Talking Wetland Habitat and Wildlife with ESA Students

Environmental Studies students in Christina Hidalgo’s class at the Episcopal School of Acadiana do more than learn about general environmental issues; they also get outside and participate in direct monitoring of the ecosystems around them. On February 21st and 23rd they were joined by Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act staff to discuss coastal habitats, the mammal species that call them home, and different wildlife monitoring techniques.

On Tuesday CWPPRA staff and ESA students discussed the importance of barrier beach systems for both human and wildlife communities, and students were given training in how researchers trap small mammal populations in those locations for monitoring. After students deployed small mammal traps around the ESA Cade campus on Wednesday, CWPPRA staff returned Thursday morning to help with trap collection and see what students had captured. In addition to trapping a variety of insects drawn to the oatmeal-soybean bait and several traps which had been moved by larger animals, ESA students successfully captured a marsh rice rat (Oryzomys palustris)!

These rodents are found throughout the Gulf and mid-to-south Atlantic coasts and as far inland as Illinois and Kansas. As the name suggests, marsh rice rats are generally found in wetland areas, although drier areas with dense grasses and sedges, while not ideal habitat, are also utilized. A native species in Louisiana, marsh rice rats can even be found out on barrier islands where their omnivorous diet lets them take advantage of both terrestrial food resources and items that wash ashore. The rat captured on the ESA campus was trapped near a stream and probably forages along that water body at night. Finding a marsh rice rat on a school campus is a reminder that wetland habitats come in a range of sizes and types and that we share those habitats with many different species.

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