Asian Carp Head North

asian carp map 4-13“Asian carp have harmed the ecosystem, the economy, property, and boaters in the Mississippi River system. The diet of Asian carp overlaps with the diet of native fishes in the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, meaning the carp compete directly with native fish for food,” says the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee website.

That website, and other information on Asian carp, emphasize the danger to humans from the carp. The carp are large and jump as high as 10 feet out of the water when startled. Since passing boats startle the fish, they injure boaters.

The focus has been on keeping Asian carp, a term that includes both bighead carp and silver carp out of the Great Lakes, which already has enough invasive species, thank you, and where the carp are expected to do horrible things to the food chain.

This week, however, the bad news is that Asian carp have spread farther north in the Mississippi River. Their eggs have been found as far north as Lynxville, Wisc.

“This discovery means that Asian carp spawned much farther north in the Mississippi than previously recorded,” said Leon Carl, US Geological Survey Midwest Regional Director in a USGS press release. “The presence of eggs in the samples indicates that spawning occurred, but we do not know if eggs hatched and survived or whether future spawning events would result in live fish.”

Read the USGS press release with all the details, here.
Read an article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, based mostly on the press release here.
Another article, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, also leans heavily on the press release. Read it here.

Map: Asian carp distribution, as of April 2013. Map courtesy of Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee

White Nose Syndrome Inches West

wns in western MOSorry for the double dose of white nose syndrome (WNS) news, but I didn’t want this to get lost in yesterday’s post on the the new WNS protocol, even though it was included in the same Wildlife Health Bulletin. Here’s the announcement:

In December, WNS was confirmed in a tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus) from Jackson County, Missouri, which borders Kansas. This detection represents the western-most location of WNS in North America and is also the first detection of WNS during winter 2013/2014. The nearest confirmed cases of WNS from the previous winter are located in east-central Missouri.

I couldn’t find anything on this case in a newspaper or a general interest publication.
Again, the Wildlife Health Bulletin (PDF)

Map: This year’s first WNS report in red. Map by Cal Butchkoski, PA Game Commission, used courtesy USFWS

New White Nose Syndrome Protocols

WNS regions 2014The National Wildlife Health Center (in Madison, Wisc., part of the US Geological Survey) has updated the Bat Submission Guidelines for the 2013/2014 white nose syndrome (WNS) surveillance season.These are the protocols that you, a state wildlife biologist, would use to submit a bat or other sample to the center for WNS diagnosis.

The new protocol breaks the country into three regions (WNS prevalent, some WNS, no WNS yet) and has slightly different procedures for each region. One new aspect is the availability of swab kits, so that whole dead bats don’t always have to be sent to the center.

The notice for the new protocol also include the advice not to survey for WNS before mid-winter. The fungus is typically not recognizable before mid-winter and the extra disturbance harms the bats.

The supporting documents include a lot of PDFs:
The National Wildlife Health Center Bulletin announcing the new protocol. (PDF)The new protocol itself (PDF; 29 pages)
A non-PDF version of the new protocol announcement from whitenosesyndrome.org (which is a US Fish and Wildlife Service site)

And, if you are a state wildlife biologist, and you haven’t signed up for the National Wildlife Health Center’s Wildlife Health Bulletin, you should. It comes out as-needed, and that has never been more than once a month, usually much less. Here’s the link to back issues. Information for subscribing is in tiny print at the end of the bulletin.

Graphic: Map from WNS protocol; USGS

USGS River Gauges and Sequestration

river gauge mapOne way for the federal government to save money is to turn off any number of the 7,000 river gauges installed and maintained by the US Geological Survey. Each gauge costs $14,000 to $18,000 a year to maintain, High Country News reports.

High Country News also reports on which river gauges in the West are most likely to be shut because of sequestration or other budget cuts.

We pointed you to an article about Montana’s last minute rescue of some of that state’s river gauges in May. That arrangement lasts until September.

Because river gauges are such a vital tool in managing river ecosystems, we thought you would like to know.

