Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Corpus Cristi, TX, United States

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Corpus Cristi, TX, United States

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department is a Texas state agency that oversees and protects wildlife and their habitats. In addition, the agency is responsible for managing the state's parks and historical areas. Its mission is to manage and conserve the natural and cultural resources of Texas and to provide hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.The agency maintains its headquarters at 4200 Smith School Road in Austin. Wikipedia.

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Bad news for bats: White-nose syndrome, a disease caused by a fungus that has been killing millions of bats across the Northeast, has reached Texas. Conservationists and state and federal wildlife officials confirmed in March that the fungal infection has been detected in bats in the Texas panhandle. The encroachment onto the Southwest has hit three species — the tri-colored bat, cave myotis, and Townsend’s big-eared bat — the latter two of which are primarily western species who have been largely unaffected until now. “It is a turning point,” said Jonah Evans, a state mammologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “It is the first time that we’ve detected it in bats with a primarily western distribution.” White-nose syndrome was first discovered in New York in 2007, and has spread out from that epicenter in the decade since. The disease is caused by a fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), which thrives in the cold and damp environments where many bat species typically hibernate in large numbers during the winter. Infected bats typically show white noses, as well as wings, ears or tail, from the fungus. They can often be seen flying in the winter, when they’re supposed to be hibernating in caves. Normally, a bat could preen off much of the invading fungus; in fact, its warm body temperature and active immune system usually fend off any invasion from the cold-loving Pd. But Northeastern bats hibernate during the frigid winter months, in cold caves that are perfect for the fungus and in large numbers that make it easy to spread. While hibernating, bats’ bodies go into what’s known as “torpor” to preserve precious fat reserves, lowering both their body temperature and their immune system activity. This allows the fungus to spread so much that it finally wakes the animals up, usually in the dead of winter. The weakened bat then must go looking for food in the cold, and often dies of starvation. “They’re sitting ducks,” said Jeremy Coleman, national white-nose syndrome coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In some caves in the Northeast, the fungus has killed off around 95% of the bat population, officials said. “It is truly the most devastating wildlife disease that we have to deal with right now,” said Katie Gillies, director of Bat Conservation International’s imperiled species program. “In North America we’ve never seen anything like this.” Scientists think Pd is an invasive species whose native grounds lie in Europe and Asia. European bats are appear to be resistant to the fungus; American hibernating species, which did not evolve in the presence of this threat, are not. Because this is a cold-loving species that takes advantage of hibernation periods, some scientists hoped that the fungus would remain a northeastern problem, and not make it to warmer regions. But the fungus has since spread to Mississippi and to Georgia, and even to Washington state (a jump probably enabled by a human traveler who brought it into a cave with contaminated gear, clothing or other belongings). “I think a lot of people have kind of stuck their heads in the sand hoping that it wouldn’t show up in the South and hoping it wouldn’t show up in the West,” Gillies said. “But every single time that people hang their hat on that hope, the fungus dashes it.” So scientists have still been preparing for the spread, testing bats in the northern regions of the Lone Star State — areas most likely to first see infected bats. The scientists would visit caves and rub cotton swabs across the slumbering bats’ snouts, causing them to wriggle and squirm and their mouths to gape open. “They’re usually a little crabby about it … they kind of squawk at you in really cute slow motion, if you can just picture that,” Gillies said of her groggy subjects. Scientists then send them to the lab for genetic analysis. This year, researchers discovered low levels of the fungus’ presence in three species: the tri-colored bat, cave myotis and Townsend’s big-eared bat. Except for an isolated eastern subspecies of Townsend’s called the Virginia big-eared bat, the two latter species have a western distribution and previously had not been infected with the fungus. With a toehold on these two species, the infection could potentially now spread farther west. Texas is a sort of Grand Central station for bats: With 32 species, it has the highest level of bat diversity in the nation. While many bats stick to the eastern states and others stay in the West, the edges of their ranges overlap in the Lone Star State. To ecologists, this makes Texas a worrisome transfer point. They fear that southwestern and western bats will contract the fungus and carry it even farther, to species whose behaviors, movements and reactions to the disease are not well known. “We need to continue to develop a wide suite of tools that we can use for those conditions that are slightly different,” Coleman said. Texas is home to the Mexican (also known as Brazilian) free-tailed bats; in the summer, the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin features the largest urban bat colony in North America. While those bats migrate during the winter instead of hibernating, and may not be susceptible to the fungus, they fly long distances and could carry it to other bat species who may be vulnerable to infection. The fungus’ arrival in the Texas panhandle, then, marks a significant turning point in the fungus’ advance, scientists said. Pd’s spread could not only affect the rich diversity of species in North America; it could also have profound economic impacts. Many of these insectivorous bat species eat crop pests, performing vital agricultural services for farmers valued at about $1.4 billion in Texas alone. Across North America, according to a study in the journal Science, bats’ agricultural contribution is estimated to be around $22.9 billion (with an estimated range of $3.7 billion to $53 billion). In a worst-case scenario — if bats such as the Brazilian free-tailed bat and others that are thought to be less susceptible do get hit hard by the disease, it could have significant implications for the economy, scientists pointed out. “That’s almost like a national security concern,” Evans said. “That’s a massive loss if Mexican free-tailed bats are impacted. … So we’re just hopeful that some of our bats are more resilient to it.” As the fungus spreads, researchers say they are trying to learn what they can and find ways to save bats or fight the disease, before it spreads deeper south and west.


