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C. W. Watson Award Winners
Wildlife Biologist of the Year
Fisheries Biologist of the Year
SEAFWA Law Enforcement Officer of the Year
State Law Enforcement Officer of the Year
Diversity Outreach and Education Award
Workforce Diversity and Inclusion Award
Monday, November 2 / 5:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.
Landscape-level in-stream habitat mapping: “Side Scan Sonar”
Cameron Bodine, Jennifer Bock, Reuben Smit – Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Side scan sonar for benthic habitat mapping is an efficient, low-cost approach for mapping habitat features in navigable rivers and streams. It provides a means to create high resolution, spatially detailed maps of continuous, instream habitat across broad aquatic landscapes. The sub-basins selected for this project include: Lower Choctawhatchee, Lower Ochlockonee, Withlacoochee, Peace, and Lower Suwannee. The habitat maps produced will provide valuable information that can be used to identify critical habitat for numerous species. The benthic habitat maps will provide the baseline data needed for instream habitat monitoring. These maps, depicting substrate and large woody debris, will provide a measure of location and amount of various habitat types for aquatic species. Temporal changes in the location and amount can be tracked and provide a means of habitat monitoring. These maps will also identify potential areas for restoration. Additionally, mapping pre- and post-restoration efforts can aid in monitoring the outcomes of those efforts.
Sonar imagery will be presented in poster format, classified according to the classification scheme developed for this project, and compared to actual substrates encountered in the field. The poster will serve as a guide to those wishing to implement a substrate mapping and classification project on their streams/rivers.
Ecosystem Response to Freshwater Inflow: Determining a Link between Freshwater Pumping Regimes and Ecological Benefit
Elizabeth A. Del Rosario, Evan L. Turner, Paul A. Montagna –Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
The demands of freshwater worldwide have roughly tripled since 1950 and the allocation of environmental flows for bays and estuaries has become an emerging issue for water resource management. Important links between estuaries and their catchments have become recognized and it is now agreed that effective management of freshwater resources must consider the potential impacts of alterations to natural flow regime on estuarine environments. Freshwater inflow serves a variety of important functions such as creating and preserving low-salinity nurseries; transporting sediments, nutrients, and organic matter downstream; and affecting estuarine species movements and reproductive timing. The amount of freshwater reaching Rincon Bayou, Texas, located in the Nueces Estuary of the Gulf of Mexico, has been reduced by 99% due to the construction of dams on the Nueces and Frio Rivers. This has led to high salinities in the bayou causing decreased shrimp and oyster populations. A pumping system has been installed to meet Texas Environmental Flow requirements for bays and estuaries, and is the primary freshwater source to the bayou. Analyses of benthic macrofauna and physical parameters have found a strong relationship between indicator species to salinity and depth during pumping events. Using a benthic ecology model, effects of salinity changes can be related to pumping regime. Results indicate the duration and quantity of pumped inflow strongly affect benthic community composition. Results of this study can be used in the facilitation of adaptive management for dam reoperation in providing a basis for freshwater release regimes needed to maintain optimal environmental conditions.
Is The Ironcolor Shiner a Vanishing Species with a Message?
Brena K. Jones, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
Currently, nearly 50% of 1,213 freshwater fish species in the US are imperiled, primarily due to habitat degradation. In North Carolina, approximately 26% of our fishes are listed as endangered, threatened, or meriting special concern. Upon initiation of this status survey in 2010, distribution records for these priority fishes, were sparse and dated. Statewide surveys completed by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) in the 1960’s showed the Ironcolor Shiner (Notropis chalybaeus) to be widespread across the entire coastal plain ecoregion. Five decades later, a targeted search in the lower Cape Fear, Lumber, and White Oak river basins failed to capture the species from many previously recorded locations. From 2010 to 2013, 119 sites were sampled and only three stream reaches yielded Ironcolor Shiners. A single individual was also incidentally collected in the Waccamaw River in 2014. Reasons for this apparent disappearance are currently unknown, but this may be an indicator of a pattern of degradation affecting Atlantic Coastal Plain and Gulf Coast aquatic communities rangewide. Sources of historical and current stream impacts are numerous, including now-defunct textile mill effluents, 50 years of development and agricultural impacts, as well as, most recently, hurricanes, extreme algae blooms and extended zero-dissolved oxygen conditions. The WRC plans to continue investigation of the Ironcolor Shiner, including the exploration of new survey methods, such as the use of environmental DNA.
