A wide diversity of remarkable animals calls longleaf pine flatwoods and sandhills habitats home. Here, discover species special to naturalist Dirk Stevenson. He has spent much of his life in the Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States wading swamps and exploring pine landscapes in his field studies of imperiled and declining amphibians, reptiles and insects.
Here, Dirk authors accounts of the deep-digging gopher tortoise, a denizen of longleaf sandhills and a keystone species; and the gopher frog and the eastern indigo snake, which have developed intimate associations within the burrows of the tortoise. Discover the secretive frosted flatwoods salamander, an amphibian of mesic longleaf pine savannas, and take a closer look at the odd Say’s spiketail dragonfly. The nymphs of this predatory insect live in mucky springs while the adults hunt for wasps and bees in longleaf pine – turkey oak sandhills. And last is the industrious and comical southeastern pocket gopher, whose numerous mounds can be seen from space.
LANSING – Bird enthusiasts from around the world travel to northern Michigan in hopes of catching sight of a Kirtland’s warbler, a small songbird once poised on the brink of extinction, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Now the species is thriving thanks to decades of effort by a diverse group of dedicated partners. Due to the species’ remarkable recovery, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week announced that it no longer warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“The effort to recover the Kirtland’s warbler is a shining example of what it takes to save imperiled species,” said Margaret Everson, principal deputy director of the Service. “Truly dedicated partners have worked together for decades to recover this songbird. I thank them for their efforts and applaud this historic conservation success.”
“The Kirtland’s warbler was one of the first species in the United States to be put on the federal list of endangered and threatened species, and today’s action by the U.S. Department of the Interior marks the latest chapter in a remarkable wildlife success story,” said Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Eichinger on Tuesday, Oct. 8. “The bird’s recovery provides dramatic testimony to what conservation organizations, governments and businesses can accomplish when they come together for the good of the resource.
“We are grateful for the partnership of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service in this effort. I sincerely believe conservation is a team sport, and today’s announcement is a big win for natural resources in Michigan and for all those involved.”
Historically, wildfires were the most important factor for establishing the natural jack pine forests that Kirtland’s warblers need for breeding habitat, according to the DNR. Modern wildfire suppression greatly diminished the natural disturbance that once generated Kirtland’s warbler breeding habitat. In the absence of wildfire, land managers had to take an active role in mimicking natural processes that regularly occurred within the jack pine ecosystem. This is primarily done through large-scale timber harvesting and human-assisted reforestation.
Today, the sale of jack pine timber on sites where reforestation will occur is critical to managing Kirtland’s warbler breeding habitat. Timber receipts offset the cost of replanting jack pine needed to support a viable population of nesting Kirtland’s warblers that would not otherwise be feasible through conservation dollars.
“Private forest owners are proud partners in this major milestone and committed to the long-term health of the Kirtland’s warbler,” said Dave Tenny, founding president and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners. “Private forest owners are an essential part of conservation success – 360 million acres of working forests across the country are privately owned. We proudly work with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and conservation partners to develop and implement smart management decisions that support a wide range of wildlife across the country.”
“Collaborative conservation is an effective way of protecting at-risk species and their habitat because it creates a common focus around a shared objective for government agencies, private landowners and the broader conservation community,” said Craig Seaman, senior investment forester, of Timberland Investment Resources, LLC, which manages working forest investments in Wisconsin. “This is another example of how conservation without conflict can produce positive outcomes and we congratulate all those involved, and especially the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for leading the effort.”
Kirtland’s warblers were among the first animals in the United States identified as being at risk of extinction. The species nests only in young jack pine stands in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario. It overwinters in the Bahamas. Populations dipped to a low of 167 pairs in 1974 and again in 1987 before starting a steady climb toward recovery.
Prompting the warbler’s slow but steady ascent were long-term efforts by partners such as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service and conservation groups to conserve young jack pine habitat and control brown-headed cowbirds, a primary threat to the species. Cowbirds lay their eggs in warbler nests and larger cowbird chicks outcompete their warbler nest mates, causing the warbler chicks to die while the unwitting warbler parents raise the cowbird imposters.
Year after year, a stalwart group of partners ensured habitat was available and cowbirds were controlled. Due to their efforts, the Kirtland’s warbler population steadily rose. Numbers reached more than 1,000 pairs by 2001, expanding beyond the northern Lower Peninsula to areas in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin and Ontario. Currently, the Kirtland’s warbler population is estimated to be more than 2,300 pairs, more than double the goal identified in the species’ recovery plan. The population has exceeded recovery goals for the past 17 years and continues to increase and expand its range.
