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

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Wild animals cope with harsh winter weather

February 10, 2011 under CANR News

Humans may whine about the harsh weather but for most of us winter isn’t a matter of life or death. For many wild animals and birds, the stress of winter is life-threatening. Wild animals and birds must contend not only with extreme weather but with a lack of food and other resources, such as adequate shelter.

Winter adaptations vary by species. Some species migrate, some go into dormancy and some develop a thick skin and tough it out. The thick skin is literal — from the bushy cold-weather undercoat of the fox to the thick winter coat of the raccoon.

Many birds adapt to winter by getting the heck out of here. About half of Delaware’s common summer birds are migratory and depart for warmer climes each autumn, according to Chris Williams, a UD assistant professor of wildlife ecology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The birds that do stick around Delaware often form flocks in the winter, comprised of members of the same species, or sometimes flocks of different species (known as mixed flocks). Common mixed flocks include small birds, like chickadees and titmice, which join larger birds, such as nuthatches and woodpeckers.

Flocking is a form of cooperative behavior that rarely occurs during spring and summer nesting season. Williams says that flocking can increase wintertime avian survival rates. Flocks have an easier time securing food since birds are foraging together. And when flocks roost together, heat loss is reduced. Flocking also can provide safety in numbers from predators.

Birds utilize a number of other survival strategies in winter, such as fluffing their plumage, which creates an insulating layer by trapping air. They cope with the cold by shivering, just like we do. And many species increase their metabolic rate to produce more body heat. The downside of this adaptation is that they need to eat more food, even though food supplies are limited.

A handful of species lower their metabolism, but only in the evening when food isn’t available. These birds enter a state called torpor, which causes lowered body temperature and decreased oxygen consumption.

Plenty of mammals also slow their metabolic rate in winter. Groundhogs that live in northerly climes are “true hibernators,” meaning they exist in a state of uninterrupted, deep sleep for six to seven months, with body temperatures so low their metabolisms are almost at a standstill.

However, Delaware’s groundhogs are “semi-hibernators,” says Derek Stoner, conservation coordinator at the Delaware Nature Society.

“In February and March, if it warms up to about 50 degrees, Delaware groundhogs will come out of their burrows,” says Stoner. “By St. Patrick’s Day, the males, in particular are very active on warm days. They visit other burrows in hopes of finding a mate.”

In the fall, Delaware’s groundhogs gained some 50 percent of their body weight to prepare for their long — if somewhat fitful — snooze. But they also stashed grass in their burrows for the occasional snack when they do awake. Chipmunks also are “semi-hibernators” at Delaware’s latitude.

Deer don’t hibernate in winter although they do move around less to conserve energy. In cold conditions, they gravitate to areas with good thermal cover, such as a patch of evergreen trees that’s protected from the wind and cold and thus a degree or two warmer than surrounding terrain.

In the Poconos and Adirondacks you can see herds of several hundred deer hanging out together in the woods. Here in Delaware, herds are smaller, usually about 40 deer. Stoner says that a herd has congregated on Coverdale Farm, near Way Road, for the past several weeks.

Like flocking behavior in birds, herding is a wintertime phenomenon that increases survival rates. Come spring, the herd breaks up and the deer will go their separate ways.

Unlike us, wild animals and birds don’t need to turn to the Weather Channel to know when a storm is brewing; they sense the shift in barometric pressure, says Stoner. While we make our pre-storm trip for milk, bread and eggs, they, too, make a mad dash for adequate provisions before the snow flies.

Article by Margo McDonough

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Tallamy awarded gold Eddie Award for article

February 8, 2011 under CANR News

Doug Tallamy, chairperson of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Delaware, has received the gold Eddie Award from Folio magazine for his article “A Call for Backyard Biodiversity,” first published in American Forests.

The Eddie Award is part of the Eddie and Ozzie Awards Gala in New York City, which has celebrated editorial and design excellence in the magazine industry for over 20 years.

