Oh, the places you’ll go: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Earlier this year, I completed a survey of the plants and arthropods in a weed management area of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

The University of California Steele-Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center in Borrego Springs, CA.

The University of California Steele-Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center in Borrego Springs, CA.

This particular area along Henderson Canyon Road in Borrego Springs, right in the center of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, has been used as a demonstration plot for the effects of hand-weeding Brassica tournefortii (Sahara Mustard) over the past ~10 years. Every winter, a team of volunteers sweeps the area removing all of the seedling plants before they grow, flower, and reproduce. I visited 3 times over the growing season – check out the dramatic change in the landscape in these photos each 1 month apart!

Similarly to my other field survey experiment (click here) I use pitfall and pan traps to collect arthropods that walk, crawl, fly and otherwise move through the study site.

The traps are left out for 24 hours, then all the specimens captured are collected and brought back to the lab.

In the course of studying the flora and fauna of this area, I had the great pleasure of viewing flowers upon flowers, and insects galore!

The field season is long over for Anza-Borrego – it’s a very short field season! The organisms in this harsh desert come and go quickly while conditions are favorable, and wait out the long, hot summers as seeds, eggs, dormant live stages, or even migrate somewhere else. Here’s hoping for a good rain year in 2015-2016 to bring up lots of desert wildflowers next winter and spring!

*This research was supported by the Anza-Borrego Foundation Howie Wier Memorial Conservation Grant (2014).

Scientists Debut at the Southern California Academy of Sciences

Earlier this month, four undergraduate student researchers presented their scientific research at the 2015 annual meeting of the Southern California Academy of Sciences at Loyola Marymount University. They have each been working independently on one (or more) distinct research projects under my guidance over the past 6 months – 2 years. Each created their own scientific poster presentation to display the results of their work and presented for hundreds of professional researchers, scientists, faculty, and other undergraduate and graduate students.

The poster session at the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting

The poster session at the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting

I am immensely proud of each one of them, and honored and delighted that I get to share a little about the work they have been doing.

Seth Freitas

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Seth Freitas with his poster “Investigating Herbivore Tolerance of a Native Plant and an Invasive Plant Using an Invasive Herbivore” at the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting of 2015 at Loyola Marymount University.

Seth has been working with an invasive insect herbivore, Bagrada hilaris, and two host plants: the native perennial shrub, Atriplex canescens, and the invasive annual forb, Brassica tournefortii. Bagrada hilaris prefers to feed on Brassica tournefortii, but will feed on Atriplex canescens in a pinch. Seth’s research aims to determine the levels of herbivore damage intensity that either plant species can survive. This data will inform management and conservation efforts to protect Atriplex canescens and other native plant species in California and beyond.

Seth discussing his research with attendees of the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

Seth discussing his research with attendees of the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

Stephanie Grande

Stephanie with her poster at the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

Stephanie with her poster “Determination of Suitable Host Plants for Bagrada hilaris Burmeister (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae) at the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

Stephanie has also been working with the invasive insect Bagrada hilaris, the native perennial shrub Atriplex canescens, and the invasive annual forb Brassica tournefortii. Stephanie has been rearing Bagrada hilaris nymphs (baby insects) on both plants from the day they hatch from their eggs. She records how long it takes them to reach each nymphal instar (juvenile growth stage) and how long it takes to become adults. This data is important to understanding the quality of both plants as food hosts for the various life stages of Bagrada hilaris.

Stephanie discussing her research with attendees at the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

Stephanie discussing her research with attendees of the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

Grace Hartt

Grace with her poster at the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

Grace with her poster “Observational Effects of Invasive Plants on Coleoptera Community in a Desert Ecosystem” at the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

Grace has been working on an observational field study of the plant and arthropod communities at the Oasis de Los Osos reserve (see previous post here). Grace and I with a few others deploy pitfall and pan traps at the reserve to collect arthropods and also record the plant community composition. We bring the arthropod samples back to the lab where Grace identifies them to the order and then family taxonomic level. Grace presented just a portion of this enormous data-set in her poster, in which she explored the relationships between the dominance of invasive and native plants, various herbivores, and insectivorous beetles.

Grace discusses her research with attendees of the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

Grace discussing her research with attendees of the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

James Phillips

James with his poster at the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

James with his poster at the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

James recently completed an assessment of the soil seed-bank in weeded and non-weeded plots in an area under management for control of the invasive annual forb, Brassica tournefortii, in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Multiple soil samples were collected from each plot, then James used two different methods to determine which plant species seeds were present in the soil, and how abundant each species is. This data is valuable to the State Park and other land managers concerned about the impacts of weeds like Brassica tournefortii on both the plants that we see above-ground, and the plants of the future, held below-ground as seeds.