The Kirtland’s Warbler Breeding Range Conservation Plan was developed in 2015 and is now the guiding management strategy for the species. Additionally, funding and other commitments to habitat management and cowbird control are in place to ensure continued conservation actions in the absence of ESA protections.
By Amanda Kolson Hurley
In the 1960s, America fell in love with a new tree: the Bradford pear. Cultivated from Asian stock by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bradford pears display clouds of pretty blossoms in the spring and garnet leaves in the fall, and are hardy enough to grow just about anywhere. Thinking they had found the perfect ornamental tree, homeowners and public-works departments planted Bradford pears up and down the nation’s streets for decades, especially in the East, South, and Midwest.
Then the relationship soured. Bradfords are apt to split and break during storms, and they have a short life span, only 15 or 20 years. Although they are technically sterile, the trees cross-pollinate with other cultivars of the Callery pear species (Pyrus calleryana), producing fruit that splats all over sidewalks. And despite their delicate appearance, the blossoms emit a foul odor that’s been compared to rotting fish (among other things).Cities and states are trying to remove Bradford pears‚ but the “weed trees” have already intruded deep into some forests, a biologist warns.
Once admired for its hardiness, the Bradford pear is now considered an invasive species, which grows even in poor conditions, proliferates fast—thanks to birds that dine on its fruit and spread the seeds—and crowds out native species.
Cities are trying to put an end to the tree’s mischief. Pittsburgh’s Urban Forest Master Plan prohibits planting Bradford pears. This March, Fayetteville, Arkansas, started offering a bounty to anyone who cuts one down. (They can get a free native tree to replace it.)
The bad news is it’s not only in developed areas where the trees threaten to choke biodiversity. Theresa Culley, head of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cincinnati, warns that wild Bradfords and other kinds of Callery pears are making inroads into Eastern forests.
by Elyse Catalina, University of Maine
A mouse scampers through the forest, stopping suddenly at the sight of a tree seed on the ground. A potential meal. And a dilemma.
The mouse must decide if it should eat the seed immediately. Or hide it in a safe place for consumption when food is scarce. Or pass it up in hopes of something better.
Many factors determine what the mouse will do next, including how abundant the seeds are and if the rodent is a fan of that variety.
Personality is another element that might play a role in what the mouse decides, according to a University of Maine researcher.
How animals react to an environment that is transforming due to human behavior and climate change is at the core of research being conducted by Alessio Mortelliti, an assistant professor of wildlife habitat ecology at UMaine.
One study Mortelliti and his students are pursuing focuses on how individual personalities of small mammals affect their response to global change.
Like humans, animals have a personality, according to Mortelliti.
“Anyone that has a pet knows they have a personality,” he says. “It’s the same for squirrels, mice and voles.”
Within a species, individuals can be aggressive or shy, more or less social, Mortelliti explains.
“We’re looking at how this individuality—their own way of being—affects the way they respond to changes in their environment made by humans,” he says of wild small mammals.
When a mouse finds a seed, the decision it makes affects more than the mouse. If the seed is eaten immediately, any chance of a plant sprouting from that seed is gone. If the mouse decides to move and store the seed, a plant has a chance to grow.
Mortelliti believes that by modifying the environment, humans may be favoring certain personality types over others and, in turn, altering the course of evolution and the shape of the forest.
By Liz Langley
Green spaces within cities can lessen the impact of artificial light on bats, a new study says.
YOU’D THINK HALLOWEEN would be the battiest time of the year, but these winged mammals merit a second annual celebration.
In honor of National Bat Appreciation Day, we’re taking a look at urban bats and how they manage to live among us. (Get the truth behind six bat myths.)
Excessive artificial lighting, also called light pollution, can have a negative effect on many nocturnal animals, for instance by disorienting them or interfering with their reproduction.
But that hasn’t stopped bats from making their homes in cities. For instance, 18 of Germany’s 25 bat species live in Berlin, which is also made up of 20 percent forest.
“Trees provide a lot of benefits for bats,” including roosts, shelter from wind and predators, and better foraging opportunities, says Tanja M. Straka, a researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
By Martha Quillin
Days of wind and rain snapped or toppled trees throughout the Croatan National Forest, both near the NC coast. Among the trees felled were long leaf pines that were home to some of the forests’ most celebrated residents: endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers.
Hurricane Florence, one of the costliest storms ever to hit the U.S., damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of homes when it made landfall in September. Not all of them belonged to humans.