The article deals with the dangers of the diminishing biodiversity in the American urban and suburban landscape and the need for suburban lawns to be populated with natural native plant species instead of unnatural plant species imported from across the globe.

It also focuses on the importance of functional landscaping, using plants that, in addition to their beauty, help support ecosystem development, instead of aesthetical landscaping, using plants which may look nice but serve little ecosystem function.

Tallamy was honored in the category for association/non-profit publication with circulation less than six times a year.

Article by Adam Thomas

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How insects survive the long, cold winter

February 3, 2011 under CANR News

Baby, it’s cold outside. Time to put another log on the fire, wrap up in a thick sweater, or make a steaming mug of tea. These human adaptations to cold weather are quick, easy and get the job done. Even more effective, of course, is the central heating that is ubiquitous in our homes, offices and schools.

It takes a lot more effort for other mammals, birds and insects to make the necessary adaptations to survive harsh weather. Next week, we’ll look at animal and bird strategies; today we’ll see how insects make it through the winter.

In many species, insects adapt to the cold by dying off; it’s the larval stage of the species that goes through winter. Insects that do over-winter as adults usually enter a hibernation-like state called diapause.

“Insects don’t technically hibernate in winter but many go into diapause, a dormant state that allows them to withstand cold temperatures,” says Brian Kunkel, a UD Cooperative Extension entomologist.

The mourning cloak butterfly exists in a type of diapause called freeze susceptible. It avoids freezing in much the way that car owners do — by adding anti-freeze. This butterfly replaces the water in its body with antifreeze compounds — called cryoprotectants — which supercool its bodily fluids and tissues.

The other form of diapause, called freeze tolerant, is used infrequently by North American insects but is a common strategy of Southern Hemisphere insects. In this type of diapause, the insect freezes its bodily fluids.

Not all insects go into diapause in winter. A few, like the stonefly and mayfly, can be seen out and about in their adult form. The best time to look for stoneflies is after a snowfall — these small dark critters are much easier to spot in the snow.

The social insects take a middle-of-the-road approach to winter. They don’t enter diapause, like many butterflies, but they’re not bounding about, full of pep, like stoneflies. Social insects that live through winter in Delaware include honeybees, termites and a number of different ants.

Many of the social insects, including ants, consolidate their living quarters during the winter, says Deborah Delaney, an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. In late fall they move deeper into their nests and close up the exit with soil, leaves and other organic materials.

Honeybees slow down in winter and stick close to the hive. The focus is on eating and huddling close to each other on cold days, notes Delaney.

When the hive temperature drops below 64 degrees, honeybees cluster together into a carefully organized, compact ball. The interior bees generate warmth by vibrating their wing muscles. The outer bees are motionless, acting as an insulation layer. The colder the temperature outside, the tighter the cluster. A single bee can increase heat production 25-fold.

The honeybees take turns enjoying the warmth in the middle of the huddle and then move to the outside. Not surprisingly, the queen bee reigns supreme in the middle and never takes a turn on the outskirts of the huddle.

Despite huddling and other strategies, winter takes a toll on honeybees, says Delaney. Hives that may have had a peak of 60,000 bees in the summer may diminish to 20,000 bees by mid-winter. Some hives are totally lost, due to insufficient food or other factors.

Worker honeybees toiled long hours in the fall, collecting nectar to feed and maintain the colony until spring. If their work wasn’t adequate, there is nothing they — or Delaney — can do about it now, in the depths of winter.

Nonetheless, Delaney checks on the hives at UD’s Apiary about two to three times a week this time of year. “I hold my ear to each hive and if I hear buzzing inside, I know everything is good,” she says.

“The hives are kind of like my fourth child,” admits Delaney, who is the mother of three small children.

Article by Margo McDonough

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Changing seasons provide varied birding opportunities

January 10, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

One of the things that Derek Stoner likes most about living in Delaware is that every season brings new things to see and enjoy outdoors. Birding is a great example of nature’s diversity throughout the year.

