Amphibians and Reptiles Projects
- Amphibian and Reptile Response to Longleaf Pine Ecosystem Restoration, Conecuh National Forest: Conecuh National Forest (CNF) is in the third year of a 30-year plan to restore the native longleaf pine ecosystem. CNF supports populations of 38 high priority amphibians and reptiles, including more species of frogs than any other National Forest. This project will evaluate 60 restoration plots to document amphibian and reptile response to longleaf ecosystem restoration, compare current conditions to previous studies, identify potential reintroduction sites for rare and extirpated species, evaluate monitoring protocols of Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and provide educational opportunities for partners and resource managers. Craig Guyer, AU and Mark Bailey, Conservation Southeast. October 2004 - November 2006. (Final Report)
- Red Hills Salamander Habitat Delineation, Breeding Bird Surveys, and Habitat Restoration Recommendations on Commercial Timberlands: Recent discussions between International Paper and The Nature Conservancy have focused on the opportunity to establish conservation easements on lands that support the threatened Red Hills salamander in addition to selected ridges upslope of salamander habitat. Conservation easements that encapsulate the salamander’s habitat in addition to the ridges upslope create a tremendous opportunity to begin restoring the ridges to the historical condition of open longleaf pine woodlands. This project is designed to begin the facilitation of conservation easements in the Red Hills by conducting a series of intensive surveys in salamander habitat as well as on the adjoining ridges. To further assess wildlife habitat and to begin a monitoring program of wildlife response to restoration activities, breeding birds will be surveyed in habitats that support as well as adjoin Red Hills salamander populations. Specifically, this project will: delineate Red Hill salamander habitat owned by International Paper; provide a status of the Red Hills salamander by estimating burrow density for each site; assess and quantitatively describe Red Hills salamander habitat; assess the ridgetops and provide restoration recommendations; conduct bird surveys to document neotropical migrant use of the forested slopes, stream bottoms, and ridgetops. Jim Godwin, ALNHP. December 2004 – September 2008. (Final Report)
- Biotic surveys, GIS modeling, and ecological genetics of the Red Hills salamander: This project will incorporate biotic surveys, GIS modeling, and applied ecological genetics to prioritize land purchases within the Red Hills physiographic province that will maintain and promote the continued existence of rare and endemic species. In particular, this work will focus on the genetic diversity of the federally-threatened, state amphibian, Phaeognathus hubrichti (Red Hills salamander). The data generated from this research will provide necessary information directly relevant for planning the long-term persistence and recovery of this endemic species. The project is a collaborative effort between the University of Alabama, Florida State University, and the Alabama Natural Heritage Program. Biotic surveys will be prioritized by combining bioclimatic modeling and soil layers in a GIS platform to focus additional sampling effort in regions that may harbor this secretive and patchily-distributed amphibian. Phylogeographic analyses will be completed to understand the evolutionary relationships and the impact of ecology and geology on genetic diversity. Population genetic analyses will provide insight into levels of gene flow, inbreeding, and effective population sizes. This research will provide a solid framework for prioritizing future land purchases in the Red Hills physiographic province. Other species of concern that are associated with P. hubrichti will benefit from a study that prioritizes land purchases because historical barriers to gene flow commonly affect multiple species. Therefore, our genetic and modeling approach will be critical to the successful conservation of multiple species (23 terrestrial vertebrates of conservation concern). Leslie Rissler, UA. October 2006 – September 2010.(Final Report)
- Captive Breeding of the Threatened Eastern Indigo Snake for Reintroduction into Alabama: The federally threatened eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi) has not been seen in the wild in Alabama since the mid-1950s. During the mid-1970s to mid-1980s snakes were captive-bred at the Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Auburn University and released at nine localities in southern Alabama. Surveys during the past year have failed to locate indigo snakes at these release sites nor have any recent reports of snakes from other sites been verified, therefore all indication is that the eastern indigo snake has been extirpated from Alabama. A new effort to captive breed and release snakes is being proposed. Two or three properly managed sites will be chosen for releases, snakes will be released at a larger size, releases will occur over multiple years, and released snakes will be monitored. This 2-year project will focus on the preliminaries of establishing the breeding colony, identifying sites for releases, preparing the methodology for releases and monitoring, and beginning the release of snakes. Jim Godwin, ALNHP. October 2006 – September 2008. (Final report)
- Use of Gopher Tortoises in Restoration of the Upland Longleaf Fauna on the Conecuh National Forest: The longleaf pine ecosystem is one of the world’s most imperiled forest types. Many rare amphibian and reptile species are found in this forest, especially those that burrow in loose soils. For these reasons, restoration of longleaf pine forests is one of the most challenging conservation problems in North America. The Gopher Tortoise is a keystone species of the longleaf pine ecosystem, principally because of the burrows that this species creates. These holes assist in maintenance of an unusually rich flora and fauna. For these reasons, Gopher Tortoises are crucial to the success of conservation plans for the longleaf pine ecosystem. Thanks to 15 years of proactive management on the Conecuh National Forest (CNF), the habitat structure of a significant portion of the forest has moved closer to the aspect of old-growth longleaf pine forests. Despite success in improving habitat structure, Gopher Tortoise populations on the CNF have not recovered to densities observed in old-growth forests. The slow recovery of tortoises makes it difficult to create features that will allow recovery of missing species such as the Eastern Indigo Snake, Southern Hognose Snake, and Eastern Pocket Gophers. Therefore, implementation of active tortoise management to enhance populations on the CNF is vital for maintenance of the longleaf herpetofauna on this key property. This project will 1) work with staff at the CNF to develop a plan for implementing herpetofauna repatriation projects, 2) survey and map burrows of Gopher Tortoises on a large site selected for eventual release of Eastern Indigo Snakes and 3) establish five large penned sites for relocation of adult Gopher Tortoises and juvenile Eastern Indigo Snakes. Dr. Craig Guyer, AU. October 2007 - September 2008. (Final Report)
