Our Forest Studies

 

  Squirrel Den Box

  Black Snake

 Setting the Trap

 The Catch

Animal Studies and Methods

Information about the forest's animal populations is obtained directly and indirectly as well as intentionally and unintentionally. Students are led to understand, because animals move around and often flee at the sound of humans, that this data is likely to be less exact than that gathered for plants. Even with this limitation, some important information about forest species composition, population size and habitat location is obtainable.

Students begin their animal studies by dispersing throughout the three associations and then listening for animal sounds at each location. Observation periods are limited to 10 minute intervals during which the sounds heard are recorded.

Following the quiet observation period students use a beating sheet and sweep nets to collect insects from trees, saplings, brush and vegetation along the transect line that passes through the associations. Insects captured on the sheet are counted and identified using insect keys.

Next, the forest litter of each association is carefully examined for animal life. This procedure is a "sit down" on the ground activity that requires patience and a willingness to get ones hands dirty and to handle creepy creatures. Animals captured during this activity are identified and their numbers and identities are recorded.

Decaying logs found in the associations are dismantled and searched for animal life. Once more the animals captured are identified, counted and recorded.

Worm sampling is an interesting activity that produces quantitative population numbers. Sampling sites, 1 meter square, are identified along the transect in each association. Once the site is staked out a mustard solution is poured over the site's soil. Mustard, being an irritant, drives the worms to the surface where they are captured, measured, counted and released back into an adjacent area. Because worms aerate the soil and serve as food for other animals their presence is used as an indicator of ecosystem health.

Permanent animal study sites are located in the Upper Slope section of the forest. These sites increase the probability of animal sightings through habitat improvement. The first of these, squirrel den box construction, placement, and maintenance was suggested to us by the Missouri Department of Conservation. During the time that the students are at the camp they visit each of the 20 numbered den boxes, check each for occupancy and remove any nesting material present in the boxes. Excitement reigns when a box is tapped and a gray or flying squirrel jumps out!

Fifteen snake boards are also distributed throughout the upper slope. These are flat sheets of wood (1 meter by 1 meter) that are placed on the ground to provide shelter and cover for animals. The protected environment beneath the board is thought to attract small mammals followed by snakes. In actual practice few, if any, animals are actually seen, but much evidence for their presence, burrows, scats etc, is discovered when the boards are turned over.

Evidence for the presence of fungi and bacteria is collected by streaking nutrient enriched agar plates with soil samples from the various associations. Colonies of many kinds appear on the plates after a two to three day incubation period. The number and appearance of colonies growing on the agar is recorded in the animal data sheet.




Recent Animal Data
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