James discussing his research with attendees at the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

James discussing his research with attendees of the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

Seth, Stephanie, Grace and James are each impressive and bright researchers, and they gave fantastic presentations.I look forward to seeing them move forward through college and do great things in their respective careers.

The whole group at the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

The whole group at the Southern California Academy of Sciences annual meeting.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Oasis de Los Osos Reserve

Today’s post is all about the work I’ve been doing at a University of California Natural Reserve in eastern Riverside County, Oasis de los Osos. For nearly 2 years, I’ve been visiting Oasis de los Osos regularly to monitor plants and arthropods.

Oasis de Los Osos Reserve Sign

Welcome to the Oasis de los Osos Reserve! Source: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/imgServer.do?id=3734415

Oasis de los Osos is a small reserve (65 hectares) adjacent to the Snow Creek community of Palm Springs, CA. A perennial stream “Lamb’s Creek” runs through the reserve and supports dense riparian vegetation, amphibians, and many other critters seeking reprieve from the desert heat. The remains of a former home sit alongside the stream near the southwestern edge of the reserve; it was allegedly built in the 1930s by Denver and Lucy Ellen Lamb (see this site for more details).

Snow Creek House

The old Lamb house at Lamb’s Creek. Source: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/imgServer.do?id=3734443

My monitoring study is set up to assess the plant and arthropod biodiversity that occurs close to and distant from the perennial stream, and changes that occur along its drying portion. In particular, I aim to figure out how plants and arthropods respond to the presence and dominance of the invasive weed, Brassica tournefortii.

Twelve transects are established at every 100 meters along the stream, from the perennially flowing region at slightly higher elevation, to the seasonally wet/dry region below. Within each of these transects, five plots are set up at 0, 4, 8, 16, and 32 meters away from the stream edge. This design allows me to compare the identity and diversity of plants and arthropods that occur at varying positions along the stream, and at varying distances away from it.

Snow Creek Transect Map

A Google Earth view-map of my monitoring study area at the Oasis de los Osos reserve. Each red balloon indicates the twelve transects where plants and arthropods are regularly censused November – June.

At each plot, I have set up one pitfall trap and one platform for a set of pan traps. Pitfall and pan traps are used to passively sample arthropods that occur in the area. Pitfall traps capture critters walking along the ground, and are often used when targeting detritivores, predators, and shy critters. Pan traps capture flying arthropods that come in to land on what they likely thought was a flower; pan traps are generally used when targeting pollinators and other flower-visitors. Because they sample different kinds of arthropod critters, I use both kinds of traps at each plot to assess what kinds of animals live there.

A pitfall trap (left) in the soil, and one set of three pan traps (right) mounted on a platform above the soil.

A pitfall trap (left) in the soil, and one set of three pan traps (right) mounted on a platform above the soil.

Pitfall and pan traps are left open for 24 hours each census period. At this time, the plants growing at each plot are also censused to document variation in which species are present.

Several people help me with each census – 60 plots is a lot! We each set up traps at a few transects on the first day, carefully opening pitfall traps, attaching pan traps, and filling them with soapy water. Hiking with water jugs is made much easier with several helping hands.

On day 2, we each work at a few transects to collect all of the specimens captured in the pitfall and pan traps at every plot. The soapy water and contents are emptied from the trap cups into special baggies to be transported back to the lab, all the cups are collected, and the pitfall traps are closed and covered up to prevent any critters getting in there between censuses.

We’ve found some pretty interesting critters in these traps! There have been 30 different orders of arthropods identified (An order is a taxonomic grouping level above family but below class. For example, ants and bees are in the order Hymenoptera, while butterflies and moths are in the order Lepidoptera).

Back at the lab, all the samples are transferred to glass vials with ethanol and given labels to keep track of where and when they came from.

Once all specimens are transferred into glass storage vials with ethanol, they are ready to be examined under a microscope, identified and counted. This data will be used to understand the arthropod community at Oasis de los Osos, how it changes in response to the plant community, time of year, and other environmental variables.

Stay tuned for updates as more data is generated and analyzed!

A beautiful view of the Oasis de los Osos reserve, Lamb's Creek, and the San Jacinto Mountains

A beautiful view of the Oasis de los Osos reserve, Lamb’s Creek, and the San Jacinto Mountains

Unless otherwise noted, all photos used here are my own. Please feel free to comment or contact me with questions!

Update: Additional information and press on this research and the Oasis de Los Osos Reserve can be found here and here.