Tag Archives: ecology

CAT in WATER Kickstarter Launch!

Support the Kickstarter project to document them in the wild  here.

The fishing cat is up and running! We have 90 days to raise the first round of funds for the CAT in WATER expedition. Check out our Kickstarter project and watch the short video. You can also learn about all the paybacks in store for our supporters. Who wouldn’t want a care package from Thailand and the knowledge they are helping a gorgeous, wild animal in need?



For endangered butterfly, beavers make best friends

American Beaver, (Photo/Steve in Washington D.C., Wikipedia)

A St. Francis' satyr butterfly (Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Bambi and Thumper best move over. There’s a new BFF dynamo in the animal kingdom – the ever-industrious beaver and a rare butterfly fluttering dangerously close to extinction. But the gig’s not up for the butterfly just yet if the beaver has anything to do with it.

St. Francis’ satyr butterfly is appallingly rare. Somewhere between 700 and 1,400 individuals exist in the wild, scattered in a few small pockets of wetland meadow around North Carolina. But new science reveals that the well-known engineering nature of the American beaver has the bonus application of creating food and habitat for the vulnerable butterfly. The study is the first of its kind to demonstrate the combined benefits of an ecosystem engineer fostering biodiversity and abundance of plant species vital to the survival of a critically endangered species.

Lead-author of the study Rebecca A. Bartel, ecologist and post-doctoral student at the University of Georgia, looked at 48 sites on the Fort Bragg Military Reservation in south central North Carolina that ran the gamut of beaver occupation. She and her colleagues surveyed vegetation and butterflies between 2005 and 2006, and found that where beavers stirred things up with their beavering ways, plants species thrived, more than 180 species, several of which were imperative to the butterfly’s survival.

The relationship is not so cut and stacked, situations are optimum when habitat has a combination of different stages of beaver renovations. But Bartel’s results indicate that fostering native ecosystem engineers can not only improve species diversity, but help conserve habitat for critically endangered species. It’s a potentially powerful tool for conservation and managers.

At the very least, Bartel’s results spell a little bit of hope for St. Francis’ satyr butterfly, and another reason to up the awe factor of beavers and butterflies. And who doesn’t like that?

You can find the study in the journal Oikos.


Backcountry trek to study Rocky Mountain National Park fish introductions

more about “Backcountry trek to study Rocky Mount…“, posted with vodpod

 

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I have to say that I have one of the coolest jobs in the world. I work as the science writer for CIRES, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. My job doesn’t stop at writing about science. Being a photographer and multimedia producer play equal parts.

In this instance, I got to hit the trail with Jimmy McCutchan and Tommy Detmer, a couple of CIRES scientists studying the effects of fish introductions on formerly fishless lakes of Rocky Mountain National Park. Fish were introduced to support fly fishing from the 1800s until the 1960s. Now the National Park Service is working with CIRES to find out what’s happened to those lakes, knowledge that may help guide future management.

Their study also isn’t a bad way to work a little fly fishing into your science.

You can learn more about CIRES science at cires.colorado.edu, or check out the CIRESvideos channel on YouTube.com.

 


The high fidelity of alligator love

Two American Alligators (Photo/Matthew Field)

Two American Alligators (Photo/Matthew Field)

Oh alligator love, it’s not as fickle as you might think. Get on a gator’s good side and you may just have found a friend for life, if you’re another alligator of course.

In a study that combines field science with molecular biology, researchers from the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory found that alligators were surprisingly loyal partners and akin to birds in their mating habits. The discovery offers new insights into evolutionary links and behavior of crocodilians, birds and dinosaurs – and certainly, at least where one science writer is concerned, proving there is a lot more going on behind those alligator eyes than a cold reptilian stare.

Researchers trapped and re-trapped alligators at Louisiana’s Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, 76,000 acres of alligator dream real estate bordering the Gulf of Mexico. “Given how incredibly open and dense the alligator population is at RWR, we didn’t expect to find fidelity,” said researcher Stacey Lance. “I don’t think any of us expected that the same pair of alligators that bred together in 1997 would still be breeding together in 2005 and may still be producing nests together to this day.”

Crocodilians have already proven to be more invested in the care of their offspring than most other reptiles, actively nurturing young and defending nests. Crocodiles are even known as considerate egg-layers. As a female drops the egg, she will blindly catch it with a hind leg before it hits the ground and gently place it in the nest. But up until now alligators were thought to be polygamous, mating with several different partners and leading to many fathers for a single nest.

After ten years of following alligators at the refuge, scientists Lance, Travis Glenn, Ruth Elsey and Tracey Tuberville discovered that 70 percent of female alligators stick with who they like. Even if they have multiple partners, the same bachelors get picked year after year, regardless of whether females encounter a new slew of potential suitors.

