Celebrate Earth Day with a BioBlitz

The Greensboro Science Center (GSC) is hosting an Earth Day BioBlitz throughout Guilford County on Wednesday, April 22, 2020 from 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. This event is free and open to anyone who has access to backyards and/or parks in Guilford County, NC. Please note: The GSC strongly encourages participants using a public space to follow the CDC guidelines for social distancing.

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A BioBlitz is a communal citizen-science effort to record as many plants, animals and other organisms within a designated location and time period as possible. Participants need a smartphone and iNaturalist account. To join the GSC’s Earth Day BioBlitz, select Greensboro Science Center Earth Day BioBlitz 2020 from the Projects menu.

During the designated time (April 22 from 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.), participants snap and upload photos to record the biodiversity found in Guilford County.

Courtenay Vass, the GSC’s Community Programs Manager, says, “BioBlitzes are fun ways to engage the public – from young children to experts – to connect to their environment while generating useful data for science and conservation. They’re also a good excuse to explore the great outdoors. We hope that our community members gain a new understanding of scientific practices and their local ecology while connecting with one another through the iNaturalist app. Have fun exploring!”

 

Science Café – Conserving Nature’s Keystone: The Gopher Tortoise

On Thursday, March 5, 2020, the Greensboro Science Center (GSC) is hosting a free Science Café in its Science Advancement through Innovative Learning (SAIL) Center. Dr. Christopher L. Jenkins, CEO of The Orianne Society, will present Conserving Nature’s Keystone: The Gopher Tortoise. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. and the talk begins at 6:30 p.m. This event is free to attend.

The gopher tortoise is a prehistoric animal that still roams the Coastal Plain of the Southeast, but populations have declined to the point of endangered species status. These animals are critical to the success of the ecosystem as their burrows are used as a habitat for more than 300 other species. Without gopher tortoises, many of these species’ populations would decline as well.

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About the Presenter
Dr. Jenkins is the founding Chief Executive Officer of The Orianne Society. He also was the founding chairman of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Viper Specialist Group and the Georgia Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He has served in leadership roles in Partners for Reptiles and Amphibian Conservation and Gopher Tortoise Council. Dr. Jenkins has also worked with Wildlife Conservation Society, United States Forest Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Massachusetts, University of British Columbia, and National Geographic. Dr. Jenkins received a B.S. and M.S. from the University of Massachusetts in wildlife biology and wildlife conservation, respectively. He received his Ph.D. in biological sciences from Idaho State University.

About The Orianne Society
Established in 2008, The Orianne Society is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to the conservation of rare and imperiled reptiles and amphibians. Orianne promotes the conservation of these species through scientific research that informs on-the-ground conservation actions and managing habitats to promote robust reptile and amphibian populations. Currently, Orianne administers three large-scale conservation initiatives across the eastern United States, focusing on key landscapes that support high diversity and rare species: the Longleaf Savannas, Appalachian Highlands, and Great Northern Forests.

Conservation in Action: Mona Rhino Iguana Survey

Post by Lindsey Zarecky, VP of Conservation & Research

During the month of October, four GSC staff members journeyed to the Caribbean to participate in a laborious data collection study to help protect the endangered Mona iguana. Mona Island, affectionately referred to as the Galapagos of the Caribbean, is home to many rare and endemic species. This 34-square-mile island is located between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic on the Mona Passage.

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One of the endangered species on the island is the Mona Rhino iguana. This large-bodied, slow-growing, ancient-looking lizard thrives in the hot, humid environment found on the island. Today Mona does not have any permanent residents as it is a difficult island with no freshwater access, tough terrain, and unfriendly vegetation. But, humans have lived there in the past, utilizing the many caves on the island. And, explorers visited in the past and brought with them other vertebrate species, which are now a major threat to the iguanas and other native wildlife. Feral pigs, cats, goats, and rats threaten the future for the iguanas as they predate on the eggs, hatchlings and juvenile iguanas, compete for resources, and destroy nesting habitat.

Over 20 years ago a population survey was completed and estimated there to be around 5,000 iguanas. This is a very low count compared to similar iguanas on other islands. Even more concerning is the lack of recruitment by the species, with only 5-10% of the population being juveniles. In order to enact change and remove invasive species, we first need to understand the population.

Therefore, in October 2019 GSC staff joined our Puerto Rican partners on Mona Island. After a 6-hour boat ride, our team arrived on Mona Island – a towering rock of limestone, greenery, soil and sand. Eight teams of two people set out to lay 200-meter-long transects around the island in a randomized pattern. Those transects were then surveyed over the next three weeks. Every iguana seen while walking the transect was counted and included in the study. Each transect was surveyed multiple times and data is currently being compiled. The same survey will be replicated in October 2020.

Staff had the opportunity to experience the beauty and challenges found on Mona Island. The terrain is jagged and unforgiving. The temperature is hot, the bugs voracious, and the cacti are prevalent. But, there were also moments of wonder and beauty as we stepped on rock very few others have or will ever get to explore. The endemic plants and animals provided rare photobook memories. And the people we worked with were just wonderful and by far a highlight of our experience.