- The Diamondback Terrapin in Alabama: Causes for Decline and Strategy for Recovery: Historic data and anecdotes indicate that the diamondback terrapin was once abundant in coastal waters of Alabama. However, recent surveys indicate that diamondback terrapins are now scarce in Alabama salt marshes, estuaries and bays. This is despite the fact that there is abundant salt marsh habitat for terrapin in coastal areas of Alabama and state protection for this species. The current study will evaluate potential threats that may have contributed to the decline of the diamondback terrapin in Alabama. The proposed research will address four primary threats: 1) effect of nesting beach quality (height, state of erosion, etc.) on nesting, and survival of eggs and hatchlings, 2) effect of nesting beach erosion on hatchling sex ratios, 3) evaluation of predators and the level of depredation of eggs and hatchlings on nesting beaches relative to the beach’s location and state of erosion, and 4) evaluation of capture rates of diamondback terrapin and crabs in crab traps with and without bycatch reduction devices (BRDs). Understanding how these threats contribute to the decline of the diamondback terrapin is a prerequisite for the development of optimal management strategy for enhancing the recovery of this depleted species. Dr. Thane Wibbels, UAB. October 2007 - September 2010. (Final Report)
- A Survey of Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) Burrows on Key Properties in Alabama: Gopher Tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) are a keystone species of the southeastern Coastal Plains. Protection of this species through habitat conservation and restoration of longleaf pine forests will be vital to retaining the many sensitive species of this forest type and in preventing the need to list the Gopher Tortoise for protection under the Endangered Species Act throughout its geographic range. This project is designed to survey key state and federal properties in south Alabama to determine the current distribution of Gopher Tortoises and to create a model of carrying capacity for the species. The results of this project will be comprehensive maps of burrows on three properties; a model that uses soil type, overstory vegetation structure, and understory vegetation cover to predict density of Gopher Tortoise burrows; and an assessment of where on these three properties conservation banks for Gopher Tortoises might be established. Craig Guyer, AU. October 2008 – September 2011. (Final Report)
- Reintroduction of the Eastern Indigo Snake onto Conecuh National Forest: Project Orianne (The Indigo Snake Conservation Initiative), a private endeavor to be based in Georgia, is poised to accomplish wide-ranging eastern indigo snake conservation across the southeastern United States through land acquisition and management, education, captive propagation, and research. Two years ago Auburn University and the ADCNR embarked upon a captive propagation and reintroduction program unaware of the development of the Project Orianne. The main goal of the AU/ADCNR program is to establish a viable population of the eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi) on Conecuh National Forest within a 10 year time frame. This goal fits nicely within the framework of the Project Orianne and results from the AU/ADCNR endeavor will integrate with aspects of the Project Orianne such as captive propagation and research needs. Since the AU/ADCNR captive breeding project is already underway (a SWG funded project that ended 9/30/08) this places Alabama in a unique position as Florida currently does not allow captive propagation and the Georgia breeding facility has yet to be established. Funding is being requested from two sources, Alabama’s State Wildlife Grant and matching funds from the Project Orianne. The AU/ADCNR project is to develop a successful release technique supported through scientific methodology, but to do so will require hatchling snakes thus captive propagation is a supporting component of the overall project. A three year SWG project is being funded with the anticipation that after this time period hatchling snakes will be available from the Project Orianne captive propagation facility in Georgia. Jim Godwin, ALNHP. October 2008 – September 2011. (Final Report)
- East Gulf Coastal Plain Joint Venture: The North American Bird Conservation Initiative was launched in 1998 as an effort to “deliver the full spectrum of bird conservation through regionally based, biologically driven, landscape-oriented partnerships.” This project provides the framework for the East Gulf Coastal Plain Joint Venture (EGCPJV), a self-directed coalition of public and private interests vested in the conservation of fish and wildlife resources within the East Gulf Coastal Plain. The EGCP conforms to that portion of the Southeastern Coastal Plain Bird Conservation Region west of the Georgia-Alabama state line, and includes 61-percent of Alabama (30,934 square miles), the western portion of the Florida panhandle, most of Mississippi, portions of west Tennessee and Kentucky and eastern portions of Louisiana. The East Gulf Coastal Plain has a rich avifauna and diversity of bird habitats. The approach taken by the EGCPJV will be to institutionalize the partnership by employing a Coordinator, establishing a Management Board and technical committees, drafting a long-term strategy for comprehensively addressing bird conservation in the EGCP and working with partners to implement conservation strategies for high priority bird habitats. Barry Grand, AU. October 2005 – September 2009.
