Tag Archives: habitat

Beach Day for Beetles!

The largest-ever reintroduction of an endangered tiger beetle happened quietly in the morning of October 19th, 2017, on a foggy beach in the Connecticut river. These beetles are the rare Puritan Tiger Beetle, Cicindela puritana , or “PTB” as tiger beetle experts call it. This species is listed as federally threatened and state endangered due to a century of human use that has changed the Connecticut River’s flow. This change has reduced desired habitat, and left only one viable population of PTBs in New England. This reintroduction of more than 700 laboratory-reared PTB larvae is only part of a multi-year, team-project to establish sustainable populations of PTB in the Connecticut River.

Endangered Puritan Tiger Beetle male.

This project, which is supported by the Cooperative Recovery Initiative program and based at the Richard Cronin Aquatic Resource Center in partnership with Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, unites a seasoned team of over 30 Federal & State wildlife officials, professional Biologists, Academic partners, students, and generous volunteers. Together, this group is pioneering methods to acquire land, captive-rear larvae, manage habitat, and use field-techniques to ensure the survival of PTB throughout one of the largest rivers in the Northeast.

Volunteers from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Student Conservation Association, and the University of Massachusetts prepare a plot before larva reintroduction.

To restore a healthy river ecosystem that includes these tiny apex predators, lab-reared PTB reintroductions are key to establishing new populations. To do this, the PTB team uses aerial “butterfly” nets to carefully collect adult beetles from the single source-population. The adult beetles mate and lay eggs in the lab, which hatch into larvae that grow progressively larger through 3 growth phases, called instars. In the wild, it takes about 2 years for PTB larvae to reach their third instar, but in the lab, this time can be reduced to just a few months.

Rodger Gwiazdowski moistens the top layer of soil with river water at 1 of 7 reintroduction plots.

The reintroduction sites were carefully selected by the PTB team. Finding good habitat requires expertise to determine sediment size, beach slope, and the abundance and diversity of prey that PTBs prefer. To be reintroduced, PTB larvae are transported to the site, each in their own small sand-filled vial, and released into plotted-areas on the beach where they immediately dig vertical tunnels in the sand to develop through their instar stages. 

Volunteers release PTB larva into the sand.

Over the next 2 years, the PTB team will revisit the reintroduction sites to count the number of PTB burrows and adult beetles, which will indicate the success and survival rate of the lab-reared PTBs.

Stay tuned for 2018 updates on the PTBs!

Driven by instincts and a pickup truck: An Atlantic salmon’s journey towards recovery

This is the introduction to a five-part series that follows an Atlantic salmon on its journey upstream to spawn in a tributary of Lake Champlain driven by its instincts (and a pickup truck). Learn why this species disappeared from the lake in the 19th century, and how it is making a comeback today thanks to collaboration by partners in the basin.

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Ready to run: After swimming into the Boquet River from Lake Champlain, this salmon and a few others were transported above a set of cascades to spawning habitat upstream in a pickup truck. Credit: Zach Eisenhauer/FWS

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to wade into a river to release a live salmon from your hands, you get it. I don’t need to explain why so much time, research, engineering, and ingenuity has gone into the recovery of this species in the Lake Champlain Basin. Because as that fish tensed against your firm grip eager to continue its journey upstream, you could feel its will to live.

If you haven’t, believe me: these fish were born to run. For thousands of years, the survival instinct — aided by a phenomenal homing ability — has led Atlantic salmon back to the rivers and streams where they were born to spawn and, hopefully, to pass their genes onto future generations.

Just like its ancestors, the salmon I held in my hands in the Boquet River in late October was determined to make its way upstream to reproduce. But beyond the shared reproductive urge, that salmon differs from salmon of yore in a few important ways.

For one: it didn’t come back to the river where it was born, because it was born in a hatchery.

For another: it didn’t swim upstream. It rode in a pickup truck.

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Carpool: A tank in the bed of a truck provides a safe way to transport live salmon upstream. Credit: Ashlee Prevost/Concordia University

Most importantly: it wouldn’t have been in the Boquet River at all if not for the dedication of local, state, and federal partners working together to get it there.

My salmon is not lazy. The collective will of Lake Champlain salmon to live hasn’t changed over the centuries. But the conditions necessary for them to do so have.

“A lot of things need to be right for salmon to have a full life cycle,” explained Bill Ardren, Senior Fish Scientist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office.

And in the 1800s, a lot of things started to go wrong: overfishing, agricultural runoff, development, and the deal breaker for a migratory fish species, the construction of dams along rivers. If salmon can’t reach the shallow, gravelly stream beds, with steadily flowing cold water that provide the right conditions for them to spawn, they simply can’t spawn.