For many years, the GSC has been informing guests about conservation of species. But providing a hands-on, field experience in such a physically and mentally demanding island left lasting impressions on the staff who participated. We can only hope this work and the work we will do next year provide the data needed to support our goal of protecting Mona iguanas through removal of vertebrate invasive species. Stay tuned – we will continue to bring you more information about the great conservation work and scientific research taking at the GSC.

Turtle Tagging

Last week, a volunteer group from Burlington Christian Academy worked with our horticulture team to clean up the bioremediation cell adjacent to our parking lot. (BTW, bioremediation cell is a scientific way of describing a landscaped area containing plants that remove heavy metals from parking lot runoff so these toxic chemicals don’t enter our water supply.) During this work, they stumbled upon – almost literally – a partially-hidden box turtle!

The GSC participates in the Box Turtle Connection, a long-term study of eastern box turtles to understand more about their status, trends, and threats, as well as to develop strategies for long-term conservation of the species. Any box turtles found on or around GSC grounds are added to the database.

We collected morphometric (which is a science-y way of saying size and shape)  measurements such as weight, length, and width, and we record sex and age.

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Using a turtle ID code matrix, we made small indentations on the turtle’s marginal and peripheral carapace scutes. In other words, we filed small triangles into the outer-most part of the turtle’s shell in a particular pattern that is specific to that individual. This acts as an identifier should we find this turtle again someday.

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Finally, a small radio transmitter was affixed to this turtle’s shell so we can track its movements. The tag was adhered to the shell in a location that won’t impact the turtle’s mobility or ability to move through vegetation. Once the adhesive dried, the turtle was returned the same location it was found.

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Box turtles hibernate over winter, so we will not attempt to radio-track the turtle until the weather warms next year. Using radio telemetry, we’ll be able to track the movements of the turtle. By knowing the GPS coordinates of the turtle’s movements we can better understand the territory this turtle has and how far it travels in the warmer months. All of this information adds to our collective knowledge of the eastern box turtle!

Why is this research important?

While eastern box turtles can be found across North Carolina, populations are declining from habitat fragmentation and road-related mortality – as well as from being collected as a pet. They are a long-lived animal (more than 25 years), so they take years to reach sexual maturity. Therefore, it takes a long time for them to recover from population declines. Collecting and interpreting data about these animals now can help us protect them in the future!

What should you do if you find a box turtle?

If you find a box turtle attempting to cross a road, never take it home! Instead, merely help it cross because it will continue to try and return to its birthplace. Box turtles have a homing instinct, similar to birds, so they return to the same location year over year to build nests.

This time of year box turtles are looking for hibernation spaces. In late fall or over winter – although it is uncommon – you may see one bed down in brush or plant debris. If you find a box turtle in cold weather, be sure to leave it be. Animals that hibernate drastically reduce their metabolism to survive the winter when food sources cannot easily be found. Arousing them from hibernation is dangerous because they won’t be able to replenish the energy it takes to come out of hibernation!

Greensboro Science Center Announces 2019 – 2020 Conservation & Research Grant Recipients

The Greensboro Science Center’s (GSC) Research Committee is pleased to announce the recipients of its annual Conservation & Research Grant. Each year, GSC employees are given the opportunity to apply for funds to pursue a conservation or research project. The 2019 – 2020 grantees are as follows:

Michael Motsch, Zookeeper

Project: Red Panda Network’s Zoo Eco Trip

The Zoo Eco trip allows keepers to track red pandas with the professionals who study and monitor wild populations. Michael, the lead red panda keeper at the GSC, will travel to Nepal in December to participate in this program. The experience will unite Michael’s passion for red pandas and his interest in their conservation via hands-on field work.

Sara Payne, Exhibits & Design Manager

Project: Human-Chimpanzee Conflict Awareness Project

The Pan-African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) works with primate conservation organizations across Africa. Sara will develop educational materials, including banners and posters, for Chimpanzee Trust, a PASA member, that will be distributed throughout the region to inform locals about human – animal conflict and emphasize the importance of primates.

Katie Ruffolo, Educator

Project: North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission (NCWRC) Website Content- Species Profile Updates

The NCWRC is updating the herpetofauna species profiles on their website. Katie is combining her love of herptiles with her love for writing to assist the commission in creating profiles. She will travel across the state to meet with species specialists, gather information for their profiles, and write content that will appear on the NCWRC’s website.

Lindsey Zarecky, the GSC’s VP of Conservation & Research, says, “We are excited to have such diverse projects submitted for this year’s grant cycle. The Research Committee is happy to support these unique and individualized projects.”

 

 

Studying Bats for Species Conservation

The Greensboro Science Center’s Conservation and Research department is actively involved in saving the seven bat species found right here in the Piedmont. Bats in North Carolina are insectivores, meaning they consume insects. Every night from late spring until early fall, you may see bats swooping through the skies, foraging for insects. They are a great, natural pesticide – which is just one of the endearing qualities that makes us want to protect them!

