Conference Looks at Bugs

Freedom — July 17, 2003 — This year’s Watershed Weekend brought its focus down to the small scale to look at what bugs can tell us about the Ossipee Watershed.

This is the fifth year for Watershed Weekend, which is held at Camp Calumet in Freedom and is sponsored by Green Mountain Conservation Group. Saturday was the main day for activities. It included lectures, hikes and pontoon boat rides on Ossipee Lake. Bob Craycraft of UNH Cooperative Extension led two stream walks and talked to participants about how to identify and collect water bugs.

Also speaking Saturday were David Carroll, author of books on turtles and their habitat, and Michelle Tremblay, of Naturesource Communications, who gave a slide presentation on the role that water bugs play in keeping water healthy. The weekend of activities continued Sunday at the Smith Flats in Tamworth, with a talk on stream ecology in the Bearcamp River, given by Rick Van de Poll of Ecosystem Management Consultants of Sandwich.

Two of the presenters, Dan Sperduto of the NH Heritage Inventory and Jonathan Kart of The Nature Conservancy, gave tours on or around Ossipee Lake and later gave talks. Jonathan Kart spent the last year researching the variety of lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) that make their homes in the Ossipee Pine Barrens. The Ossipee Pine Barrens, which are apparently the ideal habitat for many moths, once covered 7,000 acres. Now there are only about 2,000 undeveloped acres of pine barrens here, and the area is the largest remaining pine barren in the state. The Nature Conservancy owns 800 to 900 acres of that land.

Pine Barrens are a rare ecosystem, and occur when pines and scrub oaks grow on sandy soil. They support a variety of heath, such as blueberry plants, much wildlife, and many rare species of moths. They are particularly threatened by fragmentation, in part because they rely on fire as part of their life cycle, and following fires, species from nearby, unharmed sections of the forest repopulate the burned areas.

“Fire shapes pine barrens ecology,” Sperduto said. “Fire releases nutrients. It weeds out invasive species. It selects for fire-adapted vegetation.” Barrens are not well understood, Kart said, and his study hoped to shed light on the ecology of pine barrens by focusing on why moths do so well there.

During the collection phase of his research, Kart collected 2,400 specimens, and identified 245 different species of moths in 11 different families. In contrast, he noted there are about 60 different species of mammals in New Hampshire. As with plants in local pond shore communities, the combinations of different types of moths that come together in pine barrens cannot be found together elsewhere.

Kart believes the factors of dry, nutrient poor land, with plenty of sun and sparse population of plants produce the types of foods that moths eat. At the same time, open spaces and extremes of temperatures between night and day keep down the number of predators while providing cover for the moths. “It’s so complex and interesting. There’s always more to be found,” he said. “This is a really dynamic place.”

Kart said moths can be seen as key indicators of the health of pine barrens. And while a change may not be obvious from day to day, the area is changing. “There were whole new areas cleared in the last few months,” he said.

Pondshore Communities
Sperduto gave a presentation on pond shore communities on Ossipee Lake. Long Sands is one of the largest pond shore communities on the shores of Ossipee Lake. He said there is a concentration of biodiversity (many different types of plants and animals) on Ossipee Lake and the surrounding region.

Geology plays a role in creating the diversity of plant life we see today in Carroll County. The Ossipee Mountains, the remains of a long extinct ring dike volcano provides a set of rocks very different from the surrounding area. Also important in creating the geography of our modern landscape were the glaciers that came through this area more than 10,000 years ago, scouring out depressions that became lakes and bogs and leaving behind great amounts of sand and gravel.

“Unique geology sets up different plant communities,” Sperduto said. For instance, spruce fir and red pine stands grow along rocky ridges, while pitch pine and scrub oaks grow on the sand covered lowlands. Sperduto said there are unusual plant communities in this area. In the pine barrens, there is a mix of white, red and pitch pine – it is the only place where the ranges of these different species overlap. In this region, he said, eastern deciduous forests and coastal forests meet, and plants and animals that can be found. There are also extensive bogs, like the heath bog on Ossipee Lake, where there are dozens of different species of peat. Kettle holes, with not inlet or outlet for the water in them, are isolated basins develop into marsh lands.

Along the shores of Ossipee Lake, can be found coastal plane pond shore communities; that is areas which have a high number of the range of species limited to Atlantic and Gulf Coastal plains. “Some studies of plants of New Hampshire and the Ossipee region note coastal plain species occurring,” he said. These plants are adapted to flooding in the spring and drought conditions in some years and are adapted to tolerate such stresses. There are 87 coastal plain plant species identified in New Hampshire, and 45 of them occur in sand plain pond shores or basins; about half of those are the stress tolerating species.

Sperduto said it is important to study communities of plants rather than individual species. “Classifying communities allows us to compare communities,” he said, and ecological conditions among similar communities. He said that there is only one area in Massachusetts that has similar communities of plants. Looking at communities also allows biologists to ask better questions about the variation in communities, even with small scale and large scale communities of plants and animals.

“Some sections of Ossipee Lake shore are still pretty pristine,” Sperduto said. And there are many different species of plants that can be found along its shores. In some places, he said, “There are 50 species in a small area, its amazing the diversity of species that occurs.” The best explanation for that diversity, he said, is the diversity of environmental conditions.

He also said many pond shore and basin communities are facing threats from development by humans. In protecting such habitats, he said, it is important to focus on protecting the biggest, least protected, most diverse sites possible. “If we start with individual sites, we’re going to be missing the bigger picture.

The talk on pond shore communities was sponsored jointly by Green Mountain Conservation Group and Ossipee Lake Alliance. The two groups are also working together to survey current recreation uses of Ossipee Lake and to study the effects that human use of the lake are having on diverse ecological communities there. That study is funded by a non-point source pollution grant to Green Mountain Conservation Group from the NH Department of Environmental Services.

[Editorial 7.17.03]

Expanding Our Understanding

For the past five years Green Mountain Conservation Group has been making information about the natural resources of Carroll County more accessible to residents through its Watershed Weekend events.

This year, as in past years, the group has highlighted one piece of the picture of the Ossipee Watershed. Weekend activities focused on what bugs can tell us about our environment. In past years, weekend activities have looked at such issues as water quality, and how to balance the variety of recreational uses and protect natural resources on the lake.

Each year too, Green Mountain seeks new ways to put the knowledge gained at such conferences to work. Last year, it was helping to introduce the Lake Host program on Ossipee Lake. The program helps boaters on the lake learn about milfoil and other invasive plant species that could clog our lakes, and teaches them ways to clean their boats in order to prevent that from happening. This year, the group has partnered with the recently formed Ossipee Lake Alliance to study the recreational uses of the lake and their affect on the environment.

Such programs can go a long way toward maintaining the health of the natural resources that draw residents and visitors to our area. Not to mention giving us all a greater appreciation of the diversity and beauty that surrounds us.

– T.L.

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