NYC teens conducting research at the American Museum of Natural History recently announced the results of separate studies evaluating two animals that many New Yorkers would be surprised to hear are making the metropolitan area home: coyotes and Boraria stricta, a millipede from the Southeast, according to a museum press release.
As part of the Museum-led Science Research Mentoring Program, local students researched the dietary habits of NYC coyotes and the expanding range of Boraria stricta, which is now invading Westchester County.
Recent coyote sightings around NYC have received a lot of media attention. The coyotes are now breeding in the Bronx, transient in Manhattan and there is one known resident in Queens. In order to promote peaceful coexistence with the coyote population, local high school students Olivia Asher (Washington Heights), Sandra Lewocki (Greenpoint), Rita Pozovskiy (Bensonhurst) and Rachel Lee (Norwood, NJ) worked with Museum scientist Mark Weckel and Mammalogy Collections Manager Neil Duncan to analyze coyote scat collected from city parks. Among the findings, NYC coyotes are primarily eating small mammals and birds and there was even evidence of deer in samples collected from Pelham Bay Park.
The study is part of the Gotham Coyote Project, which uses camera traps to non-invasively track coyotes. These cameras are automatically triggered by the movement of warm-bodied animals allowing researchers to observe wildlife without ever touching or disturbing the animals. The research is used to understand how different species are impacted by different levels of urbanization, the size of the park they live in and the presence of coyotes.
In addition, a millipede species from the Southern Appalachian mountains was recently discovered in Westchester County, over 400 miles north of its home range. To better understand how these arthopods made it to the area, teenagers Mahir Ismail (Bronx) and Julian Perricone (Upper East Side) worked alongside Museum scientist Anthony Caragiulo to examine the DNA of Boraria stricta. They analyzed specimens collected in the Mianus River Gorge Preserve in Bedford, NY and found they were very genetically similar, suggesting a single introduction event rather than a natural migration from the South.
So far, the team has only sampled parts of New York and Connecticut, and is looking to expand their sampling sites to include areas between New York and Virginia. Julianne and Mahir are encouraging citizen scientists to collect further specimens for analysis.
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Main photo: SRMP students who participated in the coyote research, pictured left to right: Sandra Lewocki, Rita Pozovskiy, Rachel Lee, Olivia Asher (©AMNH/D. Finnin)