Patterns of Fish Community Structure and Diversity Along the Longitudinal Gradient of the Kiamichi River, Oklahoma
Clayton Porter, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation; Tim Patton, Southeastern Oklahoma State University
In riverine systems, patterns of fish community structure and diversity often change along the longitudinal gradient (e.g., from upstream to downstream). Previous research has shown longitudinal patterns may include species addition and species zonation, as well as changes in various measure of diversity, such as species richness and species abundance. In this project we studied the longitudinal patterns of fish communities in 100 km of the Kiamichi River in Southeastern Oklahoma. The objectives were to see if this system showed (1) patterns of species addition or zonation, and (2) increased species diversity (as measured by species abundance, species richness, and Shannon Diversity) along the longitudinal gradient. We collected fish via electrofishing from 11 sites during 2012-2013. We standardized sampling based on 30 minutes of electrofishing and 200 meters of seine hauls at each site. A total of 8,725 fish were collected representing 39 species. Patterns of species zonation or addition were assessed using an arranged data table. Patterns of diversity were assessed using regression analysis. As of this writing, we are analyzing data, and will present preliminary results.
Review of Black Bear Hunting in North America and Applications for Florida
Sarah Barrett, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Forest Fernandez, Josh Bell – Florida State University; David Telesco, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) passed the Florida Black Bear Management Plan in 2012, which called for an exploration of hunting as a tool to manage and stabilize Florida’s bear populations. As bear hunting has been closed since the early 1990’s in Florida, FWC wanted to review data on how bear hunting is done elsewhere in North America before moving forward with proposing how a black bear hunt might be conducted. College interns and FWC staff compiled information from state and province natural resource agencies in North America on black bear population estimates, if the locale allowed hunting, and if so, methods of take, laws governing sale of parts, permit requirements, costs of permits, take limits, and season length and timing. All 11 Canadian provinces and 32 of the 41 U.S. states with resident black bear populations have bear hunting seasons. The results were varied, with some well-defined groupings. FWC used these findings to help inform how bear hunting would be conducted in Florida in Fall 2015.
Predicting Available Hunting Land and Hunter Density and Distribution in North Carolina
Conner Burke, Nils Peterson, Chris Moorman, Chris DePerno –North Carolina State University; David Sawyer, Christopher Serenari –North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
North Carolina, like many other states, is experiencing rapid human population growth and urbanization. Development levels and shifting landowner preferences create barriers to huntable land beyond those associated with public policy. This study will identify the combination of variables associated with human development that best determine whether properties in North Carolina are huntable or unhuntable. This knowledge gap will be addressed with 7,000 surveys of North Carolina landowners from around the state. The objectives of our study are to develop a model using social and geographic variables to predict whether privately owned land in North Carolina is huntable or unhuntable, to estimate both huntable land area and what area is actually hunted, to estimate hunter density and distribution, and to ascertain historical reasons for landowners choosing to stop hunting where it was previously allowed. Survey responses will be spatially linked to respondent’s physical address to investigate relationships between responses and characteristics of the surrounding environment. This study will identify areas of North Carolina where the efficacy of traditional hunting is no longer sufficient for managing game species, and where novel approaches need to be formulated and examined. Furthermore, the development of a predictive model will allow for periodic adjustments to the North Carolina huntable land estimate as urbanization increases.
Summer Roosting Ecology of Tricolored Bats in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Grace M. Carpenter, Emma V. Willcox, Riley F. Bernard –University of Tennessee; Bill H. Stiver, National Park Service
Due to the threat of White-nose syndrome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we are studying relative abundance of tricolored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) pre and post outbreak, as well as roost site selection to better inform management strategies and aid species recovery. Little is known about this species and it is being considered for federal listing due to the disease. To determine whether the relative abundance of Tricolored bats within the park has changed since the arrival of WNS, we are surveying bats at 20 locations for 40 net-nights, and will be comparing our data with results from a study conducted at the same sites in 2001-2003, prior to the outbreak. To investigate roost site selection, we are using radio telemetry to locate day roosts selected by individual bats. Selected roosts will then be compared to randomly selected trees to determine if there is a significant preference for tree species and habitat within a 0.1-ha plot. From May 13, 2015 to July 1, 2015, seven roost trees have been located; three white oak (Quercus alba), two red oak (Q. rubra), one chestnut oak (Q. prinus) and one red maple (Acer rubrum). Preliminary results from this season will be presented at the time of the conference.
