Sycamore Land Trust awarded research grant for endangered species


Sycamore Land Trust, a Bloomington-based conservation nonprofit protecting 11,418 acres of land in southern Indiana, was awarded a global conservation research grant on April 15, 2024 from the Indianapolis Zoological Society, Inc.

This research grant will be used to advance knowledge and protection of the state endangered Kirtland’s snake (clonophis kirtlandii) and threatened cypress firefly (photuris walldoxeyi) in Monroe County, Indiana, and across their range. In order to accomplish this mission, the project aims to advance research techniques and management efforts by improving monitoring and habitat management at Sycamore’s nature preserves in its Beanblossom Creek Conservation Area (BCCA).

Sycamore’s goal is to preserve the beauty, health, and diversity of Indiana’s natural landscapes such as forests, wildflower meadows, and, in particular, wetlands.

The 2,000 acres that Sycamore manages in the BCCA in Monroe and Brown Counties provides a refuge for several rare and endangered species in wetland habitats. This includes Indiana’s two most remarkable, yet lesser-known species: Kirtland’s snake and cypress firefly.

Both of these have been found in Sycamore’s 733-acre Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve, where filling in information gaps regarding these species and the populations will assist effective conservation efforts to benefit them.

Successful protection requires understanding habitat needs and limitations as well as current population trends.

For this project, multiple monitoring survey methods will be paired with habitat assessments to develop an adaptive conservation plan for Sycamore’s protected properties. By the end of 2024, Sycamore expects it will restore at least 60 acres of suitable, constructed wetlands in the BCCA.

Sycamore will use native plants grown in their Native Plant Nursery, a volunteer-powered project that grows vegetation for habitat restoration by collecting from native plants grown on Sycamore nature preserves, to make this possible.

Restored wetland areas are measured by sustained shallow pools, the water table level, and the amount of seasonal and permanent flooded areas. From these wetlands will birth a corridor network of suitable habitat for the Kirtland’s snake and cypress firefly.

Improving habitat quality will sustain stable populations that are resilient in the face of disturbances, disease and climate change.

Sycamore will collaborate with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and other research experts to conduct two species survey and habitat assessment projects within the BCCA during the spring and summer of 2024. Following these, both groups will publish a final summary report comparing various research techniques to determine which survey method was the most effective monitoring tool for what species.

The final report will be shared with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Global Center for Species Survival, Indianapolis Zoo, Xerces Society and the conservation departments that manage these species or habitats within their ranges.

To promote public investments in conserving these species, Sycamore will be hosting guided hikes within the BCCA to share educational information. Sycamore will invite BCCA neighbors and the public to a species informational talk. Educating the community will spark discussions and consideration for these species to tackle the threats that impact them, such as expanding light pollution initiatives for birds to include fireflies.

“This grant will help us conduct research on two rare species that depend on wetlands and inhabit the preserves we are protecting,” said Chris Fox, Sycamore’s Land Stewardship Director. “We focus a lot of our work in the Beanblossom Creek area and wetlands in general and know that these species occur on our preserves, and in the case of the cypress firefly only occur on our preserve in this area. The information we gather will be very helpful for us to be able to learn more about their populations and the habitats they tend to be associated with.

“This research will not only help guide our future restoration projects and current stewardship activities, but it could also help fill some informational gaps to a broader scientific/conservation community. For example, the Kirtland’s snake was up for consideration for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act but was not accepted due largely to a lack of research. This grant will also allow us to try different survey methods to find which methods work best so our future surveys can be more productive. This is the first grant we received primarily for research purposes which is also extremely exciting, especially since I believe science should help guide our stewardship.

“I am excited to build this partnership with the Indianapolis Zoological Society, Inc. They are a wonderful organization, and I am hoping this will be just the beginning of a long term partnership,” he said.

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