Events, Lecture

11th Annual Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Conservation Symposium

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
Santa Barbara County Education Auditorium
January 20, 2024
10:00AM - 4:00PM

Tiny Taxa Doing Big Things

Presented by the Nakashima-Rennie Family

Sometimes in life, it’s the little things that make all the difference. That’s true in nature, too.

The web of life is beautiful and complex. From the “belly plants” forming a miniature forest to feed the food web and the myriad of microscopic organisms holding our soil together to the tiny midge flies pollinating the cocoa trees that make our chocolate – everything, regardless of size, has a job to do and a niche to fill.

Come celebrate the diversity of life with us and discover the many ways we depend on the itty-bitty organisms we often don’t even realize are there. Hear about cutting-edge technology being used to understand these organisms and the relationships between them and learn more about what you can do to help conserve this wondrous world.

This year’s recipient of the John C. Pritzlaff Conservation Award is Shirley C. Tucker, Ph.D. We are privileged to collaborate with Dr. Tucker and take great pleasure in presenting her with this award. Her contributions to biological diversity and humanity through her research and philanthropic efforts, coupled with her commitment to a simple and sustainable lifestyle, serve as a source of inspiration for us all. 

Event Sponsors:

The Nakashima-Rennie Family

Arroyo Seco Construction


In person registration has closed, but you can still register to attend virtually, or watch the livestream below.

Schedule of Events
10 –10:30 AMWelcome and Introduction to Tiny Taxa
Denise Knapp, Ph.D., director of conservation and research at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
10:30 – 11 AMRikke Reese Naesborg, Ph.D. | Lichens: Nature’s Undervalued Secret Service Agents 

Lichens are often underappreciated despite serving important ecosystem functions. Typically going unnoticed, yet supporting larger, ostensibly charismatic organisms, they cycle nutrients, generate soil, and capture carbon, as well as feed, shelter, and provide nesting material for animals. So why are lichens—nature’s secret service agents—rarely considered for conservation? 
11 – 11:30 AMJim Shevock, Ph.D. | Mosses and ‘Worts’: Nature’s Complex, Unique Ecosystem Servants 

Mosses, liverworts, and hornworts (bryophytes) are the earliest land plants that still survive today. As simple as they are (they don’t have the roots, flowers, seeds, and tissues to transport fluids that the flowering plants have), they do important jobs in complex ways, including stabilizing the soil and providing water to the environment. Take a journey with Jim into the world of these unique organisms, which also have a special super-power that helps them deal with drought. 
11:30 AM to 12 PMMatthew Bowker, Ph.D. | The Earth’s Living Skin: How Biocrusts Make Ecosystems Work, and How We Can Save Them 

Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) are like a protective living skin over the surface of the soil formed by a diverse collective of microbes and tiny plants. They have an outsized effect on their environments by stopping soil erosion, altering water capture and flow, building up soil fertility and shaping other biological communities. Biocrusts can be lost from ecosystems due to human-caused disturbances that break the soil surface. Researchers around the world are developing exciting new techniques to hasten the recovery of biocrusts where they have been lost. 
12 – 12:50 PMLUNCH
12:50 – 1:20 PMErica McAlister, Ph.D. | Big Impact – Small Bodies: Why Do We Need Flies? 

Big is beautiful but is it the best? Flies are some of the most maligned animals that we share our world with but without them it would be a much worse place. Leave behind your perceptions that these species are just death and disease and come away knowing about how they have helped us through exploration, discovery, and chocolate. From just 7cm down to 0.4mm in size, these mini marvels are massive in importance. 
1:20 – 1:50 PMZach Phillips, Ph.D. | Ant Bathing: The Benefits of Closely Watching Ants and Their “Creepy-Crawly” Guests 

A sit spot is ‘a favorite place in nature that you visit regularly to cultivate awareness…and study patterns of local plants, birds, animals, etc.’ Ant colonies make for great sit spots because their nests and foraging trails attract all kinds of creatures (but do mind the mandibles). In this talk, I’ll describe a research project on leaf-cutter ants and a strange arthropod that lives inside their nests. The study was focused and scientific in aim, but its ‘sit spot methods’ led to other forms of awareness, knowledge, and appreciation—benefits accessible to anyone closely observing tiny taxa. 
1:50 – 2:20 PMKevin Lafferty, Ph.D. | Parasites: The Little Giants Inside All of Us 

Parasites, though smaller than their hosts, surpass their free-living relatives, earning them the moniker “little giants.” Despite their small size, their prevalence in ecosystems allows their collective biomass to outweigh larger organisms. This abundance underscores their significant ecological role, with parasites often steering the course of larger organisms. In the intricate web of life, parasites wield outsized influence when occupying the driver’s seat within these larger hosts. 
2:20 – 2:50 PMKristen Lehman, Ph.D. | Understanding Species Interactions Through the Building Blocks of Life 

DNA is the genetic material shared by all living things on earth, and DNA barcodes are small fragments of any genome that can be used to identify a species without direct observation. We will discuss using DNA barcodes as a tool in our conservation tool belt to understand animal diets, from tiny snails to charismatic foxes.  We will also discuss the importance of collaborative biodiversity science that underlies these molecular tools. 
2:50-3:20 PMBREAK
3:20 – 4 PMPanel Discussion
All times PST

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