Acoustic Monitoring of Neotropical Migrant Bird Arrivals on the Talladega National Forest and Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge
Robert Carter, Zane Alexander, Chris Pellecchia, Logan Miller –Jacksonville State University
Acoustic recordings with microphones placed in three habitats on the Talladega National Forest were used to determine the arrival date and activity of neotropical migrants. Recordings occurred in a longleaf pine grassland, mountain top (Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge, Chimney Peak), and creek valley (Dugger Mountain) from late March through late May. Analysis of recordings indicated that first arrivals included black-and-white warbler, worm-eating warbler, and blue-headed vireo. Summer tanagers arrived by the second week of April and scarlet tanagers by the middle of April. By mid-April, many of the common breeding migrants, such as indigo bunting, wood thrush, and red-eyed vireo, were migrating through the study area. Bachman’s sparrow was detected in the longleaf pine habitat prior to the breeding season indicating the habitat is used for foraging outside of the breeding season. Red crossbills randomly were detected in the longleaf pine grassland throughout the monitoring period. Continued monitoring in subsequent years will contribute to understanding changes in populations and shifts in migration times.
Breeding Bird Populations of a Highly Fragmented Urban Habitat in Alabama
Zane Alexander, Cory Shands, Chris Pellecchia, Logan Miller, Robert Carter –Jacksonville State University
Point counts were conducted in a highly fragmented urban environment adjacent to Choccolocco Creek to determine breeding bird habitat use in 2013 and 2014. The narrow riparian zone is dominated by a hardwood overstory and understory of Chinese privet and surrounded by urban development including an airport, interstate, and mall. The breeding birds were compared to an intact forested landscape adjacent to Shoal Creek on the Talladega National Forest (TNF). The urban environment avian species richness was 43 compared to 54 for the TNF. The total number of individuals was 339 on the TNF compared to 275 for the Choccolocco Creek area. Fragmented habitats had fewer species but included some species, such as European starling, killdeer, Eastern meadowlark, and swallows, not found on the TNF.
Incidental Captures of Eastern Spotted Skunk in a High-Elevation Red Spruce Forest in the Southern Appalachians
Corinne A. Diggins*, Virginia Tech; David Jachowski, Clemson University; Jay Martin, USDA Forest Service; W. Mark Ford, U.S. Geological Survey, Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Virginia Tech
The Eastern Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius L.) is considered rare in the southern Appalachian Mountains and throughout much of its range. We report incidental captures of 6 skunks in a high elevation red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.) forest in southwestern Virginia during late winter 2014. These observations are the highest elevation records for this species in the Appalachian Mountains at 1520 m. They are also the first known records of Eastern Spotted Skunks using red spruce forests in the southern Appalachians. These observations highlight new information on the distribution and habitat use of this species, which are both important for conservation of this declining carnivore.
Survey and Management of Buildings Used as Summer Roosts by Bats in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Kirstin Fagan, University of Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is the most heavily visited national park in the country, and the summer months attract tourists with opportunities for wildlife viewing and exploration of historic structures. During this time, visitors and employees regularly report bats and bat sign in historic and non-historic buildings. In light of catastrophic bat population declines due to White-nose Syndrome (WNS), it is essential that management of these buildings balance the need for public safety and preservation of cultural resources with conservation of threatened bats. As a taxon with small litter sizes and low recruitment, the persistence of bats on the landscape is dependent upon individual survival and reproduction, and therefore the availability and quality of summer roosts, including buildings, where post-natal development and preparation for hibernation can take place. The goals of our study are to assess which buildings in GSMNP are being used by bats as summer roosts; determine why structures are selected for roosting; and develop recommendations for the management of structures when bats are present. To date we have surveyed over 150 buildings. For buildings used as roosts, as evidenced from observation of bats or presence of guano, and paired, randomly selected, unused buildings, we evaluated a variety of microhabitat features and structural attributes. We collected guano from used buildings for DNA analysis to identify bat species when not observed. We will present preliminary findings regarding use and selection of buildings in GSMNP by bats as summer roosts and initial management recommendations.