News Article | May 22, 2017
Site: www.businesswire.com

HOUSTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--CEMEX USA was recognized Thursday by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for its ongoing commitment to sustainability and land stewardship with the prestigious 2017 Lone Star Land Steward Award for the Trans Pecos Ecoregion. The award recognizes CEMEX, the El Carmen Land & Conservation Co., LLC (ECLCC), and part owner of the ECLCC, Josiah Austin, for their dedication to excellence in wildlife and natural-resource management through work in Texas at the El Carmen Nature Reserve, a private trans-boundary conservation area in the Big Bend region that comprises five different ecosystems and is home to a myriad of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Scott Ducoff, CEMEX USA’s Regional President-Texas Region, accepted the award Thursday night at a ceremony in Austin, Texas. “CEMEX wants to ensure we preserve the unique landscape at El Carmen, and we strive for sustainability in everything we do,” Ducoff said. “We are constantly committed to conserving the land so species that rely on it can do so for decades to come.” El Carmen stretches from Texas into Mexico and is the result of conservation agreements between CEMEX and adjoining landowners on both sides of the border. The award from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recognizes the continuing efforts to restore lands and native wildlife in the U.S. portion of El Carmen along with the commitment to protect the vital wildlife corridor and bird migration route between two countries. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has honored those who show dedicated stewardship of land for more than two decades with the awards. CEMEX is a global building materials company that provides high-quality products and reliable service to customers and communities in more than 50 countries throughout the world. Its U.S. network includes 11 cement plants, 43 strategically located distribution terminals, 57 aggregate quarries and more than 270 ready-mix concrete plants.


Gluesenkamp A.G.,Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Journal of Zoology | Year: 2013

Shrinkage in body length, followed by growth, has rarely been documented in vertebrates and has been associated with stressful energetic and environmental conditions. Here, we document reversible shrinkage in an amphibian for the first time. Jollyville Plateau salamanders Eurycea tonkawae are neotenic (attain maturity while retaining an aquatic larval form) and inhabit springs and caves of a dissected aquifer in Travis County, TX, USA. We conducted mark-recapture surveys on a spring-dwelling population before and after an exceptional drought in 2008. Use of unique marks and digital photographs of individuals provided precise information on salamander growth rates during and after a period in which salamanders retreated to underground refugia to avoid desiccation during the drought. Tail width decreased significantly during the drought indicating a reduction in energy stores, a consequence of stressful environmental conditions. Unexpectedly, body length shrinkage also occurred during the drought and was followed by positive growth when spring flow resumed. Body length shrinkage could be an adaptation to coping with long periods of low food availability although its long-term effects are unknown. Given the influence of body size on many ecological and physiological characteristics of organisms, plasticity in body size may have important consequences that go undetected by researchers if shrinkage is ignored. © 2012 The Zoological Society of London.