- Survey for Birds Breeding in Alabama (Alabama Breeding Bird Atlas): Unlike all other states east of the Mississippi River, Alabama has not completed a Breeding Bird Atlas. However, a 5-year project to produce an Alabama Atlas will culminate in 2006. This effort has been lead by the Alabama Ornithological Society with the active participation of hundreds of volunteers. The Alabama Breeding Bird Atlas will include detailed distribution maps for 165 species of birds breeding in Alabama and will be a significant planning resource to scientists, conservationists, land managers, and government agencies. SWG funds will provide logistical support during the final critical year of data compilation. Rick West, AOS. October 2005 – September 2006. The Alabama Breeding Bird Atlas is available online here: Alabama Breeding Bird Atlas. (Final Report)
- Appalachian Mountains Bird Conservation Region Initiative: The Appalachian Mountains Bird Conservation Region ranges over portions of 15 states and 11 Partners in Flight physiographic regions covering approximately 105 million acres, including 28-percent of Alabama. The AMBCR consists mostly of privately owned forest land and provides habitats for 185 breeding bird species. Several are listed as threatened, endangered, or of special concern by state and federal wildlife agencies. The Appalachian Mountains are also used by many species during migrations, such as the federally endangered Kirtland’s Warbler and the experimental Whooping Crane population. The Alabama Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy identifies 15 greatest conservation need bird species that occur in the AMBCR. The AMBCRI will engage in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation activities linked to the delivery of continental and range-wide bird conservation goals expressed in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, Flyway Plans, the Partners in Flight Plan, the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan, North American Woodcock Management Plan, Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative and the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan. The AMBCRI will be an effective means of leveraging, coordinating and efficiently utilizing the fiscal and logistical resources of bird conservation stakeholders in the region. Brian Smith, American Bird Conservancy. October 2005 – September 2009.
- Assessment of Population Size, Age Structure and Growth Rates for Cave-inhabiting Crayfish in Alabama: Six species of crayfish that are obligate inhabitants of subterranean streams occur in Alabama. Five of these species have very limited distributions and are ranked as GCN in the Alabama CWCS. The sixth species (Orconectes australis australis) is more widespread in the Cumberland Plateau and is considered of moderate conservation concern (watch list). Life history attributes of these species are very poorly understood, including population size, age structure, recruitment, longevity and overall viability. This study will develop a mark and recapture protocol for comprehensive and efficient assessment of population attributes and viability for 10 populations of O. a. australis. Upon demonstration that the methodology is successful and does not impose unacceptable levels of disturbance to the target species, the methodology can be extended to the other, more rare subterranean species. Alex Huryn and Bernie Kuhajda, UA. October 2005 – September 2008. (Final Report)
- Crayfish Survey of Alabama: This project will fill gaps in the knowledge of Alabama crayfishes by gathering new distribution data and determine the current status of crayfish in the state by comparing new collection data with historic data at selected locations. Crayfishes are a diverse group of aquatic organisms with 338 native species reported in the United States and Canada. Alabama contains a significant portion of this fauna (more species than any other state) with 85+ nominal species and a few others presently being described. An SWG funded survey of Alabama crayfish holdings in natural history museums was recently completed. That effort located 4,600 records from 1,500 stream locations in the state and identified drainages and habitats that have been poorly collected over the years and that need to be sampled before we can begin to understand the distribution, occurrence, and rarity of crayfishes in Alabama. The specific objectives of this investigation are: 1) to fill in collection coverage gaps and to sample statewide in poorly known watersheds and habitats; 2) to resample a limited number of historic collection sites and compare results with historic collections; and 3) to create a CD-based GIS project of the crayfish database to assist in mapping crayfish distributions and digitally managing the project. Dr. Pat O’Neil, GSA. October 2007 - September 2010.
