Crow’s Nest: Research Roundup

June 13, 2012

This spring and summer Crow’s Nest is bustling with researchers studying nature, land management, and education at the preserve.

The University of Pennsylvania research on ticks and Lyme disease is wrapping up, though the researchers are still writing the papers. The first has been published in Parasitology, entitled “The effect of spatial heterogenity on the aggregation of ticks on white-footed mice” (Cambridge University Press, 2012). Other aspects of their work on the spirochete that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi), the black-legged tick (Ioxdes scapularis), and its mammal hosts will continue.

We are pleased that one of the Penn researchers from last summer, Erika Arnold, has returned to explore another angle on the tick/mouse relationship. Now a fourth-year PhD candidate at University of Chicago, Arnold is using study plots in the woods to explore variations in tick populations on our mice, and how effective are strategies white-footed-mice use to reduce their parasite load.

Molly Smryl has completed her Masters in Environmental Studies at Antioch New England with a capstone project that engaged teenagers who had “aged out” of Crow’s Nest’s kids’ environmental education programs—to see how the preserve staff might continue to involve them at the preserve. Molly held a series of roundtables (including a pizza night and a potluck-ice-cream topping night) to brainstorm projects, activities, and mentoring roles that the teens could play. We are very fortunate that Molly is also our camp educator this summer (she has been involved in many past summer camps as a teen mentor herself, education intern and educator) and we feel that her expertise will make Crow’s Nest Camp extra fun and memorable this summer.

The Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program will be returning to Crow’s Nest again this summer to survey plant communities and track changes over the years since they last performed an inventory in the woods here.

Bird researchers Scott Stollery and Nikki Flood have been volunteering their time between other projects to add to the bird presence data for Crow’s Nest. My hope is to have enough data to prepare a seasonal bird checklist and make it available to our visitors.

Undergraduate and graduate students make use of our preserves because they are permanently protected natural areas that are laboratories for land management techniques.

This spring Sara Street, a student in the School of Environmental Design at Temple University, used Crow’s Nest as a site to survey for techniques used to mitigate edge effects in fragmented forest. She conducted an interview about land management techniques we use from prescribed fire to deer management to the configuration of afforestation plantings on our preserves. Her final paper articulates some techniques for “sealing the edge” of the woods that I use when I finish a small restoration in the autumn.

Zoe Warner, a doctoral student at University of Pennsylvania’s City and Regional Planning Program is using several Natural Lands Trust preserves to set up replicated plots of meadows that currently undergo different management regimes: to test the hypotheses that species of ground nesting birds are dependent upon vegetation type, field size, and management regime: mowing for hay (early vs. late), winter mowing for habitat, and prescribed fire. Grassland habitats are declining in size regionally; how can we maximize the habitat value of what is left?

Three Natural Lands Trust preserves including Crow’s Nest are also being used this year as part of a FRAME study: Forest Fragments in Managed Ecosystems. This is a joint project of University of Delaware and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service. Field researcher Christine Rega has been in the woods birding already this morning for this project—part of a study on soil pH and calcium availability on songbirds. This project explores the interactions between soil chemistry and nonnative invasive plants, gastropods, and native songbirds. Other FRAME studies include the effect of microhabitat variables on herptofauna (reptiles and amphibians) occupancy and density in fragmented forests; temporal stability of pollinators—native bees—in urban forest fragments; and gastropod (snails and slugs) biodiversity in urban forests.

All of the research that takes place on Natural Lands Trust preserves goes through a review process led by Dr. Jim Thorne, and it must adhere to guidelines that protect the natural resources on the preserves.

Posted by Daniel Barringer on June 14, 2012