Since its emergence in 2006, white nose syndrome (WNS) has killed over 5 million bats across the Northeast region. The disease is caused by a fungus that destroys the bats’ skin and wings, leading to dehydration or starvation. WNS has spread rapidly throughout the eastern U.S. and some occurrences have recently been documented in the West. National parks and monuments throughout the West are closely monitoring bat populations for any signs of WNS. Lava Beds National Monument is no different; the Bat and Cave Team here monitors bat populations to estimate their numbers and watch out for irregular behavior.
One of the methods to estimate bat populations is mobile acoustic monitoring along a transect. This week, I accompanied the Lava Beds Bat and Cave Team on a mobile transect for the first time! We attached a microphone to a large post on a car and then recorded over 50 bat echolocation calls as we drove along the park. Afterwards, we processed the data to identify the bat species we encountered and plotted them on a map. If you’d like to see the results we found on Google Earth, click here to download the KMZ file!
Although acoustic monitoring is an integral part of protecting the bats at Lava Beds, many of the visitors to the park aren’t aware of it or how it works. That’s where my interpretative program comes in! By incorporating real-time acoustic monitoring into an evening program, visitors can experience echolocation firsthand and connect with bats as well as science and nature as a whole. So far, I’ve done three of these “bat walks” and I’m amazed at the level of enthusiasm visitors of all ages have for bats. They’re curious about topics like species differences, migration, and hibernation. Throughout the summer, I hope that I can keep improving my program to further facilitate this curiosity!
I recently underwent a workshop sponsored by an organization called ISWOOP. The name means interpreters and scientists working on our parks. This workshop brought together park interpreters and researchers conducting studies at the Indiana Dunes to present ways for visitors to understand scientific research being done at the park. The theme of the week was amphibian research and was led by my former professor Dr. Robert Brodman. The first day of the workshop, he presented the research he has done at the park to study how climate change has been affecting amphibian’s populations. The two main species focused on in his research is Wood frog and Blue-spotted salamanders. The dunes are located on these species’ southern range. The importance of Brodman’s research is to see how these species will adapt to warmer conditions and show how vulnerable these species are to such changes. We got the chance to go into to field to show interpreters how amphibians were surveyed.
There are two different techniques used in order to collect amphibians. One way was with dip nets that were scooped in water. Often enough, tadpoles and salamander larva were found. The quantity of species found was recorded. The other technique used to collected was trapping. Mesh minnow traps were set up in ponds around wetlands in the park and checked once a day. Traps used caused no harm to species captured as they were only used to capture them. Once traps were checked and species were identified, they were released.
The last part of the workshop was for me to work with a group of interpreters to come up with a mock program to incorporate aspects of Brodman’s research to visitors. My group and I came up with a program called the Amphibious Assault on West Beach. This program is an add-on to a night hike that the park does on Friday evenings. The hike would consist of showing visitors areas where frogs and toads could be heard and teaching them what species make those sounds. To even show a visual representation of calls, IPADS with sound software can show the sound waves that these species make for visitors to understand how frogs and toads make these calls. From this workshop, I have a better understanding of how to work with interpreters and to further prepare to create citizen science programs for pollinators.
Looking back on the last five days, friendships have been made and team names have been assigned! The second week of Summer Connections has ended and it has been a ball. The students got to explore the intertidal zone this week — a very rich but hard ecosystem in which to survive. The intertidal zone is the area above water at low tide and under water at high tide. Organisms that live in this ecosystem have adapted to the harsh and extreme conditions of this environment.
During this week students also got some more hands-on practice doing what scientists do, and exploring, with more depth, what it means to be a scientist. On their walk down to the ecosystem, they engaged in a solo sensory walk through the forest, where they focused on listening to their surroundings. Some of the things the students heard were:
Once we arrived to the ecosystem, field journals were distributed. Students took about five minutes to locate themselves on a map. If you take a look on the map you will see yellow stars; those represent the students’ guesses of their location. The red and green arrows represent the start and end point of their walk down to the intertidal zone. The students also took some time to observe and write down observations about this ecosystem with the headings of: “I notice, I wonder, and it reminds me off.”
Yazmarie’s field observations
Last but most importantly, EXPLORATION TIME! The students headed down the beach in the search of biotic and abiotic factors. Their last task of the day as scientists exploring the intertidal zone was to make numerical observations by counting Asian Shore Crabs that were found. Asian shore crabs are Japanese invasive species that came to North America and have successfully reproduced and thrived.
Overall, it was an amazing week discovering the mysteries of the intertidal zone. Each week the students are learning more and more of what it really means to be a field scientist; taking detailed notes, making careful observations, using a map to locate themselves while collecting data about specific species. Next week, they will explore the forested woodlands and meadows, a very different ecosystem, with new opportunities to grow, learn and discover.
