Archive for the 'Research' Category

Ocelot Habitat Restoration

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019
Endangered Ocelot

Endangered Ocelot

This is Passport to Texas

The endangered Ocelot once roamed many parts of Texas. But over the years, loss of their native thorn-scrub habitat has left only a handful of Ocelots in the Rio Grande Valley.

We need to restore their habitat as quickly as possible because they’re just really in dire need.

Dr. Sandra Rideout-Hanzak is a restoration ecologist at Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute.

The thornscrub is really unique and it’s highly diverse. We’re talking about small trees or large shrubs. They’re multi-stemmed so they’ve got lots of branches coming out very low to the ground. To humans it looks like this impassable jungle, but to Ocelots it’s just perfect.

Traditionally Ocelot habitat was left alone to restore itself. Now a new study is hoping to accelerate restoration efforts with woody plant seedlings.

We’ve kind of figured out how to replant these species of trees that become thornscrub. We have 700 seedlings that we’ve planted ourselves to see what we can do to get them to that multi-stemmed habitat where they’re growing in the right shape as quickly as possible.

The Wildlife Restoration Program supports our series and funds Ocelot research in Texas.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

The Lesser Prairie Chicken

Thursday, October 24th, 2019
Lesser prairie-chicken

Lesser prairie-chicken. Image courtesy USFWS

This is Passport to Texas

The Lesser Prairie Chicken used to roam many parts of Texas. But over the years, the wide-open grassland prairies they depend on have been greatly reduced by development and land fragmentation.

Lesser Prairie Chickens are important because they are an indicator species on the health of the grasslands.

Brad Simpson is a Wildlife Diversity Biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

When we look at Lesser Prairie Chicken numbers we look at two things. We look at numbers range-wide, because they occur in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Probably range-wide they are increasing. But when we look at Texas they are probably more stable in the last five years than they ever have been.

There are only two populations of the Lesser Prairie Chicken in Texas, but that’s not the only reason they’re hard to find.

Most people probably have never seen a Lesser Prairie Chicken because they occur on private lands. They are a delicate species that requires a specific habitat, large expanse of grasslands, so maintaining those large tracks of grasslands is critical for their survival.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is currently performing a species review of the grouse. A status determination is expected in 2021. Until then, management of the Lesser Prairie Chicken will be up to landowner stewardship.

The Wildlife Restoration Program supports our series and funds Lesser Prairie Chicken research in Texas.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

TPW TV–The Kraken Revisited

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

The Kraken doing its job as an artificial reef.

This is Passport to Texas

Early in 2017, Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Artificial Reef Program created a new underwater oasis for marine life by using a 371-foot cargo ship called The Kraken; sunk about 65 miles off the coast of Galveston.

Seven months after sending the Kraken to the gulf sea floor, biologists returned to investigate what has become one of the state’s largest artificial reefs.

What we’re going to see, we don’t know until we get down there.

Dale Shively oversees the artificial reef program for Texas Parks and Wildlife.

It only takes them a few months to get a significant amount of marine growth. [Chris Ledford] There’s a lot of fish on that ship.

Texas Parks and Wildlife artificial reef specialist Chris Ledford says prior to reefing the Kraken, biologists witnessed a couple of sharks in the area, but no reef species. And now it’s teeming with marine life.

I wasn’t expecting it to proliferate that much, that quickly after sinking. Considering the ship has only been down here for 6 months, it’s got a lot a lot of productivity going on. We’re really happy with the way its progressing. I don’t think it really could have gone any better than what it’s showing up to be. It looks great. It’s really cool.

See the reefing of The Kraken, and the results, on the Texas Parks and Wildlife TV series on PBS the week of October 6. The new season of this award-winning series begins the week of October 13. Check your local listings.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Alligator Gar and Thermonuclear Weapons Testing

Thursday, September 12th, 2019
Alligator Gar

Alligator gar: What a lovely smile.

This is Passport to Texas

Here’s a fish story about alligator gar, a curious biologist and thermonuclear weapons testing.

We’ve done a lot of work recently on the alligator gar. Being able to accurately age these fish is important. Because it tells us not only how long they live, but how they grow and in what years they were produced.

Dan Daugherty is a biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Fish have structures called otoliths that are like the bones in our inner ear – they accrue a layer of calcium carbonate each year of the fish’s life. If you remove the otolith and section it, you can see growth bands like the rings on a tree stump. Count the rings and estimate of the age of the fish. We estimate that some Alligator Gar caught in recent years at over 60 years old. But counting that many rings on a small structure is difficult. So, to verify our ages, we turned to radiocarbon.

You may know it as Carbon-14. But how is it used to age this fish?

Radiocarbon, or carbon-14, is a rare carbon isotope, naturally occurring at about 1 part per trillion. However, thermonuclear weapons testing in the 1950’s released massive amounts of this isotope into the environment, which was absorbed by all organisms at that time. Given that some of these fish were estimated to be over 60 years old, they would have hatched around that time. And, if the fish were truly that old, then we should measure high levels of radiocarbon in their otoliths. When we analyzed the radiocarbon concentrations in the otoliths, they matched the levels found in the environment in the 1950s, confirming the accuracy of these Alligator Gars’ age.

Now that’s a fish story for the ages.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Feline City Slickers

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019
Bobcats serve an ecosystem function.

Bobcats serve an ecosystem function.

This is Passport to Texas

According to the US Census Bureau, the Dallas-Ft. Worth metro area leads the nation in population growth. But this growth has fragmented wildlife habitat, and as a result wildlife have become more visible. Now sightings of one particular species has citizens concerned.

There have been some neighborhoods in the DFW area that have seen a lot of bobcats.

Richard Heilbrun is the urban wildlife program leader at Texas Parks and Wildlife.

If you’re in an urban area and you happen to see a bobcat, the most important thing you can do is to stop and enjoy the moment. Keep your distance. Take a photo, but don’t approach it. The bobcat will probably run away.

To answer growing public inquiry, Texas Parks and Wildlife partnered with Utah State University to capture and study urban bobcats.

We caught 12 bobcats in the middle of the metroplex and we radio-collared 10 of them. And we followed them for a year. We found out that bobcats are good at living in the city. They use greenbelts and golf courses, cemeteries, river corridors, and when you stitch all those habitats together they actually form a functioning ecosystem for a wide variety of wildlife.

Understanding urban bobcats is an important first step in achieving a conflict-free coexistence with humans.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series and funds bobcat research in Texas.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.