News Article | November 15, 2016
Site: www.marketwired.com

Fourth Round of Grants from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwired - November 15, 2016) - The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced that is has approved nearly $370 million from its Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF) to fund 24 projects in the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The projects, developed in consultation with state and federal resource agencies, are designed to remedy harm and reduce the risk of future harm to natural resources that were affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Today's announcement represents the fourth year of approved funding from the payments received thus far by the GEBF. With today's announcement, NFWF has approved the award of over $870 million for projects across the five Gulf States. "The projects we announce today include significant investments to advance sediment diversions along the Lower Mississippi River that will build, sustain and maintain thousands of acres of wetlands in Louisiana," said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. "In addition, the new projects will protect critical coastal habitat, while bolstering populations of Gulf Coast birds, sea turtles, marine mammals and other fish and wildlife species that were injured as a result of the spill." NFWF created the GEBF in 2012 to receive and administer funds resulting from remedial orders arising from the plea agreements between the U.S. Department of Justice and BP and Transocean. The plea agreements resolved certain criminal charges against both companies relating to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Provisions within the agreements direct a total of $2.544 billion to NFWF over a five-year period to be used to support natural resource benefit projects in the Gulf States. As required under the plea agreements, NFWF consulted with state resource agencies, as well as with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to identify potential project priorities and funding needs. The discussions ensured coordination between NFWF's GEBF and the agencies' related activities under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and RESTORE Act programs. "Our nation's Gulf Coast encompasses some of the most unique and irreplaceable wildlife habitat in the world - 33 major river systems and more than 200 estuaries culminate here, providing food and shelter for hundreds of native species of birds, fish and other wildlife and plants," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. "The Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund plays a crucial role in helping the Service and its partners address the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and restore the health of the Gulf for the wildlife and people who share this incredible place." "This new round of funding will continue the significant progress countless groups have made toward restoring the Gulf following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill," said Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "Using the best available science and data, our efforts are paying off to restore wildlife, habitat, and marine resources for future generations." The GEBF projects announced today will complement those previously announced or currently under consideration by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and RESTORE Act programs. Collectively, and where appropriate, these efforts are being coordinated and leveraged to advance large-scale Gulf Coast conservation outcomes and maximize sustainable environmental benefits. NFWF, a congressionally chartered nonprofit corporation, is one of the largest conservation funders in the United States. It is subject to oversight by Congress and a board of directors that includes the heads of the FWS and NOAA, as well as representatives from states, non-governmental organizations and industry. The board is appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. For additional information on state-specific projects, please see below: The NFWF Board of Directors approved the award of more than $63 million for six projects in the state of Alabama. The Alabama projects address high-priority conservation needs, including the acquisition and restoration of significant coastal habitats in key focal areas, and the continuation of fisheries monitoring. For additional information on GEBF projects in Alabama, please click here. The number of projects approved for funding from the GEBF in the state of Alabama now stands at 19, with a total value of more than $115 million. All projects were selected for funding following extensive consultation with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, FWS and NOAA. The NFWF Board of Directors approved the award of more than $32 million for four projects in the state of Florida. The Florida projects address high-priority restoration and conservation needs, including the continuation of fisheries monitoring, an expansion of shorebird restoration activities, enhancement to sea turtle stranding response capacity, and oyster reef restoration in the Big Bend. For additional information on GEBF projects in Florida, please click here. The number of projects approved for funding from the GEBF in the state of Florida now stands at 25, with a total value of more than $100 million. All projects were selected for funding following extensive consultation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, FWS and NOAA. The NFWF Board of Directors approved the award of more than $245 million for five projects in the state of Louisiana. New projects include the engineering and design of two major sediment diversions along the Lower Mississippi River that, once constructed, will restore and protect thousands of acres of vulnerable coastal wetlands in Louisiana. Construction on these major coastal restoration projects is estimated to begin as early as 2021. Louisiana also will advance engineering and design on a freshwater diversion of the Atchafalaya River to protect marshes in the upper part of Terrebonne Parish Louisiana. The state also will continue its effort to adaptively manage these critical coastal restoration projects. For additional information on Louisiana projects, click here. The number of projects approved for funding from the GEBF in the state of Louisiana now stands at 12, with a total value of more than $465 million. All projects were selected for funding following extensive consultation with the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, FWS and NOAA. The NFWF Board of Directors approved the award of more than $16.2 million for two projects in the state of Mississippi. The Mississippi projects address high-priority conservation needs, including an expansion of a coastal bird stewardship and monitoring program, and the advancement of marine mammal and sea turtle conservation. For additional information on GEBF projects in Mississippi, please click here. The total number of projects approved for funding from the GEBF in the state of Mississippi now stands at 14, with a total value of more than $100 million. All projects were selected for funding following extensive consultation with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, FWS and NOAA. The NFWF Board of Directors approved the award of nearly $12 million for seven projects in the state of Texas. The Texas projects address high-priority conservation needs, including the acquisition of significant coastal habitat, protection of critical stretches of shoreline, enhancement of rookery habitats, and hydrologic restoration of vital coastal wetland habitat. For additional information on GEBF projects in Texas, please click here. The total number of projects approved for funding from the GEBF in the state of Texas now stands at 29, with a total value of more than $82 million. All projects were selected for funding following extensive consultation with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas General Lands Office, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, FWS and NOAA. About the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) protects and restores our nation's wildlife and habitats. Chartered by Congress in 1984, NFWF directs public conservation dollars to the most pressing environmental needs and matches those investments with private contributions. NFWF works with government, nonprofit and corporate partners to find solutions for the most intractable conservation challenges. Over the last three decades, NFWF has funded more than 4,500 organizations and committed more than $3.5 billion to conservation projects. Learn more at nfwf.org.


