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Center for Field Biology takes part in National Park Services Inventory

If you think finding a needle in a haystack requires dedication, ask the folks at Austin Peay about finding 50 species of amphibians and reptiles in a 600-acre park.

Since January, students and faculty at the Universitys Center of Excellence for Field Biology have spent countless hours initiating an inventory of the reptiles and amphibians at Fort Donelson National Battlefield as part of the National Park Services Natural Resource Inventory and Monitoring Program.
If you think finding a needle in a haystack requires dedication, ask the folks at Austin Peay about finding 50 species of amphibians and reptiles in a 600-acre park.

Since January, students and faculty at the University's Center of Excellence for Field Biology have spent countless hours initiating an inventory of the reptiles and amphibians at Fort Donelson National Battlefield as part of the National Park Service's Natural Resource Inventory and Monitoring Program.

Project coordinator and APSU graduate student Jon Davenport, Sevierville, has logged more than 267 hours in the field, measuring plots and creating cover objects under which his subjects hide.

Though some might be fazed by such long hours, Davenport's prior experience with the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) in the Great Smoky Mountains prepared him for the Fort Donelson inventory, which has become his graduate research project.

“My understanding of the surveying and sampling technology definitely gave me a head start,” says Davenport, who worked with the ATBI while earning a bachelor's degree in biology from Maryville College.

To date, he has found 35 species of amphibians and reptiles and one note of encouragement.

“When I was checking under the cover objects, I found a drawing of a snake and a note that said, ‘Happy Herping,'” says Davenport, laughing. “It was from another scientist working in the field. He left his phone number.”

Unfortunately, not every passer-by knows what he has stumbled upon.

“At one point, four temperature loggers containing a semester's worth of data were taken from one of our sites,” says Dr. Floyd Scott, APSU biology professor and the principal investigator. “Now we mark the areas as ‘research in progress,' but people are just naturally curious.”

For curious students enrolled in Scott's graduate herpetology course, the inventory project has been invaluable.

“Of all the places we visited on field trips, we saw more reptiles and amphibians at Fort Donelson than anywhere else,” says Scott. “The graduate students enrolled in my herpetology course have benefited significantly from the project, seeing animals and the setup and approach to the inventory.
Ultimately, the national inventory, which includes 270 national park system units containing significant natural resources, will provide park managers with the information and expertise needed to maintain ecosystem integrity.

For details regarding the Natural Resource Inventory and Monitoring Program, visit http://www.nature.nps.gov and select “Science and Research.”
—Terry Stringer