Clever Monitoring with Mussels

You may never need to monitor aquatic nitrogen levels, but if you do, one way to keep your sensor package free of silt is to attach it to a freshwater mussel. New Scientist reports that researchers at the University of Iowa in Iowa City have tested a sensor that monitors how wide a freshwater mussel is gaping. A wider gape should indicate higher nitrogen levels.

The scheme beats other kinds of water monitoring sensors because they tend to get stuffed with silt. The mussels keep themselves, and therefore the sensor, clean.

The article says that the researchers will explain more in February at the Sensor Applications Symposium.

Read the New Scientist story here.
View a poster presentation on the project here. (PDF)

Western-most White Nose Syndrome?

WNS in MOI almost skipped the news that another white nose syndrome (WNS) site has been confirmed in Missouri, because WNS was confirmed in the state last year (covered here), and the new site didn’t seem to represent a significant change.

Leave it to ProMED, however, to point out that the new site, in Onondaga Cave at Onondaga Cave State Park in Crawford County, is the western-most confirmed site of white nose syndrome in bats. So it is significant after all.

ProMED got the news from, here.
I read the press release from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and you can too.

However, the fungus that causes white nose syndrome has been found farther west, in Oklahoma, although it did not cause white nose syndrome in bats there. That might be because of the warmer, shorter winters in Oklahoma or it might be because it was associated with a different species of bat. You can read the Bat Conservation International press release for more info on the situation in Oklahoma. (It’s a PDF.)

Photo: Little brown bat with visible fungus collected at Onondaga Cave. Photo credit: MDC/Shelly Colatskie

Pesticides Harm Frogs

Rana_temporaria_LC0183If you take frogs and spray them with some of the fungicides, insecticides and herbicides most commonly sprayed on crops, they will die. That is the conclusion of a recent paper by German and Swiss researchers in the journal Scientific Reports that received some notice in the European media.

A brief read-through suggests that the researchers stuck three frogs in a bucket then sprayed them with a pesticide.

Needless to say, the pesticide manufacturers, object, saying that the tested conditions are worse than what happens in real life, an article in The Guardian (a British newspaper) reports. The researchers counter in the Guardian article that when multiple applications of the pesticides wash into nearby bodies of water, it’s equivalent to at least one of the test conditions, were a 10 percent solution of the chemicals were used.

Read The Guardian article here.
Read an article in Agence France-Presse (AFP)

This news is interesting, although I have qualms about the methodology (not the direct spraying or even the bucket, but that according to the AFP article only three frogs were used for each test), but the journal, Scientific Reports, is interesting as well. It’s an open-access journal from Nature Publishing. Researchers pay to play. The journal promises on its website that once payment is received, the paper will be published promptly. It also promises at least one peer reviewer.

Read the whole paper here and see what you think, because, you know, it’s open access.

Photo: European common frog, the species in the study, in Germany. Photo by Jörg Hempel, used under Creative Commons license.

Controlling Invasive Bullfrogs

bullfrogIn the Pacific Northwest, it is not unusual to try to kill off invasive bullfrogs by drawing down managed wetlands in imitation of ephemeral wetlands, a paper in The Journal of Wildlife Management says. Because the bullfrogs over-winter as tadpoles, the idea is to remove that over-wintering habitat.

However, the paper notes, in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, bullfrogs were observed metamorphosing after just four months. Some frogs can speed up their metamorphosis in response to a wetland that is drying out, can bullfrogs do this as well? If they could, this would be bad news for the invasive species control technique.

The study took bullfrog tadpoles from both ephemeral and permanent wetlands and subjected them to various regimes of water and lack of water. The study found that the bullfrog tadpoles did not speed up their metamorphosis in response to drying wetlands, but they did show a lot of variety in how long they took to mature.

The paper concluded that drawing down managed wetlands won’t cause bullfrog tadpoles to metamorphose faster, but that some bullfrogs may survive the draw-down because of the natural variability in the amount of time it takes them to become frogs.

Find the Journal of Wildlife Management article here. Reading it requires a fee or a subscription.

Help With Wetland Decisions

marsh.galena-001The federal Clean Water Act and regulations in many states require some kind of mitigation for wetland loss. A state wildlife biologist of some type is often involved in these decisions, even if it is not a biologist with the wildlife department.

As a general rule of thumb, these mitigation measures are a lose-lose proposition, because the restored wetlands do not have the diversity of natural wetlands, and the restored or mitigated wetland often has different properties (for example, at the headwaters versus mainstem). However, a recent paper in the journal Biological Conservation aims to provide a framework for better wetland mitigation decision making.

The model weighs three factors: time lags, uncertainty and measurability of the value being offset.

One of the authors suggests, in a University of Illinois press release, using established wetlands mitigation banks to counter-act the problem of created wetlands being less biologically diverse than established, natural wetlands.

The Biological Conservation paper, found here, requires a subscription or a fee.
You can read the press release from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, here.

Photo: Wetland, courtesy of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

Lynx Killed in Idaho

lynx in snowA trapper killed a lynx in northern Idaho earlier this month, thinking it was a bobcat, the Coeur d’Alene Press reports. He immediately called state wildlife officials when he realized his mistake, the article says.