Let’s jump right into, a field trip to Brownsville, TX. At Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park (PAAL), we start our Texas tortoises radio tracking study for summer 2017. The picture above was taken early in the morning of the first day, but before you go to the field, there are many safety actions you need to take. First, you have a safety meeting, there you are informed of the safety equipment you will need, how to use it, the procedures in case of an emergency (snake bite, bees, dehydration, falls), exchange contact information, receive radios, and are informed of how the survey will proceed.
My project, Texas tortoises radio tracking, is tagging along with a bi-annual survey that happens since 2008. The study is to monitor Gopherus berlandieri, the smallest tortoise species in North America. In 1982, Texas Parks and Wildlife raised the species status to threatened. The species’ habitat is limited to the Texas lower plains, and it is very sensitive to environmental changes; this makes it a great ecological indicator, a vital sign, of the well-being of the park. An equip of eight people from the Gulf Coast Network staff, the resource specialist of PAAL, partners such as Trace Tuberville and Kurt Buhlmann, and volunteers are responsible for every six months find, measure, photograph, and mark the tortoises to evaluate the population health condition. For example, on this trip we found many young tortoises, suggesting that environmental conditions are favorable. If you are interested in more information about the regular monitoring of the tortoises and other vital signs of the park visit: https://www.nps.gov/paal/index.htm and https://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/guln/monitor/texas_tortoise.cfm.
The tracking team was Trace and me, and the others were part of the survey team. When a surveyor encounters a tortoise, there is a procedure it must follow. After it is done the radio transmitter was temporarily attached to suitable individuals (see photo below), then via radio, text message and GPS point, the tracking team was informed of the tortoise number and which transmitter frequency it had. Using an antenna and a receiver, I would scan the field to find the animal so would the radio transmitter could be attached permanently to its carapace.
The product we used to glue the radio transmitters need 15-20 minutes to cure, so during that period was picture time. As you can see, in the picture below, G. berlandieri are super photogenic, and its selfie was way better than mine. In total, we tagged 16 tortoises, which was our goal. During this summer I will return once a month to re-find those animals.
On the second the day of the field trip I participated in the regular survey. It was very different than tracking with the antenna. Using a handheld GPS you confirm you are inside of the search area, then the group leader gives the start, and everyone starts walking around looking at the ground to find the animals. It is not easy to spot the animals; you need to pay attention. Using the snake stick (the region is known for having rattlesnakes) as an extension of your limb you keep walking and looking to find the tortoises.
Try for yourself, locate the tortoise in the picture bellow. I promise you there is one.
Did you find the tortoise?
How about another one?
Let’s see if you are getting good at it.
This cutie is only 58grams; it is one of the smallest animals found in a survey. I was able to hear It moving in the spartana spartanae. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have found it. In total, I was able to find two juveniles and one adult, not bad for a first timer.
I had a great time tracking and doing the survey, as I already had expected it is a harsh environment. My final count of incidents was some thorns on my hand, some on my butt (you definitely need to look before you squat when you are trying to get a better look of a tortoise, lesson learned), and two ticks. Overall it was a great experience, and I’m excited to go back.
I spend a lot of my time counting. It’s essential for the research I’m helping with at Buck Island Reef National Monument (BUIS). I count in order to determine seagrass and macro-algal species composition, structural complexity, and percent cover of seagrass. These values will allow my mentor, Alexandra Gulick, to characterize and compare turtle grazed and ungrazed meadows at Buck Island. This will also allow us to determine what the turtles are eating. Caribbean green turtles are known to primarily eat Thalassia; however, we are noticing that they are also consuming Syringodium at BUIS.
The algae I count: Halimeda spp., Caulerpa spp., Penicillus spp., Acetobularia spp., and Udotea spp.
The seagrass I count: Thalassia testudinum, Syringodium filiforme and Halodule wrightii
I also count green turtles. The other day Alexandra, Ashley and myself spent an early morning conducting visual surveys for foraging green turtles in the seagrass meadows to determine the period of peak grazing activity. We’ll be deploying stationary cameras within grazed meadows to look at how different seagrass pasture characteristics (all the things I count) affect green turtle foraging behavior. Deploying cameras during the peak grazing period increases our chances of observing green turtles. And once we get them on camera, I’ll be observing and analyzing their foraging behavior (e.g. grazing duration, bite counts, intake, etc.), AKA counting.
Another successful week at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park! This week we focused on river user counts through cameras, and trail monitors. I got to go out and learn how to switch SD cards in the three cameras we have set up, and how to format them. The three cameras are set up pointing towards the river. These are set in place so we can get an idea of how many people are using the river and for what. People go down the river in kayaks, canoes, floats and even some SUPs (stand up paddle boards).
Additionally we put up some infrared trail counters. These were put on little trails that are put ins, or take outs for people using the river. These don’t take pictures but help to give us a rough idea of how many people are going down these paths to the river, and at what times are most popular. With the information from these cameras and infrared counters we can use it create better water trails, and access points!