Native Delaware: Seasonal Symphony of Frog Calls Returns

April 19, 2013 under CANR News

On April nights, Holly Niederriter can be found driving slowly down the back roads of New Castle County. Although she appears to be meandering, her excursions are quite purposeful.  A wildlife biologist with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Niederriter is listening for frog calls.

She is one of dozens of Delawareans who drive around after dark searching for frogs as part of the Delaware Amphibian Monitoring Program. The first survey period kicked off in late February, the second starts in a few days, and the final survey occurs in June. Participants are volunteers from the community; most don’t have Niederriter’s wildlife savvy. But they all receive training, and before their debut, take an online quiz to ensure they can distinguish the calls of Delaware’s 16 species of frogs.

American toad by Jim White“Frog calls are an important way to determine where different species occur and how populations are doing over time,” says Niederriter.  “Because most amphibians need both aquatic and upland habitats, they can serve as important indicators of water quality and other aspects of environmental health.”

A colder-than-average early spring made for a slow start to the frog-calling season.  Early April is often the peak of spring peeper season, when the sleigh-bell-like chorus of these tiny frogs reaches maximum volume in vernal pools and marshes. But the beginning of this month was so chilly that the peepers didn’t want to peep.

“Male peepers call to attract a mate but if the weather isn’t warm enough they hunker down and wait it out,” says Jim White, associate director for land and biodiversity management at the Delaware Nature Society and an adjunct herpetology instructor at the University of Delaware. “I didn’t hear a single peeper during the first few days and nights of April.”

Now that temperatures are more seasonal, the spring peepers are out in full force. Recently, they’ve been joined by the pickerel frog, with its snore-like call, and the American toad, which boasts a musical trill. In the Coastal Plain region (Kent and Sussex, plus a sliver of New Castle County), you also can enjoy the throaty croak of the Southern leopard frog.

You need a sharp ear to recognize the call of the American toad, notes Jake Bowman, a UD professor of entomology and wildlife ecology.

“American toads are frequently heard all over our area but rarely do people realize what they are hearing,” he says. “Unlike the commonly recognized sleigh bell call of the spring peeper, the American toad has a high pitched trill. Here on the UD campus, you can find them in most of the wetlands on our farm.”

A father of two sons, Lee, 10 and Ethan, 5, Bowman likes the fact that frogs are “kid-friendly.”

“Probably the nicest thing about toads is that it’s often the only amphibian kids have a chance to handle. My boys love the chance to chase and capture American toads and learn more about them,” he says. “After the boys have checked out the toads, we release them back where we found them.”

Like the Bowman boys, James White, Jr. grew up playing with frogs with his father, Jim White. Now a UD freshman, White is majoring in wildlife conservation and hopes to become a national park ranger.

“For as long as I can remember, I went looking and listening for frogs every rainy, spring night,” says White. “We had a marsh only a few yards from our house so it was never difficult to hear them.”

“I will go herping with my father but because of college it probably won’t be until school is out,” he says. “My favorite frog of spring is the pickerel frog. I always found them pretty frogs and very jumpy, making them a challenge to catch.”

If you want to catch frogs with your kids (or at least see and hear them), Bowman has a few suggestions. Look for terrestrial species on the ground in woodlands and other land habitats. Semi-aquatic species can be seen on the shoreline or surface of freshwater habitats. To find breeding frogs, head to vernal pools and marshes. Warm, rainy nights make for the very best frog-watching. Pack a bright flashlight and plenty of patience.

A spring peeper, for example, is only about an inch long and its brown, gray and green colors don’t stand out, especially at night. “You can practically be on top of them and still not see them,” notes Bowman.

But it’s worth the wait to see a peeper, especially a male one. Males have large vocal sacs under their chins that they pump full of air until they look like balloons about to burst, When they peep, the air is discharged and the shiny sac deflates.

How to Help

To learn more about volunteering with the Delaware Amphibian Monitoring Program, contact Vickie Henderson at 735-8651 or vickie.henderson@state.de.us

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Jim White

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UD researcher works to ensure Delaware’s wild turkey population proliferates

December 13, 2012 under CANR News

Wild turkeyIn colonial times, the Eastern wild turkey was abundant in Delaware. But by the late 1800s, wild turkeys were gone, eradicated by over-zealous market hunters and habitat destruction.

