Endangered Species Conservation


Microhabitat Associations for the Threatened Cheat Mountain Salamander in Relation to Early-Stage Red Spruce Restoration Areas
Donald Brown, Lacy Rucker, Catherine Johnson, Shane Jones, Thomas Pauley

The Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (CASRI) was formed to promote restoration of red spruce (Picea rubens) forests in Central Appalachia. One goal of CASRI is to increase availability and enhance quality of habitat for wildlife, including the threatened Cheat Mountain salamander (CMS; Plethodon nettingi). The purpose of this research was to compare microhabitat characteristics between occupied CMS sites and early-stage spruce restoration sites (restoration site study), and between occupied CMS sites and proximal forest patches where the species has not been detected (CMS site study). For the restoration site study, we compared five microhabitat variables (soil pH, soil moisture, light intensity, sub-canopy air temperature, and ground-level air temperature) and found that soil pH was higher and soil moisture was lower at restoration sites compared to the reference CMS site. Light intensity, sub-canopy air temperature, and ground-level air temperature were higher than the CMS site in prescriptions with reduced canopy cover. For the CMS site study, we compared two microhabitat variables (soil pH and soil moisture) and found that soil pH did not significantly differ between occupied and non-detection sites, but soil moisture was lower at non-detection sites. Our study suggests that CMS is associated with low soil pH and high soil moisture, and thus spruce restoration could enhance habitat quality for CMS in the long-term. In addition, soil moisture may be an important microhabitat variable influencing fine-scale CMS occurrence.

Quantitative Photogrammetric Methodology for Measuring Mammalian Belly Score in a Large Carnivore
Tammy Cloutier, Gregory Rasmussen, Mari Smultea, Beth Kaplin, Liz Willey, Anthony Giordano

The use of “belly-scoring” can offer a novel, noninvasive, objective management tool to accurately gauge food intake at individual, group, and population levels. Belly scores can also be used to monitor population fitness over time. Food availability is increasingly affected by predation, ecological competition, climate change, habitat modification and other human activities. An accurate belly scoring tool can facilitate comparisons among wildlife populations, thereby serving as an early warning indicator of threats to wildlife population health and potential population collapse. In social species, belly scores can also be an invaluable tool to understand social behavior and ranking. Here, a rigorous quantitative photogrammetric measurement methodology to measure belly scores of wild painted dogs (Lycaon pictus) was developed and applied. This methodology involves: (a) collating photographs of the lateral side of an individual at a right angle to the dorso/lateral profile, (b) photogrammetrically measuring belly chord length and “belly drop,” and (c) adjusting belly chord length as a departure from a standardized leg angle. This belly score method was applied to 631 suitable photographs of 15 painted dog packs that included 186 individuals, all collected between 2004–2015 from allopatric painted dog populations in and around Hwange and Mana Pools National Parks in Zimbabwe. Variation in mean belly scores exhibited a cyclical pattern throughout the year, corresponding to biologically significant patterns in prey availability. These results also highlighted significant differences between belly scores of the two different populations assessed, indicating potential food stress in the Hwange population. This standardized methodology provides a reliable management tool that can be applied to monitor the fitness of wild and captive individuals, social groups, and populations of painted dogs and other endangered large carnivores in the face of growing direct and indirect anthropogenic disturbances that pose a threat to their survival.

Influence of Weather on the Behaviour of Reintroduced Przewalski´S Horses: Implications for Conservation.
Anna Bernátková, Ganbaatar Oyunsaikhan, Jaroslav Šimek, Miroslav Bobek, Martina Komárková, Francisco Ceacero Herrador

