With the opening of Revolution Ridge last Friday, we revealed nine new animal exhibits, over 11 acres of public gathering and green space, an elevated boardwalk and, among other things, a state-of-the-art animal hospital and conservation center – the latter of which is allowing GSC guests to join in an all-new experience, bringing what was once behind the scenes to the forefront.
In the new Conservation Center, our Conservation and Research team investigates the interactions between native species and humans, with the goal of determining what effects human populations have on native species and ecosystems. Two labs house some of the ongoing research projects the GSC is partnering on.
In the words of our VP of Conservation and Research, Lindsey Zarecky, here’s what you can expect during your visit to the Conservation Center.
Lab 1: Freshwater Mussel Conservation
Freshwater mussels are one of the most imperiled taxa, because all species face threats from erosion, habitat destruction, dams and pollution.
Mussels are natural filter feeders that continuously take in bacteria, algae and toxins and emit clean water. Therefore, they provide a crucial ecosystem service – water purification.
Freshwater mussels have a unique life cycle. They live in streams and are stationary, so they can’t repopulate upstream because the current only carries the juveniles downstream. Therefore, mussels have evolved a parasitic relationship with fish. Gravid females (females with babies inside) lure over a host fish, and the glochidia (larval mussels) are deposited onto the fish (typically their gills or fins). The glochidia take oxygen and nutrients from the fish, and they get a free ride up and down the waterway. When they are big enough, they drop off of the fish and start their new life at the bottom of the water column.
The GSC is partnering with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to help bolster mussel populations. In our lab, we will bring together the gravid females and host fish. The host fish will be infested with glochidia. We will maintain the fish and mussels. Once the mussels drop off the fish, we will take care of them until they are big enough to return to waterways in NC. The entire process from propagation until the mussel grow up will be on display in Lab 1. From start to finish this process can take up to 6 years!
Lab 2: Human Wildlife Conflict
All over the globe, wildlife is impacted by people whether directly (habitat destruction, erosion, trash) or indirectly (pollution, lights, sounds, toxins). Using non-invasive technologies such as audio recorders and cameras, we study wildlife impacted by human-induced environmental changes through projects located around the globe.
Some projects involve the recording of animals (photos) and their ultrasonic sounds through bat detectors. We can use these to study bats, rodents and even some small primate species. Photos and sound recordings help us observe which animals are present or absent, the behaviors they are exhibiting and how often they visit a location.
We study bats and native wildlife in North Carolina, mouse lemurs in the rainforests of Madagascar and rodents on islands in the Caribbean.
In the Caribbean, we partner with Island Conservation to remove invasive species from islands so that native species can thrive. On Mona Island, Puerto Rico, rats, cats, goats and pigs were introduced to the island, and they are competing with and preying upon the eggs and hatchlings of native iguanas and sea turtles. In the US Virgin Islands, rodents on Savana Island are preying on shorebird eggs and competing with native reptiles.
Our goal is to remove the invasive species, and specific to Savana, the removal of rodents will allow us to place the endangered Virgin Islands Boa on the island in order to bolster its populations.
When you visit Lab 2, you could see researchers analyzing calls or photos, maintaining our field equipment, prepping for another day of field research or having team meetings to discuss next steps on a research project.