Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative: Understanding Nantucket’s Unique Biodiversity

While island’s various conservation organizations each have a slightly different niche, one commonality is that they each have science-minded folks on staff with a great diversity of talents and an interest in conserving part of what makes Nantucket special – its native biodiversity. In 2002, in an effort to foster greater collaboration between scientists from each of the different organizations, the Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative (NBI) was formed with the over-arching goal of conserving the native biodiversity of Nantucket through collaborative research, monitoring and education. The NBI is a partnership between the many Nantucket conservation organizations, educational institutions, government agencies, local businesses, non-profits and interested members of the community. The NBI supports biodiversity research on Nantucket, Tuckernuck and Muskeget Islands and the surrounding waters. It also hosts annual NBI public events where the results of biodiversity research and monitoring are shared with the scientific community and the general public.

While the scientists on the NBI committee have a broad scope of specialties, NBI also recognizes that they can’t cover the whole gamut of what needs to be studied on Nantucket. Therefore, one of the most important jobs of the NBI is to entice scientists from other institutions to come to Nantucket to conduct research. The NBI created a small research grant program early in its inception and accepts applications every spring from researchers from all over the country who wish to include Nantucket at as study site for their research. Since 2005, the NBI has awarded more than $63,000 in funding for 67 different research projects studying an amazing variety of topics ranging from bacteria to bats. This year, the NBI funded grants for seven research projects from scientists as far away as Michigan and Tennessee. These scientists have been busy collecting data for their respective projects this summer. Research topics include the ecology of beach-nesting Double-crested Cormorants, rare plant genetic diversity, effects of a non-native tunicate (a type of invertebrate marine animal) on eelgrass, crab diversity in Nantucket Harbor, the prey base of the endangered American burying beetle, leaf-mining insects and the ecology and habitat use of the Northern long-eared bat. To date, these research projects have greatly increased our knowledge of the incredible diversity on Nantucket. Many of these projects have resulted in scientific publications that put Nantucket on the map as a desirable research location. The grant program has sparked much scientific interest in the island and it continues to grow each year. For more information about current and past funded projects, see the NBI’s newly updated website: www.nantucketbiodiversity.org/research-grants-program.

Mike & Jennifer Nab tri at Sq Swamp2

Mike Ballou and Jennifer Mandel, recipients of a 2017 NBI Small Research Grant, collect leaf samples of three-leaved rattlesnake root, Nabalus trifoliolatus, at Squam Swamp to study the genetics of the two species of Nabalus on the island.

The NBI also puts on annual events that are open to the public. This fall will be the 7th Biennial Biodiversity Research Conference from November 3 – 5. The keynote speaker for this event is Dr. Richard Primack from Boston University. Dr. Primack has become well known for his recent work on climate change, using Henry David Thoreau’s records from Walden Pond in Concord, MA from the 1850s to document the earlier flowering and leafing out times of plants and the more variable response of migratory birds occurring now. The conference will also showcase presentations reporting the results of the work of NBI grant recipients over the last few years as well. The conference will be held at the Nantucket Atheneum and the Nantucket Hotel and has been generously funded by the Community Foundation for Nantucket’s ReMain Nantucket Fund. The public is encouraged to attend to learn about all the various research taking place on the island.

The Invasive Plant Species Committee is one of the most active subcommittees of the NBI. Its members are tasked with the daunting challenge of keeping tabs on populations of non-native, invasive plant species on the island and educating the public about the threats these species pose on the island’s native habitats. Throughout the summer, NBI committee members from all the partner organizations as well as a core group of dedicated volunteers participate in “Weed Wednesday” invasive species pulls at a variety of locations around the island in an effort to reduce populations and keep them out of our critical protected conservation areas.

There are several ways that interested citizens, whether visitors or year-round island residents, can be involved in the NBI. Everyone that comes to the biennial research conference and citizen science events are encouraged  to learn more about many and varied  research projects being undertaken by Nantucket researchers as well as off island scientists and participate in field trips. Weed Wednesday invasive species pulls are a great way to devote an hour per week during the summer to help make significant headway in the fight to eradicate invasive species and keep Nantucket’s unique natural areas free of these nasty weeds. If you can’t attend, perhaps you can “adopt a weed” and work on your own time. The Nantucket Land Bank in particular would love to have more eyes on their Smooth Hummocks properties to prevent Spotted Knapweed from invading their sandplain grasslands. Of course, the NBI always welcomes monetary donations to help fund more of the amazing research grants they support each year.

Nora with Tups Knapweed, KAO (1)

A volunteer helps us rid the island of spotted knapweed!

You can learn more about the Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative and their events and projects by following them on Facebook or visiting the newly-updated website at www.nantucketbiodiversity.org.

*Please note, this blog post was originally published in The Inquirer and Mirror on August 17, 2017 in the article series called Island Ecology. The Foundation’s Science staff regularly contribute to our local newspaper and reprint the articles here the following week.

NCFPostGraphicPreserving

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us!  www.nantucketconservation.org

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