Weather conditions are known to affect the behaviour of animals and the response of animals to the environment is vital for their survival. Mongolia’s continental and arid climate is defined by extreme temperature and precipitation variability. Reintroduced Przewalski’s horses living in these extreme conditions serve as an ideal model species. During this research conducted in three different seasons (late spring, summer, autumn), the behavioural response of selected harems of Przewalski´s horse to the weather conditions was studied and monitored along time in their native habitat in GGBSPA, Mongolia. The originally studied variables (magnetic heading, true heading, wind speed, crosswind calculation, headwind/tailwind, temperature,  wind chill, relative humidity, heat stress index, dewpoint temperature, wet bulb temperature, barometric pressure, altitude, density altitude, cloudiness) were reduced by Principal Component Analysis. Six variables with an eigenvalue higher than 1 (temperature, humidity, magnetic heading, altitude, wind speed, cloudiness) were selected. Through Generalized mixed models, influence of the 6 weather factors and the cohesion of the group on the percentage representation of selected behaviour categories was defined. The behaviour categories were: feeding, locomotion, resting, social, and other. The occurrence of feeding behaviour significantly increased with cloudiness and tighter cohesion but decreased with higher temperature and higher altitude. Locomotion was negatively explained by altitude and humidity. The occurrence of resting behaviour decreased with cloudiness, humidity, tighter cohesion and higher altitude. Horses showed increased social interactions during cloudy and warm weather conditions. Previous research on the behavioural budget of wild and feral horses hasn´t shown a correspondingly strong influence of weather conditions on their behaviour. This could be explained by the fact that similar studies were not done in such extreme environments.  Our results indicate that the weather effect on animal behaviour is stronger in harsh environment. These findings may have positive implications for the conservation of endangered species.

Efficacy of 4 Predator Exclusion Designs for Sea Turtle Nest Protection
Paul Hillbrand, Rachael Urbanek, Elizabeth Darrow, Seanna Jobe, Emily Abernethy

Coyotes (Canis latrans) have become the main source of depredation on incubating and emerging loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) nests on Bald Head Island, North Carolina since 2018 despite the use of predator exclusion cages (PEC). We engineered a new PEC design (A. PVC + MasterNet cube) and evaluated its efficacy against mammalian depredation compared to three PEC designs (B. Welded-wire cube, C. MasterNet screen, and D. PVC + plastic mesh cube) used by sea turtle monitoring programs throughout the southeastern United States. We assessed each design’s efficacy during two 14-day trials conducted in November and December of 2020, during which the PECs were installed over artificial, baited nests along three 1-mile beach transects in southeastern North Carolina. Camera traps were deployed at PECs along each beach transect to catalog species richness and abundance of mammalian predators and their behavior around PECs. Coyotes and red fox (Vulpes vulpes) were observed attempting depredation on the nests in each trial. Designs A and B were 100% effective against depredation attempts while designs C (29% effective), D (86%), and the control (i.e, no PEC; 0%) were successfully depredated. We will test designs A and B on incubating sea turtle nests during the 2021 nesting season (May-August) on the beaches of Bald Head Island, NC and Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, NC as a final assessment. While some mammalian predators may be legally trapped and euthanized in North Carolina, this management strategy is not always politically supported. Therefore, our findings will aid wildlife and coastal resource managers in their depredation mitigation strategies and continue the effort in closing the knowledge gaps described in Kays’ 2018 IUCN assessment of coyotes (i.e., development of non-lethal depredation techniques; coyote-prey interactions; factors influencing prey selection; interactions with threatened and endangered species)

Large-Scale Barrier Beach Restoration Provides Unique New Nesting Site for Threatened Piping Plovers on the Delaware Bay
Susan Guiteras, Casey Hitchens

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a barrier beach restoration project in 2015-2016 at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge on the west coast of the Delaware Bay. Several storms, including Hurricane Sandy, had led to saltwater intrusion and substantial dune breaches, impacting the integrity of the shoreline and adjacent wetlands. The restoration project consisted of reconstructing the breached dune and beach complex along 8900 feet of shoreline with coarse sand, and the planting of vegetation along the dune and back barrier marsh.  Soon after the project was completed in 2016, the first breeding pair of federally threatened piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) arrived on the restored beach, representing the first known nesting for the species on the Delaware Bay coast, rather than the ocean shoreline. Since then, the breeding population size and rate of successful nests have increased significantly on the refuge.  In 2020, biologists documented 16 breeding pairs who fledged at least 36 young. Over the last several years, the average pair productivity rate has been 2.33 chicks fledged per pair, which has exceeded expectations and is well over the recovery plan target. To contribute to the regional understanding of piping plover responses to the beach barrier restoration project, monitoring data is collected during both the migration and breeding season each year from March to September. Piping plover monitoring data consists of abundance, behavior, nest and brood locations, nest-level habitat, sightings of banded piping plovers.  In 2021, state partners began banding both adults and chicks to better understand the role of this new piping plover breeding population in the distribution of the species. This large-scale beach barrier restoration project Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge continues to contribute to the recovery of the federally threatened piping plover.