- Assessment of Population Dynamics of Cave-Inhabiting Crayfish in Alabama: A Request for Continuing Funds: Six species of cave-inhabiting crayfish occur in Alabama. Three species are critically imperiled (Heritage Rank S1, Cambarus veitchorum, Orconectes sheltae, Procambarus pecki), two are imperiled (S2, Cambarus hamulatus, Cambarus jonesi), and one is uncommon to rare (S3, Orconectes a. australis). Prior to the funding of “Assessment of population size, age structure and growth rates for cave inhabiting crayfish in Alabama”, little was known about the life history of these crayfish, which is alarming considering their level of imperilment. The purpose of that project was to rectify this knowledge gap by developing a mark-recapture program to provide detailed knowledge of population dynamics of different cave crayfish populations. However, due to small population sizes and the apparently high rate of dispersal, the marking of sufficient individuals to ensure statistically sound recapture rates took longer than expected (~2+ years). As of spring 2008, more than 2,100 animals have been marked and the mark-recapture process continues on a monthly basis. As a consequence of the large number of animals marked, we now regularly obtain statistically sound recapture rates (i.e., 20+ marked individuals per visit). The initial study is thus maturing—having produced thousands of marked animals that will provide data well into the future—and so provides an excellent opportunity for continued study over the next several years. Given the life-span of O. a. australis (~20-25+ yrs), a continuation of this project through 2011 would greatly enhance our ability to acquire accurate estimates of seasonal and year-to-year population dynamics of cave crayfish in Alabama. Alex Huryn and Bernie Kuhajda, UA. October 2008 – September 2011.
- Development of an Alabama Crayfish Database: Alabama possesses the most diverse crayfish fauna of any state. A recent review of literature revealed that distributional information for most Alabama species is lacking and that major museums contained large holdings of Alabama crayfish specimens, estimated to be 10,268 cataloged and uncataloged records. Inherent problems with all of the museum crayfish collections queried to date include: 1) collections that need to be identified and curated; 2) collections where specimens have been curated, but identifications need to be verified; 3) crayfish collections from virtually all museums lack geo-referencing data needed for GIS applications. This project will address all of these issues and produce a GIS database with the most up-to-date distributional information and population data for each crayfish species in Alabama. This will benefit natural resource personnel in Alabama by providing them with an electronic database of all known crayfishes records housed in major museums. This database can then be used to determine future crayfish species management and habitat conservation actions. Chris Taylor IL NHS and Guenter Schuster, EKU. October 2005 – March 2007. (Final Report)
- Quantifying and Identifying Unionid Larvae in Drift and on Fishes of the Sipsey River, Alabama:Because of its natural hydrologic regime, the SipseyRiver provides an opportunity to examine ecological relationships in a relatively undisturbed setting. Of particular interest is the relationship between unionid mussels and fishes, which serve as hosts in the transformation process from mussel larvae (glochidia) to free-living juveniles. Independent research currently underway focuses on quantifying abundance patterns of unionids and fishes in the river. Used in combination, this project will examine correlations between abundances of mussels and fishes. It will also validate identities of as well as establish a DNA library of the mussel assemblage. These efforts will provide valuable insight into the interdependencies of freshwater unionids. Major objectives of the project are: to quantify infestations of encysted glochidia on Sipsey River fishes; to quantify glochidia in drift samples; to identify glochidia in drift and on fishes using a multivariate approach of shell dimensions to identify glochidia and restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis on DNA from glochidia; and to examine the degree of concordance between genetic fingerprinting using RFLP and multivariate statistics using DFA. Art Benke, UA. October 2004 – June 2006. (Final Report)
- Distribution, Abundance, Biology and Habitat Use of Shoal Bass and Species Associates in Selected Tributaries of the Chattahoochee River, Alabama: The ChattahoocheeRiver drainage is faunally distinct from other Alabama rivers, and although confined to a relatively small portion of the state, the drainage contributes numerous unique species to Alabama’s fish fauna. In order to protect this important aspect of Alabama’s biodiversity, information on the distribution, status, and habitat use of these fishes is required. The data collected on fish distribution and abundance will provide a baseline for future monitoring efforts. Comparison with historical data will allow assessment of the current status of ten species of conservation concern, as well as the health of the entire fish assemblage relative to past conditions. This information can be used to target stream areas both for protection and restoration. This research will also provide data on habitat associations of unique species of highest to moderate conservation concern. In addition, habitat use of fishes in these streams, including rare species, will provide basic information required for conservation and management. Information on shoal bass will aid in the conservation of this rare centrarchid. These data will be used in management plans for species protection. Mike Maceina and Carol Johnston, AU. October 2004 - September 2007. (Final Report)
- Status Survey for Gulf Sturgeon and Alabama Sturgeon in the Lower Mobile River Basin and Perdido River Drainage: Gulf sturgeon and Alabama sturgeon have been eliminated from most inland rivers in Alabama over the past 50 to 100 years. This study will examine the distribution, movements, spawning habitats and spawning success of the Gulf sturgeon in the lower Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers, Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, lower PerdidoRiver and upper PerdidoBay and the Alabama sturgeon in the same areas, except the Perdido system, where it does not occur. These waters encompass what are probably the last remaining habitats for these species in Alabama. Information from this study will be critical to future management and possible reintroduction of these species within their historic range. Scott Mettee, GSA. October 2005 – September 2008.
