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 Branch efforts are focused on both biotic and abiotic resources.
Some of the current biotic efforts being conducted by the Southeast I&M Branch, refuges, and partners include Amphibian Community Monitoring, Bird Monitoring, Habitat Mapping, 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 Branch 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. The pilot was performed to estimate time, cost, and work-load involved in performing amphibian community monitoring on refuges and were summarized in a two page report titled, Recommendations on Utilizing the National Park Service Southeast Coast Network Protocol on National Wildlife Refuges in the Southeast. Pilot Project: Amphibian Community Monitoring at Roanoke River NWR (270KB) .
The 2013 monitoring activities at Roanoke River NWR detected amphibians from 17 taxa (species, genus, or family) including a possible documentation of the newly identified Atlantic coast leopard frog (Rana Kauffieldii). Two specimens of this species were collected during March 2015 to confirm species identification with genetic testing.
During 2014 and 2015, vocal anuran baseline inventories were conducted at Swanquarter NWR and Mattamuskeet NWR, respectively. The final report for the Swanquarter NWR is now available (3.68MB) . The results and report for the Mattamuskeet NWR is available here (2.3MB) . To learn more about these projects, please contact I&M Branch 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 Branch 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.
- Automated Radio Telemetry Stations - The Motus Wildlife Tracking System (Motus) comprises a network of coordinated automated radio telemetry towers that track the movements of tagged animals throughout terrestrial and coastal environments. Launched in 2013, the MOTUS network has grown to more than 280 active receiving stations. The receiving stations listen around the clock for passing animals wearing a digital "nanotag" tracking device. Nanotags are lightweight, digital VHF radio transmitters that enable
hundreds of individual animals to be monitored simultaneously on the same radio frequency.
Each year, scientists from numerous universities and agencies deploy hundreds of nanotags for tracking migratory movements throughout eastern North America, including multiple species of seabirds, shorebirds, songbirds, raptors, and bats. They count on tracking stations along the route to record passing animals. Receiving stations log tag detections in real time, and flying animals can usually be detected by the station up to 15-20 km away.
One of the key gaps in the MOTUS network is the South Atlantic coast, which is highly relevant to ongoing tag deployments. The Southeast Region I&M Branch has installed and maintains four automated telemetry receiving stations on coastal southeast refugess to contribute to this continental tracking network - Mackay Island (NC), Pea Island (NC), Cedar Island (NC), and Cape Romain (SC) refuges. The installation of these stations represents partnerships between the Southeast Region I&M Branch, Migratory Birds (Southeast and Northeast regions) Programs, and Ecological Services Program.
The following interactive map illustrates the active automated telemetry towers and the original tagging location of animals detected at the Cedar Island NWR receiving station, which has been collecting data around the clock since late October 2015. Clicking on a marker reveals additional information on the animal(s). Detections from all towers can be viewed here. For more information about this project, please contact I&M Branch Quantitative Ecologist, Adam Smith.
Credit: Adam Smith/USFWS
- 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. The Southeast Region I&M Branch 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.
In 2015, the IWMM approach became a Service National Protocol Framework providing guidance for conducting inventories or monitoring surveys of waterbird habitat conditions and use at local scale in a way that will allow analysis of multiple sites from multiple regions in the Refuge System. For more information about IWMM, please contact the I&M Branch Coordinator, Janet Ertel; I&M Branch 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 Branch 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.
In 2015, the North Carolina Migratory Bird Office released the first newsletter, SEANET The Carolinas Edition (644KB) . For more information about SEANET surveys, please contact the I&M Branch terrestrial ecologist, Wendy Stanton, or the North Carolina Migratory Bird project leader, John Stanton.
The NWRS I&M Initiative Strategic Plan and Blueprint identified the need for the NWRS to “Design, fund, and implement a strategic process for completing vegetative inventories and cover mapping, using the National Vegetation Classification Standard (NVCS) on all refuges.” Vegetation communities and habitat designations are unique from refuge to refuge, so processes must be developed to crosswalk locally defined habitats that have been identified in refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plans and Habitat Management Plans to standardized national systems such as the National Vegetation Classification Standard and Ecological Systems. In spite of the increasing need for a common language of ecosystem units to address refuge- and landscape-scale environmental threats to trust resources, there is currently not a ‘standard’ that has been applied to the NWRS.
The Southeast Region I&M Branch has proposed a process utilizing the upcoming LANDFIRE remap as a cost effective source for acquisition of spatial data products. LANDFIRE is a collaborative effort between the Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service that provides national-scale, geo-spatial products that describe fire regime history, vegetation condition, and wildland fuel. A Habitat Mapping Working Group has been assembled in the Southeast to engage with LANDFIRE and provide refuge data and expert input to improve the accuracy of the habitat map for the Southeast region. This Working Group is composed of staff from Southeast Region I&M Branch, Refuges, and Fire Management Divisions. For more information, please contact Forbes Boyle or Tim Fotinos.
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 Branch is working with refuges and other partners on invasive species monitoring activities. Some of the current efforts include Phragmites monitoring.
- 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.
Currently, there is a draft Herbicide Mixing Conversion tool available to assist refuges with herbicide mixing rates for glyphosate and impazaypr. To learn more about this pilot or to receive the latest version of the tool, please contact I&M Branch terrestrial ecologist, Wendy Stanton, or I&M Branch 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.
Beginning in 2012, the Southeast Region I&M Branch started an unprecedented coordinated monitoring effort to provide baseline inventories of bat species on refuges and contribute to assessment of long-term changes in Eastern bat populations. The mobile acoustical bat monitoring (MABM) project includes survey transects at:
- 58 USFWS stations (56 National Wildlife Refuges, 2 Ecological Services Field Offices) in 14 states,
- 3 USFWS administrative regions (Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest), and
- 5 Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (Appalachian, Eastern Tallgrass Prairie and Big Rivers, Gulf Coast Prairie, 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 the BCID Eastern USA software package. For more information about the MABM project, please contact I&M Branch terrestrial ecologist, David Richardson. Also, please view the 2012-2015 MABM Report (1.35MB) summarizing the first four years of the project.
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.
- Coastal Wetland Elevation Monitoring - Baseline Vegetation - In the Summer 2013, the Southeast Region I&M Branch performed vegetation monitoring in association with Coastal Wetland Elevation Monitoring 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 and entered into the CVS database. I&M Branch and refuge staff worked in cypress-gum swamp forests, pocosins, oligohaline marsh, and salt marsh wetlands documenting over 450 species occurrences.
The Baseline Vegetation Report (9.7MB) is complete and summarizes data collected from each refuge site within the geography in 2013. For more information, please contact I&M Branch botanist, Forbes Boyle, or I&M coastal ecologist, Nicole Rankin. Also, please view the Carolina Vegetation Survey Fact Sheet (262KB) .
- 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 Branch 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 Branch plant ecologist, Tim Fotinos.