The Hoffman Symposium

Today VMNH is hosting a symposium entitled “ A Lifetime of Contributions to Myriapodology and the Natural History of Virginia: A Symposium in Honor of Richard L. Hoffman’s 80th Birthday.” The symposium was organized and funded by VMNH, the Virginia Natural History Society, the Virginia Herpetological Society, and Patrick Henry Community College.

Dr. Hoffman is currently Curator of Recent Invertebrates at VMNH, and is still an extremely active researcher, only a few days shy of his 80th birthday (see this article by Joel Achenbach about the trend in active octogenarians.) An early talk today on his career included a graph showing that Dr. Hoffman’s annual publication rate has essentially been constant (and high) from the 1950’s to today, with no sign of abatement. A greatly abridged list of Dr. Hoffman’s accomplishments can be found here.

Most of today’s 19 scheduled talks have been on millipedes (Dr. Hoffman’s specialty), other invertebrates, and amphibians – not the kind of stuff I would normally sit through for an entire day, but a lot of these were excellent. Some highlights:

Janet Reid of JWR Associates spoke on copepod diversity in Virginia. Copepods are tiny crustaceans, and it turns out that streams and wetlands in Virginia are full of them. In fact Virginia appears to have a higher diversity than almost anyplace else that’s been studied.

Wayne Mathis from the Smithsonian spoke on shore fly diversity at a site near the Potomac River. Once again, the diversity was shockingly high, especially considering that this is a tiny site, and that shore flies are typical of salt lake environments.

Kurt Buhlmann from the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory gave a fascinating talk on chicken turtles. Chicken turtles are thin-shelled, carnivorous turtles that live mainly in ephemeral wetlands in the southeast; their only occurrence in Virginia is in First Landing State Park. Buhlmann showed how the turtles’ reproductive strategies, behavior, and growth patterns are affected by the unreliable nature of their habitats, and how the morphology of the populations shift back and forth due to different selective pressures during draughts and wet periods.

Bruce Snyder of the University of Georgia showed disturbingly clear evidence of how exotic (introduced) earthworms are wiping out native millipedes in Great Smokey Mountains National Park. The earthworms are primarily introduced by recreational fishermen who dump their excess bait (the earthworms) in the woods.

And their actually was some vertebrate paleontology as well. Jerry McDonald of McDonald and Woodward Publishing spoke on records of the Pleistocene giant beaver Castoroides from Virginia. The image at the top of the page is a skeleton of Castoroides on exhibit at the University of Nebraska State Museum in Lincoln, NE. One of the Virginia specimens has pathologies that suggest that the giant beaver had a similar lifestyle to the living beaver, an idea that has been questioned in the past.

All in all it’s been an excellent and educational symposium.

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