Peeps Not a Species of Concern

marshmallow_peepsIn a press release issued this week, the American Bird Conservancy named Peeps its Easter bird of the week for the second straight year and declared that while the overall population is severely depleted each year at this time, “Populations appear to quickly rebound in subsequent years and therefore they are not a species of conservation concern.”

Further, the report says, there is reason to believe that each color morph is actually an individual species. “There simply isn’t any evidence that these forms interbreed,” said ABC senior scientist Dr. David Wiedenfeld in the release. “While they can often be found roosting in the same box, the fact is that nobody has ever seen an intermediate bird between the color morphs,” he added.

More fun can be found both in the ABC press release and its bird of the week profile (which are nearly identical).

This is what happens when Easter is the day before April Fool’s Day. However, you can expect all seriousness from us on Monday. (And personally, I have never found different color morphs nesting in the same box.)

Photo: Marshmallow Peeps, by Just Born

It’s Official: National Wildlife Climate Policy

climate strategy reportYou’ve probably heard about the drafts (since it was called for by Congress four years ago), but now the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Policy has officially been announced.

The big news appears to be a plan to create wildlife corridors so wildlife can more easily move in response to climate change. It also urges wildlife managers to plan for a changing climate, not just current conditions.

The strategy (or Strategy, as it is called in materials) appears to come with neither regulatory teeth nor funding.

Read a Los Angeles Times article, here.
Find the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaption Strategy website, here. (Follow links to summaries and frequently asked questions.)

And I just have to say that maybe next time “wildlife” will already be understood to include both fish and plants, and perhaps invertebrates as well.

Penn State Develops CWD Model

white_tailed_deer_buckEight years ago, research done by Penn State University, the Pennsylvania Wildlife Commission, and the US Geological Survey found in a study of white-tailed deer, that 70 percent of yearling males will disperse, and the average dispersal is six to seven miles. Depending on the amount of forest on the landscape, the researcher says, those yearling males may go just a mile or as far as 30 miles.

Now, another team of Penn State researchers are using that dispersal data to model the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Pennsylvania.

So far, the conclusions are that in parts of the state with less forest, the Game Commission may have to consider disease-management areas that are larger. It also has implications on sampling efforts to try to get a handle on the prevalence of the disease.

Read the Penn State University press release here.

Photo: Joe Kosack/Pennsylvania Game Commission

Is a Bad Diet Killing Manatees?

manateeFirst it was the manatees in southwestern Florida. A red tide is killing them. Then manatees started dying on Florida’s east coast too, although there the cause is a mystery.

An article in the Tampa Bay Times says that the manatees’ bellies are full of algae, and since manatees usually munch on sea grass, that may be the problem. With the sea grass killed off by previous toxic algae events, perhaps the manatees are eating algae, which is not giving them the nutrition they need.

Read the Tampa Bay Times article here.
Mother Jones also covered the manatee insanity, here.
The Florida Today report includes video.

And it’s not just manatees that are dropping dead in Florida. According to Florida Today, over 100 pelicans have been found dead in Brevard County in the past two months.

“The pelicans are emaciated and have heavy parasite counts, and, to our knowledge, other bird species have not been affected,” said Dan Wolf, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission researcher in a commission press release.

Read the Florida Today pelican article,here.
Read the FWC press release, here.

Photo: courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Butterfly Heads and Tails

Great_purple_hairstreak_on_Common_dogbaneRecently published research from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity provides experimental confirmation that the thing that looks like a second head on the back wings of some hairstreak butterflies does indeed protect the butterflies from predators, as has long been guessed.

The surprise was what predator it provided protection from. The conventional wisdom has said that adaptive coloration protects butterflies from birds, the researcher, Andrei Sourakov, says in a University of Florida press release. But this research showed that  the fake heads were very successful at deterring jumping spiders — which easily took down other butterflies without fake heads on their hind-wings.

This may not be much help in day-to-day wildlife management, but it is a cool piece of research, and with several hairstreaks endangered or threatened at the state level, you never know when you’ll be writing up a hairstreak management plan.

The University of Florida press release.
The open access Journal of Natural History paper.

Photo: Great purple hairstreak by Dr. Thomas G. Barnes/University of Kentucky, used courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Guns, Money and Wildlife

Talk of gun control after the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings in December has lead to panic gun buying across the nation. The surge in sales has the potential to benefit wildlife. (A number of articles on the subject also mention the improving economy and the popularity of the movie The Hunger Games, which lead to interest in archery, for some of the increase.)

