Informed planning and resource management requires information about status, trends, and changes in fish, wildlife, plant populations, and their habitats. The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) Inventory & Monitoring (I&M) Initiative and Southeast Region I&M Network efforts are focused on both biotic and abiotic resources.
Some of the current biotic efforts being conducted by the Southeast I&M Network, refuges, and partners include Amphibian Inventories, Bird Monitoring, Freshwater Mussel Inventory, Invasive Species Monitoring, Mobile Acoustical Bat Monitoring, and Vegetation Monitoring.
There is a growing concern about the worldwide decline of amphibian populations, and the southeastern U.S. represents one of the world's most diverse regions for amphibians. Amphibians are commonly recognized as good indicators of ecosystem health and change due to their dependence on various wetland habitats and sensitivity to environmental stressors.
In 2013, the Southeast Region I&M Network partnered with the National Park Service Southeast Coast Network to pilot the amphibian community monitoring protocol on Roanoke River NWR. Visual encounter surveys that incorporated dip-net techniques were performed, and Automatic Recording Devices (ARDs) were deployed at 12 sampling locations. This ongoing pilot was performed to estimate time, cost, and work-load involved in performing amphibian community monitoring on refuges. The ARDs will be collected in June 2013, and the recordings of frog calls were scanned and identified with the Wildlife Acoustic's Song Scope program. A final report will be available in 2014. To learn more about this pilot, please contact I&M Network terrestrial ecologist, Wendy Stanton.
Many refuges were established to provide habitat for birds, and refuges are charged with managing, monitoring, and protecting these species. The Southeast Region I&M Network is working with refuges and other partners on numerous bird planning and monitoring activities. Some of the current efforts include IWMM surveys and SEANET beached bird surveys.
- Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring (IWMM) Initiative - The IWMM Initiative is a joint effort among conservation partners located along the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, the states, Ducks Unlimited and other non-governmental agencies. The IWMM Initiative seeks to standardize and coordinate monitoring of migrating and wintering waterbirds and their habitats across the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways and to develop decision support tools informed by monitoring data to address management questions at local, regional, and flyway scales. Using an adaptive management framework, monitoring data is being used to continually learn and evaluate management and models at all three spatial scales. The Southeast Region I&M Network has been assisting with pilot data collection in the South Atlantic. This information is being used to validate the IWMM vegetation protocol which will be used to develop a decision support tool for land managers. For more information about IWMM, please contact the I&M Network Coordinator, Laurel Barnhill; I&M Network terrestrial ecologist, Wendy Stanton; or the North Carolina Migratory Bird project leader, John Stanton.
- Seabird Ecological Assessment Network Beached Bird Surveys - The Seabird Ecological Assessment Network (SEANET) is a citizen science program conducting standardized beached bird monitoring on the Atlantic coast of the United States. These surveys provide baseline information about bird mortality and can help to detect mass mortality events due to oil spills, algal toxins, and disease outbreaks. In 2011, SEANET beached bird surveys were initiated in North Carolina by the Southeast Region I&M Network and North Carolina Migratory Birds Field Office, and 17 new routes were established. The surveys consist of walking a beach segment once or twice per month and collecting data on environmental conditions, beach debris, and both dead and live bird sightings. For more information about SEANET surveys, please contact the I&M Network terrestrial ecologist, Wendy Stanton, or the North Carolina Migratory Bird project leader, John Stanton.
Freshwater mussels are one of the most imperiled groups of animals in North America, and approximately 90% of the over 300 species are found in the southeastern United States. Freshwater mussels are an important component of aquatic ecosystems and are indicator species for assessing the health of freshwater systems.
In September 2013, the Southeast Region I&M Network collaborated with Southwest Region I&M, Fisheries, and Ecological Services to conduct a freshwater mussel inventory at Pond Creek NWR. The Little River in southwestern Arkansas is known for having a high diversity of freshwater mussels including endangered (Ouachita Rock Pocketbook, Arkansia wheeleri), candidate (Rabbitsfoot, Quadrula cylindrica), and other rare species. The team assessed approximately 36 river miles during the 10-day survey, resulting in delineation of several dozen mussel beds. Thirty-four mussel species were documented during this survey, including one live Ouachita rock pocketbook. A final report is available for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel. For more information about the Pond River NWR freshwater mussel inventory, please contact the I&M Network plant ecologist, Tim Fotinos, or I&M Network aquatic ecologist, Lee Holt.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is very concerned about the impacts that invasive species are having on fish, wildlife, and plants across the Nation. Invasive plants and animals degrade, change or displace native habitats and compete with our native wildlife and are thus harmful to our fish, wildlife and plant resources. The Southeast Region I&M Network is working with refuges and other partners on invasive species monitoring activities. Some of the current efforts include aquatic invasive species and Phragmites monitoring.
