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Mid-America Transportation Center

Investigation of Bait Away Methods for Conservation of the American Burying Beetle


Researchers

  • Principal Investigator: Wyatt Hoback
  • Project Status
    In Progress
    About this Project
    Brief Project Description & Background
    The American burying beetle, (Nicrophorus americanus) is a member of the carrion beetle family Silphidae, an important group of detritivores that recycle decaying materials back into the ecosystem. Although it has historically been recorded from at least 150 counties in 35 states in the eastern and central United States, it declined throughout its range from the 1920s to the 1960s and is currently only found at the peripheries of its former range. In the United States, it was placed on the state and federal endangered species lists in August 1989. In order to implement an effective recovery program and to locate additional populations, it is necessary to understand the possible factors influencing this decline and the commonality of features of the remaining populations. Foremost among these are the effects of habitat fragmentation including loss of suitable habitat, isolation of remnant populations, and disturbance of habitats that still contain these beetles. Like other carrion beetles, American burying beetles search the environment for fresh carcasses which they use for feeding and rearing offspring. Usually, multiple individuals comprising several species discover the carcass. As the beetles arrive at the carcass a fierce competition erupts. This competition can lead to damage to beetles including loss of legs, antennae, and even mortality (Bedick et al. 1999). If the carcass is fresh and is of appropriate size, competition ensues until there is only a single beetle pair occupying the carcass. Competition for carcasses that cannot be moved or buried is likely to produce stress and injuries to beetles. In areas which will be disturbed through construction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service advocate either “bait-away” or “trap-and-relocate” procedures. Because “bait-away” is designed to attract beetles to an area away from construction, it does not require a Federal permit and is conducted by placing whole carrion onto a structure some distance from the impacted habitat., these protocol impacts beetles including the American burying beetle by attracting them to bait which cannot be used as a breeding material and by increasing the competition among attracted beetles. In 2006, mortality exceeding 30% was observed in association with field bait-away stations in Nebraska. Thus it is important to investigate how bait-away stations can best be used as a conservation measure to protect American Burying Beetles from construction projects.
    Research Objective
    1) Use laboratory tests to determine the most effective manner to use wildlife camera to monitor bait-away stations for burying beetle use. 2) Develop the most effective bait-away strategies as a conservation measure for the American burying beetle.
    Potential Benefits
    This project will help find ways to minimize harm to the American burying beetle population during road construction, helping to keep the species’ numbers up and the ecosystem balanced.
    Abstract
    The American burying beetle, (Nicrophorus americanus) is a member of the carrion beetle family Silphidae, an important group of detritivores that recycle decaying materials back into the ecosystem. Although it has historically been recorded from at least 150 counties in 35 states in the eastern and central United States, it declined throughout its range from the 1920s to the 1960s and is currently only found at the peripheries of its former range. In 1983 the American burying beetle was included as an endangered species in the Invertebrate Red Book published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. In the United States, it was placed on the state and federal endangered species lists in August 1989. In order to implement an effective recovery program and to locate additional populations, it is necessary to understand the possible factors influencing this decline and the commonality of features of the remaining populations. Foremost among these are the effects of habitat fragmentation including loss of suitable habitat, isolation of remnant populations, and disturbance of habitats that still contain these beetles. Like other carrion beetles, American burying beetles search the environment for fresh carcasses which they use for feeding and rearing offspring. Usually, multiple individuals comprising several species discover the carcass. As the beetles arrive at the carcass a fierce competition erupts. This competition can lead to damage to beetles including loss of legs, antennae, and even mortality (Bedick et al. 1999). If the carcass is fresh and is of appropriate size, competition ensues until there is only a single beetle pair occupying the carcass. This pair is generally the largest individuals of the largest species that discovered the carcass with the other beetles either being driven away or killed by the victorious pair (Wilson et al 1984). The victorious pair will then work cooperatively to quickly entomb the acquired carcass. This behavior seems to have evolved out of necessity to remove the carcass from the realm of discovery by other invertebrate necrephores as well as vertebrate scavengers. Studies have demonstrated that there is an intense competition between flies and ants for the resources present in the carcass (Scott 1998). If flies discover and reproduce on the carcass prior to Nicrophorinae beetles, the developing dipteran larvae can quickly consume all the nutrients within the carcass effectively eliminating the carcass as a reproductive resource for the beetles. If discovered by ants adult beetles must fend away the ants and sometimes become victims of aggressive ant colonies (Ratcliffe 1999). After finding a suitable burial locality, the parental beetles will begin plowing under the carcass creating a compacted depression that will become the final resting place for the carcass. As the carcass falls into the depression through the action of gravity, it is forced into a tight ball by the beetles. Competition for carcasses that cannot be moved or buried is likely to produce stress and injuries to beetles. In areas which will be disturbed through construction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service advocate either “bait-away” or “trap-and-relocate” procedures. Because “bait-away” is designed to attract beetles to an area away from construction, it does not require a Federal permit and is conducted by placing whole carrion onto a structure some distance from the impacted habitat. The carrion is monitored and replaced frequently. However, these protocol impacts beetles including the American burying beetle by attracting them to bait which cannot be used as a breeding material and by increasing the competition among attracted beetles. In 2006, mortality exceeding 30% was observed in association with field bait-away stations in Nebraska
    Project Amount
    $ 39,218