Ecologists Help Land Managers Sustain Wildlife
Graduate students Jeff Feaga and N. Danielle Bridgers help in the
research effort by weighing, measuring, marking, and attaching
radio transmitters to bog turtles.
Carola Haas, associate professor of wildlife ecology, and her research team have been assisting land managers in developing and implementing techniques for sustaining wildlife populations on lands used for agricultural production, timber harvest, or military activities. Haas’ recent research examines how livestock activity affects habitat quality for the federally threatened bog turtle. She is also collaborating with colleagues in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to determine whether planting native species in pastures will result in more diverse populations of beneficial insects and grassland birds. “Several rare or declining species, such as bog turtles and grasshopper sparrows, occur in grasslands and emergent wetlands in Virginia, co-existing with livestock,” noted Haas.
Haas’ work is especially vital for forest landowners in Virginia who are interested in sustainable land management and protecting biodiversity. A landowner selling timber may opt for a partial harvest in order to retain some standing trees for wildlife. Through an ongoing study initiated in the early 1990s, faculty in several departments collaborated on the Southern Appalachian Silviculture and Biodiversity (SASAB) project. “Many forest landowners are highly motivated to protect or improve habitat for wildlife but lack information about the best practices to achieve those goals,” Haas commented. Researchers on the SASAB project found that small clearcuts may be the most sustainable approach, since they result in reduced soil erosion, improved regeneration of oak trees (which have high wildlife and timber values) through stump sprouting, and healthier populations of forest salamanders.
Tom Gorman, a research scientist in Haas’ lab, leads an adaptive management project to restore wetlands on Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, an area in the range of the federally endangered reticulated flatwoods salamander. Since the project’s initiation in 2009, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Hurlburt Field, an Air Force installation adjacent to Eglin, have implemented recommended wetland restoration techniques. Several rare or declining amphibians are expected to respond positively to efforts to restore or mimic natural processes in these wetlands.