April 19, 2007
Dr. Danny Ingold
"Restoration Ecology at the Wilds: Unique Opportunities for Student/Faculty Research"
The academic and scholarly relationship between Muskingum College and the Wilds has grown considerably during the past decade. With it have come new opportunities for collaborative research efforts involving Muskingum College students and faculty, as well as Wilds staff, largely in the field of restoration ecology and natural history. This talk will focus on a few of the research efforts that have been undertaken at the Wilds in the past decade, with a particular emphasis on long-term studies of grassland birds living within restored habitats.
Grassland birds are a particularly good barometer of the health of a recovering grassland ecosystem since such birds are dependent on adequate plant structure, patch size and food supply. In 1997-1998 we studied the reproductive success of several grassland bird species at the Wilds, and from 2000-2006 we color-banded over 500 grassland birds of four species to monitor their propensity to return to prior nest sites from year to year. In 2000-2006, we found that 33% of Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis; 38/117) returned to nest in the same plot, or area between plots, during one or more years following their banding. Twenty three percent of Grasshopper Sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum; 62/268) returned during one or more subsequent years, while 22% of Bobolinks (9/41) and 12% of Henslow’s sparrows (A. henslowii; 12/100) returned. These data suggest that this recovering, and in some cases restored, surface mine landscape, is providing suitable reproductive habitat for native bird populations.
But efforts to estimate the overall health and resilience of a disturbed, recovering, or restored habitat, such as the Wilds, ultimately require a broad array of investigations. Recently, a number of other student/faculty collaborative investigations have been initiated with the aim of assessing the suitability of this habitat to support and sustain a number of other taxa. To date, the results from such investigations have generally supported the notion that this grassland landscape represents a functioning but highly altered ecosystem.