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Wading for action: Senior Fish Scientist at the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office Bill Ardren stands by ready to assist colleagues fishing for salmon below a set of cascades in the Boquet River. Credit: Nancy Milliken

Cut off from breeding grounds, salmon were effectively cut off from their reproductive destinies, and by the end of the 1800s, the native Atlantic salmon population was gone from Lake Champlain.

But not forgotten.

In 1972, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to begin a coordinated effort to restore Lake Champlain’s Atlantic salmon population.

People have rallied around this fish for good reason. Salmon are what biologists call a keystone species — what happens if you remove the keystone from an arch? CRASH! Same goes for a species like salmon; they hold aquatic ecosystems together by eating, being eaten, and contributing vital nutrients.

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Move over Champy: After more than a century’s absence, Atlantic salmon are making a comeback in Lake Champlain. Credit: Steve Smith/FWS

That means actions taken to bring Atlantic salmon back to Lake Champlain benefit a range of other species that depend upon this system, including humans. Restoring riparian and headwater areas to protect spawning habitat results in cleaner water for people; controlling sea lamprey makes it possible for salmon and other species that have been parasitized by this fish, like lake trout and lake sturgeon, to survive into adulthood; and removing aquatic barriers to increase fish passage means a lower risk of flooding for communities.

There’s also the bottom line: For communities on Lake Champlain and its tributaries, the return of salmon could mean the return of a lucrative fishery. Bring salmon back to the rivers, the anglers will follow, and communities will flourish.

The salmon that entered the river from my hands is a product of the restoration effort (born in the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Fish Hatchery in North Chittenden, Vermont), a participant in the restoration effort (transported above cascades in the Boquet River via pickup truck), and a key to answering questions that can help ensure the program’s long-term success through genetic testing.

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In it together: Partners from local communities, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and universities are working together to restore Lake Champlain’s salmon population. Credit: Nancy Milliken

In this series, we will meet the partners behind the restoration work, and learn how each has contributed a critical piece to a complex restoration puzzle which when complete, will be much greater than the sum of its parts.

“One of the neat things about salmon is they are a great indicator species,” said Ardren. “So if we can get natural populations reestablished, we really will have restored these ecosystems to a level of high quality habitat overall. And we are getting really close.”

How close? The salmon I released into the Boquet River last October may be able to fulfill its destiny after all.

Part 1: Joining forces in the upstream battle for salmon

Part 2: A new hope surfaces for salmon restoration

Part 3: Hatching a plan to save salmon

Part 4: Taking cues from nature to advance salmon restoration

Part 5: A fish points to the future in Lake Champlain

 

 

Planting for pollinators at a Philly landmark

As warmer weather arrives in the Northeast, flowers and trees are blooming and pollinating insects are emerging. What better time to continue our project installing a pollinator garden at Independence National Historical Park! While bees, moths, and flies are enjoying the spring weather, monarch butterflies are making their journey north from Mexico and should be arriving in areas throughout the Northeast in about a month! The monarchs arriving will be the offspring of monarchs that overwintered in Mexico, and will use this garden and others like it. Be sure to plant milkweed for monarchs!

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Student Conservation Association Community Crews with their completed garden

Last month, we partnered with our friends at the National Park Service to begin work with Student Conservation Association community crews on phase one of this project. The garden will provide wildlife-friendly green space for people, as well as habitat for monarch butterflies and other pollinators. In addition to great habitat, this garden will be a useful tool in reaching the community and its visitors to share the importance of pollinators, especially for our nation’s agricultural crops. It will also extend the reach of John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge further into the city, providing an opportunity for people to learn more about wildlife conservation, especially those who may not normally not get a chance to visit the refuge in southwest Philly.

On our first days at the garden, we tackled weeds and demolished the garden’s existing English ivy. Most recently, community crews returned to plant the native wildflowers for our local pollinators.

Planting begins!

Planting begins!

The morning was very busy as we worked to distribute mulch and prepare the ground for plants.

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Spreading mulch….and taking a few pics!

After lunch, we transitioned into planting the native wildflowers! Hundreds of plugs were carefully laid out and planted. While these plugs look little now, beebalm, irises, asters and more will soon populate the entire space. The flowers were carefully selected to be several different colors and bloom throughout the spring, summer, and fall. This will attract many different species of pollinators and ensure they have food throughout the year.

Plugs laid out for planting.

Plugs laid out for planting.

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Transplanting young plants can be delicate work and the students took it seriously.

Right now, we wait. We’re watering the plants and checking their progress; they seem to be doing okay. Check out the different stages of the garden below and stay tuned for the next installment!

Click here to learn more about you can help monarchs and other pollinators.