Usually, that’s the end of the story for a species.

Sometimes, however, species can be re-introduced to their original habitats. Such has been the case with the Eastern wild turkey, one of Delaware’s greatest conservation success stories, says Matt DiBona, a wildlife biologist with the Division of Fish and Wildlife in the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).

In 1984, 34 Eastern wild turkeys from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Vermont were given new homes in the woodlands of Sussex. In the 1990s, 100 wild turkeys from New York were released; in 2002 they were joined by another 33 birds from South Carolina and Virginia.

Throughout this period, turkeys in Sussex were captured and released further north to ensure distribution statewide.

This starter stock of 167 birds and their descendants have been prolific. “Today, Delaware’s wild turkey population is established and continues to spread,” says DiBona. “The population established so quickly that seven years after re-introduction we were able to offer a limited hunting season. We’ve continued to hold an annual four-week spring hunting season for gobblers.”

However, the Eastern wild turkey’s re-introduction to Delaware hasn’t been an unequivocal success story. About 20 years ago there was a population decline. It wasn’t widespread and numbers picked up after that. But Division of Fish and Wildlife officials realized the agency needs to better understand the population dynamics of wild turkeys.

Three years ago, the Division of Fish and Wildlife teamed up with Jake Bowman, a University of Delaware associate professor of wildlife ecology, to get a better handle on potential limiting factors affecting turkey production. “This is especially important because the number of turkey hunters is continuing to increase each year,” notes DiBona. “We thought it prudent to do research on these birds now to help provide some context for our harvest data.”

“The research project focused on hen reproduction, including the number of eggs laid and the survival rate of the poults (the babies), to determine reasons for population decrease,” says Bowman.

But you can’t figure out how many eggs a particular hen laid if you can’t distinguish her from the other hens – or find her, for that matter. That’s where turkey backpacks come into the story.

Seventy-six hens at Redden State Forest, near Georgetown, were equipped with little backpack transmitters. The transmitter, which is fastened under the hen’s wings with elastic cords, produces a radio frequency that can be detected up to a mile away.

During breeding season, Bowman’s grad students were at the state forest every day and at least several times a week other times of the year. Although Bowman’s teaching responsibilities kept him busy, at least once a week he participated in the fieldwork.

“You’re out there at all hours of the day and night, when it’s raining, when it’s hot,” he says. “But it’s great. I find research into native species such as the wild turkey more rewarding than study abroad trips I lead to places like Tanzania and Cambodia. There you’re just observing. But with research like this, you’re the one trying to find the answers.”

And Bowman and his team have found some of those answers. They’ve discovered that hens that nested on private land hatched more nests than those on public land, probably because of a difference in vegetation. They discovered that the average number of eggs per nest was eight, compared to the 10-14 eggs per nest seen in other states. Nesting success rates in Delaware are low compared to nearby states. In 2011 just 19 percent of the nests resulted in poults. The research team also discovered that fox and owl predation is a big problem, not only for the poults but for the mother hens.

There is good news to report, too. “Poult survival is greater in Delaware compared to other states, allowing for new birds to be recruited into the population,” says Bowman.

Although Bowman is wrapping up his project, the Division of Fish and Wildlife continues to track data in a variety of ways, including its seasonal Wild Turkey Survey.

“This is a citizen-scientist project; you don’t need to be a wildlife biologist to contribute,” says DiBona. “If you see wild turkeys on your drive to work or when you’re walking on a Sunday afternoon, we want to know about it.”

For example, Jason Beale, manager of Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, reported that he saw an adult hen with seven poults on Aug. 8. He’s participated in the survey for the past two years.

“I’ve lived in Delaware since 2006. I know that in 2011 and 2012 I saw more wild turkeys than in all the other years combined,” says Beale. “We see them in Lee Meadow here at Abbott’s Mill. Isaacs-Green Preserve is another good spot to see them.”

“Even when you don’t see them, you know they’re here,” adds Beale. “At overnight camps we can hear them gobble at dawn and dusk and we routinely see turkey tracks on the trails.”

How to help

To participate in the 2013 Wild Turkey Survey, contact Matt DiBona at 735-3600 or matthew.dibona@state.de.us.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Bob Eriksen

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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UD students and professors learn from Amish about sustainable agriculture

September 28, 2012 under CANR News

University of Delaware students and professors took a trip over the summer to visit an Amish family in Dover to learn about sustainable agriculture practices. The trip was co-sponsored by UD’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences and the Society of Natural History of Delaware.

