After many months, we launched our helikite today at our campus in Front Royal.  A patented combination of a helium balloon and a kite, the platform was amazing stable in the air stream.  This poor-man’s satellite will be equipped with a powerful digital camera to provide high-resolution imagery of specific areas of interest.  We’re aiming to use the technology to remotely identify and count wildlife on the ground.  In August, we’ll do some live tests of the platform at our research site in the American Prairie Reserve in Montana.  Then, it’s off to various sites globally.  Looking forward to the images we download off the camera tomorrow.

A patented combination of a helium balloon and a kite, we are aiming to use this platform to monitor wildlife.

Salamander surveys

Just back from a long night of surveying salamander populations in the Nantahala National Forest with colleagues from the Smithsonian and Appalachian State University.  A really fun night with a great team where surveys started at 10 pm and finished at 3 am.  This study is part of a long-term ecological experiment to assess the effects of timber cuts on salamander communities and has been ongoing since 2009.

Red Salamander
This red salamander (Pseudotriton ruber) is a species of salamander in the family Plethodontidae. It is endemic to the Eastern United States. Interestingly, red salamanders lack lungs and respire through their skin. Really awesome to find this (not so) little fella.

The first night we counted approximately 300 salamanders throughout 4 different treatment plots, which are arranged throughout the timber cut.  Each salamander is collected and individually marked, so that it can be returned to where it was found.  The markings (mark-recapture) allow researchers to estimate population size.  We caught this red salamander in the picture after we were finished the plot, making a short diversion to an area where they are known to be found.  Great to be working with a team that know so much about the area and the different species to be found!