- Aquatic Invasive Species Monitoring - There are over 300 aquatic invasive species (plants and animals) documented in the Southeast with more introductions occurring every year. Aquatic invasive species (AIS) can greatly impact the ecology of native species occurring in these ecosystems. Beginning in 2012 and continuing through 2013, the Southeast Region I&M Network collaborated with the Fisheries, Refuges, and Environmental Quality programs to perform fish community assessment work on Savannah NWR that included standard protocol development using multiple techniques to detect aquatic invasive species. Components of this work included early detection and rapid response, new technologies, and both internal and external education about AIS. This work builds on a previous study conducted at A.R.M. Loxahatchee NWR that included standard protocol development, early detection and rapid response techniques for AIS, and the development of eDNA markers for AIS species that are emerging threats to aquatic systems. To date, approximately 100 km have been sampled in multiple seasons and varying tidal and water level conditions. Data are currently being analyzed, with final reports and presentations available in 2014. For more information, please contact I&M Network aquatic ecologist, Theresa Thom.
- Phragmites Monitoring - Over the past century, the exotic and invasive common reed (Phragmites australis ssp. australis) has continued to encroach on fragile wetland habitat managed intensely for waterbirds and other Service Trust Species. Once established, Phragmites quickly takes over marsh communities. Intensive efforts have been focused to manage this plant, but no standardized monitoring has occurred. Sea level rise will exacerbate this challenge as the more adaptable Phragmites invade these stressed environments and out-compete the more specialized native plants. A pilot monitoring effort is currently underway on refuges in North Carolina. This pilot will provide treatment recommendations and develop a standardized protocol for rapidly assessing the effectiveness of actions used to manage Phragmites at acceptable thresholds and promote regeneration of native wetland plants. To learn more about this pilot, please contact I&M Network terrestrial ecologist, Wendy Stanton, or I&M Network botanist, Forbes Boyle.
Bats are integral to sustaining biodiversity of both simple and complex ecosystems in the eastern United States. Bats have been specifically identified as species of concern in many National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation and Habitat Management Plans and are otherwise recognized as a species group of interest on many refuge lands. Recent recognition of landscape level threats to bat populations and refuge-scale needs for baseline information on bat abundance and distribution has prompted refuges to start coordinated acoustical monitoring of bats in the Southeast.
Beginning in 2012, the Southeast Region I&M Network started an unprecedented coordinated monitoring effort to provide baseline inventories of bat species on refuges and contribute to assessment of long-term changes in Southeastern bat populations. The mobile acoustical bat monitoring (MABM) project includes survey transects at:
- 45 USFWS stations (42 National Wildlife Refuges, 3 Ecological Services Field Offices) in 13 states,
- 3 USFWS administrative regions (Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest), and
- 3 Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (Appalachian, Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks, and South Atlantic)
Each year from June to July, stations use Anabat SD2 detectors (mobile data logger) to log ultrasonic bat echolocation data collected via a roof-mounted microphone. Bat calls will be classified and summarized by species using modeling software which is currently undergoing additional beta testing for verification and validation of accuracy. For more information about the MABM project, please contact I&M Network terrestrial ecologist, David Richardson. Also, please view the 2012 MABM Regional Summary Report (543KB).
Plant communities face numerous threats from non-native species invasion to human development to climate change. It is important to monitor and evaluate changes in plant community composition over time. Some of the current efforts include Carolina Vegetation Survey plot establishment and Historic Vegetation Assessments.
- RSET Station Vegetation Monitoring - In the Summer 2013, the Southeast Region I&M Network performed vegetation monitoring in association with rod surface elevation table (RSET) sites on coastal refuges within the South Atlantic geography. During this baseline vegetation survey, permanent plots were established at all RSET sites. Using the Carolina Vegetation Survey (CVS) Level 5 protocol, staff set up three 10X10 meter plots per RSET site to determine compositional richness (i.e. number of species) across multiple spatial scales (smallest scale = 0.01 m²; largest scale = 100 m²), document tree and shrub density, and describe abiotic conditions within the plot. All of the data were archived in a standard format, entered into the CVS database, and will be made available to refuge staff and partners in Fall 2014. I&M Network and refuge staff worked in cypress-gum swamp forests, pocosins, oligohaline marsh, and salt marsh wetlands documenting over 450 species occurrences. For more information, please contact I&M Network botanist, Forbes Boyle, or I&M coastal ecologist, Nicole Rankin. Also, please view the Carolina Vegetation Survey Fact Sheet.
- Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI) Data Analysis - Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge embarked on a new and intensive forest monitoring effort in 1999. Over the next eight years, the refuge established and sampled an extensive network of permanent forest monitoring plots (CFI). The refuge has recently teamed up with the Southeast Region I&M Network and Louisiana Tech University to thoroughly analyze these valuable and complex data as well as evaluate the power of the CFI monitoring design. These monitoring data will provide a better understanding of long-term forest dynamics and habitat structure across the refuge. Permanent plots like CFI have greater power to detect changes in forest structure and composition (because of their static location) than the typical cruise data collected during forest inventories. These analyses will also inform area refuges about the value of CFI plots as part of a comprehensive forest management program. For more information about this project, please contact I&M Network plant ecologist, Tim Fotinos.