Astute contributors to Snapshot Wisconsin may have noted that one of the primary partners on the project is NASA. Yes, that NASA, known for space-flights and Neil Armstrong. For many people, the involvement of an air and space agency with a wildlife monitoring project may not be intuitive. Here’s how NASA and Snapshot Wisconsin work together:
NASA doesn’t just focus on our sun, solar system, and broader universe. It also has a dedicated Earth Science branch that houses research related to our atmosphere, weather, energy cycling, and ecosystems. This branch aims to predict change over time in, for example, energy cycling or biodiversity resources.
Some things, like animal population processes, are incredibly difficult to track across large spatial areas. Even with all the Snapshot Wisconsin cameras out on the ground, the total physical area in which we are observing animals is fairly limited – a point where each camera is, with a lot of space in between points. What we need to do is fill in the data gaps between camera locations. In other words, we need to be able to make predictions about areas where we don’t have observations. And this is where NASA comes into play.
NASA maintains a number of satellites that orbit Earth. These satellites carry on-board sensors that record light reflectance off of the Earth’s surface at different wavelengths. The images these satellites take of the Earth’s surface can be used to determine, for example, the locations of different landcover types (forest, wetland, prairie, etc.), or where leaves are growing or senescent, or where and when there is snow-cover. What’s great about these sensors is that they take photos regularly, and over large continuous spaces, so we can collect these data from our trail camera locations AND the spaces in between them.
Two of the more important sensors for our research are the Landsat and MODIS sensors. Landsat images have a spatial resolution of 30 meters (think of this as a pixel size – each pixel is 30 m by 30 m) and a temporal resolution (i.e., gap between flyovers) of 16 days. MODIS images have a spatial resolution of 250 – 500 m, and a temporal resolution of 1-2 days. These sensors are complementary—MODIS’s greater temporal resolution makes it more useful for detecting temporal environmental changes like plant green-up, while Landsat’s greater spatial resolution makes it more useful for detailed mapping of relatively static environmental attributes, like the location of forests, wetlands, and prairies.
How do we use satellite data and trail camera data together? We determine the association between the number of animals we count in trail camera photos and a series of environmental variables taken from satellite data. Understanding these associations gives us an idea of why animals might be more or less abundant in some places than in others, and allows us to suggest actions managers might take. For example, we might find that prairie chickens are highly associated with prairies but not with forests, and so we might suggest removing trees that are encroaching upon prairie land in order to increase prairie chicken numbers.
Without images collected from space, it would be incredibly difficult to reliably predict and map the distribution and abundance of species.
The following post is by a guest blogger, Joe Dittrich, research scientist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Joe was involved in the new elk reintroduction in the Flambeau River State Forest (Sawyer County) and shares the experience here. Thanks Joe!
In a previous post we shared an experience on a property restored to prairie with help from a landowner program. Did you know that 55% of Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera hosts participate in landowner programs? The Wisconsin DNR offers many opportunities for landowners interested in managing their property. These programs include:
- The Deer Management Assistance Program which provides habitat and deer herd management assistance to landowners.
- The Managed Forest Law program which provides incentives for sustainable forest management in private woodlands.
- The Landowner Incentive Program which is designed to help private landowners create and manage habitat for rare or declining species.
Other programs are available through the University of Wisconsin Extension, including the Wisconsin Coverts Project. This project provides 3-day workshops for landowners who want to learn how to enhance their woodlands for wildlife.
Recently, a Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer in Iowa County shared with us photos captured by her trail camera after she conducted a prescribed burn on her property. Prescribed burns can be used to improve wildlife habitat, control invasive plant species, restore and maintain native plant communities and reduce wildfire potential. The Landowner Incentive Program provided support to carry out the burn. Shortly after the burn, turkeys started using the area and showed off for the Snapshot Wisconsin camera. We were excited to see these two programs intersect!
More resources for landowners can be found on the Wisconsin DNR website. Are you involved in any landowner programs? Tell us about it in the comments!
#SuperSnap is a new, reoccurring blog feature and a way for us to share some of the best Snapshot Wisconsin photos! We received some great entries for our first ever #SuperSnap, and it was difficult to pick just one. Without further ado, this month’s selection is a curious buck nominated by e2ntity.
Check out all the nominations by searching “#SuperSnap” in Talk. Hashtag your favorite photos for a chance to be featured in the next #SuperSnap blog post.
Last week we traveled to western Iowa County to help lead a Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin field trip showcasing one of our very first camera sites. Most Snapshot Wisconsin cameras are located in wooded areas, but this one is in a restored prairie/wetland. Over the last year this site has captured some incredible photos of birds, including spotted sand piper, sand hill cranes and great blue heron. We were thrilled that the landowner was willing to host and help lead the field trip, and it was a wonderful treat to spend the afternoon outside in such beautiful surroundings.
According to the landowner, the property was used for conventional agricultural up until 8 years ago when he began converting it to prairie. There is also a trout stream running through the property which has benefited from funding and restoration work by Trout Unlimited.
We were fortunate to have Darcy Kind along to help lead the trip. Darcy works for WDNR as a Conservation Biologist for the Landowner Incentive Program, which helps private landowners create and manage habitat for rare or declining species. Darcy has extensive knowledge of native plants and worked with this landowner on restoration projects throughout the 240 acre property.
Prescribed fire has played a key role in clearing brush and encouraging the growth of native plants on the property. Most of the native plant species we saw were not planted, but emerged from the existing seed bank that remained in the soil through decades of agriculture! During the trip we saw rare Hill’s thistle, four species of milkweed, Goat’s rue, lead plant, and many more native forbs and grasses. We also saw red and white oaks thriving in a restored oak savanna, and red headed woodpeckers which nest in at least two places on the property.
Thanks to Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin for providing the opportunity for us to share this beautiful property and promote Snapshot Wisconsin! Anyone who lives in or near Wisconsin should check out their upcoming field trips.
We hope to lead this trip or a similar trip next year. Subscribe to our e-newsletter to receive this announcement and other updates from Snapshot Wisconsin.