Jean Lafitte NHPP
Mammal Inventory & Monitoring Program

PROJECT
DESCRIPTION


Mammal Inventory & Monitoring Program Project -- 2003-2005.

The present state of the mammal species list and status is incomplete and largely unconfirmed in the case of the Barataria unit and entirely unknown at Chalmette Battlefield.  The status of bat species in both units is especially poorly documented and is of special concern, as is the status of carnivores.  Additionally, previous mammal studies have not adequately sampled the extensive marsh and swamp habitats of Barataria, which comprise nearly 70% of the unit’s area.

  



Significance of understanding the mammalian fauna of JLNPP

Ongoing wetland loss projects are described here, because they directly impact and will have very important consequences to the flora and fauna of the Barataria Unit of JLNHPP.  No inventory projects conducted in Barataria should be undertaken without considering these impacts.  Since 1990, the Coastal Wetland Preservation and Protection Act (CWPRRA), also known as the Breaux Act, has provided over $ 389 million in funding to support wetland loss projects in coastal Louisiana and an additional $ 400 million is committed to complete all ongoing projects. These projects are aimed at addressing loss of Louisiana coastal wetlands due to multiple factors, including especially canal dredging and construction of levees that has lead to disruption of hydrological systems and saltwater intrusion (see Louisiana CWPPRA website, http://www.lacoast.gov/cwppra ).

Studies to document the extent of wetland loss in Louisiana identified the Barataria Basin as the area undergoing the highest level of land loss (Barros et al., 1994).    Federal and State funds (over $ 200 million to date) have supported numerous projects in the Barataria Basin and are ongoing (see the Barataria-Terrebone National Estuary Program website, http://mail.btnep.org ).  One of areas undergoing serious degradation and wetland loss is the eastern shoreline of Lake Salvador that forms the entire western boundary of the Barataria unit.  These impacts on the marsh habitats that comprise nearly 70% of the Barataria unit are one of the most serious management concerns of the park.  The assessment of mammal species diversity in the Barataria unit marsh and neighboring swamp habitats is critical, because virtually nothing is known and a major wetland project, described below, began operation in March 2002.

Davis Pond Diversion Project and its impact on Barataria Unit.  In 1996, funding for the Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion Project was approved.  This is the most ambitious CWPPRA projects to date, and directly effects the Barataria Unit of JLNHPP (Louisiana CWPPRA URL:  http://www.lacoast.gov/programs/DavisPond/index.htm ).  This $ 110 million project will mimic the historic spring flows of Mississippi River water into the upper Barataria Basin through control structures that will bring both freshwater and sediment to the entire basin.   The hydrology of the entire upper Barataria basin is expected to be shifted back to a condition that will support the freshwater and intermediate marshes from Lake Cataouatche to Barataria Bay in the Gulf of Mexico.    The diversion control structure opened in March 2002 and its impacts will be evaluated over the next 50 years.

As is evident in the map below, the Barataria unit of JLNHPP is directly in the path of the diversion and will be significantly impacted by the expected hydrological changes resulting in its operation.   The importance of this impact has been the basis for ongoing cooperative projects between the U.S.G.S. and NPS personnel at JLNHPP to understand and collect pre-diversion data on these areas (e.g., Doyle, 1999;  Muth et al., 2000).

Degradation of marsh habitats in Barataria due to disruption of hydrological processes during the past 50 years has been and remains a serious concern (Taylor et al., 1989).  However, this will undergo substantial change beginning this year with the operation of the Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion.  We do not know the current status of mammals inhabiting these marshes, nor will we be able to assess the impacts of the Davis Pond project on them without baseline data that will be provided by the proposed inventory.  Likewise, hydrological and ecological processes that have been ongoing in the swamp and bottomland hardwood forest habitats of Barataria will likely undergo substantial dynamic change.   Significant shifts in plant community composition have occurred in the past 20 years as a result of sea-level rise and the spread of introduced Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sabiferum).  We do not know the current status of the mammals inhabiting swamp and forest habitats, nor will we be able to assess the impacts of sea-level change or changes in plant community on them without baseline data.

