Our connections to nature can be described as profound, beautiful and terrible; sometimes all three at once. From anticipating potential insect invasions to exploring how migratory bird habitat can be enhanced, planting a garden for bees and people, and the many ways foraging feeds the human spirit, this month’s featured scientist, product, research and partnership all show different angles of our multifaceted connection to nature.
Bat Week is an annual, international celebration of the role of bats in nature.
Bat week is October 24-31, 2017
The majority of bird species in northeastern forests are Neotropical migrants. Twice each year Neotropical migratory birds navigate thousands of miles between nesting sites in the northeast and overwintering habitat in central and South America. Forest Service Research Wildlife Biologist Dave King has spent much of his career studying these Neotropical migrants, which are increasingly at risk due to disappearance of their habitat, especially in tropical countries.
King’s interest in nature was fostered by a childhood spent in rural Maine surrounded by forest and farmland habitat. “My parents and others of their generation were interested in nature and encouraged my early interest in birds and other animals,” King said. “Learning my first bird songs was a very influential experience.”
Academic training gave King a solid educational foundation in wildlife biology. Postdoctoral research provided additional experience and expertise. Mentors also played an important role in his path. “From one of my mentors, research wildlife biologist Dick DeGraaf, I learned to appreciate the importance of the Forest Service mission to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with the needs of society for the amenities that forests provide in the form of solace, recreation, clean water, timber and other natural resources,” said King.
King has worked in 13 countries in the course of his career. His travels have included consultations on bird habitat conservation as well as research on availability of habitat in Central American countries that is suitable for wintering migrant songbirds. “I find this work extremely rewarding,” he said. “Many of these projects are in developing countries where natural habitats and biodiversity are in jeopardy yet there is little research capacity. Because of this critical need the research impact is magnified.”
One of King’s current projects involves working with a Honduran coffee cooperative to find market-based mechanisms to motivate coffee farmers to conserve forest habitat for migratory birds. “I'm excited about this project because it addresses the age-old conundrum of protecting habitat in regions with widespread poverty,” said King. “My research has contributed to developing a model to protect tropical forests throughout Central America that will ultimately manifest itself in increased prosperity of the rural communities that have never failed to offer me friendship and the most generous hospitality during my years of work in this region.”
Eradicating Invasive Insects
Insects are not inherently bad, but when insects from other countries or regions make their way to new locations where normal checks and balances, such as natural enemies, are not present, serious problems can arise for native tree species and other vegetation. In a recent publication, Northern Research Station scientists and partners explore past and present approaches to eradication of invasive insects and make recommendations for improving future eradication efforts.
With increased globalization, opportunities rise significantly for insects from other countries to hitch a ride to the U.S. by plane, boat or other means. Once invasive species arrive (step 1) the invasion cycle involving establishment, spread and impact begins.
Surveillance for newly invaded populations and then eradication are key to preventing new insect invasions. When possible, scientists rely on knowledge of chemical communications among insects to lure them into traps and delineate how far they have spread. If knowledge of chemical communications is sparse, visual surveys may be employed although they are very expensive and labor intensive. Once infested areas are located, land managers can target these populations using a variety of eradication techniques including applying microbial insecticides, releasing sterile insects, or disruption of mating.
Eradication is fraught with biological, ecological, economic and social complexities, however. For example, economics comes into play in use of traps for delimiting populations. Distributing more traps and lures costs more, but enables early detection and higher chance of eradication when populations are small. Use of fewer traps is less expensive but there is a greater chance populations are not detected and the invasive species goes on to damage and kill more trees. Use of insecticides in eradication often leads to public objections and insecticides may harm non-targeted species.
“Scientists continue to make advances in understanding the dynamics of low-density populations, developing environmentally benign intervention tactics and conducting analysis of the economics of eradication strategies,” said Andrew Liebhold, research entomologist with the Northern Research Station. “Future issues to address include developing eradication strategies that are more acceptable to the public and devising effective means for public communication and engagement.”
For some foragers, wild food is helping feed the family. For others, connecting with nature is the primary benefit of foraging. For two decades, Research Geographer Marla R. Emery has been exploring how foraging feeds people both in body and soul.
“From rural areas to suburbs to the heart of the cities, people forage for almost the exact same reasons: to connect with nature in a direct and intimate way,” Emery said. “That has proven true in surveys of foragers throughout North America, Europe and developing countries.”
Between 20-25 percent of U.S. residents engage in foraging, making collecting plants for food or medicine the second most popular nature-based activity in the nation behind bird watching. Foragers range from people who casually gather berries along the trail to those who use wild food in their daily diet. Emery’s research has demonstrated that part of foraging’s attraction is the interaction with nature people have when they gather wild food. “Foraging helps people really know and connect with the landscape, whether it is rural, urban or exurban,” Emery said. “To forage, you have to learn edible plants from nonedible plants and where to find them.”
In regions of the United States and in many countries, gathering plants for food or medicine is a cultural tradition, and continuing to forage even after they leave those regions gives people a way to maintain a connection to their cultural heritage. “It is interesting to see that while the reasons people forage are largely the same regardless of whether people come from Appalachia or Oregon or abroad, the list of plants they are foraging can be quite different,” Emery said.
Foraging is evolving from being a management concern to being viewed as one of the many benefits that people derive from trees and natural resources, such as reduced energy costs, interception of storm water and removal of pollution from the air and water. Emery’s research is helping managers understand foraging as they design policies aimed at maintaining healthy and sustainable parks and forests.
Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks
In Baltimore, a partnership is giving bees and people an opportunity to flourish together.
The Northern Research Station’s Baltimore Field Station has a long history of partnering with the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks (BCRP) on projects that improve the landscape and connect people to nature. The BCRP’s interest in creating new pollinator habitat increased after a bee colony collapse in Baltimore resulted in the loss of an estimated 60 percent of the city’s bee population. The BCRP began working with the Baltimore Field Station on renovation of an unused garden at the Winans Meadow at Gwynns Falls Leakin Park, one of the largest woodland parks in the Eastern United States.
Renovation of a 2,000 square-foot garden was designed to create habitat for pollinators and increase biodiversity as well as provide another educational tool connecting youth and adults to nature. The long-term objective of the pollinator project is create an interest in nature that matures into broader issues of conservation and environmental stewardship.
“The Baltimore Field Station carries out the Forest Service mission of ‘caring for the land and serving people’ in everything we do,” said Quin Holifield, a soil scientist with the Baltimore Field Station who is providing educational resources and assisting BCRP in environmental education and community engagement related to the pollinator garden. “Working with BCRP accomplishes improved habitat for pollinators and so much more, including new opportunities for encouraging environmental stewardship and engagement in outdoor activities.”
“Helping pollinators is only part of the equation,” said Marcia Froomer, conservation education coordinator for the BCRP. “This eclectic team is enhancing the Gwynns Falls’ ecosystem as well as broadening the garden practices on the estate. The commitment by all involved to improve the ecological landscape in Baltimore City is truly an impressive accomplishment.”