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Posts Tagged ‘cape cod’

americanchaffseed2

Photo: Masswildlife
American chaffseed has been found in Massachusetts after 50 years, and nature-lovers are cheering.

Maybe finding a plant that was thought to be extinct in Massachusetts doesn’t rate high with you amid all the distressing things happening in our world, but I will take good cheer where I can find it. And botanists are certainly excited.

Steve Annear reports at the Boston Globe, “State wildlife officials and local botanists are sprouting smiles after the ‘Holy Grail’ of plants was discovered this summer, a ‘jaw-dropping’ find that puts to rest a decades-long search in Massachusetts.

“According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, in July, Rhode Island botanist Doug McGrady located an abundance of the plant ‘American chaffseed’ growing on a relatively small patch of land on Cape Cod.

“The discovery is particularly exciting because American chaffseed has been listed as a federally endangered species since 1992 — and it hasn’t been seen in Massachusetts in more than five decades, officials said. …

“ ‘There are historic records of American chaffseed along coastal plains from Massachusetts to Louisiana,’ they said. ‘But populations declined over time due to habitat loss and fire suppression.’

“After McGrady found the plant, MassWildlife staff visited the site to further confirm that it was, indeed, American chaffseed. While there, they counted over 2,600 stems, officials said. …

“The plant is currently listed as growing in New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. …

“In a video posted on MassWildlife’s Facebook page … State Botanist Bob Wernerehl can be seen crouching down in front of a patch of American chaffseed, as he explains the significance of the plant.

“ ‘In Massachusetts this rare plant is so rare it has never been seen since 1965, despite numerous attempts to search for it,’ Wernerehl says. ‘So this is a brand new find of this very rare and special plant.’ …

“He said when botanists went out to the site where the plant was found — an area he can’t divulge because it’s endangered — the population was ‘really good.’

“ ‘It wasn’t just a meek little population hiding out. It was pretty big,’ he said. ‘They look healthy, and they should theoretically reproduce and continue good solid population numbers over time.’ ”

More at the Boston Globe, here. Next up for lost species: How about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker? Stranger things have happened.

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The humble horseshoe crab is a reminder of prehistoric times. Public Radio International’s Living on Earth recently devoted a segment to this curious character.

From the transcript of the show …

Steve Curwood: “For healthy oceans, it’s not enough to protect just the top of the food chain – the cod or halibut or swordfish we eat. The bottom of the food chain is vital too. That could be the plankton or the tiny forage fish eaten by many species – or it could be the extraordinary prehistoric-looking horseshoe crab.

“These helmet-shaped arthropods have been around for millions of years, and up and down the east coast of the US, volunteers come out to count them as the females come ashore to spawn. On Cape Cod, as Karen Zusi reports, scientists and volunteers are tagging and labeling the crabs to help conserve them.”

Karen Zusi: “There are a lot of reasons why someone might appreciate the lowly horseshoe crab. Eel and conch fishermen use them as bait, and medical companies draw blood from the animals. Horseshoe crab blood will clot in the presence of bacteria, so these companies can use the crab’s blood to make sure vaccines and medical implants are free of germs. Their blood is worth sixty thousand dollars a gallon.

“But horseshoe crab populations are dropping. To preserve them, scientists and volunteers on Cape Cod are wading into the water to count and tag the animals.

“Special labels help them keep track [says] Mark Faherty, the science coordinator at Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary. …

“The Massachusetts Audubon Society just recruited graduate student Michael Long to lead their newest horseshoe crab study. With researchers from the University of Massachusetts, he will be tagging the crabs this summer with a telemetry [label], glued onto the crab’s shell.”

Faherty: “My acoustic study is going to be putting on acoustic receivers out in the bay, and acoustic markers on the crabs. The receivers have about a 600-meter detection radius so anytime a crab that’s marked with an acoustic receiver comes within 600 meters of that receiver, it will mark where it is. So based on where each crab pings, you can kind of track its movements around the bay.”

Zusi: “None of this would be possible without the Audubon Society’s volunteers. They come from all walks of life.

“At an Audubon horseshoe crab conference, Long organizes new volunteers to help him count horseshoe crabs on the beach, and Faherty trains them in the basic survey procedures. …

“Once they got down to business, the volunteers were trained to divide the beach into small sections, count the horseshoe crabs, and record all of their information. The volunteers go out to survey when female crabs are coming to lay their eggs in the sand. Males follow to fertilize the eggs after they’re laid.”

Faherty: “The male crabs you quickly learn to recognize because they’re by themselves. They will mate with a model, if you make a model of a horseshoe crab — the males will congregate around it. They’ll spawn. They’ll spawn with your boot. These are just hormonally-charged animals that are ready to mate with anything. Females are not lonely for long in the horseshoe crab world.”

More here on the effort to study and protect horseshoe crabs.

Photo: Peter Massas, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
A horseshoe crab floats by the shore on Union Beach in New Jersey. The species is listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

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Photograph of northern lapwing off course in Massachusetts: Ian Davies

Birds deal with hurricanes better than you might think.

Some get blown off course, but they adapt. Today’s Boston Globe has a story by Peter Schworm and Melissa M. Werthmann on northern lapwings that Hurricane Sandy detoured from their Scandinavia-to-African migration route. The lapwings are now delighting birdwatchers on Cape Cod, Nantucket, and in Middleborough. Read more here.

And Natalie Angier writes at the NY Times, “Biologists studying the hurricane’s aftermath say there is remarkably little evidence that birds … have suffered the sort of mass casualties seen in environmental disasters like the BP oil spill of 2010, when thousands of oil-slicked seabirds washed ashore, unable to fly, feed or stay warm.

“ ‘With an oil spill, the mortality is way more direct and evident,’ said Andrew Farnsworth, a scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. …

“To the contrary, scientists said, powerful new satellite tracking studies of birds on the wing — including one that coincided with the height of Hurricane Sandy’s fury — reveal birds as the supreme masters of extreme weather management, able to skirt deftly around gale-force winds, correct course after being blown horribly astray, or even use a hurricane as a kind of slingshot to propel themselves forward at hyperspeed. …

“In preparation for a possible offshore wind development project, Caleb Spiegel, a wildlife biologist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and his colleagues at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management have attached transmitters to the tail feathers of several types of migratory birds, including the northern gannet, a big waterfowl with a spectacular fishing style of falling straight down from the sky like a missile dropped from a plane.

“As it happened, one of the gannets was approaching the southern shore of New Jersey at just the moment Hurricane Sandy made landfall there, and Mr. Spiegel could catch the bird’s honker of a reaction. Making a sharp U-turn, it headed back north toward Long Island and then cut out to sea along the continental shelf, where it waited out the storm while refueling with a few divebombs for fish.

“ ‘The bird has since returned to New Jersey,’ Mr. Spiegel said. ‘It’s pretty much back where it started.’ ” More here.

Photograph: NY Times
A protected area for plovers in Lido Beach, N.Y., after a 2009 storm.

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