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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - EcoLabs Hill Country, San Antonio, Texas, USA

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EcoLabs Hill Country, San Antonio, Texas, USA
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Registered: October 2016
Posts: 1
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Starting my first undergraduate semester at St. Mary’s University, I desperately wanted a research position. After review I was selected to collaborate with Dr. Melissa Karlin, who required a field research assistant in tracking and research of Texas predatory mammals throughout the hill country and South Texas. The purpose of the project was to determine habitat connectivity of Ecolab properties that are in closest proximity to Government Canyon State Natural Area, the largest wildlife preserve in the Texas Hill Country. Ecolab’s are partnerships between landowners with ecologically valuable land and universities. Landowners allow researchers to carry out research on their property, in exchange for reductions in their property taxes. From an ecological standpoint these Ecolab’s may represent crucial corridors that animal species, even keystone species, use in addition to Government Canyon. As urbanization continues in the hill country, habitat fragmentation increases. This causes irregularities in species emigrational patterns and previous spatial ranges.
In a previous research project Dr. Karlin has identified 18 different unique animal species at Government Canyon. Her findings have served as a “template” to asses both species presence and spatial ecology at Government Canyon. This current project serves as a continuation, looking at eight different Ecolab properties in Bexar and Bandera Counties which are in closest proximity to Government Canyon. The title of our project is “Estimating Wildlife Species Richness, Diversity, and Habitat Connectivity Using Non-Invasive Sampling Technologies.”
This project focused on using non-invasive and microsatellite technologies. Data was collected through camera traps, hair-snares, and barbed-wire. A total of 20 motion sensor cameras were spread out over 9 sites within the 8 properties, this overlap between sites allowed for individual species identification. Dr. Karlin and I have been periodically traveling to each of these sites every 30-60 days to collect camera footage for assessment. Over the past year close to 40,000 photos were taken!
Along with determining spatial ecology, genetic relatedness among cataloged species is being determined. Noninvasive devices (hair-snare and barbed wire) were used in order to collect hair samples of animal species. These devices were placed in front of cameras to increase our chances of species identification from hair samples. These sites were checked by either Dr. Karlin or myself every 2-4 weeks. Genetic species comparison was determined to show level of relatedness of species groups within this area. DNA extractions were yielded from degrading the hair root sample using digestive enzymes, yielding the mitochondrial and genomic DNA from samples. Mitochondrial DNA would identify the species that the hair sample belonged to and the samples genomic DNA would show the relatedness of that species to a group of individuals from our database of known species from their hair samples.
This project is ongoing and will be completed by February of 2017. The results of this ecological project will have many applications such as identifying native and non-native species presence and activity within these Ecolab properties. This will help landowners construct species specific management plans such as decreasing the presence of non-native wildlife species in order to increase native species. Also our data will benefit wildlife management initiatives within Bexar and Bandera counties and most importantly help local conservation efforts maintain natural corridors where they exist, and create corridors where they do not exist in order to increase movement for wildlife species.
I have been working on this project for a little more than a year now and I can say that it has contributed to the development of my career path. Just this past summer alone I have dedicated more than 200 hours in the DNA lab at St. Mary’s and in the field with Dr. Karlin. Each one of those hours I tremendously enjoyed, despite difficulties like the hill country summer heat and when my DNA didn’t show during extraction (which happened frequently). This project has proven my dedication and passion for research, which endured even after weeks of not yielding any usable data. Most importantly, the value of this research, from an ecological standpoint is crucial. San Antonio is becoming increasingly more metropolitan and preexisting habitats are drastically decreasing and becoming more fragmented. It is absolutely imperative to preserve these remaining wildlife pockets and to have a record of how our presence is affecting ultimately the presence and reproductive success of native wildlife.
Date: October 20, 2016 Views: 4307 File size: 21.1kb, 4082.6kb : 4000 x 2895
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 19
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): 5179.97
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