Carnegie Museum of Natural History received a grant of $700,000 from the Richard King Mellon foundation for its environmental research center Powdermill Nature Reserve.
The grant will expand Powdermill’s capacity as a center for research and education focused on the Appalachian ecosystem. The funding will provide two years of support for a series of research projects that will incorporate emerging technologies as tools for research and enhance the profile of Powdermill as the premier ecological research center in the region.
“This grant will help our center become a nationally important biological field station that chronicles the Appalachian ecosystem using new technology and programs to better understand terrestrial and aquatic species,” Powdermill Director John Wenzel said.
Powdermill staff will utilize cutting edge technology, such as drone imaging and radio frequency nanotags, to study and protect local animal, insect, and plant populations. The focal species groups that will be studied are birds, pollinators, salamanders, and forest trees.
“As this grant strengthens our scientific activities, Powdermill will accordingly improve its educational outreach regarding pressing environmental issues of interest to concerned citizens,” said Wenzel.
Among the projects connecting modern technologies to studies of biodiversity is “nanotag” radio telemetry of migratory birds. Tiny radio beacons are attached to birds and track their migration as they fly by special sensory towers. The towers log the tagged birds in a central database, allowing scientists to track birds from South America to Canada without recapturing the bird. According to Wenzel, only about one in a thousand of Powdermill’s traditionally banded birds will be recaptured.
“The others are essentially lost from scientific study,” Wenzel said. “This new technology will greatly increase the effectiveness of Powdermill’s work, and we now provide a critical link in the network of sensor stations between South America and Canada.”
Carnegie Museum of Natural History established Powdermill in 1956 in Rector, Pennsylvania to serve as a field station for long-term studies of natural populations—their life histories, behaviors, and ecological relationships. Staff is currently studying resident and migratory birds, the distribution and abundance of amphibians and reptiles, plant ecology and pollinators.