Summer study includes preserving rare species, habitats

radio trackingA pair of SUNY Oswego naturalists and a dozen students are spending some time this summer working to identify, protect and preserve rare habitats, animals and plants.

Dr. Peter Rosenbaum, a professor of biology, and Andrew Nelson, director of Rice Creek Field Station, spearhead the effort to find and track endangered bog turtles in a region of Central and Western New York called the Prairie Peninsula/Lake Plain Recovery Unit.

The third professional on the investigation team is Alvin R. Breisch, an amphibian and reptile specialist in the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Endangered Species Unit.

“It’s about supporting rare habitats that support rare species,” Rosenbaum explained. Bog turtles are most visible denizens of the medium-fen habitat that also hosts the hard-to-find bog buckmoth, rare orchids and other uncommon plants and animals, he said.

A $30,353 grant from the New York State Biodiversity Research Institute supported a recent effort to look for, analyze and mount tracking devices on bog turtles. The grant underwrote equipment, logistics and stipends for student help to monitor two sites—one in Oswego County, one in Onondaga County—likely to have bog turtles.

The students—seven from SUNY Oswego, five from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry—put out about 100 traps at each site from May 20 to June 25. They checked the traps daily and any turtles found had their data collected, then were marked and fitted with a radio telemetry device.

The radio tracking should yield more information about those bog turtles and may lead researchers to others to better know how many inhabit and thrive in particular locations. Moreover, Rosenbaum said, the process can reveal more information about the environment they aim to protect.

“We want to learn as much as we can about the habitat,” Rosenbaum said. “The more we know about it, the better we can protect the rare animals and plants that live there.”

The federal recovery plans for bog turtles require 10 such sites, but only five communities have been located. “In the past five years, we’ve identified three of these sites in Oswego County unknown to scientists and one in Wayne County. Before that, they only knew of one habitat in Seneca County.”

The recovery plan continues to expand and enlist Oswego’s experts. Rosenbaum and Nelson recently received a $10,758 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to start a preliminary bog turtle habitat assessment for Cayuga and Wayne counties. This will include chronicling known bog habitats, conducting field surveys and mining available data.

Rosenbaum noted the continuing work with rare turtles and habitats has allowed many students opportunities for field research that may turn into independent study projects or careers. For example, a former honors student of his, Helen Czech, is currently doing her master’s thesis project through SUNY ESF and a New York State Wildlife Grant to try to reduce nesting mortality among spiny softshell turtles.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Turtle tracking—Dr. Peter Rosenbaum, a professor in SUNY Oswego’s biological sciences department, and senior biology major William Nichols use radio telemetry equipment to track an eastern box turtle at Rice Creek Field Station. They also are part of a project that uses the process to track the endangered bog turtle in an attempt to preserve the animal, and other rare species, in biodiverse habitats.

(Posted: Jul 07, 2006)