“While conventional agriculture is the means in which we supply millions of people with affordable food, some feel that the majority of these practices are not sustainable,” said Kali Kniel associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, who went along on the trip.

At the farm, the group, which included members from Delaware State University, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and members of the Delaware community, learned about how the family cans their own vegetables, fruit and poultry. The vegetables and poultry used in this process are grown and raised on the farm, and the family uses these canning practices to help store their food for the winter.

Al Matlack, adjunct professor in chemistry and biochemistry, who also went on the trip explained that the family designed and built their house themselves and that no electric lines enter the house, with “propane tanks outside providing energy for a gas stove and a gas refrigerator. For light over the table in the living-dining room, they pull a cord on a battery-powered lamp.” He also explained that the Amish “make their own clothes from purchased cloth, which may contain synthetic fibers.”

The group then traveled to visit an Amish furniture store to see the fine craftsmanship of Amish woodworking. There they discovered that a lot of the furniture—made of solid cherry, oak, walnut and hickory–is shipped in from Ohio and made from whole pieces of wood.

Wrapping up the day, the group visited Detweilers farm and toured their large vegetable farms and apiary. The farmers at Detweilers raise sheep and chickens, which produce fresh eggs for the farm. The group talked with the farmers about erosion prevention, crop rotation, food preservation and livestock welfare.

Matlack explained that the water used to irrigate their garden is provided by a well and compressed air, and that their indoor plumbing is supplied by a windmill.

Kniel said that the trip was very enjoyable and showed that sustainable agriculture can still take place in the 21st century. “This trip highlights the fact that we can all take part in sustainable agriculture whether it is through our own garden, shopping at farmers markets, or by canning fresh-picked peaches.”

Article by Adam Thomas

 

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Tunisian Fulbright Scholar studying beneficial bacteria for legumes

May 29, 2012 under CANR News

At first glance, it wouldn’t seem like Delaware and the Sahara Desert have a lot in common. However, on closer inspection, the mid-Atlantic state and the arid regions of southern Tunisia in Africa are more similar than they first appear.

That is one reason why Mokhtar Rejili, a professor from the University of Gabes in Tunisia, is excited to be at the University of Delaware on a Fulbright Scholarship working with UD’s Janine Sherrier on the study of legumes native to his home country.

Of the similarities between the two seemingly disparate locations, Sherrier, a professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, explained that Delaware has sandy soil and shoreline salt stress. “Our sandy soils dry out very rapidly and our crop plants can be subject to salt stress. There are also common stresses experienced by plants grown in the two locations, albeit to different levels of severity,” she said.

The scientists are collaborating on research to identify beneficial bacteria to help the plants grow more successfully under conditions of drought and salt stress. Rejili specifically studies legumes that grow in conditions of extreme drought and severe salt stress, and his Tunisian team identifies bacteria that interact with the plant roots growing on the outskirts of the Sahara.

Sherrier is recognized internationally as a scientific expert on bacterial interactions with legumes, and together, the two scientists are working on a research project that will help farmers in Tunisia and Delaware.

The scientists are conducting research that focuses specifically on the type of beneficial bacteria that associate with legume roots and provide nitrogen to the plant. Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plant growth, and it is often provided to the plant by the application of chemical fertilizers or manure. This is costly for growers and contributes to environmental pollution.

The beneficial bacteria studied by the team can convert a small amount of the nitrogen that is naturally abundant in the Earth’s atmosphere into a form that can meet the nutritional needs of the plant. This reduces the cost of crop production for the grower and also protects the environment from damage caused by fertilizer runoff from agricultural fields.

“The plants form close relationships with the beneficial microbes. They develop a new organ on their roots for the bacteria to reside and provide the right environment and all the energy required for the bacteria to convert atmospheric nitrogen into fertilizer,” Sherrier said. “At a practical level, that means plants growing in soils without sufficient nitrogen can still have productive growth.”

Benefits to health and the environment

Rejili explained that this is especially important for extremely hot and dry areas, like southern Tunisia, where a chemical fertilizer would be of little help to the plants. Such fertilizers are often too expensive to even consider using and, worse, can be detrimental to human health.