News Article | November 3, 2016
Site: motherboard.vice.com

Hunters in Texas can legally pump gasoline into snake dens to flush them out into the open for capture. Environmentalists and biologists had been pushing for a ban to this environmentally dangerous practice, but a Texas lawmaker recently nixed a proposal that would have outlawed the practice, the Austin American-Statesman reported. There's now contentious debate about whether hunters should be allowed to use snake gassing to drive snakes out of their winter dens to be used in popular "rattlesnake roundup" carnival displays, milked for medically valuable venom or used in stunts. The debate isn't a simple one. Rattlesnake roundups provide population control, income for hunters and give an economic boost to some rural areas, supporters argue —and they're beloved cultural events. Meanwhile, hunters say using gasoline is also the easiest way to get snakes out of their holes. But gassing has considerable environmental consequences, opponents argue. Gasoline makes these caves and caverns inhabitable for all other creatures who might seek out shelter, including endangered and threatened species. And gasoline and its fumes harm plants and the quality of the soil where it's splashed. "Gassing is an indiscriminate means of take," wrote a group from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department tasked with looking at snake gassing. "(The wildlife department) is concerned about the impact of gassing on wildlife and habitat, particularly on non-target organisms, including rare karst (cave/crevice-dwelling) invertebrates that inhabit caves and crevices along with rattlesnakes." The group, composed of rattlesnake roundup promoters, herpetologists, biologists and other experts, concluded alternative methods should be used to capture the snakes, like snake traps or simply using snake hooks to pick them up. They also noted these snakes are rarely used to develop essential antivenom since laboratories keep captive colonies to create the medicine. Statesman reader Collette Adkins from the Center for Biological Diversity in Minnesota blasted the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission for nixing the ban proposal, saying in a letter to the editor they "bowed to narrow interests of rattlesnake hunters." "It is outrageous that Commission Chairman Dan Friedman — the billionaire CEO of Gulf States Toyota Distributors — single-handedly nixed the public hearing on the citizen petition seeking the ban," she wrote. Rattlesnake roundups take place in other states, including an annual festival in Pasco County, Florida, but the practice is most popular in Texas. Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.


