Tag Archives: Biodiversity

Counting the Bristlesides, Sedgesitters, Leafwalkers

It’s National Pollinator Week! Scientists have been busy looking to see what pollinators live in State Parks. Here’s a first look at some of the early results.

NHP@Bumblefly
This is actually a fly! The bare-cheeked bumblefly is a very rare Syrphid in NY that mimics bumblebees and lives in old forests.  Photo courtesy of NYNHP.

In 2017 a cadre of NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) biologists working under a long-standing agreement with State Parks began testing out sampling methods for a multi-year statewide Native Pollinator Survey (ESNPS) under the auspices of the Governor’s NYS Pollinator Protection Plan jointly administered by Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Agriculture and Markets.

NHP_EasternCalligrapher
The eastern calligrapher (Toxomerus geminatus) is a very common species in State Parks all over the state.  Photo by Lindsay Dombroskie, accessed from iNaturalist.

The goal of the ESNPS is to determine the rarity of a wide array of native insect pollinators in non-agricultural habitats. NYNHP Zoologists honed in on the most important and vulnerable pollinating groups in the state, representing a wide variety of native insect pollinators such as bumble bees, mining bees, bee flies, longhorn beetles and flower moths.

NHP_Spider
Captured by a spider, a fate that befalls some flower-visiting flies.  Photo courtesy of NYNHP.

Between June 8 – October 3, 2017 on fair weather days, two biologists used sets of small painted bowls containing soapy water to trap pollinators (the insects mistake the color for a flower) in four different habitat types within each Park (see photo). The biologists also used insect nets to hand- capture pollinators (see photo), spending the better part of one day obtaining a snapshot of the Park’s pollinator community. The collections are the only way to document and identify most of the species.

 

Over the past winter the biologists then separated out the flies (Dipterans) from the bees and pinned these specimens so that they could be identified by fly specialists at SUNY Cobleskill (see photo). They focused on flies in one notable family, the Syrphidae – or Syrphids, known as the hover flies or flower flies.  Most of the remaining captured pollinators like the bees will be identified by experts at Cornell University as the project continues.

 

Preliminary results are in for the hover flies or flower flies that SUNY Cobleskill experts helped to identify. There are many different species or types of these flies and not anything like the plain black housefly. Some go by interesting names like Bristlesides, Sedgesitters and Leafwalkers. Many hover flies are mimics of stinging Hymenoptera (see photo) and known to be second only to bees in their pollinating prowess. This is because the adult flies feed on pollen and nectar to power their energy- intensive flight. In doing so, they help to pollinate a wide range of trees, shrubs and wildflowers in every conceivable habitat. At the same time, their larvae (the young stage) are predators of harmful insects such as aphids and adelgids. Many play an important role in aiding decomposition in aquatic and forest environments; in effect breaking down leaves, logs and other debris which then releases nutrients and builds soil.  In other words, Hover flies are very important to the health of our native ecosystems.

NHP@Goosepond
Look closely for the hover fly on a leaf at Goosepond Mountain State Park on September 28, 2017.  Photo courtesy of NYNHP.

A brand new hover fly field guide focusing specifically on northeastern North America will be published later in 2018 by a team of Canadian researchers. This will allow anybody with an interest to pursue these fascinating and colorful insects who will challenge your notions of what a fly is!

A few fun facts we learned about hover flies in State Parks:

  • Total number of Parks sampled: 22 (in all Regions)
  • Total number of different Syrphid (fly) pollinators: 50 species
  • State Parks with the highest diversity of hover flies (at least 7 different species plus more than 15 individual flies): Minnewaska, Thacher, Sunken Meadow, Letchworth, Taconic, and Allegany
  • Number of new species never before seen in the State, or were thought to be no longer in NYS: 5
  • Two out of every three individuals captured (67%) was a calligrapher (Toxomerus), small black and yellow flies whose larvae eat aphids (see photo)
  • Number of Parks with a species that mimic hornets (the rare eastern hornet fly (Spilomyia longicornis)): 3: Allegany, Knox Farm, Sunken Meadow
  • Number of Syrphid species whose larvae eat adelgids (adelgids are a small insect that can cause severe tree damage): 2 (in the genus Heringia) at Gilbert Lake, Grafton, Moreau Lake
  • Number of non-native, introduced species detected: 2. The common compost fly (Syritta pipiens), and common drone fly (Eristalis tenax)
  • Over half of the State Parks had at least one Syrphid species that lives predominantly in older forests.

Authored by Jeff Corser, Zoologist with NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP).

