Endangered butterflies, climate change, and robofish: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories from around Michigan and the globe related to conservation and nature. Check out some of what happened this week in environmental news:

A poweshiek skipperling butterfly. Photo by Dwayne Badgero.

A poweshiek skipperling butterfly. Photo by Dwayne Badgero.

Two Prairie Butterflies Gain Endangered Species Act Protection in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Dakotas (Center for Biological Diversity): The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced yesterday a settlement to speed protection decisions for 757 imperiled plants and animals across the country. Among these are the Poweshiek skipperling butterfly, which survives in small numbers in Michigan.

Autumn anomaly: Deepest Great Lakes’ levels rising (Detroit Free Press): The brutal winter of 2012-2013 is still impacting the Great Lakes this fall, contributing to rising water levels in Lake Superior and connected Lakes Michigan and Huron. In the fall, the Great Lakes typically have a slow decline in water levels. Lake Superior’s depths, however, rose almost a half-inch from Aug. 1 to Oct. 1, and Lakes Michigan and Huron rose almost two full inches.

How climate change is transforming winter birds (Conservation Magazine): Data analyzed from the Project FeederWatch citizen science project as well as other bird survey and climate data indicate that bird species that prefer warmer weather are advancing north. Between 1989 and 2011, the average temperature index of species present at surveyed cites crept upward, meaning warm-adapted birds became more prominent.

University spawns robofish to monitor Great Lakes (Great Lakes Echo): For about 10 years, Michigan State University engineering professor Dr. Xiaobo Tan has been working on a robotic fish that can be used to monitor water quality.

Sparing mute swans, bear cub decline and ‘fishy’ behavior: this week in environmental news

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

 

A mute swan glides atop the water. Photo by Karen Stamper, courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

A mute swan glides atop the water. Photo by Karen Stamper, courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Local policy revision spares non-aggressive mute swans (Great Lakes Echo): The invasive mute swan species growth in Michigan has been exponential, increasing by 10 percent each year since 2010. Currently there is legislation in place in west Michigan, authorizing the elimination of these creatures. After a recent survey found that people would prefer only the aggressive swans be killed, the Hutchins Lake Association is trying to negotiate a new plan.

Researchers look to spin grass into beef (Great Lakes Echo): The demand for grass-fed cattle is rising in Michigan. With a $460,000 federal grant, researchers from Michigan State University will explore the economic profitability of these cattle as well as environmental friendliness and encouraging consumers to eat frozen meat.

Changing fishery discard practices has cascading effect on ecosystems (Conservation Magazine): Unwanted fish are thrown over the side of sea vessels and fisheries experience up to 40 percent of discard on their trips. Fishing has cascading effects on wildlife, researchers found, because of the removal of some fish many species feed on. Research shows the resolution to this issue is “complicated.”

 

A polar bear with her two cubs. Photo by Frank Lucassec, courtesy of The Guardian.

A polar bear with her two cubs. Photo by Frank Lukasseck, courtesy of The Guardian.

Fewer polar bear cubs are being born in the Arctic islands, survey finds (The Guardian): Bear cub births in the Arctic islands of Svalbard decreased by 10 percent in 2014 alone, according to a small survey. Global warming continues to melt sea ice on which polar bears use to hunt seals. Of 29 female bears researchers tracked, only three gave birth to cubs that year, much less than the usual one-third of female bears to give birth.

Large muskies lured by the moon: study ties lunar cycle, fish behavior to angler success (Science Daily): In a recent study, a possible link between lunar activity and feeding time have encouraged fish to take the bait. Scientists analyzed the muskellunge in North America and found a correlation between lunar activity and the number of fish caught at fisheries.

 

Rare Turtles, Go Green Trikes and the Keystone Pipeline: This Week in Environmental News

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

The blanding's turtle has been a threatened species in Ontario since 2004. Photo by Shannon Keith via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

The Blanding’s turtle has been a threatened species in Ontario since 2004. Photo by Shannon Keith via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

Turtles vs. turbines (Great Lakes Echo): The Ontario Divisional Court has ruled in favor of a wind turbine project that put groups at odds with each other. The opposing groups are for alternative energy and protecting a threatened turtle species and fragile soil. There are nine turbines and access roads planned. if the turbines go in, then the habitat will be destroyed.

National Arbor Day Tree Planting to take place on April 25 (MSU Today): This year marks the 142nd anniversary of Arbor Day. To celebrate, Michigan State University is planting a 15-foot-tall Norway spruce outside the MSU Union at noon on Friday, April 25. The tree will replace a historic Norway spruce originally planted in 1865 that was lost during a windstorm last year.