- Development of a Statewide Stream and River Assessment Program for Aquatic Species of Conservation Concern: Alabama is home to an unprecedented diversity of aquatic species. Relative to the North American fauna, Alabama harbors 60-percent of all mussels, 43-percent of all gill-breathing snails, 38-percent of all freshwater fishes and 20-percent of all crayfishes. In total, almost 750 species from these taxa groups are Alabama natives. Tennessee is the only other state with more than 500 species and most states harbor fewer than 300 species. This gives Alabama a central role in the conservation of this North American aquatic fauna. However, no statewide standardized stream and river assessment program for aquatic species exists in Alabama and DWFF personnel have not been trained to perform such assessments. This project will initiate a stream and river assessment program to gather new information on the distribution, abundance, species composition, and habitat requirements of aquatic species and to train personnel in stream assessment techniques. Steve Rider, AL DWFF. October 2005 – September 2009. (Final Report). October 2009 – September 2011. (Final Report).
- Conservation Genetics of Spring Associated Darters in Alabama: In Alabama, seven darters of the genus Etheostoma permanently inhabit springs or require springs for reproduction. These species of spring associated darters are some of Alabama’s most critically imperiled fishes due to their stringent habitat requirements and restricted distributions. This study will use molecular genetic techniques to assess the taxonomic status and population genetic structure of these species in order to provide much needed data on which to base management and conservation strategies for these delicate species. Dr. Bernard Kuhajda, UA. October 2007 - September 2010. (Final Report)
- Conservation Status of Shoal Bass in Alabama: Distribution, Abundance, Stocking Efficacy, and Possible Effects of Sympatric Congeneric Black Bass in Selected Tributaries of the Chattahoochee River, Alabama:Shoal bass have been recently listed as a priority conservation species for Alabama, and survey work conducted by AU in 2005-06 showed that their persistence in Alabama may be more precarious than first thought. Only one substantial shoal bass population was detected in a 650-m shoal in Little Uchee Creek. Reasons for the decline of this species are not known, but proposed impacts include habitat degradation and interactions with congeneric black bass species, most notably spotted bass. It is not known whether spotted bass have directly outcompeted shoal bass or are more adaptable to habitat change; however, clearly spotted bass have been replacing shoal bass in many Alabama streams. The decline of shoal bass in these streams necessitates a more thorough examination of the current distribution and abundance of shoal bass, and possible interactions between shoal bass and spotted bass in these habitats. As restoration efforts begin through stocking of shoal bass in some of the areas identified by the 2005-06 survey, monitoring impacts of these stockings and determining biotic and abiotic variables that influence stocking efficacy will allow biologists to more fully understand shoal bass dynamics in these streams. In addition, evaluating the role of spotted bass in the decline of shoal bass will provide valuable data that will help guide future conservation efforts for the restoration of shoal bass to Alabama streams. Dr. Michael Maceina, AU. October 2007 - September 2009. (Final Report)
- Monitoring Program for Biodiversity of Terrestrial Vertebrates on Conservation Lands within the Cumberland Plateau Region of Alabama: This project will evaluate 63 high priority bird, mammal, amphibian and reptile species in the Skyline Wildlife Management Area and adjacent Forever Wild Land Trust properties. Expected results of this project include lists of the terrestrial vertebrate fauna detected with geo-referenced locations, GIS maps and data for the predicted distribution and density of each taxa group and identification of other sensitive and high diversity areas in the region. This information will be used to develop plans for timber management and wildlife conservation and management. Barry Grand, AU; Yong Wang, AL A&M and Eric Soehren, SLD-NHP. October 2004 – August 2008. (Final Report)
- ACT Aquatic GAP and Water Quality Modeling: The Southeastern Aquatic GAP project was initiated to identify conservation areas in river basins where aquatic biodiversity and endemism are higher than other temperate rivers. As part of a regional assessment of the ACT/ACF basins, techniques to incorporate geospatial data to analyze aquatic species distribution in relation to local and landscape features and identify conservation potential of specific subwatersheds have been developed. This project will incorporate geospatial data to analyze aquatic species distribution in relation to local and landscape features and identify conservation potential of specific subwatersheds in the ACT. In addition, we will relate faunal distribution to landuse and water quality variables from multiple sources. Specific objectives are to: use existing methods to build appropriate data layers for completion of Aquatic GAP in the ACT; develop protocols for and construct SWAT and bioeconomic models in portions of the basin where water quality data are available; develop a decision support system (DSS) in the ACT for natural resource agencies for use in conservation planning and land and water management. Elise Irwin, AU. October 2004 – September 2006. (Final Report, see also www.southeastaquaticgap.org)
