Summer 2011 - In This Issue
Love is in the Air
MD Bats Under Assault
Paying Conservation LIP Service
Welcome to the new Maryland Natural Areas News! Get the latest on research and highlights of the natural wonders of Maryland and biodiversity conservation efforts in our state. We know what's special about Maryland, naturally! Who are we? We are the Maryland Natural Heritage Program, the lead state agency responsible for non-game and endangered species conservation. From our beginning in 1979, the Program's mandate has been to assess the status of rare species and to inventory, monitor and conserve those species for the benefit of future generations. Our little state packs a wallop when it comes to diversity of habitats and natural communities supporting rare and wonderful plants and animals. The more we learn about our amazing natural ecosystems and their processes, the more we realize how integral they are to our lives. If you are new to this wonder, we hope this newsletter becomes a stepping off point for new adventures in biodiversity conservation. If you've already experienced the thrill of what Mother Nature has to offer, we look forward to joining you in a deeper appreciation of these riches.
Love is in the Air
It's Spring! And you know what that means – HERPS! Herps, from "herpetology" – the study of reptiles and amphibians, and from the Greek word "herpeton", meaning "crawly things". Today we collectively call them herpetofauna. Maryland is home to over 90 species of turtles, lizards, snakes, salamanders, and frogs and toads. And people who find them fascinating are called "herpers".
This is the time of year when herpers get a little manic. They are drawn to the outdoors by the strains of a love song, and it's not the birds. Although most herps don't make vocalizations, in February, the wood frog males are calling, claiming territory and looking for mates. Once the temperatures climb to the 40s and 50s, the spring time chorus of frogs and toads, or Anurans ("without tails"), is in full voice. April showers may be better known for their botanical influence on May but the spring peepers have something to say about that. Roll down the window during the drive home from work on a warm spring evening. Turn off the radio while passing a soggy roadside forest. Those peeps, clucks, croaks, chuckles and trills are the local frogs looking for love. This will continue until summer heat quiets the crowd. Some species will sing again as the weather cools off.
Late winter is also a busy time for the anuran's cousins, the salamanders. Depending on the species, salamanders will breed throughout the year. But the ones that really get peoples' attention are those which lay their eggs in ponds and streams under the ice and snow. Some salamanders will migrate up to a kilometer to find the right body of water in which to deposit their future offspring. Eggs have been found attached to rocks or vegetation or floating freely in lakes, ponds, vernal pools, caves and mines, cisterns, streams and seeps. For species like the green salamander or the slimy salamander, a damp rock crevice or natural cavity will suffice. Some salamanders even place their eggs in underground burrows. Moisture is the common feature at all sites as amphibian eggs have a soft, gel-like substance around the eggs. Most amphibians have an aquatic larval stage.
These two groups, anurans and salamanders, start the annual kick-off hunt for herpers. As the weather warms up, expect to see more reptiles. Turtles, snakes and lizards require higher temperatures to get going after their winter hibernation. You may see them basking on rocks in ponds, in open areas, or on roads. Fence lizards and skinks will also be found climbing trees. These critters will place their hard-shelled eggs in burrows or under piles of woody debris. They do not have aquatic larvae; the hard shell maintains a moist environment around the developing embryo which then emerges as a smaller version of the adult.
In Maryland, the Department of Natural Resources is teaming up with the Natural History Society of Maryland to conduct the first comprehensive statewide herpetological mapping effort since the 1970s, the Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas (MARA). Begun in 2010, this 5-year project will establish a baseline for herp populations and distributions. This information will guide future research and promote conservation of these fascinating creatures.
Surveys are performed primarily by volunteers in approximately 10 square mile areas; each survey area is derived from the Breeding Bird Atlas block grid overlain on a USGS 7.5 minute topographic quad map. A handbook is available with information on surveying techniques, ethical treatment and handling of animals, data submission protocols, volunteer commitment, and a host of other helpful information. If you are interested in searching for herps, contact your local county coordinator or visit the MARA website for more details.
Another useful resource for MARA participants or students of nature is the new field guide of Maryland's herps on the MD Department of Natural Resources website. The field guide includes images, habitat descriptions, range maps, and calls. There's a list of helpful books and additional references, a glossary of common terms used in herpetology, and links to other wildlife conservation organizations.