The following outlines the specific tasks for conducting a mammal inventory project that will provide the needed baseline data and accommodate the Basic Inventory Standards and the Statement of Work for JLNHPP.

A scientifically valid mammal species inventory must and will include:
• documentation and status of bats
• documentation and status of small/medium mammals (rodents, lagomorphs, opossums armadillos)
• documentation of large mammals (carnivores, ungulates)
• collection of voucher specimens and associated data for representatives of all taxa.

Existing species lists and collections reviews must and will include:
• search of historical and recent literature
• search and confirmation of JLNHPP voucher specimens at TMNH and LSU.
• search/review of reference specimens from nearby localities housed at TMNH and LSU

Sampling protocols used by scientific community must and will include:
• use of Wilson et al., Standard Methods for Mammals (1996) and ASM (1998) Guidelines for the Capture, Handling, and Care of Mammals.
• mist netting and electronic monitoring of bats
• live-trapping of small and medium-sized mammals
• photographic / observational methods for large mammals
• non-invasive marking (PIT tags) of all captured mammals
• GPS data collected for all encountered mammals

Sampling design to address diverse habitats in JLNHPP units must and will include:
• sampling of marsh and spoil bank habitats (Barataria)  -- requires extensive boat travel
• sampling of swamp habitats (Barataria)
• sampling of forest and upland habitats (Barataria and Chalmette)
• use of seasonal collection protocols (esp. important for bats)
• use of GPS data and PIT tags to document occurrence and relative abundance in habitats

Recorded data must and will include:
• use of PIT tags to non-invasively, permanently mark/identify captured mammals
• use of PIT tags, GPS data and re-capture data to record occurrence and abundance
• use of electronic detectors to record bat calls
• use of wildlife monitors (remote cameras) to record large mammals

Scientific identification will include:
• current mammalian nomenclature to species level
• identification by comparison of voucher specimens to reference collections

Data and reports will include:
• all required NPS standards for product specifications
• submission of manuscripts to peer-reviewed professional journal for publication
 



Historical Review of Mammals of JLNHPP

Because JLNHPP was only established in 1978, limited NPS-sponsored studies have been conducted on the natural history of its park units.   In 1991, Betsy Swanson published a history of the Barataria unit, with special emphasis on the forested (upland) areas adjacent to Bayou des Familles.   This book includes a chapter authored by David P. Muth (JLNHPP Naturalist) on the natural history and the state of knowledge on the flora and fauna of the Barataria unit as of the late-1980s.   The forests and swamps of Barataria have been heavily used and modified by people of the region for over 200 years, resulting in substantial changes in the physical landscape, as well as the historic flora and fauna.  However, during the past 60+ years, these forested systems have undergone a rapid and remarkable secondary succession.  In the absence of agriculture, logging and other land-use practices, the bottomland hardwood forests are returning to mature forest systems.

The marsh habitats that comprise nearly 70% of the Barataria unit have experienced significant physical and biotic change, as well.   Beginning in the early-1900s, exploration for oil and gas deposits in the Barataria marshes resulted in the single most significant factor effecting all coastal wetlands in Louisiana today – the dredging of canals for oil/gas exploration and navigation.  Canal dredging has resulted in over 30 miles of canals coursing through the Barataria unit, as well as nearly a 1,000 mi. of canals connecting this region to the Gulf of Mexico.   These canals and their spoil banks have severely altered the natural hydrological systems, effectively subdividing large estuarine systems into fragmented habitat islands.  They also provide access of saltwater from gulf coastal waters to intrude into freshwater and intermediate marsh areas.  During the past 50 years, the combined effect of disrupting freshwater (and sediment) flow into Barataria marshes, together with saltwater intrusion, has caused significant degradation of the western boundary of the Barataria unit marshes and swamps.

Mammal inventories and ongoing mammal studies.