“Birding in January, when owls are breeding, is a lot different than birding in July, when shorebirds flock to the Delaware Bay during their southward migration,” notes Stoner, the past president of the Delmarva Ornithological Society.

Here are some of the avian highlights that each season brings. How many of these birds will you spot in 2011?

Winter

As the New Year begins, the woods come alive with the calls of owls. Delaware’s most-common woodland owl, the great-horned owl, begins nesting now. Listen for its territorial hooting calls at night. The Eastern screech owl is also active and makes a trilling call. So how do you identify all those trills and hoots? Before heading out, Stoner suggests listening to owl calls at this website.

In February, take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science project throughout the U.S. and Canada. Last year’s count tallied more than 11 million birds of 602 species. Beyond the important scientific data that’s collected, the count generates excitement for birders, notes Chris Williams, UD assistant professor of wildlife ecology. Get involved by visiting this website.

Spring

In late April and the first half of May, birders flock to White Clay Creek State Park, where warblers, tanagers, orioles and other migrants are attracted to the large expanse of healthy woodlands. The best time to see lots of migrants, says Stoner, is after a night with steady winds from the south.

If you want to see red knots in the spring, there’s one place to go — Mispillion Harbor on the Delaware Bay, which attracts up to 90 percent of all the red knots in the world during this time period. Red knots fuels up on horseshoe crabs at the harbor. Check them out from the observation deck of the DuPont Nature Center. For a map and directions, visit the DuPont Nature Center website.

Summer

Summertime to Carrie Murphy means the return of the American goldfinch. This small finch is attracted to native perennials in her garden, including echinacea, black-eyed Susan and hardy ageratum. In its spring plumage, the brilliant yellow-and-black male looks like he belongs in a tropical rain forest instead of a Delaware backyard. Murphy, horticultural agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension, says the goldfinch also likes annual sunflowers.

In July, look for blue grosbeaks, gorgeous blue birds with silvery bills. Doug Tallamy finds a pair nesting in his dogwood tree every July. “The male sings from May to September every morning for two hours,” says Tallamy, the chair of UD’s Department of Entomology and Applied Ecology.

Want to attract blue grosbeaks to your own yard? “Blue grosbeaks like to include snake skins in their nests, so if you hang a snake skin up on a fence, you’re more likely to get them,” notes Tallamy.

Late summer is prime time for migrating shorebirds all along the Delaware Bay. Visit the impoundments at Fowler Beach and Broadkill Road of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge to see black-necked stilts, black-bellied plovers and many varieties of sandpipers.

Fall

“I like watching hawks fly out of trees to kill unsuspecting rodents during the fall,” says Brian Kunkel, an entomologist with UD Cooperative Extension. If the thought of watching hawks feasting on rodents makes you lose your lunch, just keep your eyes skyward. The northern tip of Delaware is the place to see hundreds of migrating broad-winged hawks on their way to South America. Check out the Ashland Hawk Watch page.

In November thousands of ducks, geese and swans funnel into the First State to take advantage of the abundant food and resting places. Places like Thousand Acre Marsh, Woodland Beach Wildlife Area and Silver Lake in Rehoboth offer great viewing.

Wrap up the year by taking part in the Christmas Bird Count, the world’s longest-running biological survey. Seven Christmas Bird Counts take place in Delaware. Learn more at the Delmarva Ornithological Society website.

Article by Margo McDonough

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Faculty Senate approves new major in ecology

December 15, 2010 under CANR News

A new provisional major and honors major in ecology were among the items approved by the University of Delaware Faculty Senate during its regularly scheduled meeting, held Monday, Dec. 6, in Gore Hall.

The new five-year provisional ecology and honors ecology majors will be interdisciplinary, with the Department of Biological Sciences supplying the training in the basic tenets of biology and the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology offering courses related to diversity, behavior and ecological interactions among organisms.

The five-year provisional establishment of the major is effective Feb. 7, 2011.