Days of wind and torrential rain snapped or toppled trees throughout the Croatan National Forest and on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, both near the coast. Among the trees felled were long leaf pines that were home to some of the forests’ most celebrated residents: endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers.
The 160,000-acre forest, stretching across Carteret, Jones and Craven counties, is home to about 112 “clusters” of the little black-and-white birds. A cluster usually consists of a mating pair and up to four of the previous year’s offspring. Researchers believe the Croatan has about 300 individual birds, making it the largest site that far east and west. There are an estimated 16,250 red-cockaded woodpeckers total across 11 states, with the largest population being on Fort Bragg.
By Dan Zukowski
A large chunk of the country’s forests were harmed in 2015 by wildlife—77 percent due to deer. Bringing back an apex predator could help staunch the bleeding.
From the peak of Mt. Rausu, a clear view of the Shiretoko Peninsula opens from the Okhotsk Sea on the west to the Pacific Ocean on the east. Below, a dense green boreal forest of conifers, maples, and birch hides hundreds of brown bears and 590,000 sika deer. Japanese wolves once roamed this wilderness but their primeval howls fell silent here, and throughout Japan, more than a hundred years ago.
Narumi Nambu is working to bring wolves back to Japan.
“An apex predator is essential for sustainability of an ecosystem, and in Japan it was a wolf,” she writes in an email. Nambu volunteers for the Japan Wolf Association. Her work earned her the “Who Speaks for Wolf” award at the International Wolf Symposium in Minnesota, where she recently spoke.
She explained that, without the presence of natural predators like wolves, two-thirds of Japan’s 30 national parks are showing signs of deer-induced injury.
Shiretoko National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a deer problem, as does much of Japan. According to the most recent annual report by the Japan Forestry Agency, 8,000 hectares of the country’s forest were harmed in 2015 by wildlife—77 percent of it due to deer. All told, deer were responsible for $53 million in damage.
A study carried out by the IIRS has predicted a depletion of 9,007.14 square km (2.94 per cent) of forests in parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh by 2028.
A report published in the The Telegraph stated that the study – ‘Forest Cover Monitoring and Prediction in a Lesser Himalayan Elephant Landscape’ – published in the current issue of Current Science, says deforestation and loss of wildlife habitat in Upper Assam is likely to influence not only adjoining Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh but Lower Assam as well. The IIRS is under the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
The report further stated that scientists involved in the study said they monitored the depletion of forest cover in parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh over 42,375 square km in an elephant landscape falling in the Lesser Himalaya in the North East. The study, which covered a vast elephant landscape spread across West Bengal-Assam, Assam-Bhutan and Assam-Arunachal Pradesh borders in the lesser Himalayas, found a loss of about 7,590 square km (17.92 per cent) of forest cover from 1924 to 2009.
This was also found by US Army topographic maps (1924) and multi-date satellite images. The forest cover of 2028 was predicted using the 2000-2009 depletion of forests study and Cellular Automata Markov Model (CAMM). As elephants are long-ranging animals and are distributed across the landscape, it is important to carry out studies covering large areas to address the habitat status over time, which can be used for effective habitat conservation.
By Jade Boyd
Widespread logging and hunting have endangered virtually all of Madagascar’s 100-plus species of iconic lemurs, and a new study by Rice University ecologists illustrates how saving the animals may also be key to saving the island’s largest trees.
“Forest loss is a huge problem in Madagascar right now, but our study suggests that just saving the trees is not enough,” said Amy Dunham, associate professor of biosciences at Rice and co-author of a paper appearing online today in a special issue of the International Journal of Primatology. “Not only are we facing the loss of these unique, charismatic animals, we’re also losing their role in the ecosystem. Without lemurs, the rainforests themselves will change because the lemurs alone disperse the seeds of many of the forests’ largest hardwoods.”
The study builds upon nearly a decade of collaborative work by Dunham and lead author Onja Razafindratsima at the island nation’s Ranomafana National Park.
Lemurs mostly eat fruit, and for many of the largest trees in Madagascar, lemurs are the only animals large enough to ingest the seeds of their fruit. By dispersing seeds throughout the forest in their scat, lemurs serve as the unwitting gardeners of these large canopy trees.
A few more timber projects may move ahead on Montana state forests, even where they are in critical habitat for endangered species, under terms of a new state-federal conservation agreement. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released the final draft of an EIS that outlines management guidelines for more than 620,000 acres of state forests.