We mark this second birthday with 61 new followers and over 24,000 page hits! And we thank the 32 staff, interns, and partner organizations who have shared their passion for State Parks through the blogs that they have written. We also want to recognize our partnership with the New York Natural Heritage Program who helped in initiating this feature and continues to provide support.
We look forward to continuing our celebration of State Parks in the months to come in Nature Times. Hope to see you soon at one of our Parks or Historic Sites!
Small changes to lake ecosystems can mean big changes for plants and wildlife that make their homes there. Even though Lake Minnewaska (Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Ulster/Sullivan counties) looks the same from above the surface, life in the water has undergone major change in the past several decades. Lake Minnewaska is a unique “sky lake” ecosystem. Historically, Lake Minnewaska has been acidic acidic. No, it wouldn’t burn you to touch it, but it was too harsh for fish to live in. Studies show that Lake Minnewaska was oligotrophic as recently as the 1990s, meaning that nutrient levels were low and the phytoplankton that form algae were absent. The lake was home to other types of creatures, though, including a mat of sphagnum moss which grew up to 20 meters underwater and carpeted 60% of the lake, possible because of the high clarity of the water. The sphagnum moss sheltered two species of salamander which, because of the lack of predators, made use of the habitat and behaved in ways that no one had ever seen elsewhere (Bahret 1996).
Since the ‘90s, however, the lake has gradually become less acidic and phytoplankton more prolific, moving the lake towards mesotrophic status. The primary factor in the trophic shift is the introduction of the non-native bait fish species, the Golden Shiner, which was first observed in Lake Minnewaska in 2008. The Golden Shiner eats zooplankton, which are the primary consumers of phytoplankton, leading an increase in microscopic plant life in the lake. Because of these changes, sphagnum moss no longer grows in Lake Minnewaska, and as these trends continue, we can expect further reductions in water clarity, and more plant and fish species to take up residence in the lake. NYS Parks’ Environmental Management Bureau – Water Quality Unit continues to monitor Lake Minnewaska as an ongoing part of a statewide lake monitoring program.
Bahret, R. 19996. Ecology of lake dwelling Eurycea bislineata in the Shawangunk Mountains, New York. Journal of Herpetology 30:399-401.
Townley, Lauren. Investigation of trophic changes in Lake Minnewaska, a pristine sky lake in Ulster County, New York. Poster, Northeast Association of Environmental Biologists Conference. Online, accessed 8/25/2014.
On May 3, 2014, over a hundred volunteers with scientific backgrounds gathered at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in Ulster County and Clark Reservation State Park in Onondaga county for two concurrent Bioblitzes, 24-hour inventories of the park’s biodiversity. Our objectives were to search the park for as many rare species and natural communities in the park as we could find. This was a collaborative effort between NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP), State Parks, and Parks & Trails New York. Participants included biologists with various specialties and affiliations including NYS DEC, NatureServe, Syracuse University, SUNY-ESF, Mohonk Preserve, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Student Conservation Association. At least 9 different organizations were represented.
The main survey period was between 9am and 5pm on May 3rd, but some intrepid volunteers stayed through the night to look for nocturnal animals, while others arose on May 4th between 5am and 11am to identify spring migratory birds. In both parks, small teams sought out rare species and high biodiversity areas. The weather was overcast and cool on May 3rd, which made some of the surveys particularly difficult.
At Minnewaska State Park, we were able to document approximately 262 plants, animals, and fungi, as well as 7 of the NYNHP significant natural communities. The summary of our findings includes at least 100 plants and 150 animal species: 89 birds, 6 fish, 16 herps (amphibians and reptiles), 16 mammals, and 23 invertebrates. The species included cool mammals like the American mink (Neovison vison), shy amphibians like the northern dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus), delicate insects like the spring azure (Celastrina ladon), and steadfast trees like the American chestnut (Castanea dentata).
At Clark Reservation, we documented over 372 different species of plants, animals, and fungi and updated records for the 4 high-quality natural communities known in the park. The tally includes 193 species of plants (including lichens) and 96 species of animals, including 6 mammals, 7 herps, 46 birds, 4 fish, and 116 invertebrates. Of the many invertebrates identified, some of the largest groups were beetles (18), millipedes (10), caddisflies (10), and snails (6). The list of species included some entertaining names, such as bugle sprite (a snail), poverty grass, tortured tortella moss and seductive entodon moss. The Bioblitz proved to be an invaluable opportunity to get experts out in the park cataloging groups of species, like mosses and snails, which are often overlooked in typical biological inventories.