News Article | April 5, 2016
Site: phys.org

Dr. Kevin Conway, AgriLife Research wildlife and fisheries scientist, College Station, and Daemin Kim, a former graduate student of Conway's now at Ewha Womans University, Seoul, South Korea, collaborated on the paper "Redescription of the Texas shiner Notropis amabilis from the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico with the reinstatement of N. megalops." The paper was published in the journal Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters. "Notropis megalops, the scientific name of the newly discovered fish, is a new species for Texas, though it's not 'really' a new species," said Conway, the paper's lead author. "Charles Frederic Girard, an early day scientist who documented many new species, beat us to the find in 1856, but Girard's discovery has been dismissed since the 1860s." Conway said Girard described many new species of fish, amphibians and reptiles from the southwestern and central U.S., with most collected during the U.S. and Mexican boundary surveys between 1853-1855. But Conway said some of his contemporaries thought Girard was a bit "careless," saying he sometimes described the same species more than once, which may have led to the current confusion. "So I guess you could say we have discovered an 'old-but-new' minnow way out in West Texas where nobody expected to find anything new, especially a fish," Conway said. "Though we can't give this species a new scientific name, we are proposing the common name of West Texas shiner, though the species is also found in adjacent parts of Mexico." Conway said their paper documents the rediscovery of the minnow and the confusion surrounding it. That confusion arose because another minnow, the Texas shiner or Notropis amabilis, and the rediscovered minnow were thought to be one and the same, so it was not recognized as a valid separate species. But based on Conway's and Kim's detailed study using genetics and morphology, they have shown that Notropis megalops and Notropis amabilis are in fact two very different fish and are valid but separate species. "They do look a lot alike, thus the confusion," Conway said. "But they do not interbreed, and they are actually not even closely related, although they were considered to be the same thing for the last 120 years or so. "Unlike the Texas shiner, which is common in Central Texas, the West Texas shiner is restricted entirely to the Rio Grande drainage, has a fragmented distribution and has low levels of genetic diversity," Conway said. "As such, it is already being considered a conservation priority by state agencies." So what restrictions does the minnow's newfound status place on landowners along the minnows' haunts? Not to worry, said an expert on the topic. Dr. Gary Garrett, former Texas Parks and Wildlife Department director of watershed conservation and now research scientist at the Texas Natural History Collections, University of Texas at Austin, had this to add about the West Texas shiner: "The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department maintains a list of species that are in need of conservation efforts, officially called Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Although there are no regulatory actions associated with the listing, it does call attention to impending problems and provides incentives for research and conservation." Garrett said the distribution of the West Texas shiner is similar to many other fish that have already been recognized as imperiled such as manantial roundnose minnow, Devils River minnow, Tamaulipas shiner, Rio Grande shiner, longlip jumprock, Mexican redhorse, spotfin gambusia, blotched gambusia, Conchos pupfish, Rio Grande largemouth bass and Rio Grande darter. "All Texans should be concerned when beautiful and previously pristine habitats are in decline and portions of our state's natural resources are at risk of being lost," he said. "Finding this minnow just goes to show that we still don't know everything about the fauna that we share our state with," Conway said. "Discoveries or rediscoveries can still be made, justifying the need for continuing research in the rivers and streams of Texas." Explore further: Fish to be rescued from Texas river amid drought


News Article | April 4, 2016
Site: www.rdmag.com

U.S. researchers are launching studies on Mexico's red-crowned parrot — a species that has been adapting so well to living in cities in California and Texas after escaping from the pet trade that the population may now rival that in its native country. The research comes amid debate over whether some of the birds flew across the border into Texas and should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Parrots in U.S. urban areas are just starting to draw attention from scientists because of their intelligence, resourcefulness and ability to adapt. There is also a growing realization that the city dwellers may offer a population that could help save certain species from extinction. Parrots are thriving today in cities from Los Angeles to Brownsville, Texas, while in the tropics and subtropics, a third of all parrot species are at risk of going extinct because of habitat loss and the pet trade. Most are believed to have escaped from importers or smugglers over the past half-century, when tens of thousands of parrots were brought into the United States from Latin America. Scientists only now are starting to study them. After doing most of his research in places like Peru, Donald Brightsmith is concentrating on the squawking birds nesting in Washingtonian palms lining avenues and roosting in the oak trees in front lawns in South Texas. "Parrots in urban settings are of great interest to me," the Texas A&M University biologist said. "I see these as kind of future insurance policies." Brightsmith has received a two-year grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to get an official count on the state's red-crowned parrot population and determine whether threats against them are increasing. The loud, ruckus birds have been shot at by angry homeowners and their young poached from nests. In San Diego, a $5,000 reward is being offered for information on the killings of about a half-dozen parrots found shot this year. The research could help drive ways to maintain the population that prefers the cities and suburbs. "It's more of an urban planning, landscape, ecology issue and not so much how do we protect an area of pristine nature," he said. Brightsmith would like to team up with scientists in California. Researchers want to someday study the gene pool to determine whether there are still genetically pure red-crowned parrots that could replenish the flocks in their native habitat. "We could have a free backup stock in the US," Brightsmith said. In Mexico, biologists are working on getting an updated count. The last study in 1994 estimated the population at 3,000 to 6,500 birds, declining from more than 100,000 in the 1950s because of deforestation and raids on the nesting young to feed the pet trade. "We suspect the population in South Texas could rival the number found in the wild in Mexico," said Karl Berg, a biologist at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley who received a grant to study the red-crowned parrot in Brownsville. Biologists estimate the population at close to 1,000 birds in Texas and more than 2,500 in California, where they are the most common of more than a dozen parrot species. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 2011 listed it as an indigenous species because it is thought the parrots flew north across the border as lowland areas in Mexico were cleared in the 1980s for ranching and agriculture, though ornithologists debate that. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that same year announced that the red-crowned parrot warranted federal protection because of habitat loss and poaching for the pet trade. It remains a candidate, and the agency reviews it annually. Some in the pet trade fear that a listing under the Endangered Species Act could prevent them from breeding the birds and moving them across state lines. Conservationists question whether any of the birds are native to Texas and should be listed when there are so many species in need of protection in the United States. "It seems odd to me," said Kimball Garrett, a parrot expert at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. "I don't know that there is enough evidence to show the birds flew for hundreds of miles from their native range and went across the border." Brooke Durham said the birds need more protection. Durham runs a parrot rescue center called SoCal Parrot in the town of Jamul, east of San Diego, and treats up to 100 birds a year. Recently at her sprawling home-turned-sanctuary, dozens of birds were being nursed for broken bones and pellet gun wounds. Most were red-crowned parrots. Animal cruelty laws offer about the only protection for the birds in California, because they are not native to the state or migratory. "People complain about the noise, but they're just not educated about the birds," she said. "They don't realize these birds are endangered."