The study marks the first time fidelity has been observed in any crocodilian species. “In this study, by combining molecular techniques with field studies, we were able to figure something out about a species that we never would have known otherwise,” said Lance. “Hopefully future studies will also lead to some unexpected and equally fascinating results.”

Results of the study were published in the October 7 issue of Molecular Ecology.


What is Conservation Photography?

You can tell when someone puts their heart into something. And young conservation photographer Hunter Nichols is one of those people. The camera is but a tool to help save a place that he loves, Alabama’s Cahaba River, an ecosystem falling apart under the stress of increasing urbanization.

more about “What is Conservation Photography?“, posted with vodpod

Conservation photography goes beyond iconic beauty shots of nature, connecting us with these places and their struggles for survival. Nichols not only takes us through a dream-scape river echoing with a cacophony of birds and wildlife, but shows us the active clear-cutting, new neighborhoods and environmental consequences of rapid urban sprawl. As Nichols says in his video, “we never miss something we never knew, but we suffer from what we’ve lost.”

Then again because of people like Nichols, we not only learn of the unknown places, but just might get to one-day experience them for ourselves. Watch this short video to see what Hunter is trying to protect, and learn a little something about conservation photography.


You can view more of Nichols’s work at hunternichols.tripod.com.


Photo Tour: Autumn at Sawhill Ponds

more about “Photo Tour: Autumn at Sawhill Ponds“, posted with vodpod

For you naturephiles out there, there’s nothing like finding that local wildlife hotspot you can explore whenever the fancy takes you. For me, that place is Sawhill Ponds, a series of 18 reclaimed gravel pits that now support a wealth of interconnected habitats from meadow to woodlands and marshes. This busy microcosm offers more than a peaceful place to take a walk, no matter the season. There is an abundance of wildlife to enjoy, including owls, coyotes, waterfowl and frogs, and it’s all within a stone’s throw of downtown Boulder, Colo.

These images are part of a project documenting this wildlife refuge and its inhabitants through the year. Stay tuned in a couple of weeks for Sawhill Ponds: Winter.


Reclamation, restoration and mountaintop removal

My first taste of reclamation came as a grad student while on a fieldtrip along Colorado’s “Uranium Highway.” We stopped in the ghost town of Uravan, a former Uranium/Vanadium boomtown. And except for a couple buildings, everything had been torn down, the tailings ponds evaporated, land reclaimed or in the process of being so. It was then that I learned that reclamation and restoration were not the same thing. Above the once upon town sat tailings sites. Instead of a rust-colored desert environment,  meticulous patterns of white and black rock zig-zagged across the hilltop, laid out like some sort of interpretive landscape project.

Reclamation, I thought, was supposed to help clean up after we’d finished using the land. It was supposed to help return the land to itself. I’ve seen many reclaimed sites since that fieldtrip, and have yet to come across one that resembled nature’s design.

That’s not to say that reclamation is a lost cause or a sham, just that it can be better. Now scientists are trying to help make that happen with arguably one of the most destructive and controversial mining practices at work today, mountaintop removal. Sarah Hall, of Kentucky State University,  and her colleagues Christopher Barton and Carol Baskin, of the University of Kentucky, have discovered a new method of replanting mined Appalachian sites, one that gives native landscapes a leg up at renewal. (You can find their study in the online early edition of Restoration Ecology)

Mountaintop removal reclamation projects often involve planting blasted and terraced mountainsides with non-native grasses. (Early surface mine reclamation would sometimes simply abandoned the site.) Perhaps one of the more unexpected outcomes of reclamation comes from Mingo County, W. Va., where reclamation turned a blast site into what’s now known as the Twisted Gun Golf Course.

Rather than seeding mined areas with grasses, which tend to stunt recovery of native species, Hall sought to test the possibility of replanting mountaintop removal sites with the trees and forbs kin to the forests that had existed before the mines. Hall’s idea seems in hindsight to be quite obvious. Put back the original topsoil scraped away when creating the mine. This soil she found was rich with the seeds and microbial recipe that could help re-establish forest. Where Hall and her team tried the method, the plants started to grow, including arrow-leaved asters, Virginia pines and blueberry.

The method is not enough to completely recover the forest, but it’s a start, and a step up from the grassy slopes that have come to replace so many of Appalachia’s mined mountainsides. Hall’s research highlights a two-fold lesson  – we need to recognize that reclamation is not restoration, and there are practical ways to make reclamation better. Then maybe these environments that have given us so much of their riches at least have a chance to return to themselves, even if it’s just a little.


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