By MARK NEWMAN Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA – Though winter technically ended a month ago, some nature scientists are just now starting to get back into the field to continue studying our environment.
"We want to know how many of each animal are around and their [condition] because they are a good indicator of the health of our enviorment," said Annette Whitrock, a naturalist at Pioneer Ridge Nature Area for the Wapello County Board of Conservation. "And a healthy enviorment is good for humans. "
There are benefits to the animals themselves as well.
“It’s something that needs to be done,” said Tyler Harms, a wildlife specialist at Iowa State University.
The project he works on,“The Multiple Species Inventory and Monitoring” survey, gives outdoors enthusiasts, lawmakers and scientists “a place to start” when it comes to making decisions about preserving at-risk animals.
“It was developed by the DNR in 2006 in response to a lack of information on certain species of wildlife, particularly those in need of conservation," said Harms. "Experts were concerned about that lack of data.”
County level researchers usually work on a smaller scale, geographically and in the number of species studied. For example, in Wapello County, there is the Christmas Bird Count, a Monarch Watch starting in the fall, and in April, Whitrock typically heads outdoors for the Frog and Toad Call survey.
Harms has a wider survey: everything everywhere in Iowa. The project is one of the most comprehensive counts of animals in the state. The multiple-species inventory takes nine different categories of living creatures into account, including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
“We survey all public properties across the state. Our goal is to survey all across the state in a wide variety of habitats.”
Wapello County was on that list, and has already had a research crew pass through.
"If you see three to five folks walking around carrying nets and clipboards, chances are it’s folks working on our project — or any other number of research projects around the state,” he said.
It wouldn't have been Whitrock. She's had to wait this year for frog-friendly weather.
"The Frog and Toad Call will happen as soon as it stops raining and warms up a bit," Whitrock said.
It turns out that a frog call is in no way similar to a duck call. At no point is the researcher required to use a device or their voice to make a frog noise.
"We're actually listening for the sounds," the naturalist said. "Anyone who has a route for this survey goes through a training program where they learn to identify the sounds made."
If people are interested in seeing whether they'd like a route of their own for this smaller, more local research project (ISU uses professionals for their research), Whitrock said potential volunteers can call Pioneer Ridge to see about joining her on her route. She can be reached at 641-682-3091.