Professor Wagner researches rare wildlife inhabiting power corridors of New England 

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David Wagner, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, and his team of researchers have found that some power line corridors in New England are better habitats to certain wildlife than forested areas nearby.  File Photo /The Daily Campus

David Wagner, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, and his team of researchers have found that some power line corridors in New England are better habitats to certain wildlife than forested areas nearby. File Photo /The Daily Campus

David Wagner, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, and his team of researchers have found that some power line corridors in New England are better habitats to certain wildlife than forested areas nearby. 

In 2017, Wagner and his team of researchers specifically surveyed bee communities along an 89-mile corridor. Wagner, who studied botany as an undergraduate student and entomology as a graduate student, also discovered there was a greater diversity of bees that inhabited the corridor, rather than the forests that were only 30 feet away.  

“More than 200 species of wild pollinators, half the known species for the entire New England region, were buzzing around the 27 survey plots,” Wagner said in a UConn Today article.  

The power lines were also found to harbor species such as the multicolored tiger beetle, blue fritillary butterfly and a variety of species of birds.  

Wagner has been conducting field research studying these power lines for over 30 years, since beginning his career at UConn. In that time, he and his team of researchers have collected two kinds of the most rare species of bees in North America.  

“I have been walking power lines since I started at the university in 1988,” said Wagner. “For botanists, entomologists, herpetologists and ornithologists, power line corridors are great places to see wildlife, and especially sun-loving species, which of course is especially important to cold-blooded animals like reptiles, butterflies, bees and shrubland birds.” 

Through studying these power corridors, Wagner and his team of researchers have been able to both rediscover species thought to be lost and discover new species.  

“I love discovering and naming new species, or rediscovering species lost to science for a century or more,” said Wagner. “I have named some 25 species new to science with others in the queue.” 

Professor Wagner says he decided to research wildlife inhabiting the power corridors because he wanted to help conserve those early-successional species living there, since many of the natural early successional and sunny habitats that these species usually inhabit are in steep decline across the New England region.  

“Wildlife that need open habitats with abundant sunshine are having a tough time in the region,” Wagner said. “I thought I could play a better role in bettering their prospects for survival — be a voice that could speak on their behalf.”  

Wagner said some of the biggest challenges in a field research project such as this are finding time, energy, funding and students to help with the study. He also finds choosing just one environmental issue to research difficult, especially with so many stressors acting on the environment currently.  

Wagner looks to continue researching the wildlife that inhabit transmission line corridors, as well as to protect those habitats.  

“I still want to tackle projects that challenge the thinking that transmission lines are just awful eyesores,” said Wagner. “They have great value to many types of species that are struggling to eke out an existence in forested landscapes of the Northeast.”   

He also looks to continue to discover new species, as well as continue his research in using genes to reconstruct the tree of life, and would like to continue his work in protecting insect life.   

Wagner describes moving to renewable energy sources as an integral part of the conservation of these species, as well as the environment.  

“Climate change is an ominous and omnipresent threat to the region’s plant and animal wildlife,” said Wagner. “We must as individuals, as a national front-runner among environmentally-minded universities, as a state and nation move to clean energy. Our energy use is at the point of driving other species to oblivion, extinction. The morality of such is not something future generations are likely to forgive.”  


Amanda Kilyk is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached at amanda.kilyk@uconn.edu.

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