UConn News HomeUConn News

University establishes Wildlife Conservation Research Center (Released: 2/27/97)

by Renu Sehgal, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- With habitat destruction a serious threat to our wildlife, the University of Connecticut is stepping up its efforts to protect the natural environment through the creation of the Wildilfe Conservation Research Center.

"This will provide an expanded research program in wildlife conservation designed to benefit not only the people of this state but also be of value to wildlife management agencies, private organizations and the public throughout the region," said John S. Barclay, director of the new center. He is an associate professor of wildlife ecology in the Department of Natural Resources Management and Engineering.

The center, established this month, will conduct scientific research that addresses ecological needs of wildlife populations and their habitats. Its goals also will include enhancing public knowledge of conservation issues, encouraging environmentally sound management techniques, and promoting cooperation among all facets of society for wildlife conservation. Its initial focus will be on Long Island Sound and wildlife population studies in Connecticut and Long Island.

The center's first project is the decline of Greater Scaup, also known as broadbill, or bluebill, duck.

"We've been concerned about their decline and are looking into their food system for possible contaminants, such as heavy metals, PCBs and DDT," Barclay said. "I grew up on the coast in Connecticut and was always impressed with Greater Scaup. It's been a very popular species with hunters in the winter."

The birds are hunted through their migration and during summers in Alaska by Native Americans, but many return from their winter retreat contaminated by pollution. About 60 percent of the Greater Scaup population in North America winter between New Jersey and Cape Cod. Once the Great Lakes freeze in November or December, the birds typically begin flying here, Barclay said.

Through a two-year, $60,000 grant, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has signed an agreement with the center to examine national refuges and a national park service area in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island for possible contaminants harming Greater Scaup in its winter habitat. Officials from the service, state wildlife agency personnel and volunteers are helping to monitor Greater Scaup use of winter habitat throughout the region.

Greater Scaup have been declining in North America during the past 40 years, possibly because of pollution. They are excellent monitors of the environment because of their eating habits, Barclay said. They are opportunistic feeders and will consume what is around them, revealing what is in their environment. He will be able to monitor changes in the environment by surveying them.

Another project the center will undertake during the summer concerns the rare Eastern mud turtle, which lives in isolated populations on Long Island Sound. The Long Island chapter of the Nature Conservancy has given the UConn center a $73,000 grant for three years to study the turtle's ecology, population dynamics, reproduction, habitat requirements and food habits.

The center's activities are solely supported by grants and private gifts.