“The fertilization of crops is limited to only the well-developed countries,” said Rejili, noting the high costs involved in producing fertilizer, only a small fraction of which is used by the plant. The remainder goes deep into the soil, where “it will contaminate the soil and the water, or it will evaporate into the atmosphere, leading to pollution,” he said, adding this poses “a big question to our health.”

Sherrier said that fertilizer use doesn’t pose a health risk just in Tunisia, it does so in America as well.

“The overuse of fertilizer impacts human health,” said Sherrier, explaining that a recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) survey of well water quality in Delaware’s southern counties showed that more than 50 percent of the wells had nitrogen contamination above the levels recommended for drinking water and required remediation.

Sherrier said that while Rejili is interested in helping out his home country, he is also concerned about improving crop production and health for Delawareans.

“People from Delaware love their lima beans, but the beneficial bacteria are not present at very high levels in our soils. Our growers add fertilizer to ensure a good yield. That’s expensive for them, and it’s not good for our environment,” said Sherrier, adding that Rejili has taken on a leadership role on one of her projects to identify beneficial bacteria from Delaware soils that could be added to the soil early in the growth season instead of chemical fertilizer.

Sherrier also explained that the damage to the environment is not just in the fertilizer application, it’s also in the way fertilizer is made. “There’s a huge energy cost associated with making fertilizer,” said Sherrier, explaining that the process requires high pressure and high temperatures, and uses 4 percent of the world’s natural gas supply annually.

“When you burn that natural gas, it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” she said, adding that there are additional environmental costs in transporting the fertilizer.

Inexpensive option

Besides the environmental and health considerations of cutting down on fertilizer use, the beneficial bacteria could also be an inexpensive option for growers, something that is of particular importance in developing countries.

“We would like to provide whatever help we can to allow the people of Tunisia to support their own food production,” Sherrier said. “Food security is a huge concern for any country. This inexpensive approach to food production protects their environment and helps provide the people with a basic level of security that every human being deserves.”

Providing an inexpensive and reliable food source for developing countries is not the only benefit of this research, however. Being able to grow legumes in areas that have harsh landscapes, like southern Tunisia, will enable the growth of forage crops in areas prone to desertification. This will allow livestock to graze in the area, and will help stabilize a sandy landscape that is prone to degradation from unforgiving winds.

“If you have a few plants that can survive in that area, they can protect soils and prevent the region from converting into desert. This will help preserve the land for food or forage production,” explained Sherrier.

Beneficial bacteria

Sherrier worked closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) to arrange for the team to study Tunisian plants in her Delaware laboratory. For some of the species, it is the first time that these legumes will be studied outside of Tunisia.

Rejili is evaluating the diversity of bacteria associated with these plants and performing experiments to determine which ones provide the most benefits. In a laboratory setting, the team is inoculating plants with individual strains of beneficial bacteria and evaluating the plant’s performance.

“The bacteria infect the plant root,” Sherrier said, “and when you talk about an infection, most people think, ‘Oh, no! You need to spray something to get rid of that.’ However, in undisturbed natural environments, the bacteria normally infect the plants, boosting their immune systems and helping the plants acquire essential nutrients. This is very similar to the benefits people gain from the bacteria which naturally reside in our digestive tract.”

Said Rejili of the plant interacting with the bacteria, “We can say they are beneficial interactions. So the plants give carbohydrates to bacteria and bacteria gives nitrogen to the plants. So there is an exchange.”

The two hope that when Rejili’s 10-month stay concludes, they can continue their collaboration. “This is a great starting point, and it’s really what the Fulbright progam is all about,” said Sherrier. “It’s helping to build bridges scientifically and culturally.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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Environmental professionals speak to UD students about careers

April 2, 2012 under CANR News

A number of University of Delaware students spent their St. Patrick’s Day learning about potential career paths from environmental professionals at the 2012 Environmental Career Morning event hosted by the Department of Food and Resource Economics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

Panelists included representatives from federal and state government, an analyst from a consulting firm and a coordinator from the non-profit sector.

After a welcome from Steve Hastings, professor in the department, the four professionals engaged in a panel discussion, answering questions from Hastings, who served as the panel moderator, and from the students in attendance. The panel was followed by a mingling session during which the students got to meet the professionals in a one-on-one setting.

