Volunteers sought for inventory of North Park animals, plants

| Sunday, July 28, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

About 2 acres in the northern corner of North Park might seem quiet, overgrown and unused, but with a closer look, they are teeming with activity that park officials hope to capture during an inventory event this weekend.

The Latodami Nature Center staff in North Park is looking for volunteers to don boots and arm themselves with clipboards, digital cameras and butterfly nets to explore the Wahdo:Gwas Wetlands ecosystem on Saturday, Aug. 3, for the annual “bioblitz,” a research activity designed to identify and record all living species in the wetlands.

The Wahdo:Gwas Wetlands — the name means “rising or coming from the waters” in the Seneca language — are relatively young wetlands that were developed in North Park to meet a Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission wetland-mitigation requirement in 2010. The commission was required to replace the wetlands it disturbed during a reconstruction project between mileposts 31 and 38 at an equal-to or greater-than ratio.

The area now is home to several wetland plant and animal species, and the Latodami Nature Center staff hopes to find more this weekend.

“The idea being when the Turnpike Commission redeveloped this wetland, we wanted to monitor it over a long time period in order to see the health and vitality and to document plants that were there and to see what new plants are coming in,” said Meg Scanlon, naturalist at the nature center. “We're looking to see how it changes through time.”

The North Park wetlands have been home to aquatic insects, bullfrogs, green frogs, minks, muskrats, foxes, coyotes, kingfishers, yellow warblers, killdeer, red-winged blackbirds, wood ducks, mallards, herons and snakes and turtles. But, Scanlon said, she always hopes to find a species that hasn't been found before.

“We're looking to see what new things come into the area now that we have a more suitable environment there,” Scanlon said.

Elliott Bartels, who will be a junior biology major at Allegheny College in the fall, said the events always are fun.

“You learn a lot of stuff in one day,” said Bartels, of Cranberry, who also works at the nature center. “I like the research aspect … it's something fun to do, (I) drag my friends down with me.”

Individuals, organizations such as clubs or Scout groups and families are invited to attend. Volunteers will be divided into teams with experienced volunteers and sent to collect data of the plants and animals present in the wetlands. Scanlon said field books are available to identify species, and digital photographs or samples also can be taken to identify species.

“You can arm a child with a camera and they can take as many pictures as they want or be given a bug net and bug jar,” she said.

The annual inventories provide valuable data for the nature center to use when looking at the ecosystems in North Park, Scanlon said. Results from the previous inventory days are available on the center's website at sites.google.com/site/latodaminaturecenter.

“I think there is a need to document and monitor the species diversity in the location,” Scanlon said. “It might help us decide how to … maintain the health and quality of that ecosystem. We want it to function well, and the inventory helps us see how well it's functioning.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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