Microplastic Abundance in Marine Sediments Off the Coasts of Maine and New Hampshire, United States, and Its Implications for Endangered Species – SRIP
Troy Langknecht, Kay Ho, Robert Burgess
Microplastics (< 5 mm) are ubiquitous in the environment, contributing to marine debris and adversely impacting numerous organisms as they transfer between trophic levels. The United Nations recently found that over 800 species are impacted by marine debris globally, whether through entanglement, ingestion, bioaccumulation, chemical transport, or changes to habitat function. Studies suggest that sediments are the final sink for many classes of marine microplastics; therefore, microplastic abundance in marine sediments may have serious implications for many marine species. The objective of this study is to quantify and identify microplastic particles in coastal sediments and assess the potential implications for endangered species using GIS data. Marine sediment samples (n=50) were collected of the coasts of Maine and New Hampshire by the U.S. EPA’s National Coastal Condition Assessment (NCCA) program during the 2020 field season and a subset (n=10) were selected for microplastic analysis. Microplastic analysis sites were selected based on proximity to areas of high human development (i.e. Portsmouth, NH; Portland, ME). A novel hybrid method was utilized to extract microplastics from the sediments, followed by polymer identification and quantification using Raman spectroscopy. We will overlay MP abundance with (i) critical habitat data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and (ii) endangered species data from the State of Maine to identify areas of overlap with endangered species. This work can then be used to identify priority areas for future microplastic research and remediation actions. This research attempts to broaden our understanding of microplastic abundance and polymer composition in marine sediments to better understand potential impacts on endangered species.
Initiation of Genetic Monitoring for the Elephants of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda – SRIP
Claire Goodfellow, Caitlin Wells, Dennis Babaasa, Nelson Ting
Limited demographic data exist for the elephant population of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) in Western Uganda despite the keystone role that these animals play in the park’s unique ecosystem. Once widespread throughout the region, this population was drastically reduced by intense poaching in the late 1970s, and the most recent survey of the park’s elephants (conducted 1992-1993) put the population at only 22 individuals. Since then, ranger encounter data and increased human-elephant conflict around the park suggest substantial population growth, though no systematic survey has been conducted to update these findings in the last 28 years. Here, we describe the initiation of the first park-wide genetic study of these animals. Dung samples (n=143) were non-invasively collected from across BINP throughout the course of two field seasons. Using dung association data, we capture up to 28 unique social groups, the largest of which had up to 12 individuals. We will use STR loci and spatial capture-recapture to infer census population size and assess the effect of the severe bottleneck of the 1970s on genetic diversity. We will also determine the frequency of hybridization between forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) and savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) in this population and discuss the impact of the recent decision to assess them separately in the IUCN red list. Our work establishes a framework for applying genetic tools to aid the Ugandan Wildlife Authority’s conservation management of the elephants living in BINP, and serves as a launching point for ongoing study and monitoring of these animals.
Conservation Conflict: Spatial Optimization and Conservation Planning for Rare Plants and Energy Extraction in the Colorado Plateau – SRIP
Josh Carrell
The Colorado Plateau has abundant oil, gas, and alternative energy potential. This energy potential is scattered among a patchwork of land ownership, with private, tribal, and public lands being actively developed for energy extraction. Elements of biodiversity (e.g., listed and sensitive plant and animal species) are distributed among all land tenures, yet the laws protecting them can vary as a function of land tenure. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the spatial distributions of threatened, endangered, and sensitive species in relation to land tenure to preserve habitat and conserve species populations in areas undergoing energy development. I seek to explore the interactions and relationships among land ownerships, existing and potential energy extraction, and sensitive, threatened, and endangered plant species in the Colorado Plateau region of Western North America. I will accomplish this by modelling the spatial distribution and habitat of selected threatened, endangered, and sensitive plant species using species distribution models (SDMs). SDMs portray likely spatial locations of modelled species. I will next link the SDMs with land tenure in the Colorado Plateau in a geographic information system (GIS). Next, potential energy extraction locations will be overlaid with the SDMs for the plants and land tenure. Last, spatially explicit optimization models will be developed using MARXAN that will depict various land management strategies designed to simultaneously minimize impacts on private lands and plants while maximizing energy extraction. Each of these scenarios represent a different attitude towards the value of rare plants and the risk of energy development. Comparing these results will give insight into the financial consequences of plant species protection and quantify biodiversity costs of energy development across landscapes
