The State Museum’s bird collection is always growing as scientists continue to prepare new specimens to document the current New York bird population.
Every time a bird specimen is prepared, State Museum scientists take tiny samples of different types of tissues (heart, liver, muscle, brain) and place them in a plastic vial that is stored in an ultra-cold freezer at -80 degrees Celsius (-112 Fahrenheit). » Continue Reading.
A New York State Museum study shows that most of the bird species breeding on the slopes of Whiteface Mountain have shifted their ranges uphill in the last 40 years. The research, conducted by Dr. Jeremy Kirchman, Curator of Birds at the New York State Museum, and Alison Van Keuren, an avid birder who volunteers in the ornithology collection at the State Museum, sheds new light on the response of wildlife to observed climate change in upstate New York.
Kirchman and Van Keuren replicated bird surveys conducted in 1974 by Kenneth Able and Barry Noon, two former researchers at the University at Albany. For the re-survey, the pair of researchers made stops along the road up Whiteface Mountain to tally all birds seen and heard in the early morning and evening hours at altitudes from 550 to 1450 meters above sea level. These new data were gathered in June and July of 2013-2015. » Continue Reading.
A companion catalog to the New York State Museum exhibition of the same name, Aaron Noble’s new book A Spirit of Sacrifice: New York State in the First World War (SUNY Press, 2017) documents the statewide story of New York in World War I through the collections of the New York State Museum, Library, and Archives.
Within the collections are the nearly 3,600 posters of the Benjamin W. Arnold World War I Poster Collection at the New York State Library. The book interweaves the story of New York in the Great War with some of these posters, and artifacts from museums, libraries, and historical societies from across New York State, to illuminate the involvement of New Yorkers in the War. » Continue Reading.
The New York State Museum will celebrate the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain on Saturday, November 3 with “Adirondack Day,” an inaugural daylong event that will complement the Museum’s exhibition on iconic Adirondack photographer Seneca Ray Stoddard.
The free event, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will include a concert, lectures, displays, tours and films presented by the New York State Museum and many of the North Country’s leading educational and cultural institutions. Participating are the New York State Museum, Adirondack Museum, Adirondack Life magazine, Fort Ticonderoga, Great Camp Sagamore, John Brown Lives, Lakes to Locks Passage, Mountain Lake PBS, Paul Smith’s College, The Wild Center, and the Trudeau Institute. » Continue Reading.
The winter of 2011-2012 was the fourth warmest of the past 117 winters in the contiguous United States according to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. The seasonal average temperature (December, January and February) was 36.8 degrees, almost four degrees above the 20th century average.
That probably doesn’t surprise Dr. Ed Landing, New York State paleontologist and curator of paleontology at the New York State Museum. His new research however, suggests that high sea levels leading to “global hyperwarming” will be a more important factor than carbon dioxide levels in future climate change. Landing has recently published his findings in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.
Since the middle 1800s scientists have considered high carbon dioxide levels to be a greenhouse gas and a driver of higher global temperatures. However, Landing’s study of the rock succession in New York state shows that periodic extreme temperatures, with oceans reaching 100 F, occurred within “greenhouse” intervals. He terms these “global hyperwarming” times, and shows that they correspond to intervals of very high sea-levels.
As sea levels rise, Landing’s research suggests that with the predicted melting of polar ice caps, the continents will reflect less sun light back to space and less reflective shallow seas will store heat and warm as they overlap the land. Warming seas will rapidly work to increase global temperatures and heat the world ocean. This leads to a feedback that further expands ocean volume, with heating, and further accelerates both global warming and sea-level rise. In the course of this feedback, marine water circulation and oxygenation fall due in part to the fact that hot waters hold less oxygen.
Landing first recognized the imprint of “global hyperwarming” in 520 to 440 million-year-old, shallow to deep-water rocks in eastern New York and from other information received on localities worldwide. This time interval shows nine intervals of extreme sea-levels that covered much of North America and other ancient continents. In all cases, strong sea-level rises, which sometimes drove marine shorelines into the upper Midwest, are accompanied by the spread of hot, low oxygen marine water largely devoid of animal life down into the deep sea and across the continents.
Landing’s study may help predict the future. A 300-foot sea-level rise, which would result from melting the Greenland and Antarctica ice caps, is as great as the ancient sea-level rises documented by Landing and other scientists 520 to 460 million years ago. This sea-level rise would also lead to a warming and expansion of the ocean waters resulting in a rise of shorelines to 500 feet above present, basically covering the non-mountainous U.S. to northern Wisconsin. Even worse, in the case of New York, the Earth’s rotation would force a rise of the west Atlantic to 650 feet above present sea levels.