News Article | April 3, 2016
Site: phys.org

The research comes amid debate over whether some of the birds flew across the border into Texas and should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Parrots in U.S. urban areas are just starting to draw attention from scientists because of their intelligence, resourcefulness and ability to adapt. There is also a growing realization that the city dwellers may offer a population that could help save certain species from extinction. Parrots are thriving today in cities from Los Angeles to Brownsville, Texas, while in the tropics and subtropics, a third of all parrot species are at risk of going extinct because of habitat loss and the pet trade. Most are believed to have escaped from importers or smugglers over the past half-century, when tens of thousands of parrots were brought into the United States from Latin America. Scientists only now are starting to study them. After doing most of his research in places like Peru, Donald Brightsmith is concentrating on the squawking birds nesting in Washingtonian palms lining avenues and roosting in the oak trees in front lawns in South Texas. "Parrots in urban settings are of great interest to me," the Texas A&M University biologist said. "I see these as kind of future insurance policies." Brightsmith has received a two-year grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to get an official count on the state's red-crowned parrot population and determine whether threats against them are increasing. The loud, raucous birds have been shot at by angry homeowners and their young poached from nests. In San Diego, a $5,000 reward is being offered for information on the killings of about a half-dozen parrots found shot this year. The research could help drive ways to maintain the population that prefers the cities and suburbs. "It's more of an urban planning, landscape, ecology issue and not so much how do we protect an area of pristine nature," he said. Brightsmith would like to team up with scientists in California. Researchers want to someday study the gene pool to determine whether there are still genetically pure red-crowned parrots that could replenish the flocks in their native habitat. "We could have a free backup stock in the US," Brightsmith said. In Mexico, biologists are working on getting an updated count. The last study in 1994 estimated the population at 3,000 to 6,500 birds, declining from more than 100,000 in the 1950s because of deforestation and raids on the nesting young to feed the pet trade. "We suspect the population in South Texas could rival the number found in the wild in Mexico," said Karl Berg, a biologist at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley who received a grant to study the red-crowned parrot in Brownsville. Biologists estimate the population at close to 1,000 birds in Texas and more than 2,500 in California, where they are the most common of more than a dozen parrot species. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 2011 listed it as an indigenous species because it is thought the parrots flew north across the border as lowland areas in Mexico were cleared in the 1980s for ranching and agriculture, though ornithologists debate that. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that same year announced that the red-crowned parrot warranted federal protection because of habitat loss and poaching for the pet trade. It remains a candidate, and the agency reviews it annually. Some in the pet trade fear that a listing under the Endangered Species Act could prevent them from breeding the birds and moving them across state lines. Conservationists question whether any of the birds are native to Texas and should be listed when there are so many species in need of protection in the United States. "It seems odd to me," said Kimball Garrett, a parrot expert at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. "I don't know that there is enough evidence to show the birds flew for hundreds of miles from their native range and went across the border." Brooke Durham said the birds need more protection. Durham runs a parrot rescue center called SoCal Parrot in the town of Jamul, east of San Diego, and treats up to 100 birds a year. Recently at her sprawling home-turned-sanctuary, dozens of birds were being nursed for broken bones and pellet gun wounds. Most were red-crowned parrots. Animal cruelty laws offer about the only protection for the birds in California, because they are not native to the state or migratory. "People complain about the noise, but they're just not educated about the birds," she said. "They don't realize these birds are endangered."


