Using science to restore habitat for declining species

05/10/04

News leads from the USDA FS Southern Research Station

The following are leads for stories on ongoing Forest Service research to restore habitat for the Louisiana pine snake, red-cockaded woodpecker, cerulean warbler, Indiana bat, American eel, and North American freshwater mussels.

Louisiana Pine Snake Louisiana pine snake, a species of conservation concern, is associated with the longleaf pine forests of the West Gulf Coastal Plain. Craig Rudolph uses radiotelemetry and other methods to study this elusive snake, which many experts believe to be the rarest vertebrate in the United States. Louisiana pine snakes prey mainly on pocket gophers, using their burrows to hibernate. Alteration of the fire regime in the longleaf pine ecosystem in the West Gulf Coastal Plain has led to a decline in the plants that support the pocket gopher, which in turn has led to population declines of the Louisiana pine snake. Roads have also had a significant effect. Habitats are fragmented, and large numbers of snakes are killed by vehicles: data from a recent study suggests that impacts may extend several hundred meters from the road itself.
Recent article: http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/about/newsrelease/nr_2004-04-30-pinesnakes.htm
CONTACT: Craig Rudolph, Research Ecologist. (936-569-7981) or crudolph01@fs.fed.us

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker The red-cockaded woodpecker was also once a common sight in the southern United States, before logging and the alteration of the fire regime reduced the original longleaf pine habitat of the bird. Designated as endangered in 1970, red-cockaded woodpeckers are uniquely adapted to the fire-maintained southern pine ecosystem and require large, living pine trees for nesting. SRS researcher Richard Conner focuses on the ecology, habitat, and behavior of these cavity-nesting birds. When excavating its nest, the red-cockaded woodpecker pecks away the tree bark to make holes that leak sticky resin that deters snakes from entering the nest cavity. One of Conner's many studies suggests that the socially dominant breeding male can actually determine which tree will produce the most resin. Conner also studies the role of red heart fungus, which infects the heartwood of older pines, making them more attractive for excavation.
Recent scientific article on the relationship between group size and nesting success: http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/viewpub.jsp?index=6281
CONTACT: Richard Conner, Research Wildlife Biologist. (936-569-7981) or rconner@fs.fed.us

Cerulean Warbler The cerulean warbler, a tiny songbird with sky-blue plumage once common in the forest canopy of the eastern United States, is now rarely seen. The bird migrates to South America in August, returning to breed in North America in April or May. Numbers of cerulean warblers have declined by an estimated 70 percent since 1966, prompting wildlife ecologists to warn of their possible extinction. SRS researcher Paul Hamel has been researching the ecology and demographics of the cerulean warbler for over two decades. Hamel is part of a new international effort to determine the status of the cerulean warbler in both the breeding and nonbreeding ranges and to promote conservation efforts based on sound science.
Recent article: http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/about/newsrelease/nr_2004-02-02-warblers.htm
CONTACT: Paul Hamel, Research Wildlife Ecologist. (662-686-3167) or phamel@fs.fed.us

New Breeding Territory for the Endangered Indiana Bat One of the first bat species to be listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) hibernates in caves in Kentucky, Indiana, and Missouri. In the summer, female Indiana bats migrate to forest areas, where they form maternity colonies in trees. In 1999, an Indiana bat roost was found in the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina, the farthest south a maternity roost had ever been found. Since 2000, SRS researchers have been tracking Indiana bats to study the possible relationship between summer maternity locations and the decline of the species, which has continued despite the gating of major hibernation caves. In 2003, researchers published the first detailed description of the new maternity sites (full story and link to article at http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/about/newsrelease/nr_2003-07-14-indiana_bat.htm ).
CONTACT: Susan Loeb, Project Leader. (864-656-4865) or sloeb@fs.fed.us

American Eels in Decline Populations of American eels in both the United States and Canada have been declining since the mid-1970s, prompting concern over the status of this species. Along with fellow researchers and Virginia Tech graduate students, Andy Dolloff has been using radiotelemetry and other methods to study the seasonal behavior and habitat use of American eels in the headwater tributaries of the James River in Virginia. Preliminary results show that the daily activity of American eels is strongly influenced by seasonal change. Although researchers expected the eels to move out of smaller streams into larger, deeper streams for winter, they actually spent most of their time underneath the boulders and undercut banks of headwater streams, moving little. These findings have important implications: high sediment loads from floods or erosion can fill the cracks and undercut banks eels inhabit in the winter (2003 article:
http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/about/newsrelease/nr_2003-01-13-stream_erosion.htm ).
CONTACT: Andrew Dolloff, Project Leader. (540-231-4864) or adolloff@fs.fed.us

Reproductive Strategies of North American Mussels Many species of the freshwater mussels native to the Southeast are in decline, with some of the most important remaining populations in streams that drain from public and private forests. Little data exists on the reproductive traits of North American mussels. Mussels have a complex reproductive cycle that often requires a specific fish to serve as a host for the parasitic larva stage. Through painstaking research and underwater photography, SRS researchers Wendell Haag and Mel Warren are revealing the methods that mussels use to lure specific fish species close enough to "infect" them with their young. Mussels display remarkable adaptations to actively infect their hosts, setting out lures similar to the prey of the host fish, releasing mussel young in small packets that resemble food, or entangling fish briefly in mucuslike threads. Recent article on host fish and infection strategies: http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/viewpub.jsp?index=5337
CONTACT: Mel Warren, Team Leader. (662-234-2744x246) or mwarren01@fs.fed.us.
Wendell Haag, Fisheries Biologist. (662-234-2744 x245) or whaag@fs.fed.us

Source: Eurekalert & others

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