Herp Bits:

 

Male Snapping Turtles are usually larger than females.

While Painted Turtle hatchlings can stay in the nest over winter and survive freezing temperatures, Snapping turtle hatchlings cannot. They must emerge from the nest in autumn or they will die.

 

Background to the Manitoba Herps Atlas Project

Introduction

The following proposal was submitted by NatureNorth.com to Manitoba's Sustainable Development Innovations Fund, October 14, 2008. The project was approved in January 2009 and the initial funding received in April 2009. Work has been progressing since then. It is likely that the project will not be completed and formally released until spring of 2011.


Project Description (Executive Summary)

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NatureNorth is proposing to develop an Online Reptiles and Amphibians Atlas (Herps Atlas) for Manitoba. This would involve establishing a citizen-science network to report sightings of all reptile and amphibian species leading to better understanding of the range and status of these animals in our province. The Herps Atlas project is not dissimilar to what we have established with the Save Our Skinks website and we feel it would be an important complement to it. Making Manitobans more aware of all reptile and amphibian species will increase the chances that important information about species at risk, such as the prairie skink, will come forward.

Meeting SDIF Program Criteria

This project addresses the following SDIF priority program areas at varying levels.

SDIF Priority Program Areas:

- Environmental Technology Innovation and Demonstration
- Sustainable Agricultural Practices
- Ecosystem Conservation
- Understanding our Environment

The goal of the Herps Atlas project is to produce a website facilitating citizen-science whereby individual Manitobans can contribute to the gathering of data relating to the distribution and populations of these species in Manitoba. The Herps Atlas website also represents “Environmental Technology Innovation and Demonstration”. It will facilitate “Understanding Our Environment” and will aid in “Ecosystem Conservation” by helping to identify sites or areas of importance to various reptile and amphibian species.


Project Details and Work Plan

Introduction

Manitoba is home to 8 species of reptiles and 16 species of amphibians, collectively our herpetofauna, or “herps” for short. Information on the distribution and status of these 24 species in Manitoba is poor. Preston (1982) summarized the available information on these species in his book, The Amphibians and Reptiles of Manitoba. In the 26 years since this work was published there has been little added to the publicly available literature regarding herps in this province. NatureNorth’s own Amphibians of Manitoba website, which is viewed over 4000 times a year, contains information and range maps largely drawn from Preston’s book. A recent review of the status of reptile and amphibian species by Manitoba Conservation revealed that little new information on these species was available to use in the review process. Also, since the time of Preston’s publication the fauna of Manitoba has increased by two species, with the discovery of the presence of great plains toads (Bufo cognatus) in southwestern Manitoba and the division of former subspecies of the tiger salamander into two separate species, the eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) and the tiger salamander (Ambystoma mavortium). Climate change and habitat alterations may even result in additional species of reptiles and amphibians extending their ranges into Manitoba.

Currently 15 of Manitoba’s 24 herps species are ranked from S1 (very rare) to S3 (uncommon) according to Manitoba Conservation Data Centre. Reptiles and amphibians have long been considered as “indicator” species for environmental health. As small, non-migratory animals their populations can be rapidly impacted by human alterations to their habitats. Pollution, habitat loss and climate change can affect Manitoba’s herps, and local populations of each kind, very rapidly. Without a thorough understanding of the distribution and status of these species in our province, it will be difficult to make the appropriate land use decisions to conserve these species and to protect significant natural areas.

There is a need for ongoing monitoring of Manitoba’s herps to provide definitive knowledge of the ranges of these species in our province and to amass greater knowledge of the status of their populations and their habitat usage. Helping to provide this information is a major goal of the Herps Atlas project.

Citizen-science projects are not new to Manitoba. Christmas bird counts, nocturnal owl surveys, Manitoba dragonfly survey and frog-watch projects have all added to the bodies of information on wildlife in Manitoba. However, much of the information gathered by these efforts languishes in government reports and unpublished documents, largely unavailable to the general public. NatureNorth has taken a lead role in trying to make this kind of information available to all Manitobans. We have published, and continue to publish, the results of the Nocturnal Owl Survey, the Manitoba Dragonfly Survey and others. And we want to do more. The Herps Atlas project is another step towards involving Manitobans in the conservation of their natural heritage.

In this age of the internet, geographical information systems (GIS) and of the emerging field of citizen-science it is time that Manitobans had more opportunities to help gather the baseline information necessary to protect their own natural heritage. NatureNorth.com’s ultimate goal in proposing the Herps Atlas project is to develop a template for pursuing similar projects for all of Manitoba’s flora and fauna. Online examples of Herps Atlas projects on which NatureNorth.com’s project will be modeled include:

The Carolina Herp Atlas (http://www.carolinaherpatlas.org/)

Kansas Herpetofaunal Atlas (http://webcat.fhsu.edu/ksfauna/herps/)

Ontario Herpetofaunal Summary Atlas (http://nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca/herps/ohs.html)

There are many other such projects online for other taxa, too. One particularly good example is Spider Web Watch (http://www.spiderwebwatch.org/). There are many successful interactive citizen-science websites on the world wide web. NatureNorth.com thinks it’s time Manitobans got on board this lane of the information highway.


Project Goals and Objectives

The main objective of this project is to design and build a Herps Atlas website, which will:

A) - raise awareness of reptile and amphibian species in Manitoba and the need to manage habitats properly to conserve these species.

B) - engage Manitobans in the process of scientific data collection and empower them to aid in decision making relative to their natural heritage.

C) - provide all Manitobans with an active and constantly updated body of knowledge on the distribution of reptiles and amphibians in this province.