The full article on Landing’s research is online. While working at the State Museum since 1981, Landing has authored six books, 13 New York State Museum bulletins, 200 articles and field trip guides and has received more than a dozen competitive grants. In 2009 he was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS).
When entomologist James Needham arrived in Upper Saranac Lake in 1900 on a mission to study Adirondack aquatic insects, he found no room at the Saranac Inn. For the first 10 days, Needham, State Entomologist Ephraim P. Felt, and their assistant Cornelius Betten, were forced to find lodging two miles from the Adirondack Fish Hatchery where they hoped to “collect and study the habits of aquatic insects, paying special attention to the conditions necessary for the existence of the various species, their relative value as food for fishes, the relations of the forms to each other, and their life histories.” Although their study was short, it was also a historic first, up until that time all that had been written about Adirondack aquatic insects amounted to a few short paragraphs by former State Entomologist J. A. Lintner (1889). The daily trek to their study area didn’t diminish their enthusiasm. “I arrived at Saranac Inn on the evening of June 12m and at once began looking over the ground,” Needham recalled. “Dr. Felt came on the 14th, and spent the day with me canvassing the situations to be studied… and the regular work of the session was at once begun, to be continued without cessation to the date of closing [on August 20].” The study session was the first of a comprehensive study of aquatic insects in the state funded by the NYS Museum that also included short surveys in Old Forge and Lake George, and two additional trips to the Saranac Inn.
Needham and Felt identified a number waters to be studied. They were provided by the hatchery a space to work, the use of several hatching troughs for insect breeding, a carpenter bench and tools to build specialized breeding cages, and a small boat. They brought with them or acquired additional equipment necessary to sweep vegetation, raise insects, and store their collections. “Extensive use was made of white wash bowls, soup plates and saucers in the examination of our catch,” Needham reported.
The entomologists chose Little Clear creek on the hatchery grounds for their study area, which proved to be the most fruitful, but also the hatchery’s three fish propagating ponds, Little Clear, Little Green, and Bone. Twice they made trips to Lake Colby, Stony Brook (just north of Axton) and St. Regis, at the end of the carry from Little Clear, and the first week they spent mornings and evenings at Lake Clear.
The study they produced, “Aquatic Insects of the Adirondacks” (NYS Museum Bulletin 47, September 1901, link to pdf), proved to be the most important study of the subject for more than 100 years. It was one of the first truly scientific studies of aquatic insects in North America, and yielded life histories of more than 100 species, the discovery of 10 new species and and two new genera, plus additional information about Chironomidae dragon flies.
Needham, who studied under renowned entomologist John Henry Comstock (1849–1931), was then refining his pretracheation insect wing theory. Although discredited in 1938 by more refined studies, Needham’s work was the basis for the Comstock–Needham System of naming insect wing veins, considered “an important step in showing the homology of all insect wings.” Needham later replaced Comstock as head of the Department of Entomology at Cornell, a position he held for more than 20 years.
A new study by Luke Myers (a Saranac native) and Timothy Mihuc of the Lake Champlain Research Institute at SUNY Plattsburgh, along with Boris Kondratieff of Colorado State University, highlights the role of Needham and Betten in the rise to prominence of of aquatic insect entomology in New York State in the early 20th century and treads new ground as an important update to our knowledge of aquatic insects in the Adirondack region.
After four years of studying mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies, Myers (who did much of the fieldwork with the assistance of self-taught caddisfly expert D.E. Ruiter), Mihuc, and Kondratieff have produced what is being considered the most comprehensive biodiversity study of those aquatic insects in the Adirondacks.
According to a story by Mike Lynch in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, “Myers and his team examined 25,000 specimens from 465 locations. They found 509 species of mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies, including 99 that were reported in this state for the first time. They also discovered several species new to science and some species of conservation concern.”
Even given the new techniques and equipment available to modern researchers, that’s no mean feat. It’s also one that will be a welcome addition to those interested in the biodiversity of Adirondack wetlands and their place in the larger ecology of the region.
Photos: Above, Little Clear creek, Adirondack Fish Hatchery (1900 NYS Museum Photo); Middle, illustration from the 1901 report “Aquatic Insects – Sepedon and Tetanecera”; Below, Luke Myers working on the Raquette River near Axton Landing (Photo Provided).
Researchers at the New York State Museum recently published a new study indicating that some wolves have migrated into New York state and other areas of the Northeast.