- Ecological Assessment, Terrestrial Vertebrate Surveys and Habitat Restoration Recommendations for Black Belt Prairies in Alabama: Black Belt Prairies form a geologically and biologically distinct area of Alabama. However, they have been devastated by land use alterations, with only a small fraction of native prairie remaining. Loss of prairie habitat continues through human activities and the encroachment of woody vegetation. This project will implement an ecological assessment and terrestrial vertebrate surveys of Alabama Black Belt Prairies. Field surveys will be used to delineate and assess the ecological condition of prairies, document vertebrates utilizing prairie habitat, and develop management and restoration guidelines. Expected results include geo-referenced locations and GIS maps and data for prairies, seven GCN species and 23 species of moderate conservation concern (watch list), management and restoration recommendations, sites suggested for long-term protection and restoration, and identification of potential threats to habitat and species. Al Schotz, ALNHP. October 2005 – September 2008. (Final Report)
- Conservation and Management of a Karst and Mesic Hardwood Forest Ecosystem in Jackson County, Alabama: The Sharp-BinghamMountains tract consists of approximately 2,280 acres of natural hardwood forest and contains about 30 identified caves. To achieve effective conservation of these high quality karst and mesic hardwood ecosystems, the land will be acquired by The Nature Conservancy to be managed as a preserve, and inventories completed for forest birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and cave species. This important tract, lying in the watershed of the diverse Paint Rock River, is potentially one of the richest areas in Alabama for terrestrial and troglobitic GCN species. It is anticipated that the tract may harbor 16 GCN species and as many as 34 species of moderate conservation concern (watch list). SWG will provide partial funding for the inventory of wildlife species, and the development and implementation of a wildlife management plan. Keith Tassin, TNC. October 2005 – September 2008. (Final Report)
- Alabama Mill Dam Inventory: An assessment of low-head dam impacts on mollusk, crayfish, and fish assemblages in Alabama: Impoundments are widely recognized as having dramatic negative impacts on freshwater mollusk and fish assemblages. In Alabama, many of these impacts are associated with large, hydroelectric dams. However, low-head dams (i.e., those <5 m height) greatly exceed hydroelectric dams in number across the state and thus affect a much broader range of stream sizes and potentially a large number of aquatic GCN species. Surprisingly, recent evidence (e.g., dense, species-rich mussel aggregations downstream of mill dams) suggests that some low-head structures may have unanticipated stabilizing (positive) effects on downstream habitat and biota. A quantitative, statistically rigorous approach is therefore needed to better understand how low-head structures affect stream biota. This study is intended to examine the effect of dams on local physical habitat conditions and biotic assemblages across a physiographic gradient, and provide resource managers with a tool for identifying, evaluating, and prioritizing potential habitat restoration projects in Alabama. Mike Gangloff, AU. October 2005 – September 2008. (Final Report)
- Geographic Information System Development for the Locust Fork and Mulberry Fork Watersheds: The Locust Fork and Mulberry Fork watersheds in the upper Black Warrior River system are rich in aquatic species of conservation concern and critical watershed units for conservation purposes in Alabama. This project will compile and integrate available water-quality, biological, geological, and other geographically related natural resources information into a DVD-based GIS for the Locust Fork and Mulberry Fork watersheds. This planning product will allow for improved distribution of watershed information, easily duplicated graphics, and will promote communication through information sharing. It will also create consistency and standardization of data sets and will allow spatial relationships of the data components to be explored so their relationships to each other can be displayed and interpreted. Pat O’Neil, GSA. October 2005 – September 2006. (DVD Available from GSA at www.gsa.state.al.us/gsa/h20nfo.html)
- Shortleaf Pine-Bluestem Habitat Restoration on Freedom Hills and Lauderdale Wildlife Management Areas: This three year project is the initial phase to restore approximately 2,000 acres of 20,000 acres of identified lands within Freedom Hills Wildlife Management Area in ColbertCounty and Lauderdale Wildlife Management Area in LauderdaleCounty, to a fire-dependent, open-canopy Shortleaf Pine-Bluestem ecosystem. Mitchell Marks, AL DWFF. July 2006 – September 2010. (Final Report)
- Longleaf Habitat Restoration Initiative: This Initiative will target restoration activities on The Nature Conservancy (TNC) lands at three priority areas throughout the state as identified in Alabama’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS). These areas and associated GCN species include: Autauga Sandhills (2 GCN species), Bibb County Glades (2 GCN species), and Splinter Hill Bog (8 GCN species). Habitat restoration activities will include prescribed burning, invasive exotic species removal, mechanical removal of encroaching hardwood and/or pine species, native groundcover restoration and planting of native tree species. These activities will improve habitat not only for GCN species but also watch list species such as the Eastern hognose snake, Eastern coachwhip, pine woods snake; red headed woodpecker; chuck-will’s-widow and prairie warbler. One other species that will particularly benefit from this project is the Northern bobwhite quail which has documented populations on all of these TNC properties. Keith Tassin, TNC. October 2006 – September 2008. (Final Report)