Kate Miller, a senior environmental studies major in the College of Arts and Sciences and an Honors Program student, attended the event and said that the panelists offered great advice to the students. “I feel like a lot of the advice students receive about the job market is either very sugar coated or downright depressing,” she said, “so it was refreshing to have professionals share their experiences in a way that made you feel like even though finding the job you want can be difficult at times, it can certainly be done.”

Miller, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in water science and policy at UD and hopes to eventually work in watershed policy for either the government or a non-profit agency, added that the panelists presented great tips about the hiring process and provided helpful insight into resumes and interview skills.

Erika Farris, a UD alumna and an environmental scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water, was one of the panelists, and offered up some advice to current students seeking a career in the environmental field, saying that it is important to obtain as much experience as possible and to pursue an advanced degree. She also stressed the importance of remaining open minded when looking for a career. “Even if something does not fit perfectly with your interests,” she said, “you can probably learn something from the experience, and may even discover new interests or skills.”

Farris — who graduated from UD with a bachelor’s degree in 2007 and a master’s degree in 2009, and who had Hastings as an undergraduate adviser — said that she had wanted to be a part of a career day because she can remember what it was like being a student and looking for a job. “I remember being in their shoes, not that long ago, and being uncertain about what opportunities existed with that major,” she said.

Besides reaching out to the students and providing them career advice, Farris also said that she wanted to take part in Career Morning because she was “interested in hearing about the career interests of current students, and learning about what career paths other alumni have taken.”

Jennifer Walls, the principal planner for the planning section of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), also sat on the panel. She explained that it is important for students entering the work force to “be flexible and open to job opportunities outside of your major.” She encouraged students to “think outside of the box when looking for jobs, and take part in as many internships as you can as an undergraduate or graduate student. If you can’t find an internship, then volunteer locally.”

Melissa Luxemberg, a senior in CANR and an Honors Program student, said that with graduation approaching, she is trying to keep all doors open as to what she can do for a future career, so she enjoyed being able to speak with professionals from the environmental field. “It was great to pick their brains about the opportunities they think are most promising for someone with my major and degree.”

Panelists included:

  • Jennifer Walls, principal planner for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Planning Section;
  • Erika Farris, environmental scientist, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water;
  • Samantha Loprinzo, analyst for the consulting firm ICF International; and
  • Erin McVey, watershed coordinator for the non-profit organization Sassafras River Association.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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Delaware EPSCoR announces 2012 seed grant recipients

March 7, 2012 under CANR News

The Delaware EPSCoR program has awarded seven seed grants to University of Delaware faculty whose projects address current environmental issues within the state.

EPSCoR, the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, is a federal grant program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) that helps states develop their research capabilities so that they may compete for further federal funding.

Seed grants are typically in the $50,000 range and help researchers set the stage for applications to larger federal funding programs. Seed grant proposals are solicited annually during the fall semester. The selections were made by a committee of five senior faculty affiliated with the Delaware EPSCoR program and two external reviewers representing the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). This year’s funded projects are as follows:

Microbes that remove arsenic from rice

Rice is a staple in diets across the globe, but it is commonly contaminated by arsenic (As) in many developing nations. To solve this problem, University of Delaware scientists Harsh Bais and Janine Sherrier of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences have proposed that the inoculation of rice with the bacterium EA106 will reduce arsenic accumulation within the edible portion of the plant, simultaneously improving quality and yield. Arsenic-contaminated rice represents a significant health risk to millions of people worldwide; in their research Bais and Sherrier plan to “systematically dissect the overall mechanism in As absorption and translocation in rice.” Their efforts will further probe the field of plant-microbial processes and how they may be used to agricultural advantage.

Impact of terrestrial phosphorus on eutrophication in the Chesapeake Bay

Principal investigator Deb Jaisi, assistant professor, and Donald Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair of Soil and Environmental Chemistry, both of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, will investigate the concentrations of terrestrial and nonterrestrial phosphorus (P) input into the Chesapeake Bay over time. The prevailing notion is that the level of nonterrestrial P has remained constant since early civilization, and thus terrestrial P is the sole culprit in the eutrophication (increased concentrations of nutrients which result in algae blooms and fish kills) of the Chesapeake Bay. However, observed changes in the bottom water environment indicate that this is unlikely. Their study will influence future management strategies to limit nutrient pollution, with regulations possibly addressing both terrestrial and nonterrestrial P input. Sparks is director of the Delaware Environmental Institute.