Read the High Country News article, here.
See the USGS map of lost and endangered river gauges, here.

Illustration: River gauge map on July 9, 2013 from USGS

It’s Not The Heat, It’s the Water Regime

black-bellied_salamander_cressler_high_resToday is the second day in a US Geological Survey amphibian two-fer. If you like your wildlife moist and federally researched, you’ve come to the right place.

Scientists have long suspected that climate change is an important factor in amphibian declines, a US Geological Survey press release notes, and resource managers are asking whether conservation measures might help species persist or adapt in a changing climate. Three recent U.S. Geological Survey studies offer some insight into the issue.

The studies were conducted by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative, or ARMI.

One study found that it’s not the heat, it’s the precipitation that will drive amphibian’s response to climate change. That is, the alternating droughts and deluges that are predicted to worsen as climate change increases, will hurt amphibian populations as they struggle to adapt to ever-changing water levels. Read that paper in the journal Biology.

Another study confirmed that drought hurts populations of mole salamanders, at least over the short term. The study was important because the mole salamanders are similar to the federally threatened flatwoods salamander, and the finding implies that climate change will be yet another stressor to the threatened species. Read the paper in the journal Wetlands.

The third study showed U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wetlands Reserve Program is effective in increasing the species richness of frogs and toads on farms in the program. Creating permanent, or at least long-lasting, water sources seems to be the primary reason. Learn more in the paper in the journal Restoration Ecology.

You can read a more detailed summary of these three studies in the USGS press release, here.

Photo: Black-bellied salamander (Desmognathus quadramaculatus) was found in the Citico Creek Wilderness, Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee. Not sure what it has to do with these studies, but it’s cute. Photo by Alan Cressler, courtesy USGS.

USGS Calculates How Fast Amphibians Are Falling

Green_Tree_Frog_in_pitcher_plant_Cressler_photoThere have been studies that have calculated the likelihood of extinction for various amphibian species, but the first study to calculate how fast amphibian populations are declining was recently published in PLoS ONE.

The study found that amphibians disappeared from their habitats at a rate of 3.7% per year from 2002 to 2011. Species that are red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) disappeared at an average of 11.6% annually.

“Even though these declines seem small on the surface, they are not,” said US Geological Survey ecologist Michael Adams, the lead author of the study in a press release. “Small numbers build up to dramatic declines with time. We knew there was a big problem with amphibians, but these numbers are both surprising and of significant concern.”

Read the PLoS ONE article, here. (Open access.)
Read the USGS press release on the paper, here.
Read a Washington Post article that is mostly about the rate of amphibian decline, here.

Photo: A green tree frog (Hyla cinerea) sits on the lip of a pitcher plant in a bog in Alabama. Photo by Alan Cressler, used courtesy USGS.

Montana Takes Over USGS Gauges

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks needs river gauges to determine fishing (and boating) conditions, so when the US Geological Survey said it was going to stop maintaining four of the state’s river gauges because of the sequester’s funding cuts, the state said it would  keep the gauges going.

According to an Associated Press story that ran in the Flathead Beacon, the USGS says it saves about $16,000 a year for each gauge it shuts down. USGS staff visit each gauge about ten times a year to make adjustments for silt build up, channel changes, debris and other river events.

That article and other in the Billings Gazette and Ravalli Republic don’t make clear whether state personnel will take over maintaining the gauges or some other arrangement has been made. It does seem clear, however, that the arrangement will last until September.

Montana’s Department of Natural Resources is also contributing to keep the gauges operational, the Flathead Beacon article says.

Read the whole story in the Flathead Beacon, here.
Read the Billings Gazette article here.

Read the Ravalli Republic article here.

Python Forecast: Cloudy

In 2008 the US Geological Survey published a report that said that the entire southern third of the United States could provide habitat for the invasive Burmese python that has been roiling the Florida Everglades ecoystem.