In 2011, researchers began to see signs of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) on hibernating bats in the mountains. WNS is a fungus that adheres to the bats’ skin, particularly their muzzles and wings. The fungus is an irritant that causes the bats to wake from torpor, or hibernation. The process of waking burns a lot of calories, so the bats are hungry, but in winter, there are no insects to eat to sustain them. Large numbers of bats have perished from WNS by burning up their fat reserves before their spring emergence. Some species of bats are more prone to WNS than others, so some species have seen a much more dramatic decline than others.

Researchers across the country, particularly in states impacted by WNS, want to know the abundance and diversity of bats. Researchers collect this information to help construct a long-term understanding of populations before, during and after WNS. It allows scientists to make more informed decisions to combat the disease.

In order to understand what species live here, we sample the population. Since bats use echolocation, we use ultra-sonic recording devices to record calls. We can then interpret the call to identify the species and discover whether they are foraging or navigating their environment. We also use mist-nets to catch bats and obtain diversity and abundance information. This allows us to not only know what species is present, but also the sex ratio, age, and overall health of our bat populations.

Mist-netting is a technique where you string a mist-net between tall poles mounted in the ground like flag poles. Mist nets range in size from 3 meters to 12meters and can be combined to reach up to 30 meters high. Nets are placed at sundown and remain until 1:00am, with researchers checking them every eight minutes. Bats typically go through two rounds of foraging, one at sundown and one just before the sun rises. Mist nets look and feel like hair nets and they are designed such that bats fly into them and safely fall into a net pouch. Researchers carefully remove the bat from the net and place them into a mesh bag.

Once we have a “bat in hand”, we can collect information, including weight (1), species (2), arm length (3), age (4), gender (5), and wing rating (6). Then, we place an ID band on its wing (7) and release it so it can continue foraging. All data collected from these outings are tracked by the state.

The combination of acoustic recordings and mist-netting gives us an understanding of our bat populations. This data allows us to look at trends over time and see how species diversity and abundance change in response to situations like WNS. From this information we can make informed decisions on maintaining bat roosts, including caves, bridges and forests. Wildlife is wild and we are here to guide decisions that allow wildlife to thrive! Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so we need as much data as we can gather before we make any decision that could alter the natural behaviors or species composition in a habitat.

It is thanks to years of data collection that we have seen a plateau in the decline of WNS-impacted species. It is encouraging to think the large scale declines are coming to an end. We have also seen juveniles of those impacted species, which gives us hope that species are trying to rebound. Bat work will continue to help researchers understand this unique mammal and to help protect their habitats.

Conservation Creation – iNaturalist + Monkey Madness

If you’ve been to the Greensboro Science Center or any other zoo or aquarium, you’ve probably seen many animals with a “Conservation Status” listed on their exhibit signage. These statuses range from ‘Extinct’ to ‘Least Concern.’ ‘Extinct’ means that there are either no more instances of that animal left in the wild, or that the ones remaining have no chance of reproducing. ‘Least Concern’ means that this animal is abundant in the wild and that there are currently no concerns revolving around its population numbers. Scientists have many ways of determining how many animals of a species exist in the wild – methods ranging from recording calls in the forest or tagging animals in the ocean to be tracked with innovative technology.

While these methods can give us an idea of what animal populations look like, there are many situations in which a population doesn’t fit into a specific category. For example, you may see an animal that is listed as ‘Data Deficient.’ This means there isn’t enough information to determine what their population realistically looks like. This applies to many ocean animals, since they can be difficult to track due to the ocean’s vastness. There are other instances where an animal can be listed as ‘Least Concern’ overall, but still be vulnerable in certain areas. This is why it’s important to be mindful of wildlife when you encounter it, regardless of an animal’s conservation status.

Now, for an activity! This month, instead of a craft, we’ll be sending you on an adventure! All you will need is a smartphone or tablet and the spirit of a biologist. Start by downloading the app, iNaturalist. This is a free app for Apple and Android that will allow you to track local wildlife and help scientists learn about the animal populations near you! Learn more about the app by visiting inaturalist.org.

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Once you have downloaded the app, you can begin your adventure! You’ll be taking photos of the plants and animals you find. If you already know what you’re looking at, you can identify it yourself on the app. If you don’t know what you’ve found, however, other users of the app can help you figure out what it is.

By participating, you’ll be helping scientists to learn about the plants and animals near you, giving them insight on what needs to be done to help and protect these beings. You can use iNaturalist anywhere you go – including your home, a vacation spot or one of Greensboro’s beautiful parks. Now… break out your safari hat and begin your journey as a Citizen Scientist!

Want more conservation? Get hands-on at the GSC! During July 2019, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30 & 2:30, join our educators at the howler monkey exhibit to learn about these monkeys and how they’re being affected by habitat loss. While there, you can make a seed bomb – made from seeds of local plants – to take home to enrich your local wildlife habitats!