Using Conservation Techniques to Stop Poaching of Wildlife

The following was a term paper written for my conservation biology class in collaboration with Hallie Draegert


It is a well-known fact that the human population is increasing in size. The growth of one population, the humans, tends to impact other populations negativity. In this case, the concern is the impact it has on wildlife populations. As long as wildlife and human populations coexist problems will arise.  These problems can occur in response to tension between local human communities and the attempts of organizations working to conserve native populations of animals. Often these organizations seem to forget that the local’s livelihoods depend on exploiting the local animals. This has led to the creation of conservation models that do not work because they did not consider the local politics.

One of the most common crimes committed is poaching. Poaching has led directly to the extinction of many species and induces stress, on currently stable species. This could make future extinction of the population an issue that needs to be addressed. Since poaching is a serious problem for highly stressed species, it is critical to work to prevent the crime. There are many current techniques used to reduce and combat poaching. However, the issue has not been fully resolved. This is likely because only a single model is in use at a time in an area.

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The rainforest is teeming with dynamic relationships!

There are many dynamic relationships in the rainforests of the world. Which is expected as they are home to up to 40 percent of known plant and animal species. Within the forest there are a widely variety of symbiotic relationships, which means there are interactions between two species. For some species the relationship is beneficial for both parties, this is call mutualism. For example the Brazil nut trees (Bertholletia excelsa) produces a nut that is an only be cracked by a few species, one of which is various agouti (Dasyprocta sp.) which is a small rat like animal. The tree benefits as it’s seeds are dispersed and the agouti receives a free meal.


English: A Central American Agouti (Dasyprocta punctata) in Panama experimenting with a western diet.
Author Tomfriedel

In some cases one species is unaffected and the other benefits, this is commensalism. A example of this would be a frog sheltering itself from a storm event under the leaves of a plant. The plant is un effected but the frog benefits. Lastly, parasitism is when one species is harmed and the other benefits. Bot flies are a common tropical parasite that lay their eggs on a mammal host. The eggs then hatch and the larva develop in the skin of the host animal.

frog in rain

A frog in the rain in Belize. Image by Lauren Schramm

Competition is a symbiotic relationship in while two species use the same resources. Because it requires an energy investment both species are harmed, but the harm may be unequal. Many rainforest plants are animal pollinated or their seeds are dispersed by animals. Resource partitioning occurs when a resource is divided among species in some way like time or place. One way plants reduce their competition against each other is by targeting different animal groups. For example flowers pollinated by bats are often white making them easier to see at night, while flower pollinated by other animals are red, orange, and yellow. Bat pollinated flowers also contain a musky smells, while flower pollinated by moths, bees, and other insects have a strong fragrance. Plants also reduce competition by flowering and fruiting at different times. This is one reason there are always flowers and fruits available in the rainforest at any given time.

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Can remote sensing (drones) find harmful algae blooms?

A harmful aquatic algae bloom is when there is sudden a rapid growth of algae. In the past these were more commonly referred to as red tides. These populations of algae in term then produce extracellular compounds that can cause harm and even death to humans and wildlife and fish. Shellfish that are subjected to HABs cause humans to get sick. In rare cases people can even die. HABs most commonly occur in the oceans and large freshwater lakes, such as the Great Lakes.

Often HABs occurs due to nutrient runoff but it is important to understand these have been occurring for millions of years. There are fossilized HABs and fossils of whales found in a proximity and quality near the fossilized HABs that is is theorized the HABs resulted in the death of the whales. Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of HABs so it is clear we need to develop tools to predict and mitigate risks with HABs.

I looked at research into using remote sensing to predict algal blooms of Karenia brevis in coastal Florida. This algal is responsible for the most red-tides in Florida. It produces a neurotoxin that kills aquatic life and makes shellfish toxic to humans. Researchers used a geographic information system (GIS) to develop a machine learning method to detect harmful algal blooms (HABs).

Karenia brevis Images source: Florida fish and wildlife resources department
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What lives in the bottom of lakes and streams in Cobb County Georgia- benthic organisms!

