Habitat corridors help preserve wildlife in the midst of human society

As demonstrated by a recent vote in Congress, it appears that support remains among policymakers to preserve endangered species. H.R. 2584, the Department of Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012, as introduced, included language to prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from adding any additional plant or animal species for protection under the Endangered Species Act. House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norman Dicks (D-WA) sponsored an amendment to remove the provision from the bill. The amendment passed by a vote of 224-202, with 37 Republicans voting for the amendment and all but two Democrats supporting it. Several key senior Republicans supported the amendment, including Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (MI), House Science, Space and Technology Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (MD) and Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Committee Chairman Frank Wolf (VA). In light of this relatively bipartisan consensus to preserve endangered species, policymakers should also work to advance initiatives that help sustain protected wildlife. One key tool in ensuring the preservation of endangered species is the establishment of habitat corridors, which help mitigate the effects of habitat fragmentation, brought on largely by urban development. In the latest edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winner Daniel Evans discusses his National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research into habitat corridors and their importance to ecological communities. Habitat fragmentation can lead to an overall reduction in species population and potentially local extinction of a plant or animal species. As Evans notes, species affected by habitat fragmentation become increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters and predation and are also more susceptible to inbreeding, increasing the prevalence of genetic defects. In light of this, habitat corridors provide numerous benefits for plants and animals and can play a critical role for endangered species. Habitat corridors allow movement between isolated populations, promoting increased genetic diversity. They provide food and shelter for a variety of wildlife and help with juvenile dispersal and seasonal migrations. The establishment of additional habitat corridors can also benefit people, with underpasses or overpasses for wildlife helping to reduce vehicle collisions with large animals.  For example according to State Farm Insurance, the biggest U.S. auto insurer, there have been 2.3 million U.S. deer collisions in the past two years, up 21 percent from five years ago. State Farm estimates that deer-vehicle accidents resulted in more than $3.8 billion of insurance claims and driver costs alone over the past year. Habitat corridors can also minimize interaction between humans and wildlife by allowing predators, such as wolves and bears, to hunt for food in other locations, minimizing their threat to...

Read More

Mississippi floods out humans and wildlife

In late April, two major storm systems across the Mississippi River watershed brought about one of the most catastrophic floods upon the Delta region in generations. Thousands of homes have had to be evacuated and there have been a number of deaths. President Barack Obama has declared bordering counties in Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky as federal disaster areas. The flooding along the Mississippi River has also sparked a great migration among the numerous species of wildlife. In one of the worst cases of overflow since the Great Depression, the Mississippi River has flooded three million acres across Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. The Mississippi River has the third-largest drainage basin in the world, absorbing 41 percent of the drainage from the 48 contiguous United States, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The massive river covers more than 1,245,000 square miles. According to the National Weather Service, a number of cities are currently experiencing record flood levels. In Natchez, Mississippi, the water now stands at 58.3 feet, shattering the 1937 watermark of 53.04 feet. In Memphis, the Mississippi crested May 9 at 47.8 feet, just under a foot below the city’s record, set in 1937. A wide range of wildlife is on the move, trying to escape the rising waters.  Animals such as deer have been frequently spotted swimming across stretches of water in search of higher ground. Wild turkeys, which nest this time of year, have lost nesting spots and hatchlings to the floodwaters. Other creatures swept up in the floodwaters include alligators, spiders, rats and even fire ants. Venomous water moccasins have been reportedly appearing everywhere from residential trees to yard porches and sheds. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, it is also mating season for the water moccasins, making the reptiles more aggressive than usual. The Tennessee government has issued a press statement advising residents to avoid the displaced snakes and offering tips on how to treat snake bites. However, some species may benefit from the floods. Biologists have noted that flood waters, which wash increased amounts of worms and insects into the water, provide extra food to fish such as catfish, common carp, bluegill and crappie. However, an aggressive non-native species, the Asian carp, is also expected to flourish. Contamination of the water is also a concern, with the Tennessee and Mississippi State Departments of Health warning residents to steer clear of the water for health reasons.  The greater Mississippi River is expected to contain a number of contaminants, from trash and farm runoff to untreated raw sewage and chemicals. Testing performed by ABC News found E. coli and coliform at 2,000 times the...

Read More

If you give a mouse an acorn…

The following is a story, but it describes a real scientific process: the relationship between acorns, mice, ticks and a bacterium. On a chilly November night, in a deciduous forest in the eastern U.S., a mouse prepares for the season ahead. More specifically, a female white-footed mouse—competing with other mice and animals for acorns—is reaping the fruits from a mast year: The oak trees in the region produced a generous blanket of acorns across the forest floor this autumn.

Read More