The Impact of Feral Hogs on Producers in Alabama
Sierra Horsey, Olga Bolden-Tiller –Tuskegee University
Feral Hogs are an invasive species that caused $800 million dollars worth of damages in Alabama and over $1.5 billion dollars worth of damages in the United States last year. Brought over in the 1400s as a food source, the feral hog population has capitalized on the fact that they have very few predators and their population has reached over four million. Their increasing numbers and locations are of great concern to numerous state holders including the USDA, Alabama producers as well as producers in other states. Feral hogs consume the roots of seedling, destroying the crops. They are also carriers of diseases such as pseudorabies and tuberculosis which can spread to livestock as well as humans. This project identifies (1) the ways in which feral hogs negatively impact the land; (2) the diseases feral hogs can have, and spread to livestock and humans; (3) current techniques used to control the feral hog population and; (4) the obstacles game managers face in regards to the increasing and spreading population. In conclusion, we look at cost effective and successful techniques employed to manage the feral hog population as well as how to reverse the adverse affects feral hogs have on the ecosystem: affects such as soil erosion.
Roost Tree Use by Female Indiana Bats on the Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee During the Spring Pre-Maternity Period
Reilly Jackson, Emma Willcox – University of Tennessee; Dustin Thames, Josh Campbell, Chris Simpson – Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency
The characteristics of trees used as day roosts by the endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) during the spring pre-maternity period (mid-April through May 15) have not been extensively examined. Individuals are vulnerable during this period, as they are emerging from winter cave hibernacula with low energy reserves and often recovering from White-nose Syndrome. Determining the characteristics of trees used by this species during this time may help ensure the implementation of habitat management activities that retain sites on the landscape, promoting survival of WNS affected individuals. In April 2013 and 2014, we tracked 16 bats by air and road from caves in White and Hickman Counties to maternity areas in Benton, McNairy, and Wilson Counties, Tennessee, where we monitored them until May 15, the beginning of the maternity season. We documented these 16 bats using 24 trees as day roosts. Two of these trees were still occupied at the beginning of the maternity season. All documented roosts were located underneath exfoliating bark, with 76% in snags (shagbark hickory [Carya ovata], mockernut hickory [C. tomentosa], white ash [Fraxinus Americana], red oak [Quercus rubra], or red maple [Acer rubra]. The remaining 24% of roosts were located in live shagbark hickory. Sixty-six percent of roost trees were located more than 10 m away from the edge of agricultural fields. We will present additional results from this study and outline avenues for future research that will provide the information needed to maintain Indiana bats roost trees during the vulnerable spring pre-maternity period.
Tick-borne Illnesses of Alabama: A Look at Relationships Among Hosts, Habitats and Ticks Throughout the State
Emily Merritt, Graeme Lockaby, Derrick Mathias – Auburn University
Ticks are the foremost parasites of wildlife and humans in the United States. In the Southeast, lone star, black-legged, American dog, and Gulf Coast ticks may carry and transmit pathogens associated with Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, spotted fever rickettsiosis, and others. Despite the high occurrence of ticks throughout Alabama, little is known about their distribution within the state or the degree to which they carry pathogens. Additionally, rapid urbanization in Alabama has caused forest fragmentation in many areas, and changes in the extent and spatial distribution of forest cover have ramifications for disease transmission as tick and host habitats shift. However, the relationships between particular climate-habitat associations and risk of encountering infected ticks in the state are largely unknown. For this project, we will improve our understanding of those relationships by collecting tick and blood samples from white-tailed deer, and ticks by cloth dragging in urban, agricultural, and forested habitats throughout Alabama. These samples will be screened for pathogens using polymerase chain reaction. From each of the sites, we will collect vegetation, soil, and climatic data. We will map the distribution of several tick species and tick-borne diseases within the state, and develop a predictive model for tick density and disease risk with respect to changes in habitat, season, and climate. These tools can be used by state agencies, medical professionals, and people who spend time outdoors for tick-borne illness prevention. We thank the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the United States Forest Service for funding this research.
