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Research

The Kalamazoo Nature Center works with local, national, and international partners to conduct scientific research that supports the restoration and conservation of native habitats and species. Our projects range from short-term actions that address critical conservation needs to multi-decade population studies. The Kalamazoo Nature Center’s research program aims to deepen our collective understanding of Michigan’s natural communities and to provide information that can guide the activities of land managers, policy makers, and others who care for nature.

 

Current Initiatives

Mitchell’s Satyr Butterfly Propagation

Captive rearing is a critical conservation measure that can supplement and support declining populations of animals, such as the federally endangered Mitchell’s satyr butterfly (Neonympha mitchellii mitchellii). Only 10 Mitchell’s satyr butterfly populations remain of the 30 that previously existed across the northeastern United States, 9 of which are located in Michigan. The Kalamazoo Nature Center is home to one of just two Mitchell’s satyr propagation facilities in the country that is permitted to rear Mitchell’s satyr. Wild-caught butterflies are briefly held in our propagation facility to lay eggs, which metamorphose in captivity before augmenting dwindling populations. Additionally, the Kalamazoo Nature Center began a long-term study in 2020 that monitors temperature and humidity at multiple strata within occupied Mitchell’s satyr habitat. Data from this study will help to synchronize captive Mitchell’s satyr development with that of wild populations within our propagation facility, and has potential long-term applications considering that their globally rare, prairie fen habitat is highly vulnerable to human and environmental pressures.

 

Population and Habitat Monitoring

The Kalamazoo Nature Center monitors populations of imperiled plant and animal species and their associated habitats across our 1,500 acres. A focal species of our monitoring efforts is the federally threatened eastern massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus). These snakes have been observed on our property’s wetlands and upland areas adjacent to our wetlands. Massasaugas use both of these areas for different parts of their life history. Wetland habitats offer perfect sites for massasauga hibernacula, or hibernation areas. As massasaugas emerge from their hibernacula in the spring, they will search for a mate and eventually make their way to nearby upland areas to give birth to their young. Finding massasaugas in our wetlands implies that a massasauga population lives and reproduces on site opposed to them visiting from other locations. Regular monitoring of this population tracks the species’ health, growth, and distribution, which allows the Kalamazoo Nature Center to prioritize restoration activities in vital patches of suitable habitat and increase connectivity between populated patches of suitable habitat. If you are lucky enough to spot a massasuaga while out on our trails, please contact Holly Hooper at hhooper@naturecenter.org with the date, time, and location of your observation!

Contact Us

Holly Hooper                              
Pronouns: she/her/hers  
Biological Research Director  
hhooper@naturecenter.org                

Rich Keith                               
Pronouns: he/him/his  
KVBO Director  
rkeith@naturecenter.org                      

Conducting Research at the Kalamazoo Nature Center

Researchers who are interested in conducting research at the Kalamazoo Nature Center should contact Holly Hooper at hhooper@naturecenter.org for information about the application procedure. Researchers who are interested in collaborating with Kalamazoo Valley Bird Observatory should contact Rich Keith at rkeith@naturecenter.org.

Kalamazoo Valley Bird Observatory

Kalamazoo Valley Bird Obsevatory logoThe Kalamazoo Valley Bird Observatory (KVBO) is a program of the Kalamazoo Nature Center that is over 30 years old! Collaborative research between KVBO and government agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations allows individual birds to be tracked as they move throughout North America. Surveys, banding, and parasite sampling allows researchers at KVBO to examine how environmental changes, pests, and diseases impact the distribution and demography of bird species.

Fall Migratory Bird Banding

Banding birds allows researchers to track and monitor migration patterns and population fluctuations. Additionally, birds make ideal research subjects for looking at changes in the environment, such as climate change, because their biology and life history has been extensively studied. The banding process involves recording physical data about the bird, such as weight, wing length, age, and sex, and placing a small, light-weight band with a 9-digit code on the bird’s leg. If a banded bird is recaptured, researchers gain valuable knowledge about where the bird has traveled. Furthermore, KVBO shares this data with a multitude of different banding programs and institutions, which allows individual birds to be tracked across state and international borders.

The Kalamazoo Nature Center’s bird banding efforts are part of the national Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program coordinated by the Institute for Bird Populations. Learn more.

Motus Wildlife Tracking System

If you are hiking in the Emma Pitcher Prairie, keep an eye out for a large antenna near the Kalamazoo Nature Center’s solar array! This is a piece of research equipment called a Motus receiver. The Motus receiver is a part of a collaborative automated radio telemetry array that picks up signals from small, flying animals, such as birds and bats, that have been outfitted with radio transmitters. The data picked up from the Motus receiver located at the Kalamazoo Nature Center contributes to the world’s largest wildlife tracking data sets, which allows researchers around the globe to better understand animal movement and behavior on a local, regional, and international scale. Learn more.