B.I. & Rhode Island Natural History Survey

Wed, 11/28/2012 - 5:21pm

Q. What do the Block Island plants mile-a-minute vine, pale green orchid, and winterberry have in common?

A. They have all garnered special attention from Rhode Island Natural History Survey on Block Island.

The Rhode Island Natural History Survey (RINHS) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to:

• gather and disseminate information on Rhode Island’s animals, plants, geology, and ecosystems;

• support the use of scientific information in the management of natural resources; and

• facilitate the work of the people, agencies, and organizations interested in the ecology of Rhode Island.

Every community in Rhode Island, including Block Island, benefits directly from the work of RINHS through local programs, presentations and research.

BioBlitz 2010, RINHS’s signature program, was held on the north end of the island where the Lapham property served as “Science Central.” Over 1,000 species (from minute algae to deer, and all the birds, moths, rodents, grasses, lichens, fungi, reptiles, amphibians, and so on that you can imagine) were identified in 24 hours, by two hundred volunteer naturalists and scientists. Among those species were the federally endangered American burying beetle and the rare pale green orchid. Each year RINHS’s BioBlitz adds considerable detail to the natural history picture of the state and their host communities.

Not so glamorous as a BioBlitz, other research and identification work of RINHS is essential to the state’s understanding of its biological communities and challenges posed by changes in those ecosystems. In 2009 RINHS identified and documented the introduction of mile-a-minute vine on Block Island. This invasive plant uses the native flora as an armature to support unsightly and smothering thick mats of fast-growing vines and leaves. RINHS followed this discovery with developing a protocol to “pull” this vine before the flowers ripen to berries, and in the summer of 2011 established a student work crew to pull the mile-a-minute vine throughout the state. This crew of six students removed hundreds of pounds of mile-a-minute from the island’s Fresh Pond and Rodman’s Hollow areas, and also provided community education to residents on identification and eradication. Just this past October RINHS presented an outreach/education talk on mile-a-minute vine and other invasive management challenges at the Island Free Library.

One of the newest programs of RINHS is Rhody Native, a project to develop outlets and vendors of native plant stock. One key to combating the spread of invasive species is to restore an affected area with native stock (not usually available) so Rhody Native is actively collecting seeds and plant tissues to be used in the propagation of hardy native plants that can then be used both for restoration and natural landscaping. The success of this project is dependent on collecting seed stock from around the state, and Block Island is an obvious source for hardy coastal plant seeds. As recently as this fall RINHS staff has collected seeds and berries from Block Island shad, swamp milkweed and winterberry for use in the Rhody Native project.

The work of RINHS on Block Island has been substantial but not showy. Few residents will immediately recognize the organization, but consider the following list of local activities in addition to those listed above: RINHS Annual Conference in 2000 was focused exclusively on Block Island and generated “The Ecology of Block Island” (a compendium of B.I.-based natural history studies) and bestowed a posthumous Distinguished Naturalist award to Elizabeth Dickens; recognized Elise Lapham as a Distinguished Naturalist in 2006; presented Peter Lord’s talk on “The History of Conservation in Rhode Island” in 2010; sponsored the first art show from the BioBlitz artists’ team, also in 2010; RINHS has partnered with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do invasive plant inventories on B.I. parcels; and in addition, RINHS often partners with The Nature Conservancy and Ocean View Foundation on Block Island in natural history and education work.

To learn more about RINHS, to become a member, to make a donation, or to purchase a copy of “The Ecology of Block Island,” go to www.rinhs.org or contact Kim Gaffett.


To entice new members RINHS has a special offer:

For a $250 donation to RINHS in 2012, each donor will be entered in a drawing to win a one-week stay at the Red Gate Farm House on Block Island for a week of their choice during September 2013.

Look for this special offering brochure around Town during the holiday shopping stroll.