The mission of the United States wildlife refuge system is the conservation, management and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of future generations of Americans. In compliance with the goals of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Refuge System, college students from the Chincoteague Bay Field Station (www.cbfieldstation.org) Conservation Biology Class with Millersville University, set out to quantify and document terrestrial vertebrate biodiversity (i.e., mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles) in 3 different forest biological communities (i.e., maritime deciduous, conifer and marsh forests) within Wallops Island NWR along the Eastern Shore of Virginia in Accomack County. This was part of a service learning effort coupled with a research based course format to increase student professional development and passion for STEM studies in the biological sciences.
Documentation of terrestrial vertebrate biodiversity on Wallop’s Island NWR was conducted via a Rapid Biological Assessment (RBA) or Rapid Assessment Program, which is an efficient and cost-effective method used to complete a quick, biological survey of an area. The RBA was conducted from 29 June 2015 through 8 July 2015. Species presence was documented based on simple field observations as well as several trapping methods, including an acoustic recording device, remote video and cameras, pitfall traps and Sherman traps. Each method was specialized for documenting occurrence for specific types of terrestrial vertebrate fauna. The Conservation Biology Class’s first objective was to develop a list of terrestrial vertebrate species present on Wallops Island NWR and the second objective was to compare species survey results between the maritime deciduous, conifer and marsh forest types to determine if there was segregation between species in each forest community.
The Conservation Biology Class documented the presence of 90 terrestrial vertebrate species within Wallops Island NWR and they found 3 new species that had not yet been documented on Wallops Island NWR: short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda), woodland vole (Microtus pinetorum) and American toad (Anaxyrus americanus). The Conservation Biology class also identified the importance of maintaining and managing the maritime deciduous forest habitat to benefit biodiversity on the Wallops Island NWR and provided baseline population density estimates for small vertebrate species that occur on the refuge. The Conservation Biology class recommended that further analysis be done to consider any species that could have been missed during their survey period. For example, seasonal biological assessments should be conducted to observe areas used at the beginning of the breeding season and during migration.
An official government report of this service learning/research-based effort was sent to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. A copy of this report can be found on the link below.