Why the push now to get a handle on amphibians and reptiles? Over the last 20 years there has been a significant decline in many of these species. Habitat loss and degradation remains the primary cause but additional threats loom large. Introduction of invasive species, (including plant, animal, and disease organisms) is rapidly becoming one of the greatest challenges for our native species. Over-harvesting and collecting continues to impact the group. And changes to hydrology and water quality caused by aggressive development and agricultural practices affect a major aspect of the life cycles of many herps.
As you get out this spring, visiting parks or just chatting with neighbors, keep an eye and ear out for the amphibians and reptiles in your community. You'll learn their songs and rhythms and become aware of their favorite places. If you see a bale of turtles or a knot of frogs or even a lounge of lizards, remember that they are a vital component to Maryland's biodiversity and they make our lives more rich and fulfilling. And please report what you see. We would love to hear of your encounters with the crawly things!
Early results of this winter's surveys of bat hibernacula are in and the news is not good: White-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease associated with high mortality in bats, has been confirmed at two more sites in Maryland, bringing the total number of affected sites to three. An abandoned mine complex in Washington County and Maryland's largest cave in Garrett County are the latest locations to be identified with the disease. WNS was first discovered in Maryland's cave-hibernating bats in a cave near Cumberland, Allegany County in March 2010.
WNS manifests in bats as a white fungal growth on their muzzles, wings and other exposed skin. Bats with this syndrome exhibit unusual behaviors that contribute to their deaths. Scientists suspect that these bats wake up more frequently during their winter hibernation, using up fat reserves that would normally see them through until spring. Other physiological impacts of the fungal infection are also being investigated. Bats may venture outside the hibernaculum, or hibernation site, in search of food but find none. Their main food source, insects, are not active during cold weather. In some hibernacula, WNS has wiped out 90 to 100 percent of the population.
WNS is associated with a fungus newly discovered in North America's bats, called Geomyces destructans. In the United States, this disease was first seen in a cave popular with tourists near Albany, New York in 2006. It has spread rapidly through the bat population with over 1 million bats killed from Canada south along the Appalachians and west into Tennessee and Indiana. The fungus has also been seen in Missouri and Oklahoma.
Both the fungus and disease are new to North America, but they have been seen in European populations of cave-hibernating bats. These bats display the white fungal growth but mortality from the disease is significantly lower. It is believed that the European bats have co-evolved with the fungus and therefore are more immunologically or behaviorally resistant to the disease.
The disease is primarily spread by bat to bat contact but since this cold-weather fungus can exist in soils, it may also be spread by humans through contact with clothing and gear. It is not known to be harmful to humans. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has developed caving protocols and requests that cavers refrain from caving in all WNS affected states and adjoining states. Cavers should refrain from caving anywhere during the hibernation period (September – May) to minimize disturbance and mortality to bats. During the surveys, DNR biologists and volunteers under their direction followed strict decontamination protocols established by the Northeastern WNS Working Group.
Current monitoring and research continue. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is directing an interagency team of state, tribal and federal wildlife agencies, land management bureaus, non-governmental conservation organizations, universities, and recreational groups to implement a national plan to reduce this catastrophic threat to hibernating bats throughout the United States. In addition to monitoring current and future spread of the disease, scientists are researching the history of the Geomyces destructans fungus in European bat populations to identify possible resistance in North American bats. Cave management plans have also been developed to retard the spread of the disease. Research into possible treatments is on-going.
In Maryland, six of our 10 bat species - including two which are endangered - hibernate in caves or mines. WNS has been observed in the Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus), Tricolor Bat (Pipistrellus subflavus), and Northern Long-eared Bat (M. septentrionalis). Our other cave hibernating species: Small-footed (M. liebii), Indiana (M. sodalis), and Big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) have not yet been observed with fungus or WNS in Maryland, but all species have succumbed to the malady in other northeastern states and likely will here as well. It is estimated that bats provide billions of dollars in pest control for agriculture, in addition to their inherent value as part of our natural biodiversity. Maryland's citizens can help by honoring cave closures, providing summer roosting habitat in the form of bat boxes, and participating in conservation efforts. It will take decades for bats to recover from this assault but with help, it is hoped they will return.
