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I recently had the opportunity to delve into one of KAEE’s newest Professional Learning Leader eeCredential elective course offerings, Appalachian Mountain Ecology. This course was designed by EKU professor emerita Dr. Melinda Wilder to provide educators with the knowledge of ecological principles within an Appalachian Mountain context. I can attest to the fact that it did just that and more! Along with providing a solid overview of ecological principles based on this particular ecosystem, it also introduced me to some really interesting regional organisms in a fresh context. The following highlights are just a small sampling of some of the topography, plants, and animals I got to know through this course and the companion text: Hollows, Peepers, & Highlanders: An Appalachian Mountain Ecology by George Constantz. A Region with Deep History Did you know? The early Appalachian mountains rose as the first primitive fishes appeared on Earth over 500 million years ago. Appalachia existed for 200 million years before terrestrial organisms evolved to occupy it. Sneaky Slippers Did you know? Unfortunately for the bees that pollinate lady’s slipper plants, their visit to these flowers does not prove productive for the insect itself. The bees are in search of pollen or nectar and end up finding neither. They are tricked into the trap of the flower sack and leave pollen grains from a previously visited flower and pick up pollen from the anther, but get nothing in return before exiting the flower. Color Changing Copperheads Did you know? Juvenile copperheads display tail tips of bright yellow or yellowish-green to lure small frogs, but as they grow, their tail changes color to reds and tans to lure rodents. Lady Knows What She Wants Did you know? As an integral part of the mating ritual, male hangflies will present females with a meal of caught prey for her to inspect and if acceptable, eat. This “gift” of prey is a precursor for copulation. Darter Daddy Daycare Did you know? Dominant male darter fish can essentially abandon their offspring because other floating males are readily available to “egg sit.” Both males benefit from this process. Dominant males gain freedom to continue to reproduce elsewhere and floating males gain a safe (and highly sought after) rock under which to reproduce. Appalachian Mountain Ecology encouraged me to flesh out my understanding of several ecological principles while providing an introduction to many specific species in a region that I care deeply about. The course feels more like a walk with a seasoned naturalist than a curriculum requirement. If you are keen on discovery and finding connections within a regional context, this course is for you! ​By Katherine Bullock


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