Benthic organisms are remarkably diverse and vary with habitat. They include protozoa (like amoebas), sponges, cnidarians, flatworms, nematodes, isopods, crayfish, amphipods, mollusks, gastropods, leaches and aquatic worms, pelecypods, insects, and fish. Benthic species I have observed in my area (Cobb County, Georgia) include the Asian Clam (Corbicula fluminea), larval brook salamanders (Eurycea sp.), common sunfishes (Lepomis sp.), the Chattahoochee Crayfish (Cambarus howardi), caddisfly larva (Order Trichoptera), damselflies and dragonflies larval (Order Megaloptera), mayfly larva (Order Ephemeroptera), dragonflies and damselfly larval (Order Odonata), aquatic worms (phylum Annelida), Eastern Dobsonfly larval (Corydalus cornutus), water snakes (Nerodia sp.), longjaw minnow (Ericymba amplamala), river Cooter (Pseudemys concinna), true bugs (Order Hemiptera), true flies larval (Order Diptera), beetles (Order Coleoptera) and stonefly larval (Order Plecoptera). It is worth noting some of these species may only occupy the benthos for a period.

Image of a Brook Salamander. Brook salamanders are a genus, Eurycea, image by Lauren Schramm

Image of a Brook Salamander. Brook salamanders are a genus, Eurycea, image by Lauren Schramm

In some streams, Asian clams, an invasive aquatic species, can be one of the largest components of the benthic invertebrate community (Poff et al.,1993), however this is not the case in all streams in Cobb County. Black et al. (2003) evaluated benthic macroinvertebrate populations of two local streams: Sope Creek and Rottenwood Creek. In Sope Creek they found Ephemeroptera and Diptera to be the dominant orders. In Rottenwood Creek they found Trichoptera and Diptera to be the dominant orders.

An Asian Clam (Corbicula fluminea). Image by Lauren Schramm.

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Impact of Asian Clams (Corbicula fluminea) on on Unionidae, or the family of pearly freshwater mussels

Corbicula fluminea is a species of freshwater clam that is native to eastern Asia and has become an extraordinarily successful invader of freshwater ecosystems and is found on every continent except for Antarctica (Leff et al., 1990; Hornbach, 1992; Karatayev et al., 2007; Lucy & Graczyk, 2008; Sousa et al., 2008a; Crespo et al., 2015). It is widely theorized they were introduced as a food source on the west coast of the United States and were first discovered in the country in 1938 (Sinclair & Isom, 1963; Counts, 1981). Impressivly, C. fluminea have the highest secondary production values ever measured for a species colonizing a freshwater ecosystem and the highest record net productivity for any bivalve (McMahon, 2002; Sousa et al., 2008b). While there are multiple species of Corbicula that are invading aquatic systems, the most common species is C. fluminea (Renard et al., 2000; Siripattrawan et al., 2000). There are several factors that have led to successful invasions of C. fluminea including high fecundity, functional hermaphroditism, self-fertilization, rapid sexual maturity, lack of a parasitic life stage, pedal feeding (that is feeding via the cilia on the foot) and filter feeding, and the ability to disperse across long distances (McMahon, 2002).

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Water scarcity issues in Georgia/ Cobb County

Georgia experiences several droughts including one from 2005 to 2007 that made headlines as lake levels in Lake Lanier, which serves as a major water reservoir for Atlanta reached record lows. It was shown that this drought cost $2 billion dollars in loses, which included $87.6 million in recreation spending lost from visitors to lake Lanier as the lake levels were down 20.21 feet from full capacity. It was shown that this drought was caused by an increase in consumption rather than anthropogenic climate change. There have been other major droughts in 1954-1956, 1981, 1985- 1988, and 1998 – 2002, 2012 to 2013 and 2017. To lessen the effects of droughts in the future of Georgia, education, voting with our dollars as consumers, and a change in diet are key.

The county that I live in, Cobb County, has an excellent water stewardship program. They have a team of scientist that travel the county and regularly test the quality of streams and rivers. They also provide lots of programming with the public. They are home to the largest adopt-a-stream program in the country which is a great way to engage citizens in water quality issues. They often host workshops where you will make and take home a rain barrel. They also send out quarterly newsletters on water issues in the county and host stream clean ups in partnership with the Department of Natural Resources Rivers Alive program.