Assessment of General Health Status, Infectious Pathogen Prevalence and Reproductive Characteristics in Free-Ranging Ocelot and Bobcat Populations of South Texas – SRIP
Ashley Reeves, William Swanson, Clayton Hilton, Michael Tewes, Jason “Jay” Lombardi, Landon Schofield, Tyler Campbell, Debra Miller
Recent studies of wild felid populations have shown loss of genetic variability over time, including in South Texas, where signs of decreased genetic diversity and inbreeding depression have been documented in ocelot populations. Inbreeding depression may cause reduction in reproductive and immune fitness leading to decreases in reproductive success, increases in disease susceptibility, and overall population declines. Assessment of general health parameters, infectious pathogen exposure and reproductive traits can provide documentation of the effects of inbreeding depression and inform the development of conservation strategies.  Our primary objectives in this study were to determine the general health and reproductive status of wild ocelots and bobcats on private lands by evaluating hematological values (CBC/biochemical profiles), parasite load (fecal exams, ectoparasite identification), infectious pathogen presence (viral/bacterial assays) and reproductive traits (semen collection/evaluation) and investigate  the possible effect of decreased genetic diversity on wild felid populations of South Texas. Whole blood and serum samples were assessed for the following pathogens: Cytauxzoon felis, Ehrlichia sp., Babesia sp., Hepatozoon, Trypanosoma cruzi, Rickettsia rickettsia, feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, coronavirus, Toxoplasma, and Trypanosoma cruzi. Of 35 individuals sampled, 7 were seropositive for FIV based on SNAP testing. Other health parameters in the FIV+ cats did not reveal evidence of systemic disease. For other pathogens, positive results were found for Ehrlichia, Hepatazoon, Babesia and Theileria. Unilateral cryptorchidism was observed in one bobcat.  Semen was recovered from one bobcat and one ocelot via urethral catheterization, with variable sperm numbers and % normal morphology.  Preliminary results indicate that wild bobcats and ocelots are exposed to multiple infectious agents that may pose disease risks, but changes in pathogen prevalence and species susceptibility still are being assessed.  Decreased genetic heterozygosity and increased inbreeding may exacerbate these disease threats and negatively impact reproductive viability over time as compared to genetically diverse populations.
Effects of Aquatic Insect Abundance and Biomass on Bat Species Diversity – SRIP
Trevor Walker, Sarah Zirkle, Sarah Krueger, Catherine Haase
 Due to the reliance of North American bat species on aquatic insects for forage, we suspect there should be a link between stream health and metrics of bat diversity. The relationship is especially important with the current global declines of insects and with ongoing land-use change. We assessed this hypothesis using metrics of bat diversity and various variables of aquatic insects, specifically those related to aquatic species sensitive to stream health. We captured bats via mist nets at 5 sampling locations on Fort Campbell Army Base, KY and calculated species richness and Simpson’s Diversity Index. We also collected aquatic insects with Hess samplers, kick nets, dip nets, and light traps. Insects were identified down to family, dried, and weighed. We assigned family averages of tolerance values and calculated the Family Biotic Index for each location. We also calculated percent abundance and percent biomass comprised of Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera at each location. We used a generalized linear model to relate bat diversity indices to aquatic insect metrics and included weather variables (nightly mean temperature, total nightly precipitation) and Julian date as covariates.  Preliminary results show that percent Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera abundance is the only significant variable explaining bat species evenness. However, this is an ongoing study where more data will be incorporated to better detect significant variables.
Predator Exclusion Cages as Visual Attractants to Mammalian Predators – SRIP
Seanna Jobe, Rachael Urbanek, Paul Hillbrand, Elizabeth Darrow, Emily Abernethy