News Article | April 4, 2016
Site: www.biosciencetechnology.com

U.S. researchers are launching studies on Mexico's red-crowned parrot - a species that has been adapting so well to living in cities in California and Texas after escaping from the pet trade that the population may now rival that in its native country. The research comes amid debate over whether some of the birds flew across the border into Texas and should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Parrots in U.S. urban areas are just starting to draw attention from scientists because of their intelligence, resourcefulness and ability to adapt. There is also a growing realization that the city dwellers may offer a population that could help save certain species from extinction. Parrots are thriving today in cities from Los Angeles to Brownsville, Texas, while in the tropics and subtropics, a third of all parrot species are at risk of going extinct because of habitat loss and the pet trade. Most are believed to have escaped from importers or smugglers over the past half-century, when tens of thousands of parrots were brought into the United States from Latin America. Scientists only now are starting to study them. After doing most of his research in places like Peru, Donald Brightsmith is concentrating on the squawking birds nesting in Washingtonian palms lining avenues and roosting in the oak trees in front lawns in South Texas. "Parrots in urban settings are of great interest to me," the Texas A&M University biologist said. "I see these as kind of future insurance policies." Brightsmith has received a two-year grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to get an official count on the state's red-crowned parrot population and determine whether threats against them are increasing. The loud, raucous birds have been shot at by angry homeowners and their young poached from nests. In San Diego, a $5,000 reward is being offered for information on the killings of about a half-dozen parrots found shot this year. The research could help drive ways to maintain the population that prefers the cities and suburbs. "It's more of an urban planning, landscape, ecology issue and not so much how do we protect an area of pristine nature," he said. Brightsmith would like to team up with scientists in California. Researchers want to someday study the gene pool to determine whether there are still genetically pure red-crowned parrots that could replenish the flocks in their native habitat. "We could have a free backup stock in the US," Brightsmith said. In Mexico, biologists are working on getting an updated count. The last study in 1994 estimated the population at 3,000 to 6,500 birds, declining from more than 100,000 in the 1950s because of deforestation and raids on the nesting young to feed the pet trade. "We suspect the population in South Texas could rival the number found in the wild in Mexico," said Karl Berg, a biologist at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley who received a grant to study the red-crowned parrot in Brownsville. Biologists estimate the population at close to 1,000 birds in Texas and more than 2,500 in California, where they are the most common of more than a dozen parrot species. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 2011 listed it as an indigenous species because it is thought the parrots flew north across the border as lowland areas in Mexico were cleared in the 1980s for ranching and agriculture, though ornithologists debate that. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that same year announced that the red-crowned parrot warranted federal protection because of habitat loss and poaching for the pet trade. It remains a candidate, and the agency reviews it annually. Some in the pet trade fear that a listing under the Endangered Species Act could prevent them from breeding the birds and moving them across state lines. Conservationists question whether any of the birds are native to Texas and should be listed when there are so many species in need of protection in the United States. "It seems odd to me," said Kimball Garrett, a parrot expert at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. "I don't know that there is enough evidence to show the birds flew for hundreds of miles from their native range and went across the border." Brooke Durham said the birds need more protection. Durham runs a parrot rescue center called SoCal Parrot in the town of Jamul, east of San Diego, and treats up to 100 birds a year. Recently at her sprawling home-turned-sanctuary, dozens of birds were being nursed for broken bones and pellet gun wounds. Most were red-crowned parrots. Animal cruelty laws offer about the only protection for the birds in California, because they are not native to the state or migratory. "People complain about the noise, but they're just not educated about the birds," she said. "They don't realize these birds are endangered."


