January 23, 2010

Petrels, plants, and more

Ok, I'm back on board again--well, I'll be fully back after this next week. Let me explain.

There is an island about 8 miles off the coast of Bar Harbor, Maine, called Little Duck Island. The island is about 80 acres in size and botanically unexplored--meaning few have ever tried to identify all of the plants on the island. A few plants were collected from the island around 1900, but nothing besides that. There is a nearby island called Great Duck Island. Although three-times bigger, Great Duck was thoroughly inventoried (practically all plants and animals) in 1985 (Folger and Wayne, 1986).

I'm currently applying for grants to conduct a floristic inventory of Little Duck this summer. If this all works out, it will be an great opportunity to learn a lot about Maine flora and ecology. However, I'm also really excited about comparing Little Duck to Great Duck. Great Duck is a home for hundreds of European varying hares, but Little Duck is not. There are also possible differences in how much bird guano affects the soils on each island.

The differences in flora between the two islands could mean drastic changes of habitat over the years. If--as I have heard--it is true that there is no forest regrowth on Great Duck (due to the hares eating all the saplings?) then it means Great Duck is slowly becoming deforested.

You may be thinking, well geez Luka, Little and Great Duck Islands are these tiny specs of earth and rock on the ocean, WHY would I ever care what happens on Little or Great Duck Island? Well, reader-of-my-blog, your question is valuable because it addresses a long standing issue in the world of conservation. I can give you a short answer for now, but I would be very interested in regaining this topic in a future blog post.

My understanding is that the coastal spruce habitat on Great Duck Island (and possibly Little Duck) is essential for Leach's Storm-petrel--a small but fascinating seabird. Great Duck currently holds the largest breeding population of these birds--about 5000 pairs (http://www.coa.edu/html/greatduckbirds.htm). If the old spruce trees on the island die without saplings arising, then a large population of Leach's Storm-petrel will have to find a new home--not something easy to do given their specific living conditions.

So essentially, the study I hope to do this summer will help shed some light on this issue, perhaps uncovering new observations relating the presence of hares and forest regeneration, or perhaps the effect of excessive guano affecting the diversity of plants. These results could have the potential of influencing conservation policies--helping preserve populations of Leach's Storm-petrel.

I won't even mention Black Guillemots or the possibility of discovering rare plants.

Let me know if you have any comments or questions,

I will be back after I finish writing grants by Friday.

Be well,