Category Archives: Partnerships

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.


Into the Big Empty: Wyoming’s Red Desert goes live on YouTube

Journey into Wyoming’s Red Desert, a little known wilderness the size of Denali National Park that brings the steppes of Mongolia to America’s backyard. Here, energy companies vie for the desert’s riches in a world of 50,000 pronghorn, herds of wild horses and some of the most unforgiving landscapes of the West. Come learn of this place and the struggles to protect it as you travel Into the Big Empty.

Bait fisheries drive decline of bird species

(Photo/Andrew Easton, 2004)

(Photo/Andrew Easton, 2004)

Every year the horseshoe crabs gather to spawn, releasing thousands of eggs along the Delaware Bay coast. And with timing perfected by evolution, red knots, a bird enduring one of the most impressive yearly migrations from the Arctic to the Tierra del Fuego, arrive just in time to gorge on the eggs of the horseshoe crab. It is a vital stop on the “peeps'” spring migration. But the crabs and their eggs are disappearing, a loss with dire consequences for the little birds.

Red knot populations have fallen more than 75 percent in recent years, and new research published in this month’s issue of Bioscience reveals that Red knots can thank the bait fisheries for their hungry stomachs. Within half a decade the fisheries harvesting horseshoe crabs grew 20-fold, gobbling up more than 2 million crabs a year and effectively eliminating 90 percent of the eggs that red knots rely upon to survive their almost 19,000 mile migration.

But this research is not just a blame game for the fisheries. A coalition of scientists worked together on this study to help draft recommendations for the adaptive management of the bait fisheries that could help all three groups survive.

Wildlife Conservation Society traps jaguars in Ecuador

A jaguar recently captured in a camera trap in Ecuador. (Photo/Santiago Espinosa)

The Amazon forests of Ecuador may be some of the most biologically rich on Earth, and thanks to the innovative technology of camera traps triggered by body heat, the Wildlife Conservation Society has captured 75 images of American jaguars in little more than a year. The photos help biologist Santiago Espinosa and his team survey wildlife populations in Yasuni National Park and Waorani Ethnic Reserve – 6,500 sqaure miles of wilderness threatened by increasing oil development, invading road systems and bushmeat trades.

Espinosa is working with indigenous Waorani groups to set up and monitor the complex camera networks. So far the traps are proving a success, giving researchers and the public a glimpse at rarely seen Amazon wildlife in their natural habitat, including white-lipped peccaries, (a type of wild pig and important prey of the jaguar), and the truly bizarre-looking short-eared dog. While there are plans to extend the range monitored by camera traps to other regions of Ecuador, you can catch up on more photos from Yasuni National Park and Waorani Ethnic Reserve for the meantime at the Wildlife Conservation Society Web site.

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