The 2015 Big Thicket Science Conference: Biodiversity and Ecology of the West Gulf Coastal Plain Landscape was hosted at Stephen F. Austin University’s Student Center in Nacogdoches, April 17-19. After a welcome by the Conference hosts, two Plenary speakers led off the conference on Friday morning. Julie Shackleford of The Conservation Fund presented an overview of The Conservation Fund’s mission in East Texas and provided an update of recent land acquisitions made by the Fund. Dr. Kirk Wine-miller, a Regents Professor in Texas A&M’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, presented a talk based on his ecological research.
A poster session followed with 21 posters on a variety of research topics conducted across the Western Coastal Plain. (Note: the forestry definition of the Western Coastal Plain is different than the geologic definition which extends the Texas Coastal Plain westward across Texas to the Rio Grande River.)
After lunch an additional 10 presentations were held in the auditorium. The evening dinner and social was held at The Vineyard on the outskirts of Nacaogdoches.
Live music was provided by the Sawmill Vagrants from Kennard, Texas. On Saturday research presentations were given in a concurrent session format. Results of 33 ecologic and management studies were presented Saturday morning and afternoon. These included one by Big Thicket National Preserve ATBI slime mold researcher, Katie Winsett, a Lecturer in the Environmental Studies Program at North Carolina State University.
A choice of three field trips was offered on Sunday. Dr. James Van Kley led a trip to the Tonkawa Sandhills north of Nacogdoches where natural springs and sandy soils derived from the 45+ million-year-old beach sands of the Carrizo Sand formation provide both moist and dry habitats for unique floras. Dr. William Godwin and Jason Singhurst led a trip to the Joy Global Prairie near Longview. The Joy Global Prairie is the largest remnant of saline prairie in Texas and is home to several rare plant species. Cliff Shackleford led a birding trip to the Steven F. Austin Experimental Forest which is owned by the United States Forest Service. Although the trip had a foggy start, visibility improved later in the day.