Habitat restoration takes a long time. When you plant an oak tree, it won’t reach its full girth for at least a century. Often, it seems like restorationists carry out their work with a vision that won’t be realized in their lifetime. This is why it’s so satisfying to discover (or rediscover) species that are a part of the vision that restorationists work toward. There have been a few species recorded for the first time this summer and fall that have that satisfying quality.
The Regal Fritillary – Speyeria idalia
The first notable rediscovery (by the author) occurred this summer, when the regal fritillary butterfly was sighted at McKnight Prairie (located several miles west of the Arb). What makes the regal so special is that it is thought to occur only on large tracts of remnant prairie, a trait that is certainly associated with its decline throughout North America. McKnight Prairie is only a small remnant prairie, so it’s still unclear how the regal population will fare in future years. One reason why the regal occurs only on remnant prairie: the larvae must feed entirely on a small species of violet that is difficult to introduce into prairie restorations. If the population of violets isn’t dense enough, the larvae starve. Nevertheless, with time, attention and care, this species may be brought back to the Arb and other restored landscapes.
Tiger Salamander – Ambystoma tigrinum
Believe it or not, Minnesota has salamanders! Adriana Estill, professor of English and American Studies, discovered the tiger salamander in the Arb at the end of summer. It was later observed by Arb manager Matt Elbert near Kettle Hole Marsh. Because the tiger breeds in permanent and semi-permanent wetlands, it is vulnerable to introduced fish species, erosion, and periods of drought. The tiger is common in Minnesota, so it was worrying that one hadn’t been observed. The recent sightings suggest that land managers are at least not doing anything to hurt this unique species.
Prairie Vole – Microtus ochrogaster
The Arb has long been host to a seemingly thriving population of meadow voles (M. pennsylvanicus), but the prairie vole, found in the Arb just last week, is more sensitive to the destruction of prairie habitat that has occurred in Minnesota over the last century. A species of special concern in Minnesota, the rediscovery of this vole in the Arb is attributed to Ellen Esch and Biology professor Dan Hernandez’s team of prairie herbivory scientists. Creating habitat for protected species like the prairie vole is an important part of the Arb’s restoration mission, so its return is encouraging.
Owen McMurtrey ’12 , for the Cole Student Naturalists