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Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category

This foggy bog is one of the many randomly selected sites that Lisa Smith has placed phototraps. Don't let the vegetation fool you; you will sink into the murky water if you step off of the plank (L.Weisenfluh/July 2010).

Steady, steady. Be graceful—like a tiger. You can do that, right? Heh—who are you kidding? You have the grace of an elephant, remember? Add it to a dose of morning grogginess, and boy, you’ve got quite a show. After all, one momentary lapse could result in a cold, muddy “Good morning!” because I wasn’t scaling an ordinary wooden beam—there be boggy waters below!

No, I hadn’t gone stir-crazy. And no—I hadn’t mistakenly entered these mysterious waters. In fact—quite the contrary. As a science communication intern, I had the opportunity to go out into the field with a graduate student from the University of Maryland at Frostberg, Lisa Smith—an opportunity which resulted in exploring a watery bog at early hours of the morning. She is currently conducting research on the wildlife species composition on the Schoodic Peninsula as a part of her Master’s Thesis. Her project is a part of a much larger scheme: researchers are hoping to install a wildlife corridor throughout the Schoodic Peninsula.

Why are such corridors needed? Habitats have become fragmented with the increased flux of people coming through the area. Roads have been built. Properties have been developed. The result is a bleak picture for wildlife: isolated in smaller habitats, they have fewer resources available—whatever it may be, whether food, mates, or territory. As a result, ecosystem health diminishes. Conservationists hope to reverse this process by putting the fragmented habitats back together through small pieces of land that re-connect the fragmented habitats—wildlife corridors.

But where to place them? That’s the tricky part and where Lisa Smith’s research comes in. She hopes to locate where and what types of animals are located throughout the Schoodic Peninsula so that wildlife corridors can be assigned appropriately. Lisa Smith randomly picked out sites (like the watery bog) to place phototraps. Phototraps are cameras that take pictures when triggered by motion or heat. In other words, these cameras will capture all instances of wildlife passing by it—everything from raccoons, bears, or porcupines. And what attracts the animals to the phototrap sites? Some good ol’ fashioned lures, of course!

But before re-setting the trap with numerous lures, the cameras need to be checked to see if they are working. After safely making it across the bog (and yes—I miraculously managed to avoid plunging to the watery depths below), Lisa Smith approaches the phototrap, opens it up, and checks for photographs. No photos on this one. The meat is gone….but where are the photos of the creature that took the meat? Is it working? She decides to re-place the camera. Next off, she needs to re-set the site with a variety of scents and bait. Mmmmm—buffet time.

Lisa Smith administers cat nip oil to the hanging feather scent lure (L.Weisenfluh/July 2010).

As Lisa Smith opens her red case of lures, a peculiar scent fills the air—a strange combination of urine, meat, and skunk. There are several types of lures that she employs to draw animals to the phototraps. First, she re-administers the hanging trap, comprised of a film canister and feather. The film canister is filled with a mixture of Vaseline and skunk spray. She sprays cat nip oil on the feather below. On the site below, she fills two old empty bullet castings with a variety of things, including beaver castor (a secretion used for scent marking). Last, but not least—a small suet of meat. And…bon appetite! Aren’t you hungry now? While the menu may not sound appetizing to the normal human being, these lures have been specifically designed to attract carnivores—animals that will be afftected by wildlife corridors through their large ranges.

After replacing the dysfunctional phototrap with a functional phototraph, we head off to the next site. Lisa Smith spends her entire day driving from site to site, re-administering lures and setting up new traps. Out of 60 traps, 50 appear to be working, leaving her with 50 lure sites throughout the Schoodic Peninsula. She leaves the traps out for ten days at a time, re-luring and checking each site on day five of each ten day period. Lisa Smith wishes to cycle these phototraps through three to four cycles of these ten day periods, hopefully giving her lots of wildlife sightings (and therefore lots of data). Personally, I am excited to see what her results may bring, and more specifically, how they will help implement successful wildlife corridors. Until then, take caution to avoid any particularly odd smelling areas while exploring the lovely Schoodic Peninsula; you could be on camera!

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Welcome to your new tropical abode, Gilligan. Sure, the scenery's great, but the potential wife factor is extremely lacking (L. Weisenfluh, January 2008)

Ecologically, isolation can be detrimental to a habitat. Think about it in terms of your own relocation. You move to, say, some newly discovered island off the coast of Costa Rica.

What biological processes do you need to conduct in order to live and perpetuate your genes? You need to eat. Okay, so learn to hunt wild boars (mmmm… bacon). But what happens if you over-hunt the local boar population and cannot find anything else to eat (yes, everything else is poisonous, for the sake of this argument)?

Better yet, what happens when you wish to perpetuate your fitness? Even if you have brought along your significant other, who will your children mate with? Don’t even think about inbreeding–this will seriously decrease your genetic fitness by revealing those nasty little recessive deleterious traits.

A classic anthropogenic barrier--a road (G. Weisenfluh, April 2008)

Now, make this less personal, and think about it in terms of animal populations, animal populations that have been isolated (or fragmented) due to ecological processes, such as fires or human activities (roads, cities, and so on). How do we revive ecosystems that have been fragmented? You guessed it: by putting them back together.

That’s exactly what Dr. Robert Brooks of Pennsylvania State University hopes to do in downeast Maine from Schoodic Point to Schoodic Mountain. The region in between is ecologically diverse, with a wide range of habitats– everything from coastal to terrestrial to freshwater. By connecting these habitats in the form of a wildlife corridor, animals will have more habitat to live in and move through safely–this means more movement, more mixing, more food options, mating opportunities, etc., etc., thus a healthier population.

But in order to establish this wildlife corridor, scientists must first prove that these fragmented habitats are worth connecting–that is, that they contain species that need the wildlife corridor to thrive. Scientists are currently conducting research to survey for such wildlife. This inventory and monitoring work involves setting, baiting, and checking phototraps which attract mammals and then snap their portrait when they pass in front of camera (the animal’s body heat and movement triggers the camera). After surveying the animal populations in the Schoodic area, the research team will be able to better determine whether the wildlife corridor will help reduce fragmentation and therefore improve the health of the area’s ecosystems.

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