Island Conservation & Research: On The Path Toward Habitat Restoration

by Jane Ahrens
Surveying the Parade Grounds

by Justine Kibbe and Adam Mitchell for The Fishers Island Conservancy

Wildlife Biologist and PhD student from University of Delaware, Adam Mitchell, is new to the island and like some residents is already involved in a big home renovation. But you won’t see him painting or scraping or shingling a roof – his project is unique – so unique some say “It’s for the birds”! With ongoing environmental initiative and conservation support from the island community, Adam is helping to restore wildlife habitat – especially for the birds.

This month I caught up with Adam both out in the field and on the Recreational Path and encouraged him to share this very interesting educational outreach with all of us.

“My research, in collaboration with members of the Fishers Island Conservancy, aims to investigate the impacts of non-native plants on food webs, focusing on the impacts of non-native plants on plant, insect, and bird communities. Our hope is to use this information to help guide management strategies to reduce the impact of non-native plants on Fishers Island, and to restore native habitat for birds. We also want to inform residents of the impacts non-native ornamental plants may have on local wildlife, and encourage residents to incorporate native plants into their landscape.

The introduction of non-native plant species can have negative consequences for wildlife species like migratory birds. For example, many species of birds fly for days before finding stopover points to replenish their energy. When a stopover point is located, birds will search for food, which consists of native berries, fruits, and insects. However, many non-native plant species replace native plants in the landscape, reducing the number of native plants that provide fruit for migratory birds. In addition, most insects feed only on a few species of plants and cannot recognize non-native plants as food. Thus, non-native plants can reduce the availability of food for migratory birds.

This is a major concern for Fishers Island, as the majority of land on the island consists of non-native plants, and as non-native plants become dominant throughout the landscape, it is less likely that migratory birds will visit the island. This loss of links in the food chain can have broad consequences for the island’s ecosystem, as well as impact the island’s reputation as a bird sanctuary. As such, it is important for us to understand the impact of non-native plants on habitat quality for birds.

I traveled to the island this month to survey the number of bird species using the island as habitat. I recorded a total of 43 species of birds on the island, with the majority of migratory birds including common grackle and tree swallow. I also gave a presentation to upperclassmen at the Fishers Island School on the impacts of non-native plants to the ecology of the island, and encouraged students to participate in the point counts and future research opportunities with the Conservancy’s work as it develops.”

Mitchell’s Fishers Island research and studies will accompany him these next years while he continues to work in The Department of Entomology (study of insects) and Wildlife Ecology.

And, what makes our island ecosystems so unique compared to let’s say The Galapagos? Adam, who is indeed familiar with that very environment, shared his view “Unlike the Galapagos where tourism is frequent, the isolation of Fishers reduces the number of possible invasive plant species that can arrive on Island with human intervention, such as by boat. We also have a higher density of people and landowners here, which could help us determine where the invasive plants are and manage them before they spread any further. Given these qualities, Fishers Island has the potential to reduce the impact of invasive plants and restore habitat for wildlife.”

Cedar Waxwing Talk with Adam

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay. Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

A Fishers Island Community Center Program and the accompanying Fog Horn eNewsletter serve as the communications resource for the Fishers Island community. The content – news, calendar, links and photos, milestones, ads, and more create a clear image of Fishers to those on and off the island.

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