Earth Day 2014 is launch date for environmentally friendly Go Green Trikes (mlive): On Earth Day, a business launched called Go Green Trikes, which is a company looking to deliver goods and services around Lansing. The bikes, called ELF, are large, orange, three-wheeled bikes that come complete with turn signals, break lights, and are battery-powered by a large solar panel.

Views You Can Use: Keystone XL Gets Put on a Shelf (US News): The Obama administration announced Friday that it will delay making a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. The party is split on the issue, with Democrats from states with large oil economics calling for approval, but others are rejecting it for environmental reasons. The pipeline would run 1,700 miles from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

State, university officials and entrepreneurs waiting for drone industry take-off (Great Lakes Echo): The status of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles commercially is banned by the FAA and it remains in effect until the case is ruled on again. Though it is against the rules, there are a number of companies that continue to use the drones for a variety of reasons, including photography and land management. It has been five years since officials began writing drone usage laws and they still are not finalized.

How similar are prairie restorations to native prairie remnants in southwest Michigan?

The landscape of the fen at Campbell Memorial.

The landscape of the fen at Campbell Memorial.

MNA’s mission includes studying Michigan’s natural history. While every visit to a sanctuary brings a chance of expanding your knowledge and appreciation of nature, MNA also seeks to support dedicated scientists who try to understand our world and its fascinating flora and fauna. When done in a way that is compatible with conservation, MNA encourages scientific research on sanctuaries.

This post is the second in a series of posts on research done in MNA sanctuaries. Emily Grman is a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Lars Brudvig’s lab in the Department of Plant Biology at Michigan State University. She is interested in how species assemble into plant communities. To study Michigan prairie restorations, Lars and Emily teamed up with Tyler Bassett, a Ph.D. student also in the Plant Biology Department at MSU and at the Kellogg Biological Station. More information is available on Dr. Grman’s website

Of the vast areas of tallgrass prairie that once flourished in the central United States, less than 1% remains. In Michigan, scattered patches of native prairie once intermingled with savanna and woodland communities, but nearly all have been converted to cropland or development. This massive habitat loss has threatened the persistence of prairie plant and animal species. Over the past few decades, conservationists have increasingly used prairie restoration as a tool to reverse habitat loss. Prairie restoration in Michigan frequently involves adding seed of native prairie species and returning fire to former agricultural land. These restoration efforts often produce communities with an abundance of native plant species that can provide habitat for prairie insects and animals, but these restored prairies don’t replicate remnant, untilled prairies. This is partly because we still don’t completely understand the complex ecological interactions that allow ecosystems to accumulate species as they recover from a disturbance or change through time. Clearly, though, this information is essential. We must understand how to reconstruct communities in order to successfully rebuild lost prairie ecosystems.

In my current research, I aim to understand how species assemble into a community. I am a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Lars Brudvig’s lab in the Department of Plant Biology at Michigan State University. To study the assembly of plant communities in Michigan prairie restorations, Lars and I teamed up with Tyler Bassett, a Ph.D. student also in the Plant Biology Department at MSU and at the Kellogg Biological Station. In summer 2011, our research team collected data on the plant communities in five remnant prairies in southwest Michigan, including three MNA properties: the Betty and Ralph Campbell Memorial Plant Preserve at Helmer Brook, Prairie Ronde Savanna, and Sauk Indian Trail. We compared those data to 27 restored prairies throughout southwest Michigan, many on private lands.

We learned that restored prairies and remnant prairies in Michigan differ in important ways. Dominant C4 prairie bunchgrasses, such as big bluestem and indiangrass, were more abundant in restorations than in remnant prairies. We also found some prairie plant species in remnants that we never encountered in restorations, such as Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica), veiny pea (Lathyrus venosus), and early goldenrod (Solidago juncea). Some of these differences may be due to the seed mixes used during restorations: none of those remnant prairie species were included in restoration seed mixes, and seed mixes often had high densities of C4 grasses. Even so, including rare prairie species in seed mixes did not guarantee that they would become part of the prairie community. Of the 65 different prairie species commonly included in seed mixes, more than 25% never established in our transects, and another 40% established less than half the time. Despite this, restored prairies had nearly as many species as the remnant prairies: we found 36 species in restorations (on average, per 10 m2 sampling area) and 41 species in remnants.

From this study, we learned that while prairie restoration can create diverse grasslands to provide habitat for many native species, restoration has not recreated the communities we see in rare prairie remnants that have never been tilled. Therefore we believe it is essential to continue to preserve the rare gems of remnant prairie habitat scattered throughout southwest Michigan.