NY Natural Heritage Program is affiliated with SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) and works in close partnership with NYS Parks and NYS DEC. The Empire State Native Pollinator Project is only one of many kinds of surveys and studies that the program conducts to provide guidance and tools for conservation of native biodiversity across New York State.

All photos by NYNHP for use by permission only

On the Front Lines in the Battle Against Invasive Species: Strike Teams!

Invasive Species Strike Teams are an important part of environmental stewardship; they are the protectors and defenders of our native plants and wildlife! Invasive plants are fast spreading and can create ecological changes that crowd out native plants and alter habitats to make them unsuitable for native insects or animals. The goal of the strike teams is to manually remove these plants in areas of significance to protect our native biological diversity. A diverse landscape is healthier and more robust, better able to fend off threats and adapt smoothly to changes, such as climate change.

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Above: Our 2014 Western Strike Team in Letchworth State Park, showing off all their hard work removing Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii). Japanese barberry is a commonly planted ornamental which escapes into forest understories and increases incidence of Lyme disease.

What is a Strike Team anyway?

The New York State Parks Invasive Species Strike Teams consist of seasonal employees who travel throughout New York State to remove invasive plants from the most valuable areas of our Parks. These teams of four camp near their project areas to accomplish the goals of the Invasive Species Program. All these removals are done with manual hand tools, such as pick mattocks, shovels, machetes and loppers. Our strike teams are always up for the physical challenge and have made incredible headway against some large opponents.

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Above: A strike team member from 2012 who proudly showcases the large autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) he removed with hand tools, determination and brute strength. Machinery is used to remove large shrubs, but our strike team got there first in this case!

What are the goals?

Invasive Species Program staff has had many successes in controlling invasive species  by carefully selecting projects geared toward terrestrial invasives, which can be controlled manually and through adaptive management.

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Above: The 2015 Eastern Strike Team wishing everyone well from Grafton Lakes State Park, outside of Albany. You can see some of our most often used tools in this photo (From L-R: the ax mattock, pick mattock and loppers), as you can see, other essential elements in their toolbox include the hard hat and gloves!

Accomplishments

Starting in 2008, six interns and volunteers assisted with invasive species removals state wide. Since 2010, State Parks has employed 46 seasonal staff to remove invasive species. In the past 5 years over 1100 new observation points were entered into the program iMap Invasives, a national database reflecting new sightings of invasives. On average, strike teams remove 19 different species per year at their project sites. Some of the native species which are protected by the invasive species program include: twinleaf, American Hart’s tongue fern, sky blue aster, cardinal flower, Chittenango ovate amber snail, the Karner blue butterfly, several warbler species, mountain mint, bushy cinquefoil, and slender blazing star.

Above: Two examples of native plants which benefit from strike team controls. On the left, the spring flowering twin leaf (Jeffersonia diphylla). On the right, the stunning late summer red of the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), a plant loved by pollinators.

One of the best ways to reduce invasive species is avoid introducing them in the first place. Please check what is planted ornamentally in your yard and remove plants or shrubs which are invasive and replace them with natives. Learn more information about New York’s invasive species on the NYS DECs Prohibited and Regulated Invasive Species List

For more information regarding Invasive Species Awareness Week (July 12-18) events, check out the New York Invasive Species Information Blog.

Post by Alyssa Reid, Minnewaska State Park Preserve (OPRHP). Photos courtesy of OPRHP.

 

The Birds and The Bees …. Beetles, Butterflies, and Moths: A Salute To Our Native Pollinators

Everyone knows that honey bees are great pollinators, but there are so many more insects and animals that are also pollinators. In recognition of Pollinator Week (June 15 – 21), we introduce some of our native pollinators. Each day from April to mid-October, millions of bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, ants, beetles and a few other animals pollinate New York’s trees, shrubs, wild flowers, and agricultural crops while they are feeding on the plant’s pollen or nectar. By transferring the pollen from one flower to another flower, the plant can produce seeds and fruits (fruit in botanical terms includes most of what we call fruits, nuts, and vegetables). Food for us and food for all the animals in the wild depends on this. In fact, pollinators help to maintain healthy and diverse flora, fauna, and ecosystems across New York State and around the world.

