Dragonflies and damselflies as indicators for biodiversity

The month of June was dominated by dragonflies and damselflies for the Life MICA employees of the Institute for Nature and Forest Research (INBO). An important part of the Life MICA project is monitoring biodiversity in the project areas.

This data can help to estimate the impact of muskrats, coypu and their impact on nature. In Flanders, birds, plants and dragonflies are monitored in the De Luysen nature reserves in Bree (Limburg) and in the East Flemish creek area in Sint-Laureins.

9 species of damselflies

The first monitoring on 2 June took place under ideal weather conditions in the Luysen. We immediately observed a large number of species along the transects. We saw 9 species of damselflies, including the variable damselfly, the white-legged damselfly, the common winter damselfly and the Large Redeye damselfly.

Dragonfly

It was also clearly the peak of the flight time of the glass cutter, which flies unobtrusively among the reeds. We also saw the brown corn bolt whose males are on the lookout for the reeds. In total we saw 7 species of large dragonflies in this swamp area, including the Blue Emperor dragonfly. On subsequent visits, we were able to add several more armored spread-winged damselflies to this list. We also saw large numbers of Ruddy Darter.

The dragonfly monitoring is over for this year. We are already looking forward to next year!

Raccoon detected with camera trap

It is clear that camera traps are useful for tracking muskrats and coypu. The Life MICA partners have already collected more than 2000 images of muskrats. More than 1000 coypu were also captured on image.

A nice advantage for the muskrat control is that other invasive species can also be seen on the camera images. A raccoon was spotted in the De Luysen area (Limburg, Flanders) in May. The raccoon is already widespread in Europe, but in Flanders the species is still on the rise and often remains under the radar.

Circulation of muskrats and coypu

Images like these can help to map the circulation of muskrats and coypu. They also can help with targeted management of the species.

Searching and catching in Sint-Laureins

The landscape of creeks and polders in the border municipality of Sint-Laureins houses the last large population of muskrats in East Flanders. It is important to continuously monitor this area to avoid expansion and to reduce the species.

In 2021, the Flemish Environment Agency (VMM) started its control campaign here with the spring migration of muskrats at freezing temperatures. These migratory muskrats are often difficult to catch.

324 muskrat catches

During summer traces are very different. Territories are marked and plenty of food remains can be seen. Six months of hard work, aided by observations of 10 camera traps, yielded 324 muskrat catches. 195 of these were captured within the contours of the Life MICA project area.

Next control campaign

As soon as the high summer levels in the polder drop again, the VMM is organizing a next control campaign in the area.

First virtual Open day at the project site Aschauteiche

Raising awareness on invasive alien species – a focus of MICA

The MICA project is dealing with the management of two invasive alien species, coypu and muskrat, and therefore intends to raise public awareness on this subject. During the course of the project, several communication events, such as open days, are organized. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some of those public events had to be cancelled or postponed.

It was originally planned to welcome different stakeholders and interested public for open days in the 11 project areas (in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium) in order to introduce them to local project activities, to discuss about the project progress and receive suggestions for improvements. However, facing ongoing restrictions for public events and considering the safety of the participants, we decided to set up our first open day for the project area Aschauteiche as online event using Microsoft teams.

The German project site Aschauteiche

The German project site Aschauteiche, close to Eschede in the municipality of Celle, is a sustainable fishpond cultivation comprising near-natural lakes. The project site is part of a FFH and EU-bird protection area and home to several protected species. About a decade ago, coypus established at the lakes and, recently, the fish otter settled there as well. At this site, the Life MICA project intends to assess the impact of coypus on biodiversity and to test intelligent live traps closing only for target species like coypus.

The first virtual open day at Aschauteiche

The event took place on July 2nd 2021, when stakeholders from the local nature conservation office, the mayor of Eschede, the hunters association, a nature conservation organization, the Otterzentrum Hankensbüttel, members of the Agricultural Chamber of Lower Saxony and interested public participated in the event.

After a general introduction to the Life MICA project, we presented a short film (in German) about our activities at the project site and the characteristics of the area.

Helge John, employee at the fishpond cultivation and member of the hunters association, offered an interesting insight into the history of the Aschauteiche and the local occurrence and management of coypu populations as well as protected bird species. Furthermore, we had a great guest contribution from Martin Brühne, project leader from Reeds-for-Life (www.lebendige-roehrichte.de), about coypu management in the nature conservation area Bienener Altrhein and the successful replantation of reed vegetation to recover the damage caused by coypu during the past years.

A total of 21 persons participated in the event and several topics ranging from live trapping to the impact of coypus on biodiversity were lively discussed. In general, the feedback from the participants was very positive, highlighting once again the importance of communicating with different stakeholders and related projects about the problematic of invasive alien species.

Outlook for 2022

In 2022, we hope to be able to welcome interested stakeholders in person at the project site!