The federal Pittman-Robertson Act has collected an 11 percent excise tax on hunting gear (including shotguns and archery bows) since the Depression and distributed that money to the states. Along with hunting licenses, it is how most wildlife conservation on the state level is funded.

Most articles report a windfall. of Binghampton, NY predicts a windfall, even though Congress will siphon off more than eight percent of the funds under the sequester legislation.

This doesn’t mean that spending the extra money will be easy. In an article in the Charleston (WV) Gazette, Curtis Taylor, wildlife chief for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources points out the state’s need to match the federal funds, 25 cents on the dollar.

Plus, with other funding plummeting, and the panic sales not expected to last forever, states such as West Virginia must invest in things that won’t require a lot of overhead in the future. And, oh yeah, that means adding more staff is probably out of the question.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel takes the time to report that the fisheries side of things won’t be getting a windfall. A separate federal law taxes fishing equipment to protect fisheries, and well, sales of fishing equipment just haven’t sky-rocketed.

The Charleston Gazette article is the most nuanced, but here is some other coverage of the gun sale windfall:
Tribune-Review (Pittsburgh region)
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
PressConnects.Com (Binghamption, NY)
Spokane Spokesman-Review

More on Minnesota Moose

Minn moose collaringLoss of early successional habitat, more wolves, and increased exposure to brainworm — those are the early theories on why the Minnesota moose population is plummeting. And that’s a whole lot of inference from just two dead moose.

The Duluth News Tribune has an update on the moose study begun by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in January. The DNR tagged 111 moose and planned to follow them for five years — deploying a team to investigate whenever one of the moose died. (We covered it here.)

So far six moose have died, the article says. Four of those deaths have been pinned on capture-related mortality. The percentage is about average for moose captures, the article says.

The two other moose were killed by wolves. The article reports on another researcher in conducting a separate study who found that one of his wolf-killed moose had pneumonia.

There are many more details about the early days of the study in the article. Read the Duluth News Tribune article here.

Photo: A moose being collared, but not necessarily for this project. Courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Chagas Disease in South Texas Wildlife

chagas bugChagas disease, spread by kissing bugs or reduviid bugs is a scourge in South America, has the potential to cause heart failure. The symptoms can be chronic and go on for years.

Until recently, the disease and the insects that carry it were rare even in northern Mexico, but recently, says a report on the KABB Fox News TV station in San Antonio, Texas, the number of the kissing bugs found in south Texas has increased sharply.

More to the point, the piece says, a recent survey by Texas A&M researchers found that 60 to 80 percent of the mammals trapped on public land have been found to be infected by the disease. The animals trapped include feral hogs, white-tailed deer, wood rats, rabbits and raccoons.

Watch or read the piece on the KABB website, here.

More on Chagas disease at PubMed Health, and
probably more than you want to know, unless you have it, from the Centers for Disease Control

Photo: A kissing bug of the type that carries the parasite that causes Chagas disease, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control

Lots o’ Legislation

Gray_wolfI know, you are trying to focus on science and have no interest in the political scene. And I know that lots of bills get passed, but few of them become laws. Every once in a while, it is worth mentioning the gears of law, though. In this case it is worth mentioning because both the Idaho and Utah legislatures were very busy in late February creating new laws about endangered species.

The Associated Press reported that a bill that passed the Idaho Senate “would make it against state policy for federal officials to introduce or reintroduce any threatened or endangered species in Idaho without state approval.”

But there’s not much more than that on the bill. Read it the brief piece on The Oregonian website, here.

Utah was extra busy. They’ve got three bills in the works. One House bill would, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune, “allow county assessors to reduce a property’s tax burden if its value is impacted by designation as critical habitat for threatened or endangered species.”

Another House bill, “asks the federal government to not designate any private land in San Juan County as sage grouse habitat,” says the Salt Lake City Tribune. And a Senate bill which, “endorses Iron County taking over recovery of the Utah prairie dog” from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Utah legislature also put $300,000 in its budget to prevent the federal government from reintroducing the gray wolf into the state, another Salt Lake City Tribune article says. The article says that federal officials deny that any such reintroduction is planned.

Read the Salt Lake City Tribune article on the wolf payment here.

And props to Brian Maffly, the Salt Lake City Tribune reporter on both of those stories for making dull legislative news lively and easy to understand.

Photo: gray wolf by Gary Kramer, used courtesy USFWS