Natural Resource Projects
Did you know McConnell AFB has a Natural Resource Program? This page outlines a few of the projects we are currently working on.
The pollinator gardens were established as pilot projects for the National Air Force Pollinator Partnerhsip. They are located at the FamCamp near the fishing ponds. Checkout one or all three: the hourglass garden, the arrowhead garden, and the AF Wing garden.
- Each garden has a selection of different plants, all of which are native to Kansas in an attempt to support native pollinators and minimize maintenance.
- The gardens were planted in Fall 2016 from plugs and in the Spring of 2017 with seeds. Additional plants were added in Spring of 2018, so not all plants have bloomed or are fully grown.
- Pollinator surveys were conducted to see what kind of insects are attracted to the plants, and contrasted to non native flower beds on base in 2017. Report is available in the Natural Resource Office.
- Monarch butterflies have already found the gardens. Biologists have observed Monarch eggs, larvae, and a single chrysalis (the protective case a larva forms to change into a butterfly) on the various species of milkweed planted throughout the gardens.
Currently we are in the middle of conducting pollinator surveys at our gardens. We are hoping to get an idea of what species of pollinators are being attracted to and using the gardens for food. To do this, white, blue, and yellow bowls of water and soap are being places in grids in and around the gardens. The bowls are attractive to the pollinators because they look like flowers in color and shape, and are painted with irridescent paint to further draw them in.
While this method of survey does kill the insects, it is extremely useful to know what is being attracted in order to improve the gardens. If a species of butterfly is being attracted by nectar sources in the garden but we do not have a host plant for its young, then we are not fully meeting that species' needs. We have waited until July because many insects are especially active at this time, and also because in June there are native bumblebees that have queens flying looking for a new nest. If we accidentily caught one, it could have had a large effect on the population in the area. The pollinator surveys will continue until first frost in the fall/winter. We will also do sweep net surveys to catch large flying insects that may not be attracted to the bowls.
June 2017 saw the addition of a butterfly garden complex at the School Age Program yard on base. Biologists are helping to maintain the garden in collaboration with the 4-H club and staff at the Program.
- The team planted 32 common milkweed plants from MonarchWatch in addition to a few native nectar sources for the adult butterflies. Addtional plants were added in Spring of 2018.
- The garden complex is now an official Monarch Waystation and belongs to a nationwide community of similar butterfly gardens.
- When the adult Monarchs visit the garden they have the opportunity to eat and lay eggs on the milkweed. The eggs take 3-5 days to hatch, and then the little caterpillars take about 2-3 weeks to grow and turn into a chrysalis. After another two weeks the adult butterfly emerges and takes time to dry out its wings before taking flight to begin the cycle again.
- The egg is white and very, very small (about the size of a point of a pencil) with small vertical lines on it. When the caterpillars first hatch they are green-white with a black head, then they grow and become striped black, yellow, and white with little "horns" on their heads and tail. Adult monarchs are bright orange with black markings, and you can tell males from females because they have a black spot one each of their bottom wings (also known as hindwings). The monarch, throughout it's lifecycle, is poisonous due to the milkweed it eats, and is brightly colored to ward off potential predators.
In 2016 the old 1090 building lot was repurposed for a prairie restoration project.
- The lot was reseeded with the help of contractors using drill-seeding which is a method using a machine that puts the seeds automatically in the ground in rows.
- The project was left to grow with little human interaction and has begun to flourish even after only one growing season. Several species of wildflowers native to Kansas have also grown even without being planted by the contractors or anyone else.
- Some seeds were spread by hand as the growing season progressed, but this project is a good example of why planting natives is so time, energy, and cost efficient. Native plants adapted to live in a certain type of soil with a certain amount of rainfall and flourish there even when left alone. This is also one of the reasons we planted natives in the pollinator gardens (in addition to just being better for the pollinators and other animals).
Every once in awhile you may see someone crouched out in the 1090 prairie frantically taking notes or walking through with a large white square. Have no fear, it's just us out conducting plant surveys. These surveys are important to monitor what is growing in the prarie and assess the quality of the plot. We ultimately want a healthly prairie with nothing but native plants and very few pieces of bare ground. Grasses and wildflowers alike are great to have, and if we can avoid bare ground we lower the risk of invasive grasses establishing as well as lowering ground-nesting bird habitat. We want to avoid ground-nesting birds to lower BASH (Bird Airstrike Safety Hazard) risks.The surveys are conducted using a one meter by one meter square of PVC piping (called a quadrat) which is placed over predetermined plots within the prairie. We ID everything within the quadrat and estimate the percentage of the quadrat each plant is taking up. We also take measurements for bare ground, water, or any debris that might be in the quadrat. The sampling is done once a month to monitor growth over the year. Pollinators such as butterflies are a common, and very much welcome, sight in the prarie. More formal pollinator surveys plan to be conducted, but if you see one of us running through the field with a net, just know that we are doing science.
If you've seen the tall grass around the streams on base, you've seen a buffer! These very simple pieces of engineering not only reduce the amount of land that needs to be mowed by contractors, but also help decrease erosion and pollution. The roots of the fully grown grasses and other plants in the buffers hold the soil together better than if the plants were mowed. The above ground "roughness" from live and dead vegetation slows stream water velocity. Streams are very strong forces, especially after a long or heavy rainfall and the flowing water can cut away at the banks. This can lead to costly erosion of roads, parking lots, or even buildings and damage to infrastructure. The buffers are also pleasing to look at and provide a nice break to the mowed lawns.
Presently we are working on removing saplings and invasive plants from the buffers. Removal of saplings simulates disturbances such as grazing by deer or wildfires that have otherwise been supressed due to the urban setting. Invasive plants can disrupt ecosystem function by crowding out the growth of native plants.
Around the new moon each month you may see some flags and small metal boxes in the buffers. These are our small mammal traps which we leave overnight. Since the buffers are still a new feature on base, we have spent this summer running sampling efforts to see what is being attracted to the new grass and vegetation (if anything). We can compare what we find in each buffer and see if different widths of buffer or their location on base has an impact on what is living there. So far we have found hispid cotton rats, prarie voles, deer mice, and even a couple eastern woodrats back in a wooded area. We also know that muskrats live in some of the streams, but have yet to catch one. Don't worry! What we have found so far are mammals that enjoy being outside, and we haven't found any house mice or norway rats that are commonly considered pests. Plus, those animals that we have found, are actually kind of cute!
Once we catch a mammal, we carefully put it into a cloth bag, then scruff it to handle it safely. Scruffing is accomplished by pinching the extra skin on the back of the neck, much like mother cats and dogs do to their babies. Once scruffed, we expose the animal by moving the bag out of the way and then ID, sex, and weigh the animal. Once finished, we mark the animal on the chin with a marker (so we know if we catch the same individual again) then release it. The process is pain free for the animal, and lets us gather important data to monitor the mammal populations on base. The traps even have a free snack for the mammal and bedding to cuddle up in overnight.
Questions, comments, concerns? Feel free to stop by Building 9 on base to talk to us, or contact: