Science Spotlight: Things You Might See in Your Park

We’re always looking for new and interesting stories from your park that help you learn and connect to this magnificent place. This post comes to us courtesy of Cheri Yost, Environmental Compliance Coordinator at Shenandoah National Park. To learn more about how you can help the Trust support science in your park, click here. 

Lichen Study Finds a Few Rare Gems in Shenandoah

Field Assistant Zach M. inspects a lichen during the collection (photo courtesy of Ann Simpson).

Last September, Dr. James Lendemer came to the park to help identify lichens. Over just a few days, Dr. Lendemer and his assistant collected more than 500 specimens. Lichens are found everywhere in the park from stone walls lining Skyline Drive to trees to rock outcrops. Park staff need to know what lichens are in the park so we can protect them.

Because lichens absorb nutrients and water from the environment, scientists use these organisms to study climate change. Dr. Lendemer’s limited field work increased the number of known Shenandoah lichen by 21% (59 species) and resulted in the discovery of two rare species. The specimens will be housed at the New York Botanical Garden and made available to scientists from around the world.

Environmental Monitoring Equipment

Some visitors noticed the white boxes temporarily installed along the Salamander Trail. These sensors recorded temperature and humidity. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Society will correlate these environmental factors to the presence of salamanders and other amphibians. (Photo courtesy Shenandoah National Park)

When scientists come to study in the park, they often want to monitor changes in the environment such as temperature, humidity, precipitation, water quality, and sounds. To do this, they deploy sensors that remain on site – some that you might even see on your next visit. These sensors can determine, for instance, when frogs begin calling each spring or how much water is flowing in a stream, or how much it rained in a specific location. During the scientific permit application process, park staff determine if these sensors are necessary to conduct the study and if they will have any impacts to park resources, like Wilderness, and you – the park visitors.

Although we request that researchers put the equipment out of sight, this spring we had many inquiries about the very visible boxes near Rapidan Camp. These sensors were associated with a study by Virginia Tech to record bat sounds. Bats often use trails to fly low in the forest and the sounds they make are not audible to the human ear. Park biologists know that several endangered bats are found in the park, but we do not know much about how they use the park. So, the data from these acoustic recorders help us to understand bat activity and habitat use over time. This in turn helps us to protect bats and their habitat (i.e. dead trees), especially during the breeding season when they are most vulnerable.

While some sensors are in the park for many years, most are out for a few weeks to a season. There should be a sign indicating the park study number and institution with which the principle investigator is affiliated. If you see sensors, please do not disturb them. These data help us to learn more about the resources in our care.

Photo caption: Some visitors noticed the white boxes temporarily installed along the Salamander Trail. These sensors recorded temperature and humidity. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Society will correlate these environmental factors to the presence of salamanders and other amphibians. (Photo courtesy Shenandoah National Park)