Article by Jacob Crum

Photos by Ambre Alexander and Kathy F. Atkinson

For the complete article and list of seed grant recipients, view the full story on UDaily

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Create a backyard rain garden

May 24, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Want to do your part to help local rivers and bays? Create a backyard rain garden.

It’s fairly easy to build your own rain garden and it can pay big dividends for nearby watersheds.

Stormwater runoff is one of the leading sources of pollution in waterways, according to Valann Budischak, a horticultural associate with University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. But rain gardens can be a great way to manage stormwater. Rain gardens are shallow depressions, planted with perennials and woody plants, which collect water from roofs, driveways, other impervious surfaces and turf grass (which, like a driveway, is lousy at absorbing water).

Rain gardens slow down and reduce runoff and thus help prevent flooding and erosion. In addition, the garden’s soil and plants filter pollutants in rainwater.

“Rain Gardens for the Bays” was launched last year to encourage homeowners to build rain gardens to improve water quality in the Delaware Bay, Delaware’s inland bays and Maryland’s coastal bays. Partners in the project include UD Cooperative Extension, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), the Center for the Inland Bays, Delaware Nature Society and other agencies.

In addition to doing good, rain gardens look good. “Rain gardens are an attractive way to reduce impact on the environment,” says Budischak. “And you don’t need a huge property to have a rain garden.”

She has seen successful rain gardens as small as 10 feet by 15 feet. On the other end of the spectrum, rain gardens on UD’s Newark campus range from less than 1,000 square feet to more than 3,000. In addition, a large rain garden was installed on the Lewes campus last year, says Tom Taylor, UD’s landscape engineer.

Rain gardens were at UD long before the term “rain garden” was coined, says Taylor. He spearheaded the installation of a rain garden – at the time called a bio-retention basin – at the Dickinson residence complex in the early 1990s.

UD’s rain gardens have always had an environmental function but now the gardens serve an educational role, too. “The key is signage,” notes Taylor. “It’s important to have signs at the rain gardens so that people know what they’re looking at and understand how they can do something similar at home.”

Taylor added plantings to a bio-swale at his Lewes home and used the campus gardens for inspiration. Plants on the exterior of a rain garden must tolerate both dry and wet conditions while plants inside the garden need to handle very wet conditions. (A rain garden’s interior is designed to hold water for up to 48 hours.)

On the edges of a rain garden, Taylor likes native ornamental grasses, asters, goldenrod, blueberry bushes and red-twig dogwood. For the interior, he frequently chooses clethra, cardinal flower, iris, button bush and winterberry. Other options that Budischak suggests are turtlehead, Joe-Pye weed, dwarf fothergilla, sweetbay magnolia and river birch.

Living in Sussex County, Taylor doesn’t have to contend with the single biggest obstacle to a successful rain garden – heavy clay soil. That’s a problem most New Castle County residents must overcome because clay soil inhibits water infiltration.

Taylor recommends replacing a foot and a half of heavy clay soil with a rain garden soil mix to improve drainage.

Other considerations in building a rain garden are size and location. Although it would seem logical to install a rain garden in a low area that doesn’t drain well, this is a poor choice because it won’t support plant growth. The ideal place for a rain garden, says Budischak, is gently sloping ground where stormwater drains off grass or impervious surfaces.

Garden size depends on the size of the area from which you are capturing runoff, soil type and depth of the garden. Many homeowners seek professional advice about the garden’s size and soil requirements before tackling installation and planting. UD Botanic Garden intern Rebecca Pineo created a how-to guide to rain gardens, which can be found online.

For more information about the Rain Gardens for the Bay program, go to the website.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

The original posting of this article can be viewed on UDaily.

 

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Study to quantify turbine impact on birds and bats

March 7, 2011 under CANR News

A study will quantify the impact of the wind turbine at UD's Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes on birds and bats.

The University of Delaware’s 2-megawatt wind turbine is the site of new research that will help answer a common question about the alternative energy producers: How do they affect birds and bats?

The two-year project, which will assess the mortality risk of birds and bats around the turbine, is led by UD Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology researchers Jeffrey Buler and Gregory Shriver. It is funded by First State Marine Wind, a partnership between UD-owned Blue Hen Wind and turbine manufacturer Gamesa. The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) also committed funds to support the effort.