Museum curators Dr. Roland Kays and Dr. Robert Feranec used a new isotope test for the first time to determine whether eight wolves found in the Northeast over the last 27 years had been living in the wild or had escaped from captivity. This is an important question for species, such as wolves, that are not known to breed in New York state, but are occasionally discovered here. » Continue Reading.
A State Museum scientist has co-authored a new research article, representing the most detailed genomic study of its kind, which shows that wolves and coyotes in the eastern United States are hybrids between gray wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs.
Dr. Roland Kays, the Museum’s curator of mammals, was one of 15 other national and international scientists who collaborated on the study that used unprecedented genetic technology, developed from the dog genome, to survey the global genetic diversity in dogs, wolves and coyotes. The study used over 48,000 genetic markers, making it the most detailed genomic study of any wild vertebrate species. » Continue Reading.
Medium and large-sized wild mammals in North America are more likely to be killed by humans than by predation, starvation or disease, according to research conducted at the New York State Museum.
The study was conducted by Christopher Collins, a graduate student from the State University at Albany and Dr. Roland Kays, the State Museum’s curator of mammals and has been published online in the journal Animal Conservation. The research shows the extent to which humans are affecting the evolution of mammals today and will be used to predict the conservation threats that mammals face. Although studies of mortality causes have been conducted for many mammal species, this is the first to gather this data together and examine trends across species. Collins and Kays reviewed data for 2209 individual animal deaths in 69 North American mammal populations across 27 species. They only considered studies that used radio tracking collars to monitor animals because they are the least biased in finding recently deceased animals.
Of the 1874 deaths that had known causes, 51.8 percent were caused by humans. Hunters killed 35.3 percent of the animals studied — 29.9 percent legally and 5.4 percent illegally through poaching. Vehicle collisions caused 9.2 percent of the deaths and 7.2 percent resulted from other human causes. Predation by other animals caused 35.2 percent of the deaths, disease accounted for 3.8 percent, starvation for 3.2 percent and other natural causes for 6.1 percent.
Data included animals that lived in a variety of habitats throughout North America including urban, rural and wilderness areas. Animals in urban areas were more likely to die from vehicle collisions, while animals in rural and wilderness areas were more likely to die from hunting. Animals living in protected areas had a 44 percent lower level of human-caused mortality.
Kays noted that “this shows that legal protection has a direct impact on the survival and evolutionary pressures faced by animals.” Larger species, especially carnivores, are more likely to be killed by humans, with smaller species, particularly herbivores, dying more from predator attacks.
Although the deaths attributable to hunting by humans were very high, none of these hunted populations were endangered. “These results may be more important when considering the forces driving modern evolution of species, than their conservation status,” said Collins.
The study suggests that animals with traits that allow them to escape these prominent mortality causes for longer will have a selective advantage. However, the scientists conclude in the study that the pace of “human activity may exceed species’ ability to adapt, particularly in the face of habitat loss and climate change.”
The research also noted a scarcity of knowledge about smaller species, and Collins and Kays have since initiated new field research on the cause of mortality in small mammals in New York State. Photo: A fisher is shown wearing a tracking collar. Collars like these allow field biologists to track the movement and ultimate fate of an animal, finding them regardless of their ultimate cause of death, and providing the most accurate data on what actually kills wild animals. (Photo courtesy of NYS Museum).
A New York State Museum scientist has collaborated with Smithsonian colleagues to make more than 202,000 wildlife photos available to the public for the first time through a new searchable website called Smithsonian Wild.
The new website allows the public to see exactly what scientists see in their research — photos of wildlife captured at close range. Three of the nine photo sets available on the site come from research in the Adirondacks and other locations, conducted by Dr. Roland Kays, the State Museum’s curator of mammals. The site operates off of a database that was created as part of Kays’ National Science Foundation funded research. » Continue Reading.
The New York State Museum has received a $1 million federal grant to conduct a new research project aimed at protecting endangered species of native freshwater mussels from the impacts of invasive zebra mussels.
With the grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through its Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Museum scientists will use what they are calling an “environmentally safe invention – a biopesticide” to continue their research with a new emphasis on open water applications. The project will be led by Museum research scientists Daniel Molloy and Denise Mayer. » Continue Reading.
The mid-1800s Natural History Survey of New York has been posted online at the New York State Library here. According to a recent note from the Library’s staff:
The Natural History Survey of New York, undertaken in the mid-1800s, covered zoology, flora, mineralogy, geology, agriculture and paleontology. The NYS Library has digitized the first three components of the survey so far. » Continue Reading.
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