Soil mapping exercise and field work in New Island

By iLaria Marengo

New Island is one of the western islands of the Falkland Islands archipelago. Its western coastline is characterised by sheer cliffs (mainly sandstone) which are the nesting (breeding) ground of black-browed albatrosses, king cormorants and rockhopper penguins. The cliffs are a distinctive character of the island and the most scenic and spectacular landscape that people can enjoy along with several white sandy beaches scattered all over. A field research station built in the 1970s has been offering a great support to researchers coming to study what nature shows at its best in this place. The mix between the natural beauty, the self-contained and small environment, and the research facilities provided by New Island, made the location the perfect ground for attempting the first ground truthing of the Falkland Islands interpreted soil map.

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The map (see May blog) is one of outcomes of the TEFRA (Terrestrial Ecosystems of the Falklands – a Climate Change Risk Assessment) project and it is a very valuable dataset considering that there are very few studies of the soils of the Falklands and the most prominent goes back to the 1970’s. The interpretation was by Rodney Burton, a soil specialist who has worked previously in the Falklands, on the basis of the superficial deposits described in the geological map drawn up by the British Geological Survey. In late May Rodney came to Stanley and delivered a two week soil course funded by the TEFRA project and the result was a familiarisation with the identification of types of soils and above all a new interest in an element of the landscape that generally is not eye-catching, except in eroded areas.

The ground truthing work ended in coring locations across 80% of the island (the southernmost area and Sabina point were not visited) resulting in a total of 160 cores and describing the soil characteristic of each core such as depth, colour, texture, stoniness, structure and mottling. Dutch and gouge augers were the tools used to extract the cores; the latter was preferred in the case of peat or very peaty soils (figures below). According to the landscape and the interpreted soil map, the cores were taken along transects perpendicular to slope and longitudinal to the valleys in order to have a good representation of changes in soil types if these occurred.

nisoilsurvey IMG_0341 IMG_0393 IMG_0332 IMG_0049The data and description of the soils cored to different depth have been entered in a postgres database and mapped in QGIS. The last part of the work, currently in progress, is to match the soil descriptions with the soil type classification scheme adopted by the World Reference Base for Soil Resources (WRB). A simplified illustrated legend of soil types with related pictures was presented by Rodney in May and it will provide a valuable visual aid. WRB methodology for soil classification can be summarised in three steps: determining diagnostic horizons, properties and materials; allocating the soil to a Reference Soil Group; allocating principal and supplementary qualifiers. The principal qualifier are ranked from right to left in order of importance and differentiate the RSG according to the primary pedogenetic process (soil-forming factors or processes that most clearly condition the soil) that characterise soil features. The supplementary qualifiers, used in alphabetical order, are added in brackets. The two tables below offer example of a simplified guide to the WRB RGS and the classes of soils identified in the Falklands.

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WRB

Scale is the factor to be taken into account after the soil identification at each sample point has been completed. In fact there is a discrepancy between the scale of the interpreted map, which is at 1:250,000, and the level of detail provided by the ground truthing, which is in the order of 300-500 metres (where the coring took place the samples were taken on average at 300-500 metres). A full report will be available in early 2016 and the hope is that the results can be useful to refine the interpreted map; the methodology could be applied to other small islands; conservationists can refer to the outcomes for planning habitat restoration projects and other researchers can be inspired to carry out further investigations. We would like to thank the New Island Conservation Trust to give us the opportunity to carry out the field works and to offer the Field station facilities as base camp. Thank you to the wardens of New Island for their kindness and hospitality.

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Demographic and tracking data of black browed albatross on New Island

by iLaria Marengo

New Island is one of the islands of the Falklands’ archipelago and lies to the west of West Falkland. It is approximately 22.7 square km; the northern and western coastline is characterised by precipitous and breath-taking cliffs (max 200 metres). These are perfect locations for black browed albatross (BBA), rockhopper and shags colonies. In contrast, the eastern coastline is lower lying or has smaller cliffs and scarps. Sandy beaches are scattered throughout the northern and southern ends and centre of the island and offer perfect places for penguins, sea lions and, less frequently, elephant seals to come ashore or depart for the open sea. New Island is owned by the New Island Conservation Trust (http://www.falklandswildlife.com/), which is a non-profit charitable conservation organisation and aims at assuring the future of the island as wildlife reserve in perpetuity.

Conservation is therefore the main activity carried out on New Island: currently there are researchers from all over the world studying demographic, migratory behaviour, and foraging ecology of gentoo, rockhopper and magellanic penguins, black browed albatrosses, striated caracara, thin-billed prions, white chinned petrels, southern giant petrels and Falkland skuas. The amazing diversity of species and their “accessibility” makes New Island a special place. This is helped greatly by the good infrastructure (accommodation and lab space) provided by the Trust that allows researchers to carry out field work and long terms studies. Along with seabirds, plants and habitats have also been the focus of studies, the most recent being the broad scale habitat mapping carried out by Dr Rebecca Upson in 2010-2011.

While visiting the Island in early November it was extremely interesting to participate in the field work conducted by Dr Letizia Campioni, who is a postdoc at the ISPA-Instituto Universitario of Lisbon and one of the members of the team of scientists led by Dr Paulo Catry. Since 2003 the team from Portugal has been conducting yearly monitoring of the BBA colonies at the so called “Settlement rookery”. Through the collection of data (such as count of breeding pairs, eggs and chicks) and the ringing of breeding or immature birds as well as chicks, researchers obtain information that helps to understand the dynamics of the albatross populations. The main goal of such long-term project is to use these demographic data as a tool for conservation and environmental monitoring. Further details on the Albatross Project at:

https://sites.google.com/site/projectoalbatroz/Home.

At the same time, the team collected ecological and behavioral data. In the latest years, Dr Letizia Campioni has been focusing her work on immature BBA, studying the foraging ecology, foraging specialisation and strategies during the breeding and wintering season. She is doing this by sampling blood and feathers for stable isotope composition and by tracking birds using GPS-loggers, activity loggers and geolocators. These data will enable the identification and modelling of the parameters that are driving population changes and relate those to environmental variables (i.e. climate and fisheries) and management practices (fisheries regulations).

The team, led by Dr Paulo Catry, also conducts low to medium intensity biological and monitoring studies of two predators of chicks: the Falkland Skuas and the Striated Caracaras (Johnny Rooks).

Overall, the data gathered and analysed by the researchers in New Island will provide a better understanding of the population dynamics, their distribution and relationship with resources (e.g. food), other environmental variables (e.g. climate, oceanography) and human activities. In addition, the metadata of these data will be kept available through an online catalogue. Metadata will offer the opportunity to quickly find the data that has already been collected. As such, it will facilitate data sharing and increase scientific partnerships and collaborations, with benefits and advantages for both the conservation of wildlife in New Island and the researchers.

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