Third Rock Consultants

Ecological Surveys and Analysis

Third Rock environmental scientists have conducted a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems studies, including surveys for state and federally threatened and endangered species across the northern and southeastern United States.  We hold a federal US Fish and Wildlife Service permits for bats, mussels, fish, and insects that covers work in Regions III and IV (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee). We have also held or currently hold state collection permits for projects in Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Mississippi.  A small sampling of the type of ecological surveys we conduct follows, including those for threatened and endangered bat, mussel, fish, and plant species. 



Approximately 45 bat species can be found in the United States. Of these, 19 are found in the eastern United States. and over half are in decline.  This is because they are one of the slowest reproducing mammals and because they form large colonies that can easily be destroyed.  Although one of the most misunderstood groups of animals, bats are highly beneficial organisms that are very closely monitored by federal and state wildlife agencies. Third Rock scientists routinely conduct habitat, presence or absence acoustic bat surveys, and use radio-tagging to find roost trees or home ranges with telemetry equipment. We have experience in the capture and identification of the federally endangered Indiana (Myotis sodalis), gray (Myotis grisescens), Virginia big-eared (Corynorhinus townsendii virginianus), and northern long-eared (Myotis septentrionalis) bats, We own numerous mist-net and harp trap setups, acoustic detectors, and transmitters with telemetry receivers to accommodate large and small projects across multiple states.   




Third Rock ecologists and divers have extensive experience conducting mussel surveys throughout the Mississippi River Basin which includes Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, and Alabama. Our capacity for surveys ranges from small headwater streams using view buckets and snorkels to the mouths of rivers such as the Licking, Green, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. We have even conducted qualitative mussel surveys on the Mississippi River.  Depending on the size of the project and the data desired, we use a variety of quantitative (transect lines and circular center points) and qualitative (freelance habitat searches) methods to conduct surveys for mussels and other aquatic species. We are capable of conducting everything from basic qualitative presence/absence surveys, semi-quantitative transect surveys, and systematic quantitative surveys designed for repeat monitoring analysis.  Regardless of the technique, our survey methods result in a thorough and accurate representation of the species inhabiting a given area. Third Rock also maintains an expansive collection of relic specimens including nearly 100 species to aid in quality control of our field identifications.


We have conducted mussel surveys for a variety of clients including the Tennessee Valley Authority, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and numerous maritime industries along the Tennessee, Cumberland and Ohio Rivers. We are well equipped for conducting both large and small surveys. Our equipment includes a large john boat and two canoes, Uniden marine radios, view buckets, brails, underwater transect lines, stainless steel quadrat frames, underwater light and video equipment, and snorkeling and SCUBA equipment.  For smaller surveys, we have two full-time certified SCUBA divers, one of whom has a Master’s degree in aquatic biology.  For larger surveys in which SCUBA is not efficient, Third Rock frequently works alongside surface-supplied air diving crews. 




Third Rock ecologists have extensive experience conducting fish surveys across Kentucky and the Southeastern United States. Depending on the size of the stream, fish are sampled using a variety of electrofishing and seining(netting) methods. For small headwater streams, typically second order and smaller, a backpack shocker is used to survey the fish community. For wadeable streams larger than second order, Third Rock employs a long-line electrofishing unit. This unit consists of a canoe equipped with a 5000W generator and a Smith-Root Type VI-A electroshocker. Seining is used in wadeable and headwater streams as means of complimenting backpack and long-line electrofishing. For non-wadeable streams, rivers, or lakes, Third Rock uses a boat-mounted electroshocker. This unit consists of a john boat (16' or 12') equipped with a 5000W generator and Smith-Root VI-A electroshocker.


During each fish survey, a stream reach measuring approximately 100 to 300 meters is sampled at each station. Each sampling reach should consist of two riffles, two runs, and two pools. For headwater streams, a minimum of 600 “shocking” seconds to a maximum of 1,000 “shocking” seconds are employed. For wadeable streams, a minimum of 600 “shocking” seconds to a maximum of 1,800 “shocking" seconds are employed. Fish are identified in the field, enumerated, recorded, and released unharmed. Voucher photographs of each species captured during the survey are taken for quality assurance. Individuals of species that are unable to be identified in the field are collected for identification in the laboratory. Third Rock possesses all necessary federal and state collection permits that allow us to conduct surveys and handle endangered, threatened, and special concern fish species.


Fish sampling results are analyzed using the Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) developed by James Karr and subsequently modified by the EPA and various state agencies for use throughout the United States. Since criteria for an IBI is region- and stream-size specific, the appropriate regional IBI is utilized to assess the fish community sampled. An IBI is modified for each specific region, and uses equally-weighted structural and functional community parameters that are combined to arrive at an overall estimate of community health.




The unique skill set and training of Third Rock’s terrestrial ecologists enables us to perform a wide range of botanical surveys. These surveys include complete plant community surveys, to a surveys for a selected subset of species such as federally listed threatened and endangered species, forest sensitive species, state-listed species or non-native, invasive species. Depending upon the objective, a plant community survey can be designed to produce a species list, a weighted list that gives the relative abundance of the species present, or a statistically valid sampling effort that will provide numerical data on the location, age class, and abundance of plant community members. By utilizing belt transects, gradients in species location and abundance can be discerned which can then be related to slope, aspect, land treatment, historical changes or impairment.

Approximately one-fourth of Kentucky's nearly 3,200 known species of vascular plants are not native to the state. Many of these introduced plants have been around so long that we no longer think of them as being alien: Japanese honeysuckle, multi-flora rose, Queen- Anne's- Lace, chickory, red and white clover, and even Kentucky's famous bluegrass.  Control of these invasive species is much easier if they can be eradicated before they become common and widespread. One of the first requirements for early control, however, is knowing when and where infestations occur.


Utilizing our GPS and GIS capabilities, Third Rock ecologists prepare both inventories and control plans to deal with these unwanted species.  Some of the most problematic invasive species occur in wetlands, and specifically troublesome are those that occur in wetlands designed for mitigation. Third Rock maintains Kentucky Aquatic Pest Control operator licenses and certifications, enabling us to develop and implement successful management programs for invasive aquatic plants.

Bat Survey
Mussel Survey
Fish Survey
Plant Survey
Fish Survey
Fish Survey