A recent paper in the journal Integrative Zoology says that occasional hard freezes and widespread winter temperatures that are too low for too many months of the year to allow the snakes to digest food will keep the snakes in the Everglades.

Interestingly, one of the authors of that paper is a python breeder. Another two are with USDA Wildlife Services. The lead author, a professor at a veterinary school testified before Congress in 2009 against listing constrictors as an injurious animal. (The fifth author is an expert in Burmese python digestion.)

Read the article in Integrative Zoology

A previous paper in PLoS ONE reached a similar conclusion, but for a different reason. This paper reasoned that there wasn’t enough marshy habitat north of the Everglades for pythons to spread. One notable finding in that paper was that, given climate change, the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest might someday become warm enough to be suitable habitat for pythons.

The PLoS One paper is open access.

The question is, how big of a worry is pythons crawling their way out of the Everglades into the rest of the South compared to the worry pythons becoming established in some other warm, swampy place in the United States due to the release of unwanted pets?

I would say that pythons crawling north from the Everglades through Disney World to reach the Okefenokee Swamp is a minor concern. Having another area of the US become infested with released pythons is something worth keeping an eye on.

Map: From the original 2008 USGS report. Green shows areas of the continental United States with climate matching that of the pythons’ native range in Asia.

Unsolved Mystery: Frog Abnormalities

On an August day 17 years ago, eight Minnesota junior high school students on a field trip caught 22 frogs in a farm pond. At least half of the frogs had some abnormality, mostly in their hind legs. The conscientious teacher reported the group’s finding to the state. Dutiful state scientists surveyed wetlands across Minnesota and found at least one hotspot of frog abnormality in every county in the state.

What have we learned about frog abnormalities in the last 17 years? Quite a bit, actually. There appear to be several causes, and sometimes the causes pile up to create a high rate of abnormalities. The causes also seem to vary by region.

Here’s a comprehensive overview of the situation in Minnesota from Minnesota Public Radio. You can read or listen, here.

Vermont also experienced a high rate of frog abnormalities back in 1995, but the interpretation there is a bit different than it is in Minnesota.

Read this article from The Outside Story, a syndicated nature column, about frog abnormalities in Vermont, which includes a nod to the lack of abnormalities in New Hampshire. Read it here.

Are you finding abnormal frogs? A fantastic resource for state biologists evaluating frog abnormalities is the Field Guide to Malformations of Frogs and Toads (with Radiographic Interpretations) by Carol Meteyer of the US Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center.

Find the 20-page PDF here, including lots of photos and x-rays (aka radiographs).

Photo: Frog with abnormality, by David Hoppe, courtesy of US Geological Survey

Citizen Science Season: Turtles, Birds, and Disease

avian boultism monitoring volunteerWhere did the turtle cross the road? A citizen scientist has the answer, particularly in Massachusetts, where over the last few years citizen scientists have been tracking turtle crossings as part of the Turtle Roadway Mortality Monitoring Program. Volunteers are trained by Linking Landscapes for Massachusetts Wildlife, a partnership between Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW), Department of Transportation (DOT) Highway Division and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

The training will take place next week.

Get more info on Linking Landscapes for Massachusetts Wildlife, here.
Read the press release in iBerkshires.com

Next week is also when Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control wildlife biologist Matthew Bailey will introduce volunteers to monitor the state’s endangered piping plovers and other beach-nesting birds, and protect them from disturbance.

Read more about the training session, here.

There will be lots of training sessions for avian botulism monitors on Lake Michigan, perhaps because avian botulism is no where near as cute as either a piping plover or a turtle and you need to cast a wider net to get people to volunteer. Still, 44 citizen scientists volunteered with the US Geological Survey’s avian botulism monitoring program last year.

Read more about the program, here.

A home-grown citizen science project, the SeaBC Sea Bird Count, which encourages long-distance boaters to observe ocean birds and report them to eBird, took another step recently by creating a poster that can be displayed at marinas or posted on-line.

View or download the poster, here.

Photo: Avian botulism monitoring project volunteer, courtesy of the US Geological Survey