The South Atlantic Conservation Blueprint: From Planning to Action
Hilary Morris, Rua Mordecai, Amy Keister, Louise Vaughn, Bradley Pickens –South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative
The South Atlantic LCC is a partnership of federal, state, and local organizations committed to sustaining the region’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. The Conservation Blueprint is a living spatial plan for the conservation actions needed to accomplish that goal---a shared vision of the future of the South Atlantic. Data-driven Blueprint Version 2.0, released in June, uses indicators to identify priority conservation areas by measuring the integrity of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems. It considers future change by explicitly modeling the threats of sea level rise and urbanization. So far, more than 400 individuals from over 100 organizations have actively participated in the development of the Blueprint. The South Atlantic Blueprint will integrate with neighboring LCCs’ spatial priorities in a Southeast-wide plan as part of the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS). Partners have already used the Blueprint to attract national fire resilience funding to the region, compete for coastal wetlands protection and climate-smart wildlife management grants, provide landscape-scale context for public lands planning, and prioritize fish passage efforts. Partners are also working to incorporate the Blueprint into local land acquisition criteria, ecosystem-based fishery management, and bobwhite quail habitat restoration. Through a transparent process, a science-based plan, and a user-friendly product, the Cooperative intends the Blueprint to eventually become a "gold standard" for large landscape conservation tools.
Amphibian Use of Road Ruts as Breeding Wetlands Located in Upland Hardwood Forests on the mid-Cumberland Plateau
Lacy E. Rucker, Yong Wang –Alabama A&M University; Callie J. Schweitzer, USDA Forest Service
Amphibians have been known to use a wide array of temporary and permanent bodies of water as breeding wetlands. The use of road ruts by amphibians as oviposition sites has yet to be fully explored. The purpose of this study was to evaluate road ruts located on a property access road with a wide variety of traffic. Our study site was located in an upland hardwood forest system on the mid-Cumberland Plateau in Grundy County, Tennessee. Road ruts were marked using a GPS unit prior to the 2015 field season, and randomized in Excel. Half of the marked road ruts were sampled during the peak breeding season of 2015 (May-September). Sampling events consisted of opportunistic encounter surveys, visual encounter surveys, hand captures, and dip-net surveys, and were conducted every 6-9 days. Damage for each road rut was delineated into one of five categories before each sampling event with I being little to no damage and VI being severe damage. The maximum length (m), width (m), and depth (mm) were recorded at every sampling event. Morphometric measurements was recorded on all collected individuals. The results of this study will improve our understanding of amphibian breeding in high traffic areas on primitive roads. This information will also provide land managers and private landowners the knowledge to help reduce negative impacts of road rut damage on amphibian populations on the Cumberland Plateau.
Ecology of Black bears (
) in Urban/Suburban Habitats
Jennifer Strules, Nicholas P. Gould – North Carolina State University; Colleen Olfenbuttel, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
In North Carolina, American black bear (Ursus americanus) populations occupy 60% of the state and their range continues to expand. Additionally, the human population in North Carolina has increased and growth continues unabated. Humans and black bears are now living in closer proximity to each other, resulting in increased human-bear interactions and some areas of the state may have reached or exceeded the social carrying capacity. In several of these areas, population management options appear limited, as hunting is often restricted in residential and urban developments. We used Global Positioning System technology with fine-scale locational data on black bears in Asheville, North Carolina to address questions about whether urban areas function as a source or sink for bear populations; to what extent do bears use urban areas; and if bears in urban areas are vulnerable to harvest. A total of 83% (59/71) of GPS-collared bears had > ~5% (range: ~5 – 92%) of their locations inside the Asheville city limits. Thirteen percent (9/71) of yearling/subadult bears dispersed from the city limits. Forty-four percent (4/9) of the yearling/subadult bears died after leaving the city limits. Overall, 18% (13/71) of GPS-collared bears died (6 vehicle-killed, 7 gunshot). Lastly, 94% (17/18) of females produced 45 cubs ( = 2.5), and 40% (8/20) of den sites were located inside the city limits. Ultimately, the results from this project will be used to develop science-based management strategies for bear populations in North Carolina.