In the Field with Matt Pelikan

Published April 2014
Matt Pelikan is a restoration ecologist on Martha's Vineyard, helping to maintain and restore the island's sandplain natural communities, along with shellfish and eelgrass off its shores.
He is also a lover of birds, butterflies, tiger beetles, damselflies and dragonflies, and grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids.
Check out Matt's blog, "Wild Times," in the Martha's Vineyard Times!

"Enough small improvements across the landscape add up to a better connected and more resilient ecosystem."

What field projects are you excited about this year?


We’re planning a large grassland restoration operation in Edgartown, and I hope we’ll continue with more work on an oyster restoration project we started last year in the Tisbury Great Pond. We also have an ongoing moth-monitoring program that has produced some very interesting results, and we monitor annual for several rare breeding birds on our property.

Martha’s Vineyard has a rare and compelling habitat. What have you found most interesting about it?


I’m struck by how some species that are scarce in mainland Massachusetts are common and widespread here. A species scrub oak, for example, has very limited distribution on the mainland but completely dominates large sections of the Vineyard. Habitat conditions that are rare elsewhere turn out to be common here!

How have you been working to ease the stresses of development and climate change on natural systems?


One major initiative is our Vineyard Habitat Network, which advises homeowners on ways they can make their property more ecologically beneficial. Enough small improvements across the landscape add up to a better connected and more resilient ecosystem. Of course our land protection efforts on the Vineyard – we’ve helped protect more than 3,000 acres – have been important approach reducing the impacts of development.

What important changes in the environment have you observed over your career?


Since we moved to the Vineyard in 1997, I’ve seen a lot of habitat lost to development, and a lot of our signature grassland and heathland grow up to be covered by oak woodland. Over the longer term, I’m very aware of the effects of climate change – spring comes weeks earlier, for example, than it did when I was kid, and winters are generally much milder.

What do you enjoy most in your field research?


I do surprisingly little field research as part of my job. One project I’m working on my own is a survey of orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids) on the Vineyard, and I really enjoy the process of learning and discovery about unfamiliar wildlife. I’m teaching myself to identify katydids by their calls!

Do you have a favorite Vineyard species?


Oh, man, I have about 40,000 favorites! If I had to pick one, it might be Leonard’s skipper, a small, feisty brick-red butterfly found on our grasslands in late summer.