Bees, like this Small Black Bee, are our premier pollinators.  New York State is home to over 475 bee species.  Bees like brightly colored blue or yellow flowers that are full of nectar and have a sweet or minty fragrance.

small black bee
By Sam Droege [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds like tube or funnel shaped red, yellow or orange flowers that produce a lot of nectar.

ruby throat hummingbird
By Joe Schneid, Louisville, Kentucky (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
Look for moths like this Snowberry Clearwing Moth on white or pale flowers that open in the late afternoon or night or on dense flower heads like goldenrod. These large moths are often mistaken for hummingbirds. Both seek out plants that produce a lot of nectar deep within the flower.

snowberry clearwing moth
By Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
Like the Snowberry Clearwing Moth, this Question Mark Butterfly can also be found on flower clusters like goldenrod and yarrow (shown), and flowers that produce a lot of nectar deep in the flower.

q mark butterfly
I, Jmabel [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
Beetles like the Eastern-Eyed Click Beetle rely upon flower smell to find flowers.  Beetles especially like spicy and sweet flowers.

e eyed click beetle
By Henry Hartley (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
Although you might be a little wary of this insect, this Paper Wasp pollinates a variety of plants including milkweed (shown here), goldenrod, and fall asters. Many different kinds of wasps, including a group called the pollen wasps, are important pollinators.

paper wasp
By Bruce Marlin [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
Look for these pollinators and more during your next visit to a New York State Park!

Learn more at:

Butterflies and Moths of North American

Formicidae of the United States

New York State Biodiversity Clearinghouse

Pollinator Week

United States Department of Agriculture / Forest Service, Pollinators

Xerces Society

Post by Susan Carver (OPRHP) and Julie Lundgren (OPRHP/NYNHP).

Battling Invasive Species at the Boat Launch

Famed biologist E.O. Wilson claimed that the introduction of invasive species is second only to habitat destruction as the leading cause of biodiversity loss worldwide. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (Parks) is taking on this challenge to protect our biodiversity and reduce the introduction of invasive species in our waterbodies. The problems we have with invasive species in New York state, especially in aquatic ecosystems, are well known and pervasive. Aquatic invasive species (AIS) degrade habitat for native plants and animals, outcompete native species for food and resources, impair swimming, fishing, and boating opportunities, and cost the state millions of dollars to control them each year.

In an effort to protect our New York State Parks from the costly effects of AIS infestations, Parks has adopted a new regulation. The regulation states that a boater:

  • shall not launch or retrieve their watercraft from a Parks-owned boat launch facility unless the watercraft’s water-containing compartments (livewell, bilge, bait bucket) are dry
  • has inspected the watercraft to ensure that there is not plant or animal material attached to the motor, trailer, body of the vessel, etc.

Boaters and anglers may also encounter a friendly Parks Boat Steward clad in red at facilities on the Great Lakes or Lake Champlain this summer. Stationed at twenty-one boat launches, the ten Boat Stewards conduct voluntary watercraft inspections for visiting boaters, and will work with the boater to remove any plant or animal material that may be on their vessel or trailer. The Boat Stewards are equipped with AIS publications, specimens, and information about the newly adopted regulation. They do not play a role in the enforcement of the regulation, but rather serve as educators for Parks visitors.

map
Map of boat launch sites where Boat Stewards will be on site. Created by Melyssa Smith, OPRHP. Click on map to enlarge.

 

Many Parks-owned boat launch facilities across the state are also equipped with disposal stations for aquatic plant or animal material. The disposal stations are specifically designed to provide a place for plant or animal material to dry out in an upland area.

buff harbor disposal
A conveniently located AIS disposal station at the Buffalo Harbor boat launch.

For more information about AIS in New York State, please visit http://nyis.info.

Post by Megan Phillips, OPRHP.

 

Lost Ladybugs

The nine-spotted ladybug
The nine-spotted ladybug

Some species of ladybugs are becoming rarer in North America. Many once-common native species are being replaced by exotic ladybugs from other parts of the world. Scientists are not sure how this will affect ecosystems and important role that ladybugs play in keeping population of plant-feeding insects, like aphids, low. To learn more about ladybug biodiversity, The Lost Ladybug Project and the New York

The two-spotted ladybug
The two-spotted ladybug

Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) are asking the citizens of New York to join together in finding out what ladybugs are in New York and where the rare ladybugs are hiding.

The fun part is that ladybug species are pretty easy to identify, check out the Lost Ladybug Project’s field guide. Some ladybugs can be identified solely from photographs, so feel free to send in pictures of ladybugs that you think might be uncommon or rare.

The transverse ladybug. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University
The transverse ladybug. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University

Participate in the Lost Ladybug Project by taking pictures and uploading them using the online submission form, or by downloading the Lost Lady App (available for iphone and android).

NYNHP will be tracking rare 3 species of ladybugs in New York: The nine-spotted ladybug, the two-spotted ladybug, and the transverse ladybug. Thanks for your help!

featured image is the transverse ladybug. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University.