A complementary project at the wind turbine that focuses solely on bats is being conducted by an expert at Delaware State University and is funded by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

While a University-commissioned pre-construction study found that the turbine’s impacts on birds are likely to be minimal, that study also recommended that UD undertake post-construction monitoring. One motivating factor is the machine’s location at UD’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes, which sits along an important international flyway stopover for migrating birds. UD and Gamesa thus placed a priority on this research once the turbine was up and running (it began producing power in summer 2010).

The research also fulfills UD obligations under the federal National Environmental Policy Act. UD has been working closely with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DNREC and other stakeholders on the scope of the study.

“The results of the study will be useful for other coastal communities considering wind turbines and ought to provide some useful lessons for offshore wind energy projects,” said Jeremy Firestone, associate professor of marine policy. Firestone is a wind energy expert and faculty member in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE) and CEOE’s Center for Carbon-free Power Integration (CCPI).

The UD project began March 1, with spring and fall sampling periods focusing on birds and bats migrating through the area and summer and winter periods on resident bird and bat flight activity.

During each of the four seasons, the researchers will use a variety of techniques to collect data. Acoustic monitoring, visual surveys, radar, and thermal imaging will provide information on bird and bat traffic and flight patterns. Spring and fall carcass searches around the turbine will help determine the fatality rate.

Local and regional weather data, which will help researchers understand bird and bat movement, will be provided by a nearby meteorological tower and the National Weather Service.

“We want to monitor how much bird and bat activity there is in the vicinity of the turbine so we have a context for how much risk there may be for them to collide with the turbine,” said Buler, who specializes in using radar to track bird migration.

The scientists also want to know which birds and bats are moving through the area. Although the main focus is on migrating land birds and bats, other types of birds also occur near the turbine throughout the year. These include raptors, waterfowl, marsh birds, and shorebirds.

The team expects to have a final report of data and analysis completed by December 2013. They will present findings at technical meetings and publish them in scientific journals. The researchers also will share their bat data with Delaware State’s Kevina Vulinec, an expert on the winged mammals whose research looks to determine the type of bats around the turbine and their behavior.

“We are pleased by the collaboration with Delaware State University,” Firestone said. “These research projects are a prime example of how the UD wind turbine can serve as a platform for important research that will benefit society.”

Article by Elizabeth Boyle
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

This article can also be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.

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Nov. 10: UD, state to host issues forum about Chesapeake Bay

November 3, 2010 under CANR News, Events

The Chesapeake Bay is a national focal point for water quality issues. New environmental regulations will require Delaware and the other five bay states — Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York — and the District of Columbia to significantly reduce pollution entering the bay and its tributaries.

These rigorous federal and state program aims to restore the bay’s water quality by 2025.

Because the two main pollutants that are under consideration are nitrogen and phosphorous, agricultural entities in Delaware and the other bay states have a vital role in this process.

On Wednesday, Nov. 10, Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, the Delaware Department of Agriculture and the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources will host an agricultural issues forum to address agricultural and environmental concerns surrounding the health of the Chesapeake Bay as it relates to water quality.

“The Intersection of Agriculture, the Environment and the Chesapeake Bay” will be held in the Trabant University Center Multipurpose Room A from 7-9 p.m.

“The goal of this event is to bring awareness to one of the major environmental issues in our area,” says Craig Parker, president of Alpha Gamma Rho. “We hope that UD students, faculty, and other community members will join us to learn about the issues from everyone involved.”

The program will be moderated by Ed Kee, secretary of the Delaware Department of Agriculture, who is also a CANR alumnus and former UD employee.

Kee will be joined by science and regulatory advisors Rick Batiuk, science adviser for the Chesapeake Bay Program, and Kathy Bunting-Howarth, director of the Division of Water at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Industry and government panelists for the evening include:

* Steve Schwalb, vice president, Environmental Sustainability, Perdue Farms;
* Shawn Garvin, regional administrator for Region III, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);
* Dave Baker, farmer and member of Delaware Nutrient Management Commission; and
* Jim Borel, executive vice president, DuPont.

The forum will conclude with networking and free UDairy Creamery ice cream.

For more information call (302) 831-1355 or send email to [kvo@udel.edu].