- Gulf State Park Longleaf Pine Restoration: This project will restore 128 acres of storm damaged mixed timber at Gulf State Park to longleaf pine savanna, which will revitalize high priority plant and animal species and further Parks Division educational goals. Of the 6,150 acres that comprise Gulf State Park, currently only 4% represent longleaf pine communities. Pockets of seed trees remaining after World War II have been impacted due to fire suppression and resulting competition by other vegetation. The sand hill communities of turkey oak on the upland sites support some remnant longleaf pine pockets. This proliferation has led to fragmentation and decreased diversity in both resident and migrant birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Primary funding for this project is provided by a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant, supplemented by State Wildlife Grants funds. This project will also complement an existing 102 acre parcel in the northeast portion of the park that is currently being managed through a cooperative USFWS Habitat Agreement. Forrest Bailey, AL SPD. October 2006 – September 2010. (Final Report)
- Adaptive management and monitoring for restoration and faunal recolonization of Tallapoosa River shoal habitats: High imperilment rates of fishes and mussels in Alabama are related to impoundment and regulation of riverine flows. Specifically, the inundation and disruption of natural flow regimes of shoal habitats is a primary cause for imperilment of fishes in Southeastern rivers. Restoration and protection of functional shoal habitat in the remaining unimpounded fragments of rivers of the State is a critical element of conservation of aquatic species. However, effects of specific flow regimes (i.e., magnitude, duration and timing and their combinations) on shoal habitats and ultimately on biotic processes are not well known. We propose to evaluate effects of experimental flow regimes on shoal dependent aquatic fauna in the Piedmont region of the Tallapoosa River. The river is fragmented by four large dams that impound or regulate over 54% of the Piedmont mainstem (113 km). Eight GCN species are either present in the river or may be reintroduced if habitats are suitable and stable. In addition, these data would be transferable to the many shoal dependent GNC species in other river basins. Specifically, we propose to monitor faunal and ecosystem (i.e., shoal habitat) response to experimental flow regimes in the Tallapoosa River below R.L. Harris Dam. Specific objectives are to: 1) Compare fish and invertebrate assemblages and population structure between flow-managed and naturally flowing river reaches; 2) Assess habitat stability (i.e., shoals) and persistence for GCN species and other species of concern; and 3) Determine applicability of flow management and habitat restoration for other river systems. Elise Erwin, AU. April 2007-September 2010. (Final Report)
- Restoration and Enhancement of the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem and Mixed Mesophytic Forest Floodplains on applicable Forever Wild Land Trust Lands: The recent purchase of large tracts of land across Alabama by the Forever Wild Land Trust has afforded the State Lands Division (SLD) the opportunity to restore ecosystem function across broad landscapes. The primary objective of this project is to enable SLD personnel to initiate and/or expand upon restoration and enhancement activities for two such landscapes: longleaf pine habitats of the Gulf Coastal Plain in south Alabama and mixed mesophytic forests within broad floodplains of the Tennessee River basin of North Alabama. Examples of restoration and enhancement activities include: imperiled species' status assessments to evaluate habitat conditions to direct activities; prescription burns; invasive species eradication; overstory replanting; groundcover augmentation; wildlife relocation or repatriation; and nest cavity/bat roost augmentation. These activities will be used to improve habitat quality to benefit the 86 GCN species dependent on these ecosystems. See Jo Lewis, SLD-NHP. April 2007-September 2009. (Final Report)
- Inventory and Conservation Planning for Species of Greatest Conservation Need on Alabama DCNR Lands: This five-year project will allow the Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit (ALCFWRU) to coordinate the development of multi-species Inventory and Conservation Plans (ICPs) for selected lands managed by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The project will potentially include lands in six ecological regions, and could affect 303 species of greatest conservation need, of which 118 are listed as threatened or endangered. Planning of this scope will require input from and outreach to numerous cooperators and stakeholders from public agencies and private interest groups. During the first year, a steering committee will be established, lands and species for inclusion in the plan will be identified, information needs assessment will begin, and an outreach plan will be developed. Subsequent years will be used to gather information and develop decision support tools, conduct outreach programs, and develop the ICPs. Barry Grand ALCFWRU. October 2006-September 2011.
- Development of an Alabama Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan: Alabama is home to an unprecedented diversity of aquatic species. In the draft Alabama CWCS, impacts from exotic species is listed as one of the major threats to Alabama’s native fauna. However, Alabama lacks a Management Plan or coordinated effort for the control of aquatic nuisance species (ANS). The Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP) has committed funds to the development of an ANS management plan. This effort is part of the Alabama ANS Task Force created by Governor Riley. However, only partial funding is available through the MBNEP for development of the plan. This SWG project will provide funding for inclusion of the impacts of ANS on species of greatest conservation need as defined in the draft Alabama CWCS and full participation by DWFF personnel. David Yeager, MBNEP. October 2005 – September 2006.