News Article | October 7, 2016
Site: phys.org

Zebra mussels' invasion of North American water bodies has resulted in the loss of billions of dollars in ecological services, human recreation, and in mitigation and control of mussel fouling in potable water, power station and industrial raw water facilities. "A female zebra mussel can produce up to a million externally fertilized eggs within a single spawning season that develop into planktonic larvae," said Robert McMahon, professor emeritus of biology and principal investigator on the new grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "The larvae are dispersed on water currents to settle throughout an invaded water body. Once settled, zebra mussels reach maturity within one year of life. Thus, they can rapidly develop very high densities after invasion disrupting aquatic ecosystems. In addition, they settle in and foul industrial raw water facilities," he added. Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) are small bivalve mollusks. Most are about the size of a human fingernail, but they can grow to a length of nearly 2 inches. They were introduced to North America from Europe via transatlantic shipping, first appearing in the Great Lakes in 1988. From there they made their way to the Mississippi, Hudson, St. Lawrence, Ohio, Missouri, Huron, Colorado, Canadian and Arkansas Rivers, invading the major drainages of the Mississippi and other rivers in all but the far northwestern United States. Major mussel infestations now occur in Texas water bodies on the drainages of the Red, Trinity and Brazos Rivers. Zebra mussels attach themselves to rocks and other hard surfaces, or to the shells of other mussels, by byssal threads, which are silky fibers made from proteins. This allows them to form encrustations which can be several shells thick and can lead to densities of 100,000 individuals per meter squared, which are not uncommon in infested waters, McMahon said. McMahon is joined on the project by Brian Van Zee, director of Fisheries Management Office, Region 1, Inland Fisheries Division, TP&WD; and by Monica McGarrity, Austin Aquatic Invasive Species team leader, Inland Fisheries Division, Habitat Conservation Branch, TP&WD. The research is a continuation of an ongoing project initiated by McMahon at Lake Texoma in 2011 and continued at Lake Ray Roberts in 2012, Lake Belton in 2014 and recently invaded Lake Lewisville and Eagle Mountain Lake earlier this year. The researchers will use monthly samples from infested Texas lakes to estimate mussel spring and fall cohort growth rates and life spans, juvenile settlement rates, periods when mussel planktonic larvae are capable of settlement, impact of water temperature on annual variation in mussel nutritional condition, and chlorophyll a and total phosphate concentrations in the water column as a measure of overall lake productivity. "Our study has a special emphasis on understanding the causes of the zebra mussel population collapses that have occurred in Texas lakes and other warm, southwestern water bodies," McMahon said. In three Texas lakes - Texoma, Ray Roberts and Belton - a rapid increase in the number of zebra mussels has been followed by a sharp decline. The mussels can starve themselves out by removing plankton, phosphates and nitrates from the water, and flooding may also lead to a decrease in their numbers. Some Texas lakes with low calcium concentrations, particularly in East Texas, are resistant to zebra mussel invasion because mussels require relatively high calcium concentrations in order to thrive. McMahon said constant monitoring of infested lakes is needed, and added it may be years before the full impact of the mussels on lakes' water quality and biodiversity is known. "We've seen that in some reservoirs, they'll eat themselves out of house and home and the population will crash, but then it reaches a stage where they'll come back and the population will stabilize at some level," Van Zee said. "Once they become established in a reservoir, there's not really a way to eradicate them." Van Zee met McMahon in 2009 when zebra mussels were first found in Texas and says McMahon's expertise has been highly beneficial as state authorities try to find the best way to handle the mussels' invasion of Texas. "Dr. McMahon has been a great asset to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department with his knowledge and experience," Van Zee said. "He's a phenomenal resource for us in dealing with this problem." The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has been making a concerted effort over the last several years to educate recreational boaters about zebra mussels and how not to be vector for their introduction to other uninfested Texas water bodies, McMahon said. The campaign involves educating boaters to "Clean, Drain and Dry" their watercraft to make sure that they are not moving zebra mussels and their larvae or other invasive aquatic organisms between water bodies. "It is now the law in Texas that boaters must drain all water from their boats on leaving any water body so they do not carry zebra mussel larvae to any other water body," McMahon said. "As boaters and marina operators become better informed about the dangers associated with unintentional overland transport of zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive plants and animals, it is expected that the number of newly infested Texas lakes will decline through time, and eventually new introductions will cease." Clay Clark, department chair and professor of biology, said that McMahon's ongoing work in studying zebra mussels serves an important role in keeping the public informed about a serious threat to water quality and aquatic life in Texas lakes, and also demonstrates the University's commitment to Global Environmental Impact, one of the main tenets of the University's Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact. "Dr. McMahon has been studying the biology and control of invasive aquatic invertebrates such as zebra mussels for many years and his wealth of knowledge will serve the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department very well in this project," Clark said. "There's no one better suited to do this research." McMahon received his Ph.D. in Zoology from Syracuse University in 1972 and began his career at UTA the same year. He has served as associate dean for the College of Science as well as dean of the University's Honors College. He was named professor emeritus in biology in 2010. He received the UTA Award for Distinguished Record of Research in 1990 and in 2015 was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Invasive Species Council.

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