Conservation is not just for public lands. The Landowner Incentive Program (LIP) assists private landowners with habitat restoration and conservation efforts across the state and across the diversity of habitat types that makes Maryland "America in Miniature". LIP works with landowners who are interested in improving or restoring habitat on their property by providing technical expertise, cost-share assistance and monitoring support. The goal to protect, enhance, and restore habitat for rare, threatened and endangered plants and animals also benefits common species and the environment as a whole.
Maryland is home to over 1000 rare, threatened, and endangered species – 616 plants and 411 animals. More than 60 percent of Maryland land is privately owned. Approximately half of all known occurrences of rare species in Maryland exist on privately owned lands. Increasing pressure from urban sprawl, development, the conversion of agricultural lands to residential or industrial areas, and degradation of existing natural communities has taken its toll on Maryland's ecosystems and their inhabitants. By focusing on species at risk, LIP provides incentives for private landowners to restore and conserve natural habitat, increase water quality in Maryland's waterways, and generally raise the quality of life for wildlife and humans alike.
Begun in Maryland in late 2004, LIP is a voluntary state program funded through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). In 2005 and 2006, Maryland's LIP was awarded nationally competitive grants for on-the-ground restoration totaling $1,450,000.
LIP partners with state and federal agencies, non-profit conservation organizations and private landowners to utilize a toolbox of restoration techniques including: native vegetation management and reforestation, prescribed burns, invasive species control, prescribed grazing, riparian buffers, and agricultural best management practices. These projects help to support private property as functioning ecosystems for wildlife. Projects must benefit rare, threatened or endangered species and habitats. Each project requires a minimum 25% match, which may be in the form of sweat equity on the project, additional grants from other organizations, a cash contribution, or a combination thereof.
Projects thus far vary with the species and habitat need. LIP staff have worked with Boy Scouts in Carroll County to construct and install bat maternity boxes along a stream, providing roosting sites for the federally endangered Indiana Bat. In Frederick County, landowners are restoring stream water quality degraded by dairy operations as part of their farm's conversion to more sustainable farming practices. Installation of riparian buffers, accomplished by planting several thousand native trees and shrubs was conducted in partnership with the landowners, LIP staff, USFWS staff and many hearty volunteers. The buffer is already shading and stabilizing the previously-exposed and eroding stream thereby encouraging the return of several native fish and songbirds. LIP continues to work with the landowners to remove invasive weed species.
Invasive species removal is a large part of habitat restoration. Encroachment by non-native species is one of the main reasons for habitat degradation. Throughout the state, from the mature forests of Garrett County – home to the Northern Goshawk, Least Flycatcher and Cerulean Warbler – to the coastal plain forests of the Lower Eastern Shore with their Delmarva Fox Squirrel and the Showy Goldenrod, LIP is funding projects to remove non-native plant species like Phragmites and Tree-of-Heaven, which can completely crowd out native species and alter the habitat.
Since the program began almost seven years ago, 80 landowners have signed on. Over 3000 acres have been restored, helping 186 species at risk. As 2011 proceeds, interest and competition for existing funds continue to grow. To learn more about the application process, evaluation, site assessment and project monitoring, visit the Landowner Incentive Program's website. All of Maryland can help in the conservation of this state's vast biodiversity. LIP is one more way to do that.
An exciting find from the Southern Maryland Key Wildlife Habitat monitoring project is a large population of Featherfoil (Hottonia inflata) in the Zekiah Swamp, in Charles County. Featherfoil is an aquatic plant so named for its feathery, fan-shaped leaves. This species is listed Endangered in Maryland; only eight other populations are known to exist in the state. Until this discovery in the Zekiah, featherfoil was thought to occur only on the Eastern Shore of Maryland – and only in unusual wetlands called Carolina bays. In Delaware, featherfoil is restricted to this unique wetland type, so the Zekiah Swamp population is a significant find. The discovery of featherfoil within the Zekiah adds to our understanding of the swamp’s ecological significance and to our knowledge base about habitat preferences for this rare species. Read more…
What are Carolina bays? Regionally known as Delmarva bays, these temporary ponds are seasonally flooded wetlands surrounded by uplands. The bays are usually filled with water throughout the winter and early spring; a; a layer of clay in the soil slows the percolation of water. This fluctuating water table provides ideal habitat for featherfoil. In contrast, the Zekiah Swamp population occurs along a braided side channel off the main stem of the Swamp. This side stream has slow-moving shallow water which dries up in late summer and fall. Large oaks - like white oak (Quercus alba), swamp chestnut oak (Q. michauxii), and willow oak (Q. phellos) - and red maples (Acer rubrum) line the stream.
