BioBlitz

Mammals

 

Cayuga Nature Center   Smith Woods   Total species found
  1 0       3     1 0

 

Mammals might be the largest and most "obvious" animal denizens of an ecosystem, but they are actually hard to detect in a short time frame. While a few can be seen as we walk through the woods, they are not as abundant and are often more shy than other kinds of organisms. While only three species of mammal were spotted in Smith Woods during the BioBlitz, during the scouting expedition signs of chipmunks, flying squirrels, raccoons, and woodchucks were also seen. The three mammals seen during the BioBlitz represent different branches of the mammalian family tree, and each leads a very different lifestyles.

The team watched for animals and looked for footprints, scat, or other sign to indicate the recent presence of local mammalian residents. Baited traps were set overnight in an attempt to catch small and medium-size mammals. To capture visual evidence of larger mammals, baited motion-sensitive trail cameras were also set up both during the day and night.

It was no surprise to see evidence of white-tailed deer on the BioBlitz; these large herbivores are common and highly over-populated. White-tailed deer are the largest herbivores and our only wild local artiodactyls (even-toed hoofed mammals). Sheep, cows, llamas, and pigs are all examples of domesticated animals in this group. The high density of deer in the region is caused by plentiful food and few predators in the human-dominated landscape. As such, deer have severely impacted our natural areas. Heavy grazing by deer on their favorite plants has decimated not just the understory plants but also the young trees.

One of the primary goals of the BioBlitz was to document the state of Smith Woods under deer pressure before the installation of a deer exclusion fence. Many mammal species have adapted to living close by humans. Deer are thriving in our area. Mice, squirrels, and other rodents readily find food in human yards just as well as in the woods. Skunks, raccoons, and opossums all benefit from humans, including sheltering under (or in!) houses and eating our garbage. Larger predators like coyotes, foxes, and bobcat are more likely to shy away from humans, although they too have learned to use our spaces when we are not looking. Although having these species close-by can at times be a nuisance or even dangerous (car collisions, disease transmission), of course many people find great pleasure in viewing wild mammals in the landscape. The Virginia opossum, a medium-sized omnivorous marsupial, is the most evolutionarily unusual of the mammals seen during the BioBlitz. Marsupials split from the other mammals about 90 million years ago and were the only mammals in South America when North and South America connected 3 million years ago. The Virginia opossum is the only marsupial to have spread into North America, though it has many relatives in the south.

Participants

Due to the small team size, only Smith Woods was included. Team Mammals consisted only of Team Lead Leann Kanda, Associate Professor of Animal Ecology at Ithaca College. As a behavioral and population ecologist with a background in mammalian behavior and population dynamics, her driving interest is understanding the choices made at the individual animal level to explain where they are found on the landscape. Dr. Kanda looks at mammalian temperament both in the lab and in the field where she routinely captures animal behavior with video trail-cameras. She also examines fine-scale habitat use and population dynamics of wildlife in relation to human landscape features by tackling questions such as the timing and success rate of different species when crossing roads.