Hide and Seek in the Creek – Coverboards

By: Paolo Solari

Coverboards have been used in amphibian and other terrestrial vertebrate studies for many years, and can be a great way to determine which animals are present in an area. Coverboards offer suitable nest sites for terrestrial vertebrates (mostly amphibians) and offer protection from predators. They also are useful in that they reduce nesting-site competition. With all this in mind, we thought that coverboards would be a great way to determine what kind of animals, as well as how many, were in our very own backyard in Copeland Creek. Unfortunately, things did not go quite like we had planned. I’ll talk about that a little later, though. First of all, here is what we did:

Our first step was getting coverboards. Wendy helped a lot with that. In fact, she bought us 8 of them! The next step was to distribute them (relatively) evenly throughout the length of Copeland Creek on campus. Our plan was to place two coverboards in each section of the creek. Danielle and I lugged the 8 coverboards to the eastern end of the bridge near the footbridge, where we placed our first coverboard. Despite occasionally getting stuck in those pesky Himalayan Blackberry bushes, we made our way westward down the creek, towards the ETC building. Our goal was to place the coverboards in cool, moist locations. We also thought it would be best to hide them as much as possible to avoid potential disturbance from larger animals or people exploring the creek (this would end up making it somewhat difficult to find all of the coverboards). After we placed all of our coverboards, our next step was to wait for critters to move in.

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Photo source: Paolo Solari

Two weeks later, Beverly and I checked the coverboards on a foggy Monday morning. We slowly lifted the first one, only to find the ground underneath completely uninhabited (save for the occasional tiny arthropod). Despite finding no signs of amphibious life under our first coverboard, we did not lose hope. However, this desolate trend continued all the way to our very last coverboard, in which we found nothing but a couple of pill bugs.

 

Before starting our experiment, we knew that most coverboards need at least three months to establish (and can sometimes take up to a year). Obviously we were working with a much shorter time frame.  Our mindset going in was that we most likely would not find anything, and that turned out to be the case.  However, we still learned sampling methods that we would not have learned otherwise, and that is not something that we take for granted. It was also nice to more intimately familiarize ourselves with our own backyard in Copeland Creek, a place that we have, and will continue to spend a lot of our time.