[NOTE: It is not the intention of this project to recompile and analyze existing data on these species. It is hoped that the Atlas project will develop a new body of data that ultimately can be compared to previous data collections.]


Methods

The project manager will consult with local experts and gather all pertinent information and resources (images, maps, sound files and video) required to develop the content for the informational component of the Herps Atlas website. An attractive and graphically rich design and simple user interface will be developed. The manager will research and develop the interactive (data collection and sharing) component of the website to ensure functionality and ease of use for a general internet audience. The content will be prepared and posted to the NatureNorth.com website for peer review. All text and image content will be vetted through local experts and with Manitoba Conservation. Efforts will be made to engage Manitoba’s various universities, conservation agencies and the Manitoba Museum to participate in this project.

The first step in the Herps Atlas project will be to prepare an informational section that provides people with the necessary reptile and amphibian identification skills, and, as importantly, the tips and techniques for locating these species at the appropriate times of the year. Making people aware of “the secrets” to finding reptiles and amphibians is the first step to empowering them to collect data about these species. For example, blue-spotted salamanders (Ambystoma laterale) are thought to be very common in southeast Manitoba, but they are a very cryptic species, most of the year they are very hard to find. However, there are circumstances when they are relatively easy to locate. Adult salamanders move from surrounding forests to breeding ponds early in spring, around the same time that wood frogs and chorus frogs are breeding. The salamanders mate and lay eggs in the same kinds of ponds and at about the same time, mid to late April, as do the wood and chorus frogs. To find blue-spotted salamanders you need to find ponds where these frogs are breeding. This can be done easily by listening for calling male frogs in evenings. Information on identifying frog species by their mating calls would also be available on the Atlas site. Once a suitable frog-breeding pond is located the pond can be checked by flashlight at night for adult blue-spotted salamanders. The salamanders are only active at night, but for the period of their breeding season they are actually quite easy to find, if you know where and when to look.

Some general information on Manitoba’s herps would be provided with particular emphasis on their habitat requirements. Information on the known ranges of these species in Manitoba would be prepared as a series of maps together with some assessments of their status.

The information sharing component of the Herps Atlas website will involve creating a database system where individuals will be able to post comments, observations or data related to herps in Manitoba. This will likely involve a system of vetting individuals prior to allowing them access or rights to post information. Information will be collected in a geo-referenced manner that will allow for interactive maps to be developed. Individual species reports will be added, point by point, to a mapping system that will ultimately define the ranges of each species in Manitoba. The scale of information gathering, the geographic grid size used to define species’ ranges, will be determined as the project evolves. (A finer grain of mapping may be available as more data is compiled.)

Information will be presented graphically, liked to active map based systems, and in tabular format allowing for review of individual records. All records will be subject to scrutiny by NatureNorth.com and by contributing experts with Manitoba Conservation and other agencies. Suspect data entries will be removed if necessary. The precise manner of “quality control” applied to the data submitted by observers will develop as the project progresses.

The Herps Atlas website will provide a repository for the observations made. Compilation and analysis of the data collected will be available rapidly online. The precise methods for online data compilation and availability will be developed through the course of this project.


Timeline

Development of the Herps Atlas website will commence in May 2009. Information and programming for the Atlas website will be developed and vetted throughout the summer and fall of 2009, and it is hoped that the website will be completed by the end of 2009 or early in 2010. Public relations activities and an official launch of the website will occur in March 2010, just prior to the start of spring breeding seasons for many amphibians and reptiles. NatureNorth will continue to operate and refine the system as necessary for a minimum of five years from this point as our in-kind contribution.

Staffing

Doug Collicutt will be the project leader/manager and primary producer of the SOS website, responsible for all content production (text, image and video editing, graphic design and web programming). NatureNorth will work with Manitoba Conservation and various prominent herpetologists to ensure integrity of the Herps Atlas website.

Communications Strategies

Initial communications for this project will involve soliciting the involvement of known amateur and professional herpetologists and special interest groups such as the Manitoba Naturalists Society and the Manitoba Herpetological Society. Posting notices online, targeted emailings, public notices and media coverage will all be used to encourage individual Manitobans to get involved in the project.

When the Herps Atlas website is completed a publicity campaign will be mounted to ensure that awareness of the site is raised. NatureNorth.com will consult with Manitoba Conservation, Manitoba Education and others to develop a strategy to publicize and promote the website. A media release will be formulated and circulated and we will attempt to garner media attention; hopefully resulting in radio, TV, newspaper or other coverage.

Evaluation and Performance Measure

The content of the Herps Atlas website will be vetted by local experts and Manitoba Conservation. Success of the Herps Atlas website will be measured by website usage (facilitated by web counters and web statistics gathering) and by the numbers of people involved and interacting with the site (numbers uploading and sharing data and general information).

Information and data collected through the interactive component of the Herps Atlas website will be available to Manitoba Conservation and to the general public. Information on the ranges of Manitoba herps that accrue from the website will be a measurable result of its performance.


Concluding Remarks

NatureNorth.com looks forward to the opportunity of developing the Manitoba Herps Atlas website. Information is power, and we believe that providing Manitobans with information about the reptiles and amphibians of Manitoba will empower them to help protect these special animals. We are particularly excited about developing interactive tools for Manitobans to participate directly in information sharing and hope these projects will be the vanguards of many citizen-science projects that we can help bring to life. We hope the Sustainable Development Innovations Fund will grant this request for support. Thank-you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Douglas R. Collicutt, Biologist
NatureNorth.com

 


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