The mammalian fauna of SE Louisiana is rather poorly known.   G.H. Lowery’s 1974 Mammals of Louisana and Adjacent Waters remains the most comprehensive professional reference, although it is now nearly 30 years out of date.    In 1994, Choate et al. published their Handbook of Mammals of the South-Central States, which provided an updated, but very general reference to the mammals of the South including Louisiana.  This publication has distribution maps, but lacks voucher specimen lists or locality symbols to identify specific locations to document distribution and status of mammal species.   Few distributional studies have been published since Lowery (1974), although several dissertations have focused on specific taxa (e.g., gray squirrels, Moncrief, 1993; bats, Lance, 1999; Lance et al., 1996; 2001).   Additional recent publications on mammals of SE Louisiana include studies of mammals that are deposited at the Tulane Museum of Natural History, which are described further, below (Suttkus & Jones, 1991; 1999).

Reference Collections at Tulane Museum of Natural History and LSU Museum of Natural Science.  The major systematic collections housing mammals from SE Louisiana, including the Barataria Basin, are found in the Tulane Museum of Natural History (TMNH) and the LSU Museum of Natural Science.  Lowery (1974) provided detailed lists of the mammal holdings of both of these collections through about 1972.   However, beginning in the mid-1980s, field collections of small mammals were undertaken by students and faculty of Tulane University, yielding over 4,000 mammal specimens from SE Louisiana.   Most of these specimens, including bats, are from bottomland hardwood and natural levee and spoil bank habitats in northern Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes, that are very similar to those found at both the Barataria and Chalmette units.  Therefore, a large reference collection of rodents and bats from nearby localities will be an important resource for the proposed mammal inventory project.

Historical mammal inventories.  As noted in the Statement of Work provided by the JLNHPP resource managers for this RFP, no inventory of the mammals inhabiting the Chalmette unit has ever been undertaken.  Only two mammal inventories have been conducted in the Barataria unit  (Smalley, 1982; Demastes & Rossman, 1989) and both of these are considered incomplete.  Smalley’s 1982 study was part of a general survey of the fauna of the forested areas of the Barataria unit and did not undertake a collection protocol that would have documented mammal species with voucher specimens.  Demastes & Rossman’s (1989) study was a more systematic effort, which included study of Lowery’s (1974) specimen and species distribution lists, as well as confirmation of specimens housed at the LSU Museum of Natural History.  The survey did include some trapping and observational protocols, but yielded only a limited number of voucher specimens.

Based on these general references, recent studies, the PI’s field experience, and reference specimens housed at research collections (Tulane Museum of Natural History and LSU Museum of Natural Science), all of the 12 taxa listed as of uncertain or questionable presence by Muth and marked by a ? in the table above, could very well be documented in the Barataria and Chalmette units.  Additionally, the following mammalian taxa not listed above, could well be encountered: Lasiurus cinereus, Lasionycteris noctivagans, Sylvilagus floridanus, Sciurus niger, Reithrodontomys humulis, Vulpes vulpes, Urocyon cinereoargenteus, Mustela frenata, Spilogale putorius, Mephitis mephitis, Lynx rufus.

Although not expected to be encountered, any records or observations of the Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus) or Florida panther (Felis concolor), the two listed endangered species of mammals in Louisiana, would be remarkable.  In addition to these native mammals, it is expected that introduced and domesticated mammals will be encountered and documented.  The distribution and abundance of introduced rodents (especially asiatic Rattus), wild pigs (Sus scrofa) and feral dogs and cats are of special concern in JLNHPP.

In Chapter 1 of Swanson’s 1991 book, David Muth described the mammals known or that are thought to have occurred historically in Barataria.  He related historical accounts of large mammals now extirpated from the region (black, bear, red wolf, panther), introduced and domesticated mammals (wild pigs, armadillos, coyotes, dogs, cats), and mammals not recorded but expected in the area (e.g., striped skunks).   He also provided a list of mammal species, with relative abundances, thought to occur in major ecological communities of the Barataria unit based on the data available at the park through the early-1990s, which includes the previous inventories and unpublished park data.  Muth noted that the list should not be considered complete or confirmed, especially for taxa marked as with a ?, which included over 40% of the species list and nearly all of the bats.

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