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Dinosaurs and microfossils on the Blanco River- Texas

If you spend any amount of time in the town of Wimberly, Texas locals will be sure to mention the flood that happened in 2015. 13 people died and 350 homes were destroyed. However, there was a silver lining to the flood, a large number of fossils, including dinosaur footprints were discovered in the Blanco River. These footprints were discovered when the City of Blanco GIS manager was reviewing aerial photographs. From the photographs, we can clearly see the footprints of a four-legged dinosaur (or sauropod). Based on the distance between the front feet, foot size, time at which the tracks where made, and stride length it’s like that the tracks belong to Paluxysaurus Jonesi, or as anyone who has watched the land before time would call it, a longneck. It’s actually the state dinosaur of Texas. The footprints are located on federal owned land that you can only access with a ranger and I’m not sure if the public can visit. I was able to visit through the master naturalist program. Here is a link to other dinosaur footprint site in Texas you can visit though.

These footprints were created by a baby little foot, captured by Lauren Schramm

There were a ton of other fossils the rangers pointed out to us as well. The most mind-blowing to me was a microfossil. At one point we were walking in some small gravel and the ranger told us to look down. Turns out we were actually walking on millions of microfossils of a former unicellular organism that lived in the ocean. The sheer number of them was astounding. The concept of microfossils is pretty crazy too. Researchers can actually find microfossils of plankton or pollen and learn a lot about what past environments where like.

Microfossils! Captured by Lauren Schramm


Birds forced to raise kids that are not theirs- Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)

The Brown Headed cowbird  (Molothrus ater) is a parasitic bird of North America. They used to follow the bison around and consume the insects associated with them. With the expansion of cattle in North American, the brown-headed cowbird populations have also expanded which has raised some interesting questions. Female cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and allow those birds to raise their young. This type of parasitism is called brood parasitism. Because the cowbird is typically larger than these birds their young die in the process of raising the cowbird. Because the cowbird was not tied to a nest this allowed them to follow the bison which was a food rich source. It is unknown if they evolve this strategy to follow bison or were able to follow bison because of this strategy. They also are able to produce more eggs in a season than a typical bird, up to 3 dozen. Bird populations of the birds they parasitize have suffered as a result of this and efforts have been made to try to reduce this. Using feed designed for small birds, not spreading seed on the ground, and avoid feeding sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and millet will reduce the number of cowbirds in your area. It is important to note that the birds are covered by the Migratory Bird Act so it is illegal to remove their eggs from a nest or harm them in any other way without a permit. In some states, if they threaten an endangered species you can obtain a permit to trap the birds.


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Common snapping turtle: misunderstood

The United States has the most turtle species out of any country in the world (51 species). Common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are one of the most easily identified of these 51 species. In 5th grade, our class pet was even a snapping turtle baby that someone had found in a parking lot. They have a wide range of areas that they live in North America; basically all of the U.S. minus the west coast and Texas. Sadly there is also a wide range of misconceptions to go along with their wide geographic range. The biggest misconception is that they are aggressive and should be killed if seen. Others have negative views of the turtles because they kill game fish, which is true but have a minimal impact on populations. Generally, they are only aggressive on land as it is hard for them to walk on land. They tend to only be found on land during the breeding season when females go in search of sandy patches in which to lay their eggs. These sandy patches are often found along roads. If you see a snapping turtle in the road if you decided to move you should know they have a long reach with their neck and their claws are also very sharp. Typically I just stand in the road with the turtle until it safety crosses. If the turtle is a baby you can carefully pick it up and place it near a waterbody where it can hide from predators.

Young Lauren carrying a baby common snapping turtle to a safe location. Hyde Park, Vermont.

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Marine ecosystems of Belize- corals and mangroves

The following post is a reflection on a field trip I took to Belize as part of my tropical ecological class.

In the marine environments, there were three main ecosystems that we explored; seagrass and sand flats, coral reefs, and mangrove forests. Of all of these, the coral reefs had the highest species richness due to their high primary productivity. This is due to the dual nature of coral, that of a producer and a predator. Coral itself is a tiny animal that hunts plankton with tiny barbs. Most coral tissue also contains an algae called zooxanthellae which provides energy to the coral via photosynthesisThis creates available energy for others, like parrotfish that eat corals. It also allows the coral to create a structurally complex area. The mangroves have the next highest level of primary production and are almost as structurally complex as the coral reefs. On the other hand, the sandy and grassy flats have little structure to them. When snorkeling there very few species besides 3 species of ray were seen.

Belize contains the 2nd largest coral reef in the world and is notable for this feature called a blue hole

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