Michael, an undergraduate researcher out of Stanford, is working at Las Cruces on animal decomposition. Briefly, he’s set out freshly-killed adult chickens and chicks in forests and agricultural lands (i.e., pasture and coffee plantation) and monitors what happens…
He’s got camera traps trained on the adult chickens, and uses transects through both habitat types to pair replicate locations with both major habitats. It’s interesting (and rather smelly) work: there are a number of specialist scavengers that feed on animal matter, and the roles animal detritus (feces + dead animal) play in communities is often overlooked in light of the overwhelming biomass that plants input into detrital pools in ecosystems. Michael has already found some exciting facilitation effects within the scavenger community.
Michael was kind enough to take me along on one of his sampling dates.
In the forest sites, carcasses were often buried and striped by beetles.
Michael collects hymenopterans, and after collecting one of the wasps, we discovered that she still had a piece of meat with her… look closely.
The camera trap failed! But, using radio tracking, Michael found that a scavenger had moved the carcass.
Remains of an adult chicken after a couple of days.
I don’t have a zoom lens any longer, given that I sold it to buy a nice macrolens… That said, there is an American Purple Gallinule in the center of the frame below. I encountered adults, dule-colored juveniles, and chicks, which were entirely black. Once again, these were taken at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.
On my visit to Santa Barbara, California, Raja and I observed a decently-sized flock of snowy plovers, a threatened shore bird currently being managed in several reserves up the Californian coast. While attempting to photograph the birds, a volunteer literally ran down the beach to tell me to keep moving to reduce disturbance to the fledglings. The reserve is more-or-less constantly patrolled by volunteers with a variety of experiences in conservation biology, as evidenced by this particular volunteer’s lack of knowledge about the plover’s restoration and referral to another individual to answer my questions.