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College converts cow pasture into thriving wetland

May 19, 2010 under CANR News

Several times a week, Chad Nelson begins his workday with a trek through a wetland near his Townsend Hall office on the University of Delaware’s Newark campus. With spring in full swing, he enjoys the sight of the butterflies, migratory songbirds, mallard ducks and their ducklings, frogs and tadpoles that make the wetland their warm-weather home.

Later this summer Nelson, an assistant professor of landscape design in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, will be on the look out for dragonflies. And even in winter, he says the wetland teems with life, with such species as glossy ibis and over-wintering songbirds.

Two years ago, about the only animal life this two-acre site supported were dairy cows and migrating Canada geese.

Jenny McDermott, facilities manager for the college, spearheaded the effort to convert a poorly draining cow pasture into a wetland.

Her go-to man on the project was Tom Barthelmeh, who is a wetlands restoration expert with the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).

“This project had a lot of challenges and Tom’s help was integral,” says McDermott. “Our goal in creating this wetland was not only to provide wildlife habitat but to improve water quality in the White Clay watershed.”

Once it is fully operational, the wetland will reduce runoff to Cool Run, which is a tributary of White Clay Creek. And that’s just one of the ways it will help the watershed.

The University’s farm and main campus are where Cool Run starts, the headwaters of the stream, and thus are a critical area for influencing environmental quality.

“Wetlands, especially in this area, do a lot of good things for a watershed,” explains McDermott. “By taking the pressure off the rate and volume of water that flows into a stream, wetlands reduce problems caused by stormwater runoff downstream.”

From a wildlife habitat perspective, the wetland gets high marks from Doug Tallamy, chairperson of UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.

“The new wetlands will raise the carrying capacity of the UD Farm for decades,” says Tallamy. “The wet areas churn out insects that develop on detritus. These support swifts, martins, swallows and bats. Wading birds eat the aquatic insects and frogs in the wet areas. The wetland also provides habitats for breeding birds. It’s very productive. And none of this was happening when it was a cow pasture.”

Barthelmeh says he enjoyed the project, especially because it gave him the opportunity to mentor students. UD undergraduate and graduate students were involved in every aspect of the project, from site design and installation to the two rounds of planting that occurred, most recently last October.

Nelson spearheaded plant design with plenty of assistance from his students. Almost 2,000 trees, shrubs and perennial seed plugs have been planted at the site, ranging from blue flag iris, which provides purple-blue spring blooms; buttonbush, which blooms in summer; bald cypress, with its brilliant rusty orange fall foliage; and winterberry holly, known for its red berries in winter.

A whopping 90 percent of the first year’s planting survived despite dry planting conditions and some damage by waterfowl.

“I was concerned last year because a lot of Canada geese were browsing the wetland but most of the damage wasn’t significant since it was confined to the stalks and not the roots,” says Nelson.

The wetland is one component of a comprehensive plan to make the UD Farm a model of sustainable, environmentally friendly agriculture.

McDermott is now busy overseeing other conservation projects. Additional channel and wetland restoration will take place along the entire length of the Cool Run tributary running through the farm. A stormwater retrofit will address building and parking lot runoff that flows into Cool Run.

“These restoration efforts wouldn’t be possible without a lot of partners within the university, from DNREC and from the New Castle Conservation District,” says McDermott. “Grant funding from several DNREC departments and from the University’s alumni-supported Sustainability Fund have been matched by funding from our college to not only implement environmental protection but to provide a teaching opportunity for students and a demonstration of watershed protection.”

The UD wetland has been utilized as an outdoor classroom by landscape design, landscape construction, ornithology, wildlife management and wildlife ecology students. And it serves a public education function, as well, especially now that it has become a part of the UD Botanic Gardens.

“We offered wetland tours on Earth Day and Ag Day and the public is welcome to take self-guided tours any day from dawn to dusk,” says McDermott. “Wetlands are sometimes seen as a ‘no man’s land.’ We want people to appreciate the positive impact they can have on water quality and the diversity of wildlife they support. Wetlands are incredibly important.”

To learn more, visitors can take a self-guided tour of the UD Botanic Gardens wetland from dawn to dusk daily. The wetland is located on UD’s Farm off Route 896 in Newark, near the Girl Scouts building.

Click here to see the article with photos online on UDaily.

Article by Margo McDonough
Photos by Danielle Quigley

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