- Establishment of Riparian Buffers and Enhancement of Wildlife Habitat at The Walls of Jericho and Henshaw Cove: Today it is extremely rare to find mixed mesophytic forests within broad, flat floodplains in North Alabama (Wheeler Wildlife Refuge and the adjacent U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal being notable exceptions). Remnant forest of this type can be found within the Paint Rock River watershed, one of the few Tennessee River watersheds that have not been dammed. The Nature Conservancy has targeted the Paint Rock River watershed as a “landscape conservation area” and is working to restore riparian habitat in the area. The Paint Rock harbors 19 fish, 21 mussel and 2 aquatic snail GCN species. This includes the federally endangered Palezone Shiner (Notropis albizonatus), Alabama Lampshell (Lampsilis virescens), and Pale Lilliput (Toxolasma cylindrellus). The mostly intact forests at the headwaters of the River’s three major tributaries ensure the river is fed by cool, filtered water, upon which these species rely. Reforestation of riparian woodlands within the watershed will promote the continued persistence of these listed species. The goal of this project is to protect water quality and enhance habitat quality for 68 GCN species that occur or are likely to occur in the area by reclaiming land once used for agricultural production. October 2009 – September 2011. (Final Report)
Mollusk and Snail Projects
- Molecular Systematics of Poorly-Known Alabama Mollusks: Freshwater mollusks are among the most imperiled species in Alabama. However, for many freshwater mollusks, conservation efforts are severely hampered by lack of knowledge about the species. Incorrect ideas about species identification and distribution can result in misplaced conservation priorities. This project will address this problem by examining several poorly-known species groups identified at the Second Alabama Nongame Wildlife Conference as high or highest conservation concern. Molecular systematics will be used to test current species concepts to identify the species of greatest concern. Population genetic analyses will help identify the best populations to target for restoration efforts. The objectives of this project are to: document the genetic diversity of rare, poorly-known freshwater mollusk species; use the genetic diversity data to determine which species are valid; and use these results to develop priority conservation recommendations for these species. David Campbell, UA. October 2004 – December 2005. (Final Report)
- Distribution, Life History, Conservation and Systematics of Alabama"s Pebblesnails: Alabama is home to about 15 freshwater genera and about 39 species of pebblesnails, making it among the most diverse of any state in the United States. Virtually all of the taxa are considered “poorly known.” The purposes of this study are to: conduct a biotic survey of the Hydrobiidae of Alabama from type or near type-locales and collect material for anatomical, life history and systematic studies; compile historical distribution records from the primary museums; and write appropriate reports and manuscripts including a taxonomic monograph that will summarize the distributional, life history, anatomical, and systematics of the hydrobiid genera of Alabama. Stephanie Clark, UA. October 2004 – September 2006.
- Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center Due to Alabama’s wide variety of physiographic regions and aquatic habitat types it is home to one of the most diverse populations of aquatic wildlife in North America. Ongoing efforts to restore aquatic habitats through modification of regulated flow regimes and stream restoration projects will result in an increased number of opportunities to restore populations of aquatic species through augmentation and reintroduction. As the propagation and culture techniques for aquatic species are further developed and refined, the primary limiting factor in the expansion of these programs in Alabama will be the availability of culture facilities and personnel dedicated to this effort. A program is needed within Alabama to establish a facility dedicated to the conservation and propagation of fish, mussel, snail and crayfish species for the end purpose of restoring or augmenting their populations in the wild. The Claude Harris National Aquaculture Research Center in Marion, Alabama was last operated by the U.S. Geological Survey and was closed in 1995. In 1998 the U.S. Department of the Interior conveyed this property to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. A portion of this facility has been identified as a suitable location for the propagation of aquatic species of conservation concern. Repair and renovation of the existing buildings and support facilities will be undertaken. This will be followed by the outfitting of two wet labs that will be used for the culture of the freshwater species of high conservation concern. Stan Cook, AL DWFF. October 2004 – September 2009.
- Assessment of Current Information Available for Detection, Sampling, Necropsy, and Diagnosis of Diseased Mussels: The once-diverse freshwater mussel fauna of the southeastern U.S. has undergone a drastic decline. The extent to which infectious and non-infectious diseases have contributed to this is difficult to determine. Large die-offs of mussels have occurred that were not associated with habitat degradation or known release of toxicants, and that could not otherwise be explained. The purpose of this project is to collect, evaluate, summarize, and disseminate information about diseases of mussels. There is a need for a comprehensive survey of the current information about all aspects of mussel diseases, including the detection of diseased populations, selection and sampling diseased individuals, techniques of necropsy, and diagnosis of diseases. John Grizzle, AU. October 2005 – September 2006. (Final Report)
Additional projects are funded by the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund.