Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dirty Campers

               Signs like these are a common sight in the Redwoods.

               This Steller's Jay in this photo by Micah Carnahan in the Prairie Creek Redwoods has become so habituated to the human presence that he will actually approach this close looking for food.

               The common raven in this photo taken by researchers in the Prairie Creek Redwoods is wearing a back pack housing a radio transmitter. This will allow bio technicians like my cousin Micah who happens to be working on this particular project with Amy Scarpignato (project leader, and raven holder), following the ravens around with an antenna and receiver. This involves long days hiking through mysterious old-growth redwood forests looking for the android corvids, sometimes they have to camp out...(sounds rough). 

Why go through all this trouble?? 

The answer involves the Marbled Murrelet shown below in a water color by Ram Papish:

The Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) is a small seabird from the North Pacific. It is a member of the auk family. It nests in old-growth forests or on the ground at higher latitudes where trees cannot grow. Its habit of nesting in trees was suspected but not documented until a tree-climber found a chick in 1974 making it one of the last North American bird species to have its nest described. The Marbled Murrelet has experienced declines in their numbers since humans began logging their nest trees beginning in the latter half of the 1800s. The decline of the Marbled Murrelet and its association with old-growth forests have made it a flagship species in the forest preservation movement. (wikipedia)

Well, the listing of the Northern Spotted owl has for all intents and purposes decimated the old growth logging industry in the Pacific Northwest; nevertheless, the Marbled murrelet continues to be in decline. It is now hypothesized that increased human activity has habituated corvids to the presence of our garbage. The increased density of corvids puts pressure on the marbled murrelets in the area. By pressure, I mean:  eats their eggs and chicks. This is a problem and needs to be researched.......enter Micah and his colleagues. I hope to post more as I hear more details from their study. Cutting edge Stuff.

A couple more points:

1) The "decimating" of the old-growth logging industry was not for nothing. Please don't get that idea. The habituation of corvids to anthropogenic food sources and the implications on nest predation is an issue that could not even be addressed if the old-growth trees that the murrelets nest in are cut. 

which brings me to my next point:

2) Marbled murrelets never touch the ground. They eat, sleep, and generally take care of business out in the open ocean. They only come "on land" when they land on the lateral branches of old redwood trees to build their nests. These lateral branches can be several feet wide.     

This study system is fascinating, and typical of the politically charged atmosphere that usually surrounds human use of the planet's last remaining wild areas. 

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