Open Spaces: Seeking Apple Snails Aids Endangered Snail Kites

Seeking Apple Snails Aids Endangered Snail Kites

By Ken Warren, USFWS

You wouldn’t know it when you first meet her, but Emily Bauer enjoys slogging around in the bogs of south Florida.

She doesn’t do it just for fun, although she enjoys the work. She does it because she’s seeking apple snails.

Yep. You read that correctly.

emily_snailsEmily Bauer enjoys slogging around in the bogs of south Florida. (Photo: USFWS)

Bauer is fully committed to the ultimate goal of finding out if levels of copper in apple snails are potentially harmful to the endangered Everglade snail kite, a bird that relies on the snails as their primary food source.

Scientists have worried for years that high levels of copper might be found in the snails living around old agricultural areas. Since snail kites tend to want to live near their food source, they might be impacted by copper levels, as well.

“We wondered if the birds might be negatively impacted by eating snails that have a lot of copper in them,” said Emily.

Bauer is an ecologist working in the South Florida Ecological Services OfficeContaminants Section. She’s part of a collaborative effort called the ‘Copper Working Group’ – a gathering that formed because of issues associated with potential copper contamination in and around Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) sites. “Many of CERP sites are on old agricultural lands -- especially citrus, where copper was used as a fungicide,” said Emily.

For the apple snail study, the SFESO entered into a cooperative agreement with the Avian Research and Conservation Institute (ARCI). ARCI technicians trap snail kites at areas believed highly contaminated with copper, as well as areas believed minimally contaminated. Once captured, blood, feather and feces samples are taken and analyzed for copper content.

Bauer and her cohorts also travel to these sites to collect snails and sediment and water samples.

“Once all of the data is gathered and analyzed, we look to see what type correlation there is between levels we’re seeing in the birds versus levels we’re seeing in their environment,” she explained.

So far, they’ve gotten good news.

Feces collected at the exposure sites showed some elevated copper levels, but the levels in blood and feathers are fairly consistent with what has been found in samples taken at sites with far less, if any, copper contamination.

Ken Warren is a Public Affairs Officer in the USFWS's South Florida Ecological Services Office

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Last updated: June 21, 2012