The animal was trapped just outside a region in northern Idaho that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had designated as critical habitat for the species listed as federally threatened. Even so, the CDA Press article says, lynx are rare in the region. The article says:

“Losing a lynx to trapping or any other cause is disheartening,” said Jim Hayden, Idaho Fish and Game regional wildlife manager for the Panhandle region. “Fortunately these are very rare events.”


Bobcats and lynx are similar looking, the article notes. Lynx have much larger feet and have fur between their foot pads.

Read the Coeur d’Alene Press article here.
This month’s Wildlife Express, a school newsletter from the Idaho Fish and Game Department focuses on lynx.

Photo: lynx in snow from USFWS

Kansas Trumpets Swan Sightings

MIGRATING-TRUMPETER-SWANS-IMPRESSIVE-SIGHT_frontimagecrop“These birds are an excellent conservation success story,” said Ed Miller, nongame biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism in a department press release trumpeting recent trumpeter swan sightings in the state. “They have rebounded from a population low of 73 birds in the U.S.”

Trumpeter swans are the largest members of the swan family, and can be up to sixty inches long with an eight-foot wingspan. They are one of two swan species native to North America, the release says. (The other, the tundra swan is similar looking, but has a yellow spot on its bill, the release notes. Also, tundra swans aren’t usually seen in Kansas.)

Read the press release here.Learn more about trumpeter swans at All About Birds, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
And see this year’s trumpeter swan reports on eBird, here.

Photo by Kali Kostelac, courtesy of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism

Changes at the Top

A new presidential term is driving some of the changes at the head of agencies and institutions important to wildlife research, but for others, it was just time.

Chief among those changes at the top is the news that Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar will step down.
Read about his term on the CNN website here.
A look at his legacy is on a New York Times blog here. (Wildlife is not mentioned.)

The Salazar announcement was preceded by the news that Jane Lubchenco would leave her post as the head of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. At the time of her appointment there was excitement that a research scientist of her caliber was taking such a high-level government post.
A Washington Post article on her departure, including the reprint of an email signed “Dr. Jane.”

Lost in the hubbub has been the news that the head of the U.S. Geological Survey, Marcia McNutt, is also leaving. The USGS is, after all, the federal agency that conducts wildlife research (a role that was stripped from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the Clinton administration). Life is good when your agency doesn’t have any regulatory or management responsibilities, she says in an interview with the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Science Insider.
Read it here.

But all the changes have not been at the federal level. The Wildlife Society recently announced that Dr. Byron Kenneth (Ken) Williams will become its executive director. Williams has completed stints with the USGS and the USFWS.
Read the Wildlife Society announcement here.

Bat Conservation International is a significant partner in bat research in addition to bat advocacy, so it is worth noting that it recently named Andrew B. Walker as its executive director. (Also worth noting is the Walker will work out of Washington, DC, not Austin, TX.)
Read the BCI press release here.

Finally, not all changes go smoothly. In Idaho, the daughter of a California game warden is facing a confirmation fight in the state Senate over her appointment to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. At issue seems to be the fact that she has not held a hunting license every year since she her first in the state in 2002. Opponents to her appointment would prefer a more avid hunter and angler.
Read the whole story in the Spokane Spokesman-Review here.

WNS Hits Mammoth Cave NP

MACA_long_cave_MYSE_4Jan2013_forReleaseMammoth Cave in Kentucky used to be one of the largest bat hibernaculums in the world. Indiana bats were particularly fond of the place, and the decline of the cave as a hibernaculum served as a warning to how vulnerable that species is.

On Wednesday, the National Park Service announced that white nose syndrome (WNS) had been confirmed in a northern long-eared bat in Long Cave, a cave in Mammoth Cave National Park that had been closed to visitors for more than 80 years.

“It grieves me to make this announcement,” said Mammoth Cave National Park Superintendent Sarah Craighead in a press release.

Mammoth Cave National Park is home to two federally endangered species of bats and one considered a species of special concern by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It is also home to two state endangered bat species, two state threatened bat species and one species of special concern to the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, according to the National Park Service.

WNS was first discovered in Kentucky in April 2011. The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s white nose syndrome map shows another detection in Kentucky this season, in Bell County, making these the first reports of WNS this season.

Read the Mammoth Cave National Park press release here.
Read an article in the Louisville Courier-Journal here.
See the USFWS white nose syndrome map here.

Photo: A northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) from Long Cave in Mammoth Cave National Park showing evidence of white-nose syndrome. By Steven Thomas, used courtesy of the National Park Service

Good News from Pygmy Rabbit Relocation Project

pygmy rabbitPenny Becker, a research scientist overseeing the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit recovery effort for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife is pleased with the 40 percent survival rate of the rabbits released through a breeding program that brought in rabbits from surrounding states, according to an article in the Seattle Times.

That 40 percent survival rate compares to a survival rate of 10 percent for wildlife pygmy rabbits in Oregon, and 22 percent for wild pygmy rabbits in Idaho, the article says. The population was listed as federally endangered in 2003.

Read the entire story in the Seattle Times, here.

Photo: pygmy rabbit, perhaps in Idaho. Courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.