Access by Shuttle Bus Only
Starting May 24, 2013 all access to the most visited part of the park, Frijoles Canyon, will be via a mandatory shuttle bus from the nearby community of White Rock from 9 AM - 3 PM daily. Private cars may drive in before 9 AM or after 3 PM. More »
Science and Resource Management Blog
Working Through Science
In natural resource management, decisions and actions are, or at least should be, based on the best available science. Here we will highlight local examples of science and management collaborations and explore practical reasons why it doesn't always work according to theory.
We will focus on research done by people in or near Bandelier that has contributed to significant natural resource management decisions.
Last month I was able to participate in one of our four yearly collections of ground dwelling arthropods at Bandelier. Sampled four times a year, these collections are designed for long-term monitoring of ground-dwelling arthropod diversity and population dynamics at Bandelier National Monument. Three sites were chosen to monitor different elevations and vegetation types within the park. Because arthropod populations can shift dramatically from year to year the long term nature of this study helps land managers tease out long term trends in these populations due to climate or land use changes that could signal broader changes to the ecosystem. Most studies of this nature are based on six year grants; this study is extremely rare in that it has been going on for over twenty years.
To collect samples from the pitfall traps my partner, Courtney, and I went out to each collection site armed with anti-freeze, ethanol, and a toolbox full of cups, cans, strainers, funnels, and chopsticks. Each 'pitfall' is a cup filled partially with bright green anti-freeze and stored securely in a soup can that is level to the ground. Anti-freeze is used in order to prevent evaporation and preserve the samples. We use a less-toxic version with a bittering agent to prevent animals from drinking it.
The traps are camouflaged using a rock or piece of wood to prevent insects from being tipped off by light reflecting off the anti-freeze. This can make the traps hard to find but a GPS and bright-colored flagging generally help us find the traps. Plus when carefully inspecting an area, 'floating' rocks, which are a sure sign of a pitfall trap, tend to stand out.
At each trap we strain out all the bugs in the cup. After collecting all our samples, a funnel and chopsticks help us fit our samples into glass vials to be sent to the University of New Mexico for identification. It is easier to place the larger insects in head first, not only because they fit better, but because many insects will stare at you with large eyes if you try to place them in the other way.
The beauty of the data collected comes from the large variety of species that have been tracked over the years. Data collected has revealed how individual species respond to environmental changes- including weather and fire. All new species collected are added to Bandelier's growing arthropod collection, housed at UNM's Natural History Museum (link: http://www.msb.unm.edu/arthropods/index.html), giving the project value in helping to build a catalog of what species can be found within the park. In fact, some previously undescribed species such as a new minute brown scavenger beetle in the family Lathridiidae and a new darkling beetle in the genus Steriphanus have been discovered from the pitfall traps at Bandelier. In addition our pitfall traps are designed using the same protocol as several pitfall sites located across the state of New Mexico allowing for invaluable comparison of diversity and species response over a broad-scale.
At Bandelier changes due to the El Niño Southern Oscillation (Link to NOAA ENSO page: http://www.elnino.noaa.gov/) weather pattern have been a particular focus of this project. El Niño has a strong impact on southwestern U.S. weather and its impact on arthropod diversity is continuing to be an interesting aspect of this long term study. This study has been able to gather data on diversity during normal years and assess changes in diversity due to La Niña (dry) years and El Niño (wet) years. In addition the elevation differences among the sites make it possible to study what effects higher elevation may have on diversity, due to its cooler temperatures, higher levels of precipitation, and differing vegetation types. In connecting these two factors it has been possible to see at which elevations populations are most susceptible to changes from droughts and shifting climate patterns.
Hiking down the switchbacks with our last set of arthropod samples in hand, I thought of how diverse the insect world is. Over the course of 102 traps we had seen an amazing variety of insects from tiny black ants to brown beetles that were too big for the funnel and almost too big for a vial. We collected an assortment of crickets, spiders, beetles and even velvet ants, which despite their name, are actually flightless wasps. It's fascinating to see what turns up in each trap, especially because many of the insects in our traps are so elusive in lifestyle and habitat as to rarely be seen by hikers. It was a great experience to be part of such a unique long term study on arthropod diversity.
July 2012 A Mesa of Change
The ecology group has recently undertaken an effort to precisely map 1,000s of trees in the piñon-juniper woodlands of Bandelier. Using sophisticated GPS technology and a laser rangefinder we are able to map the trees with an accuracy of 15cm. This is 30x more accurate than a normal handheld GPS unit.
Before management of the mesas of Bandelier was under the jurisdiction of the federal government the piñon-juniper woodlands were heavily grazed by sheep and cattle. This led to suppression of low-severity surface fire as the grazers removed much of the fine fuels that would normally carry the fire. This indirect fire suppression transitioned into direct fire suppression in the early years of the Park Service. Fire suppression combined with continued land degradation through top soil erosion and grazing by an exotic feral burro population led to a "woodification" of the low elevation mesas. Woodification means the major portions of the mesas were once a more savanna-type system with large patches of grass separating relatively few trees but then gradually became a dense woodland of piñon and juniper.
Because of the continued woodification of Bandelier's mesas an ecological restoration (http://www.nps.gov/band/parkmgmt/restore.htm) project was undertaken. This project involved many partners, and years of research. The treatment method was fairly simple and basic; trees within a certain size class would be cut into many pieces and their limbs and branches scattered into the open bare areas. The result is an increase in herbaceous plants (grasses, perennial flowers) due to a decrease in erosion and an increase in cooler moist places for plants to establish.
During the experimental stages of the ecological restoration in the early 2000s another drought hit the
Did You Know?
Queen butterflies are often mistaken for Monarchs because they look so much alike. This is beneficial to the Queen, who is avoided by predators who fear this look-alike may be as toxic as the Monarch.