#sciencedeskdigs: Mike Bell

a small magnifying glass sitting on top of an open book with plant illustrations

NPS Photo/ M.Reed

Plants- we eat them, we pick them, we walk right past them, but if you take the time to learn about them, you can discover a different world around you. Biologist, Mike Bell started his career not really paying attention to plants, but once his boss gave him tools that let him look at the landscape with a new lens, he changed his mind and now works to protect them in national parks. Let’s take a closer look at the tools that inspired his love of plants on this week’s #sciencedeskdigs.

What is it?
This is a hands lens which allows you to magnify the details on plants so you can identify them properly. Oftentimes two plants will look identical to the naked eye but when you look at their microscopic characteristics, you can tell they are two different species. This one was given to me by Tasha La Doux, my boss at Joshua Tree National Park. She was a great mentor who inspired me to become a botanist. At first, I didn’t think I was going to use it, but then one day I got it out and discovered a new way to communicate with the park; using the plants to understand the story of the desert ecosystem. It was kind of like walking through a foreign country and learning the language. The taxonomic key is also from Joshua Tree and was like my translator guide.

My work now is all about air pollution. I study how air pollution affects plants and animals in the NPS and how that impacts the visitor experience. I actually got to use my hand lens recently in Dinosaur National Monument while doing a foliar injury survey for ozone damage. When ozone levels are high, it gets into the leaf and causes damage (generally little black dots) similar to how it affects your lungs. #plantasthma

I keep these items on my desk because I like having the memories of my long field days in Joshua Tree which remind me of the variety of species that would be lost if we don’t reduce air pollution and preserve our national parks.

Watch Mike in action in his Stay Curious video where he talks more about his love of plants and how he helps protect parks!

Last updated: June 7, 2017