Academic degrees approved on a provisional basis are subject to approval by the UD Board of Trustees after the provisional time period has passed and the Faculty Senate has reviewed the degree program and recommended permanent status for the degree.

For the full article about the December 6 Faculty Senate meeting, please visit UDaily.

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CANR researchers promote native plants for suburban lawns

October 4, 2010 under CANR News

University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy has been conducting research studies on the interaction between native plant species and native wildlife since 2000. Author of Bringing Nature Home, which met with critical acclaim in The New York Times and other publications, Tallamy is well aware that most suburban homeowners plant few shrubs and trees, preferring instead vast expanses of grass.

But his latest research, conducted this summer with Jules Bruck, assistant professor of landscape design in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, amazed even him. The duo analyzed the composition of 65 suburban yards in New Castle County and Chester County, Pa. They discovered that, on average, homeowners dedicated 92 percent of landscapable areas to lawn.

Read the full story on UDaily by clicking here.

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Battling Stink Bugs

September 24, 2010 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The University of Delaware has seen a recent increase in the number of phone calls regarding stink bugs infesting homes. Although stink bugs do find their way inside homes in the fall, looking for a warm place to spend the winter, they do not cause house hold damage, and are harmless to humans and animals.

Your best bet to keep the stink bugs out of your house? Caulk and seal windows, cracks, crevices, screens, and vents. Pesticides are rarely warranted; when applied, they seldom last more than a week to 10 days. The length of protection will vary because of the amount of rainfall received post-application.

Because stink bugs are primarily a threat to fruits and vegetables, stink bug research at UD is limited to that of an agricultural nature. In recent years, native stinkbugs have caused increased agricultural damage in Delaware.

The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) (Halyomorpha halys), a nonnative stinkbug, has recently been spotted in Delaware. It is a relatively new pest in North America. Sometimes called the yellow-brown stink bug or the East Asian stink bug, it was first collected in the United States in Allentown, Pennsylvania during the fall of 1996.

UD entomologists in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources say that this insect was first reported to occur in northern New Castle County Delaware in 2001. In 2010, it was found at very low levels for the first time in soybean and lima bean fields in all three counties in Delaware.

Currently, the University of Delaware is a member of a BMSB Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Working Group funded by the USDA’s Northeast IPM Center. Members of this group include researchers, extension personnel, growers, pest control operators and a hotel manager.

At the first meeting in June, members shared research results, field observations and established research and extension priorities. This group hopes to secure funding for improving management of the important agricultural and urban pest.

Additional UD research will be scheduled for 2011 if BMSB populations increase in agricultural crops.

For more information about BMSB, please refer to information from universities found at the following websites:

Penn State University

Rutgers University

University of Maryland

Ohio State University (PDF)

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Twilight Tour with Bees

August 23, 2010 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

The Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA) and UD Cooperative Extension are presenting a Twilight Tour with Bees from 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM on Monday, August 30, 2010, at Lister Acres, 5417 Milford-Harrington Highway, Harrington, Delaware.

DDA and UD staff will have tour stops demonstrating the importance of healthy, abundant bee populations to Delaware’s fruit and vegetable crops, the diversity of native bees found in the state, and farm management to enhance pollinator conservation.

The speakers from DDA include Entomologist Heather Harmon Disque, State Apiarist Bob Mitchell from DDA. Assistant Professor Dr. Debbie Delaney, Extension Entomologist Joanne Whalen, and Vegetable Specialist Gordon Johnson are among the speakers from UD. Funding for the event is provided by a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant.

The nearly 4,000 species of bees found in the United States are the premier pollinators of fruit and vegetable crops, as well as a wide variety of native plants. Protecting and conserving bees is vital to our food supply and our quality of life.