Due to the timing of the Bioblitz to coincide with I Love My Parks Day on May 3rd, our bird surveys included both passing migrants and potential park residents. Whip-poor-wills (Caprimulgus vociferous), a species of special concern, were sighted in several locations at Minnewaska, and based on last year’s NYNHP surveys, they are known to nest in the park. At Clark, the highlights were osprey (Pandion haliaetus) and sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus), both of which are species of special concern in New York.
The bioblitz was an extension of the long-standing partnership between NYNHP and State Parks to document rare species and natural communities in New York State Parks. Scientists found a wealth of biodiversity and enjoyed collaborating across organizations and areas of expertise in a beautiful natural setting. We hope to continue these valuable efforts to bring experts together to share knowledge, contribute to our understanding of the biota in New York State Parks, and to encourage further opportunities for park staff and the public to learn more about the special features in parks.
featured image is a spring azure butterfly by Mike Adamovic, post by Paris Harper, Erin White and Julie Lundgren
In 2010, the NYS Thruway Authority planned to make much needed improvements to I-90 near Irving, NY, a project which would inadvertently affect about 2 acres of emergent marsh wetlands in the area.
In order to mitigate these adverse impacts on the marsh habitat, the NYS Thruway Authority teamed up with Evangola State Park and Watts Architecture & Engineering by reclaiming a dry, rocky, flat fill area and transforming it into a valuable and productive habitat.
July 28, 2010 – the project area at the beginning of construction – not very impressive, is it?
Taking advantage of the area’s natural hydrology and terrain, landscape engineers created a three acre wetland along Evangola’s entrance parkway. This new habitat feature is home to various amphibian, reptile, and fish species, as well as a nesting and foraging site for a variety of birds and ducks.
Wetlands play a very important role in the environment, including ecosystems services that are valuable to humans. Wetlands act as water purification system, flood control, and they improve the stability of shoreline. Wetlands are also often the most biologically diverse ecosystems in a region, serving as home to a wide range of plants and animals. In New York, wetlands are used as stopovers for migrating birds, as a breeding habitat for migratory birds and other birds that nest in wetlands, and as a winter home for many amphibian species.
The human-made wetland at Evangola also presents various opportunities for educational ecological study to school groups, summer camps, and scout troops that visit the park. A hands-on outdoor classroom allows students to gain first hand experiential knowledge of this important ecosystem type.
The project’s overwhelming success prompted the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York to Award the Wetland Mitigation project at Evangola State Park the Gold Award for Engineering Excellence to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, the first landscape project to ever win this prestigious award. The award was a nod to the project’s excellent design, and the educational opportunities it created.
Bats are a fascinating component of many New York State Parks across the state. Although we can rarely get a good look at them, often only as fast-moving silhouettes at dusk, they form a critical component of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, acting as pollinators, seed dispersers and as predators regulating insect populations. A single little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) can eat up to 600 mosquitoes in one hour.
But our bats are in grave danger. In February 2006, a new contagion was identified in New York, and has since spread to 23 U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces. This fungal infection which grows on the noses of bats is called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) and it has killed millions of bats and is one of the most pressing ecological issues of our time.
What we have learned so far about the white-nose fungus is distressingly limited. It appears that bat-to-bat transmission is the primary means of infection, particularly in bat species that form large hibernacula, roosts where hundreds of bats hibernate through the winter together. Although we still don’t understand how WNS kills bats, it is clear that the infection somehow interrupts normal hibernation behavior. Infected bats wake up far too early from their winter sleep, depleting their fat reserves and consequently starving or freezing to death in the cold.
The species which have been most affected by this affliction are the big brown bat, little brown bat and the tri-colored bat, but other New York bat species including the hoary bat, the eastern red bat and the small-footed bat are also threatened. However, even the hardest-hit species have survived in small groups, compounding the importance of protecting bat habitats.
To learn more about White Nose Syndrome and the U.S. bat situation, we recommend the following video:
This video was produced for the USDA Forest Service by Ravenswood Media. It shows how government and private agencies have come together to search for solutions to help our bat populations overcome WNS. The public can also play a role in the future of bats by providing habitat and surveying their populations. Bats are a critical component in a healthy forest ecosystem, plus they provide significant agricultural pest control and pollination. Their survival is essential for a sustainable natural environment.