Sea turtle nest depredation is a growing concern and while several designs have been published, no one predator exclusion cage (PEC) is 100% effective. We hypothesize that PECs may increase the chance of depredation on sea turtle nests if they act as a visual stimulus that mammalian predators later associate with food. To test this hypothesis, we will install 10 PECs on Bald Head Island, North Carolina between 11 May 3-July 2021. We will replicate 2 PEC designs (5 times each) that are currently being tested against depredation on the island. PECs will not be baited or placed over a turtle nest so that the PECs will be the only novel stimuli. We will deploy PECs in a randomized pattern compare our data against data from our current study where the same PEC designs have a food attractant. Preventing depredation on federally threatened turtle nests is of vital importance to sea turtle recovery plans. Our project will determine if predators are attracted to the visual stimulus of PECs without the presence of food. This distinction is important for future PEC implementation and design to protect sea turtle species.
A Tale of Two Cranes: Comparative Endangered Species Conservation Strategy Efficacy – SRIP
Nathanial Gronewold
Southeastern Texas and northeastern Japan are homes to two extremely similar crane species with similar conservation histories. The whooping crane of North America, specifically the Aransas-Wood Buffalo (AWB) migratory flock, and the red-crowned crane of Hokkaido were both pushed to the brink of extinction with surviving populations numbering 20 and 30 individuals, respectively, in 1952. Both species have been subjects of focused rehabilitation efforts led by advanced governments. While both governments have relied on a variety of conservation methods throughout the programs’ histories the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has focused mainly on habitat protection, while in Japan the Ministry of the Environment and its predecessors have leaned most heavily on direct population survival via a long-standing winter feeding program. Through analyzing the recovery histories these two similar species of waterfowl, the case studies of whooping crane and red-crowned crane conservation provide a unique opportunity for comparing and contrasting the relative efficacy of two differing endangered species management approaches: habitat management vs. direct population management. Initial research into both case studies reveals strong indications that direct population management likely results in much faster overall population recovery. Japan’s success in increasing red-crowned crane numbers to more than triple that of North America’s wild migrating AWB whooping crane population—1,900 red-crowned cranes vs. 506 AWB whooping cranes as of 2020—suggests Japan’s conservationists may have inadvertently uncovered a method for ensuring quicker population recovery in an endangered species on the brink of extinction. By comparison, a habitat management-focused strategy of the sort emphasized in whooping crane conservation appears to deliver much slower population recovery. Further research is needed to eliminate all other variables that could explain such drastically different outcomes for these two endangered species management regimes on opposite ends of the globe.
Influences on Detectability and Occupancy of a Re-Surveyed Population of American Marten in Southern Vermont – SRIP
Sarah Ashbrook, Paul Hapeman
American martens (Martes americana) were once widespread in North America but in many areas, were extirpated by overtrapping and habitat loss by the early 1900s. Reintroductions to promote the recovery of marten have taken place in several states, including Vermont. The 1989-1991 reintroductions in southern Vermont were thought to be unsuccessful, but sightings and trapping bycatch prompted a camera survey from 2015 to 2017 that identified the presence of a breeding population in Vermont’s southern Green Mountains. We used detection data from camera surveys between 2019 and 2021 from 40, 5km2 units to examine the association between marten occupancy and detectability and habitat variables and intraguild competitors in this newly identified population. Marten were detected in 18 units (45%). Preliminarily, the top ranked model for occupancy using single covariates included proximity to reintroduction sites. The additive effects of percent canopy cover and percent of a unit classified as wet woody vegetation produced the best overall model for occupancy. The top single covariate and overall models for detectability included proximity to reintroduction sites. Initial estimates for occupancy and detectability from the top overall model that included proximity to reintroduction sites (ψ) and percent canopy cover (p) were (ψ= 0.48, SE = 0.10, 95% CI = 0.30-0.66) and (p = 0.69, SE = 0.08, 95% CI = 0.52-0.82), respectively. Habitat variables appear to be more important to marten occupancy and detectability than associations with intraguild predators. Given the time since the marten reintroduction, the negative association between occupancy and detectability and proximity to reintroduction suggests that marten may still be expanding into new habitats or are being limited in some way. Further collection of habitat and geographic data, analyses of this dataset at the camera level, and comparisons made with the 2015-2017 surveys will be conducted and may yield insight into this.

Location: Virtual Date: November 2, 2021 Time: 11:00 am - 12:00 pm