I sat down with Liz Baldwin at Little House Cafe to discuss Martha’s Vineyard’s only wildlife research organization, BiodiversityWorks. Baldwin is a wildlife biologist and assistant director of the wildlife research organization she co-founded with director Luanne Johnson. I was there to get a better understanding of the organization she helped build on Martha’s Vineyard. “So, what’s a wildlife research organization and why does the Vineyard need one?”
She starts out slowly, explaining that environmental protection groups abound on the island, providing sanctuary to wildlife, education and recreation to the public. These groups are not formal wildlife research organizations, however. Although they may offer periodic support to academic studies rooted elsewhere, they do not conduct independent scientific research. BiodiversityWorks, on the other hand, does not own sanctuary property or direct protective covenants. BiodiversityWorks performs formal scientific study and contributes to broader academic research and wildlife understanding in the region and across the country.
Since BiodiversityWorks' insception, Johnson, Baldwin and a host of volunteers and interns have worked a variety of projects, including a bird colony survey, ghost crab activity study and otter scat analysis. Baldwin's pace picks up as she starts talking about the research, and she starts slinging around terms like “beach-nesting bird populations." She looks at me askance when I mention that no, I was not aware of the impact white-nose syndrome has had on the long-eared bat population. (It’s been all over the news, she tells me, incredulous. I hang my head in shame.)
Fingers tapping excitedly, Baldwin explains that as an island, Martha’s Vineyard is well suited for wildlife research of this kind. Take the story of those long-eared bats, for example. This variety of bat has made its way to the endangered species list, thanks to a cave-growing fungus. Called white-nose syndrome, this disease has spread through the region very quickly, decimating the long eared bat population. But the disease has not been detected on Martha’s Vineyard. Yet. An ongoing study initiated by BiodiversityWorks last summer will contribute to scientific understanding of the long-eared bat and white-nose syndrome, and help researchers who are working to find a solution to the problem.
Growing up on Martha’s Vineyard, Baldwin tells me, she would have loved the opportunity to work with trained wildlife biologists as an intern. Now she’s providing that opportunity to island students herself. And they are lucky to have her, indeed.