Featherfoil is an annual species in the Primrose family (Primulaceae), and its lifecycle is dependent on fluctuating water tables. Unlike most seeds which germinate in the spring, featherfoil seeds germinate in late September-early October when water levels are low. Small rosettes form after germination and remain green throughout the winter. As water levels rise from winter snow and rain, the featherfoil rosettes will remain on the bottom of the pond until early spring when it pushes a flowering stalk above the water surface. The stems of featherfoil are hollow and produce whorls of tiny white flowers above floating, fan-shaped leaves.
From the Allegheny Wetlands study comes word of some new and newly re-found records. A very exciting discovery from the Highlands was made by two Natural Heritage Program biologists. Mike Harvey and Jessica McPherson were surveying a preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy and came across the Alderleaf Buckthorn (Rhamnus alnifolia). This is a brand new species for the state! More common in the north, this calcium-loving shrub enjoys wet meadows, bogs, fens and low woods. This species is the only buckthorn that has separate male and female flowers, usually on different plants. It is a larval host of several swallowtail butterfly species as well. Way to go Mike and Jessica!
Also from "out west", Natural Heritage Program botanists re-discovered an occurrence of Horned Bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta). This little plant was considered "Historical", as it has not been reported in Maryland in over 30 years. Found in bogs, fens and wet shorelines, the yellow flowers of this bladderwort are suspended above the water's surface and have a prominent downward pointing spur, ¼" to ½" long. This is not a floating plant; the plant is rooted in the substrate. Horned bladderwort is one of Maryland's carnivorous plants, waiting for insects to float by small, deflated, pear-shaped pouches along the base of the plant's fibrous roots. By tapping special sensor "hairs" on the pouch, the insect triggers the "bladder" to open, sucking in water and insect together. The bladder then seals and releases enzymes to digest its meal. All in less than 10 one-thousandths of a second. Talk about fast food!
June 15 & 16, 2011: Envirothon State Championships
Over 20 teams of high school students from around the state compete in this challenge of environmental knowledge and problem solving at the Envirothon State Championships in St. Mary's City.. The winning team advances to the Canon National Envirothon for a chance to win $25,000. More here.
June 20 – 26, 2011: Pollinator Week.
Celebrate Pollinators in Maryland: The Xerces Society and USDA – NRCS will host a short course on pollinator conservation at the Beltsville National Plant Materials Center on June 21. Read more and register here.
June 25 & 26, 2011: Baltimore EcoFestival
The Baltimore EcoFestival is back and cooler than ever! Partnering with the Baltimore Roots Fest of arts and culture, the EcoFestival will add a dimension on living sustainably in an urban environment. On the "Highway to Nowhere", Rt. 40 at Franklin and N. Gilmor. More here.
July – August 2011: Bat Box Population Surveys
Do you have a bat box with bats in it? Would you like to participate in a research project studying bat maternity colonies? MD Natural Heritage Program is looking for citizen scientists to record populations in their bat boxes in July and August. Help us combat White Nose Syndrome. No human building colonies please. For more information, email Dana Limpert or call 410-827-8612, ext. 108.
MD Natural Heritage Program
Green Treefrog: Kerry Wixted
Seaside Dragonlet: Kerry Wixted
Scarlet Tanager: George Jett
American Lotus: Kerry Wixted
Black-eyed Susan: Kerry Wixted
Eastern Fence Lizard: John White
White Nose Syndrome in Bats: Dan Feller
Grazing Goats: Linh Phu
Featherfoil: R.H. Wiegand
Alderleaf Buckthorn: R. Mohlenbrock
Horned Bladderwort: Jim Stasz
Martin Mt. Sandstone Glade, R.H. Wiegand
Piney Reservoir, Garrett County, MD: David Kazyak
Sunrise on Assateague: R.H. Wiegand
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