Wednesday, March 31, 2010

An Interview with Donald Huffman: Part 3

What advice would you give to beginning biologists? What are the particular challenges of being a biologist in the Midwest?
My advice to beginning biologists is to avoid being too narrow in basic science studies. Considering the importance of cellular and molecular-level biology in the past 50 years, don’t limit yourself to studying organismal or population-level biology. There is a tendency to specialize, but I feel this should be postponed until at least the graduate level, because you cannot predict how useful molecular and cellular techniques and knowledge may be in understanding any group of organisms. It goes without saying that anyone wishing to become a biologist should take advanced courses in chemistry and physics as well as math.

The challenges to a Midwest biologist are about the same as those encountered elsewhere. A broadly trained biologist should be able to function readily in any part of the world. Each region has its own peculiar challenges, and one of the greatest challenges in the Midwest is to understand the problems and solutions arising due to overuse of land for agricultural purposes. Ultimately biologists must join in the effort to correct the pollution and habitat damages that have reduced fertile topsoil and species distribution about 50% in the past 100 years. This means better cooperation among biologists and landowners as well as governmental agencies to help solve such problems as soil erosion, toxic pesticide residues, habitat destruction, etc.

What are your favorite natural areas in Iowa and the Midwest? What areas do you return to constantly, and what’s your favorite newly visited area?
I have several favorite natural areas in Iowa; one of them is a very disrupted habitat of abandoned strip mines where coal was removed. I enjoyed these areas in Kansas where I grew up, and I was glad to see similar habitats in Iowa. I found excellent fossil plants dating back to the Pennsylvanian era, about 350 million years ago. I saw many of the same fossils I had seen earlier and am glad that many of these are now in museum collections around the Midwest and beyond.

Another favorite natural area for me includes a number of the Iowa state parks in which we can find remnants of forested areas. These tend to have excellent mushroom habitats, and if I had to choose a favorite, it would be one from northeast Iowa such as Palisades State Park or Backbone State Park. I enjoy each type of state park but must admit a preference for the more mature forested areas.

My favorite newly visited area is the Loess Hills of northwest Iowa. I have not done serious collecting of mushrooms there, but I am attracted to the unique properties of this area.

You’ve been working on a very interesting blog-related project called BINGO ENGLISH. Tell us more.
BINGO ENGLISH is part of an online program to teach the English language in China. My first year of teaching in China was in mycology, but there was a greater need for English teachers than for biology teachers. I joined my wife in teaching writing and conversation at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou. We taught 8 semesters in China, then were invited to join a writing team preparing a series of English-language textbooks for Chinese university-level students. This resulted in the publication of New College English (NCE), for which both my wife and I wrote and edited. We served as English editors through two editions of this comprehensive series—one book for each of 6 semesters of English—and to date NCE has sold more than 2 million copies and has been adopted by more than 550 universities and colleges in China.

BINGO ENGLISH is an online version of English-language instruction using the NCE books but targeted at noncollege individuals who wish to learn at their own pace with their choice of instructional packages.

My wife and I wrote many blogs about U.S. culture for inclusion in BINGO ENGLISH. Our colleague Ying Huilan showed some of these blogs to the editor of the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press in Beijing. That resulted in about 80 of the blogs being included in the book Inside U.S. Culture and Life, recently published by that press as a supplemental book for English-language instruction in China.

Marasmius oreades (Bolt.: Fr.) Fr. (plate 87); edible
Fairy Ring Mushroom
    Cap 1–5 cm broad, rounded, maturing to bell-shaped to flat, often with prominent blunt knob; cream to reddish tan, fading when dry; dry, smooth; margin sometimes striate at maturity. Flesh thin; white or tan.
    Gills adnexed to nearly free, well separated; paler than cap, creamy white to buff.
    Stalk 2–7 cm long, 2–4.5 mm thick, equal; buff at top, darker brown at bottom, with dense white hairs at base; tough.
    Spores 7–10 x 3.5–6 µm, elliptical, tapered at one end, smooth; spore print white.
    Common, in groups or in fairy rings on lawns, pastures, and grasslands; spring, summer, fall.
    This is one of three species that commonly grow in fairy rings in grasslands such as lawns, golf greens, and pastures. The other two, Chlorophyllum molybdites and Agaricus campestris, are quite different and not likely to be confused with M. oreades. While A. campestris and M. oreades are highly recommended edible species, however, C. molybdites is poisonous. The pesticide history of the area should be known and considered, because M. oreades may take up some lawn pesticides. Clitocybe dealbata, a poisonous species, may be found in the same area with M. oreades. Thus M. oreades should be collected and identified carefully.

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