturalist

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As North Texas Master Naturalists, we pledge to “subscribe to the highest standards of integrity and conduct.”  Given the current unsettling events in our country, it is time to be forthcoming and unwavering in our commitment to this pledge within our community.

Nature teaches us that biodiversity ensures the stability, productivity, and progression of an ecosystem and what affects one element in nature will in turn affect the entire ecosystem. At present, we have a diverse community, but we do not presently have a diverse organization. We recognize we must do more to increase diversity, provide equity, and promote inclusion in our North Texas Master Naturalist membership, programming, and activities.

In January, we formed a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which was charged with researching, creating, and establishing guiding principles relating to equality, equity, and inclusion. We seek open dialogue and input from all of our members. While we may stumble along the way, we will not let that deter us from the crucial work of moving this chapter toward fully realizing the values implicit in our mission which we hold so dear.

Our pledge to the Black people and people of color in our chapter and in our community is to speak openly about injustices and create a more welcoming, supportive environment for all who want to enjoy and preserve nature. We pledge to critically examine our own complacency and biases in order to effectively make substantial and long-lasting changes. Finally, we pledge that by the end of the summer, the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force will provide actionable, strategic steps in making these vows a reality, all the while remaining fully transparent.

We are committing to all our members and the North Texas community to improve and enhance who we are as an organization. The work required to achieve this will not be easy, nor will it be comfortable. It is a long trail to hike and a tall mountain to climb. However, together with our chapter members, partners, stakeholders, and our community members, we will create and cultivate a diverse and thriving ecosystem.

If you have any questions about this, please email us at

Board of Directors
Texas Master Naturalist Program
North Texas Chapter

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. 

The Dragonflyer, August 2020, Volume 82

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Owlets Photo by Marcie Haley

A Message from our President

Fall is just around the corner! We can all look forward to bird migrations, cooler weather, and the Texas Master Naturalist 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting! Though volunteer opportunities may have been scaled back this year, there are lots of ways to get hours both at home and in person at our partners’ work days. Read Scott’s summer update here.

September Chapter Meeting this Wednesday!

On Wednesday, September 2nd from 7-8:30, Christopher Roos, Professor of Anthropology at SMU, will present Native Hunters, Prairies, and Bison, a look at the methods indigenous people used to manage prairies and bison herds. He will discuss the role of fire in the evolution of global grasslands and methods that Indigenous hunters use controlled wildfires in grasslands to improve their hunting. Read all about it here.

Citizen Science Project: September Bioblitz

Our own Sam Kieschnick is hosting another Bioblitz on iNaturalist September 6-12. there will be 7 daily challenges which offer a great way to engage with nature while competing with other local Master Naturalist chapters to see who records the most (and most interesting) observations. Learn more here.

Photo: Sam Kieshnick

Class of 2020 Update

Our new Naturalists are finding all kinds of ways to earn hours and engage with one another and the Chapter despite this year’s limitations. Learn about how they continue to innovate here.

Sharing Nature at the Office

Read about how Jeanne practices citizen science (recording over 60 species on eBird!) and helps her coworkers learn about the wonderfully wild world just outside the office window here.

Photo: White Ibis by Jeanne Kuehn

2020 Virtual Annual Meeting October 14-17

For only $55, you can access nearly 100 general sessions, virtually-offered technical sessions, and some fun surprises surrounding the Annual Meeting! Steve Wilson tells us all about it here, or if you’re ready to go for it, register now here!

Earning Volunteer Hours and Advanced Training: Opportunities Abound!

Are you craving some outdoor activities where you can engage with nature and support our partners? Is helping out from home more of interest? Want to build out or help with our educational trunks? Are you into social media? There are so many ways to get volunteer hours the opportunities are nearly endless!

  • Russ Olivier offers dozens of ways to earn volunteer hours and advanced training. Take a look here.
  • Elaine White is seeking a few good trunk coordinators. Learn all about it.
  • Do you love to use Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook? Amy Martin is looking for people to enhance our visibility on social media.

Mayors’ Monarch Pledge Success in Carrollton

Our members are working to create habitat as part of the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge program. Read about how they are creating demonstration gardens and educating residents about these important pollinators.

Aquatic Alliance

The Texas Stream Team members continues to work hard monitoring our waterways during the pandemic. Read more about their efforts here.

Photo by Richard Grayson

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