Home » Education » Nebraska Nature in Color – A Rainbow of Diversity

Nebraska Nature in Color – A Rainbow of Diversity

Diversity is key to our understanding and conservation of wildlife


Meredith Steck and Andrew Merwin of Lincoln search for insects during a bioblitz at Denton Prairie. A bioblitz is a citizen science event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time.

Photo by Renae Blum

By Alie Mayes, Community Science Specialist

My parents owned a greenhouse business outside of Sedalia, Missouri, on the second half of a parking lot for a Pepto-pink antique mall. We had woodlands to the east and a stream about a quarter of a mile to the south. Months of my childhood were spent running free with my older sister and brother. We loved searching out the snakes, lizards, toads, turtles and other small animals that lived nearby. Naturally, it didn’t take long for us children to learn about the benefits of diversity in our quest for critters.

However, the gravel parking lot was not an ideal place to search for life. The short grass near the fence was a good place to find small toads during a certain time of year, but generally did not provide much bounty. The large flat rocks located behind the pink mall usually provided some lizards and ring-necked snakes. Thankfully, while it wasn’t the most pristine example of “wilderness,” the woods and stream provided us with the best habitat for our search.

Zoologist Shaun Dunn shows citizen scientist Phuong Minh Tu Le a live harvest mouse that was captured during a small mammal survey at Denton Prairie. Photo by Renae Blum.

This childhood experience taught me diversity is the key to resilience, that the long-term health and stability of an ecosystem is tied to the balance of many species. Diversity allows for fluidity within a system, which allows shifts and changes to occur with less impact on the whole.

In my career, I’ve also learned that a diversity of people is integral to the understanding and conservation of wildlife. One of the things that attracted me to community science work is that it holds space for people. When community science is done well, it opens the door to diverse thoughts, backgrounds and experience. It allows people to contribute to science and conservation, exactly as they are. And on the flipside, it gives permission for researchers to ask for help.

One example of this is our understanding of bird song. For over 100 years, it has been widely understood that only male birds sang to defend territory and attract females. However, in the past 20 years, research has proven that female birds of species across the globe also sing their own songs. And what led to this discovery that has been overlooked for so many years? An increase of women researchers.

Bird being released
Wildcat Hills SRA Bird Banding. Holly Garrod of Evergreen, Colorado, a seasonal employee of the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, releases a banded dark-eyed junco. Photo by Justin Haag, Nebraskaland Magazine.

This July, let’s notice and appreciate the rainbow of wildlife and plants in Nebraska. From the bright red of the cardinal to the purple of the martins, Nebraska is a showcase of beautiful color. Let’s also be so bold as to show up exactly how we are and know that it is enough. Because our species, like the ecosystem we are a part of, are stronger and more resilient when we embrace and allow space for our differences.

Nature is as beautiful as it is diverse.

This article is part of the Nebraska Nature in Color series. This limited series will run monthly from December 2023- July 2024.