RWCC hosts endangered species themed lunch talk

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Veronica Johnson

Pictured from left to right: Dr. Cassidy Johnson, Dr. Adrienne Simoes Correa, Dr. Amy Dunham, and Jim Blackburn.

The Rice Wildlife Conservation Corps (RWCC) hosted an “Endangered Species” lunch talk on Monday, November 23rd where four faculty members were invited to talk about his or her knowledge and research on endangered species. The well-attended event was sponsored by the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS) and the Administrative Center for Sustainability and Energy Management (ACSEM).

Dr. Cassidy Johnson, a lecturer in the BioSciences department, shared her expertise on the Houston toad. The Houston toad was the first amphibian granted protection under the Endangered Species Act, and most of the estimated 3,000 - 4,000 remaining Houston toads are limited to Bastrop County, near Austin. Dr. Johnson recently received approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to use a live Houston toad for education and outreach purposes, and was able to bring the toad “Houdini” from the Houston Zoo (pictured) for guests at the event to meet.

Dr. Adrienne Simoes Correa, a lecturer and lab coordinator in the BioSciences department, represented invertebrates by speaking about threatened and endangered coral reefs. Dr. Correa specifically discussed how coral bleaching is affecting several oceanic ecosystems, and how this is expected to grow worse as oceans become warmer and more acidic as a consequence of climate change.

Dr. Amy Dunham, an assistant professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology in the BioSciences department, gave her talk about lemurs in Madagascar, the most threatened primates in the world. Dunham mentioned several threats affecting these lemurs, including climate change, hunting, and deforestation. Less than ten percent of Madagascar remains forested, due in part to years of unsustainable land use and illegal logging. This loss of habitat, along with the rapid growth in Madagascar’s population, puts the future of the lemur in peril.

Jim Blackburn, a professor in the practice in Environmental Law from the Civil and Environmental Engineering department, talked about the Gulf Coast native Whooping Crane and his involvement in Aransas Project v Shaw court case. The whooping crane, named for its “whooping” sound, stands nearly five feet tall. Whooping Cranes nest during the summer in Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada, and then winter along the Texas Gulf Coast on Matagorda Island and in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, near Rockport. Less than 500 whooping cranes remain in the wild. Blackburn touched on how threats to the Whooping Crane in Texas also affect the endangered the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle.

The RWCC is a service organization that encourages cultural immersion and awareness of environmental issues, promotes the development of wildlife conservation enthusiasts, and positively impacts surrounding ecosystems through education and volunteer opportunities. Students interested in learning more about the RWCC are encouraged to contact Veronica Johnson at and to “like” the group on Facebook.