The Twilight Tour with Bees is the culminating event in the four-year long SARE grant funded pollinator initiative (Farming for Native Bees) undertaken by DDA and UD. From 2006-2010, several thousand native bees were collected from vegetable farms as well as state parks and lands. These bees represent more than 100 species. Of these, 18 were state records, namely bees that had not been collected in the state before. Assessments of bee population diversity, and pollinator conservation farming practices were conducted on 15 farms. The project also produced two publications, “Delaware Native Plants for Native Bees” and “Farm Management for Native Bees”, funded by NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service). The host of the Twilight Tour, Chuck Hurd, was chosen as the 2008 National Pollinator Conservationist of the Year by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign. For information on attending the event, contact DDA at 302-698-4577.

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CANR Summer Institute offers glimpse of graduate student life

July 20, 2010 under CANR News

This summer five undergraduate students are conducting research with faculty mentors in the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), experiencing the challenges and rewards of what a graduate education at UD might be like.

As participants in the Summer Institute in the Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences, hosted by the college, these students are taking part in ongoing research projects guided by personal faculty mentors, networking with current graduate students and other staff within CANR, and interacting with industry professionals.

“The Summer Institute is a team effort by faculty from all departments in our college,” said Tom Sims, deputy dean of the college. “It provides these five outstanding undergraduate students the opportunity to conduct hands-on research and learn about the range of graduate education opportunities available in the agricultural and natural resources sciences.”

Now in its second year, the 10-week program — funded by the college and a Graduate Innovation and Improvement Grant from UD’s Office of Graduate and Professional Education – draws students from under-represented populations who are interested in a graduate degree in agriculture and natural resource sciences.

Maria Pautler, the program’s coordinator, said the Summer Institute was expanded from 4 to 10 weeks after last year’s participants suggested a longer program. The extended program allows students to become more involved with their research projects and present their findings at a campus-wide symposium at the end of the summer, she said.

“This, coupled with opportunities to attend seminars, workshops, and panelist luncheons, is exposing the students to facts and opinions on preparation for, and life in and beyond, graduate school,” Paulter said.

The 2010 CANR Summer Institute participants are:

Kamedra McNeil, of Forestville, Md., is a molecular biology major at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina. McNeil is involved in the Winston-Salem Student Government Association, Tri-Beta Biological Honors Society, NSCS Scholars and Pre-Marc Scholars. She is interested in a career in forensic biology. During her time at the Summer Institute, McNeil is studying different genes associated with photoperiod in plants. Her faculty mentor is Randall Wisser, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences.

Shurnevia Strickland, of Philadelphia, is a senior applied animal science major at UD. Strickland is secretary and webmaster for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS). She is interested in future research with genetics. At the Summer Institute, Strickland is studying the endothelin 3 gene in the silkie chicken. Her faculty mentor is Carl Schmidt, associate professor of animal and food sciences.

Rochelle Day, of Laurel, Del., is a senior pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences major at UD. Day is a member of Puppy Raisers of UD (PROUD) and MANRRS, and is looking toward a career in animal pathology. At the Summer Institute, Day is mapping the genome of the Infectious Laryngotracheitis Virus (ILTV), an upper respiratory disease in birds that causes economic losses for the poultry industry. Her faculty mentor is Calvin Keeler, professor of animal and food sciences.

Rothman Reyes, of Long Island, N.Y., is a sophomore pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences major at UD with minors in sexuality and gender studies, and women’s studies. Reyes raises puppies for Guiding Eyes for the Blind and is a member of the LEARN mentor program. He also serves as co-president of the PROUD special interest community. Reyes hopes to practice veterinary medicine at a zoo. At the Summer Institute, Reyes is creating a fosmid library, where he will induce a mutation onto the Infectious Laryngotracheitis Virus (ILTV) to create a vaccine. His faculty mentor is also Calvin Keeler.

Kristina Barr, of Kingstree, SC., is a senior biology major at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. She is a member of the Environmental Awareness Club at her school and plans to pursue a career as an ecologist. Her research at the Summer Institute involves the effects of rose bushes on birds’ ability to forage for food. Her faculty mentors are Jacob Bowman, associate professor, and Greg Shriver, assistant professor, both of entomology and wildlife ecology.

Article by Chelsea Caltuna

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