Watch: Life MICA event of February 9, 2021

On February 9, the Life MICA project organized a webinar. This webinar looked back on the first year and a half of the project. What have we done so far and what have we learned from it?

Watch webinar

To log in, use the email address lifemica@wsrl.nl

Enjoy watching!

9 February: Webinar Life MICA

Life MICA is an EU Life project with the aim to reduce and manage muskrat and coypu populations in order to prevent damages to dikes, biodiversity and crops in Europe. Institutions from Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands work out a number of best practices and develop new techniques for a more efficient muskrat and coypu control.

The Life MICA project has now been running for 1.5 years. During this project we are assisted by a project board.

We would like to invite you to a varied online event on Tuesday 9 February at 10:00 hrs. During this event you will hear all about the knowledge we have gained, we will tell you where we are now and what to expect. There is plenty of room for questions and discussions. We are looking forward to meet you.

> Attend the webinar

Easier sampling with the improved autosampler

To discover the DNA of muskrats in the water, many samples have to be taken with the “autosampler”. Now a more compact and user-friendly version of this autosampler is available.

The autosampler is a device with the size of a large lunch box. It uses GPS to keep track of where it is. It takes a ‘sip’ of the water to be sampled every few meters. The device can be used in a boat, a canoe, on a quad or on foot.

Improvement

Mirjam Boonstra, Project Leader at the University of Amsterdam, is enthusiastic. “The university’s technical center has made this new version. We are very happy with it. The autosampler is now small and less heavy. It is a great improvement.”

Sampling routes

This summer there will be also experimented with making maps of the sampling routes. Boonstra: “We expect the results of this experiment this autumn. We will come back to that in the end of the year!”

Cooperation

The cooperation with the regional water authorities is going smoothly. “We cannot manage the muskrat trappers ourselves,” says Boonstra. “The regional water authorities are responsible therefor. We have contact persons there with whom we discuss the experiments. It is nice to receive feedback from them about how things can be improved. After all, they have the field experience.”

New phase

The eDNA project is now in a new phase where more extensive field testing is taking place. Boonstra: “It is important to know that what we have done in the pilot phase also works on a larger scale. That is a new phase. This good cooperation is therefore becoming even more important.”

Update from Vechte Area

In April, the first camera traps were set up on the Vechte’s canals and side arms in the Vechte area (project area 3).

At seven locations, day and night, they take pictures of all the animals that swim or pass by. In this way, we want to track down coypu and muskrat in the project area.

In the past months, hundreds of images have been taken and saved. So far, the photos have been evaluated manually: the animal species were identified and classified. In the course of the project, an image recognition software will be trained with the photos of coypu and muskrat. The software will then automatically recognize these animal species and will replace the time-consuming manual evaluation of the images in the future.

Here, we would like to present a selection of the most beautiful photos and the variety of the occurring species.

Sharpe your eyes, how many animal species can you recognize?

DNA Mapping: collecting samples in research areas

One of the components of the Life MICA program is DNA mapping. Here the migration routes of muskrats are visualized. The presence of muskrats has now been mapped until May.

This year, the current populations of Friesland and an area of 20 km around Friesland, including North Holland north, will be analyzed. In each atlas block (25 km2) we try to catch 3 muskrats: a male, female and juvenile. A genetic profile is made of all these muskrats. This profile is compared to the profile of the other muskrats. The aim is to establish the family relationships of the captured animals.

Collecting samples

Samples are now collected in the study areas. On this basis we can determine the migration and migration routes of the muskrats. Wageningen University will carry out these analyzes from February 2021.

Time schedule

The results of the study will be known at the end of 2021. With these results, smart camera traps will be set up along the migration routes in 2022 and 2023. Traps will be placed based on the observations made by these cameras.

Overview of the collected samples until April 2020

Field protocol for eDNA in use

In the research project eDNA, a field protocol for muskrat control has been drawn up.

  • The field protocol consists of five steps, beginning with yearly monitoring of all waterways, which are divided in 5 km routes (Step 1).
  • In the event that a route tests positive for muskrat eDNA, more accurate localisation is performed by sampling every 1 km and every 100 m (Step 2).
  • The eDNA results of Step 2 enable more accurate placement of the traps (Step 3).
  • After a (successful) catching period, sequential check-ups are performed surrounding each catch/eDNA location, in order to confirm muskrats are no longer present at the catch location and no expulsion took place (Step 4 and 5).

Free of muskrats

Should a sample still test positive, Steps 3-5 are repeated until muskrat eDNA is no longer detected. The area under investigation is then declared free of muskrats, and will be tested again during regular monitoring.

Civilian notification

Alternative starting point: In the event of civilian notification, the exterminator will investigate the location for the presence of muskrats. If traces are found, the field protocol is started at Step 2.

Download field protocol