Wilderness management, a term famed for its oxymoronic nature, is a constant conversation within Rocky Mountain National Park. One of the most controversial examples of human intervention into the wild landscape and ecological processes within the Park is the Elk and Vegetation Management Plan. A comprehensive study, representing the work of countless departments, stakeholder interactions and assessments and research money, the Elk and Vegetation Management Plan works to control the overabundant elk population within the Park and provide opportunities for habitat regeneration and riparian improvement, especially for species such as the beaver, aspen and willow. One of the most visible, and unpopular, pieces of the plan is the implementation of elk exclosures, large fenced in areas which exclude elk from certain grazing areas, giving opportunity to many other species who desperately need the regeneration of their habitats and growing areas to remain within the Park.
Rocky describes the plan as “[relying] on a variety of conservation tools including temporary fencing, vegetation restoration, redistribution and culling. The park may use additional management tools in the future using adaptive management principles.”
The plan, though arrived at through careful mediation with local groups, visitors and other important stakeholders, is nevertheless controversial to many park-goers, and is under constant need for interpretation. As part of seasonal staff training for the department of interpretation and education, this week I went out in the field to actually see one of these exclosures firsthand and process what this plan meant for the Park with my coworkers.
The results, even after only a few years since its implementation in 2014, are striking. Even at a distance the disparity between areas on either side of the exclosures is obvious, with lush, tall and thick vegetation within the exclosures and sparser, shorter growth to the exterior. Water tables within the exclosures have risen significantly, allowing the dry, flatter meadows created by home-steading within the Park for the last century to return to the marshy, wet and lush riparian lands they once were. Even as the results are tangible, and Park employee consensus is that it is wholly beneficial to the ecological integrity of the Park, it is still fraught with controversy.
What is the role of human intervention in wilderness management? Have we created a cycle of human intervention that we can never reverse? What truly constitutes wilderness? How mindful must we be of the urban-wild interface when we as a Park imagine solutions to our most pressing problems?
The fences will likely remain for the next ten years, to the dismay of many visitors, but how long will we see the mark of human impact in a Park that is 95% designated wilderness area?
Bees are pretty to look at and admire when you can see a big yellow and black bug on a flower. If you look closer at its characteristics, you may be fooled. When I caught my first bee this week, my supervisor Desi showed me that it was not an actual bee, but a type of fly. Remember the old saying “Looks can be deceiving.” That was the case in this situation. Desi showed me that this “bee” was actually a type of fly that mimics a bee’s characteristics. I misidentified this mimic fly because the body had the yellow and black patterns on its body, but the antennae were more like a fly species than a bee species. Some of the head characteristics did not look like that of a bee species either. It was still a pollinator species, but not what we were collecting. Wish I would have got a good photo of it to show all of you, but the fly flew off before I could get the camera out.
You may also know some common bee species such as bumblebees and honeybees. Did you know that there are actually over 4,000 different bee species in North America alone. A survey done here at the Indiana Dunes recorded over 200 species found at various sites across the park. I have started to look at the bee species that were collected from that study to identify and it is a microscopic task. What I mean is that I look at the insect under a microscope to identify small key characteristics in the head, wing, and legs, and others I have yet to see. For most to get identified, insect specimens have to be sent out to experts that specialize in identifying certain groups of insects. There is no one entomologist that can identify all the insects in the world. This goes to show the vast number that inhabit the world.
The feeling of slowly being swallowed by the many mouths of a salt marsh is quite a humbling experience. It is humbling because it’s something that no one has any control over. It is in these moments that you truly recognize, “Yeah, humans are definitely not the only ones calling the shots on this planet.” A marsh does not mind if you struggle through its goop and it will ignore you if you ask it to stop swallowing your boots whole. You just have to accept that the marsh can get hungry sometimes and then learn to be one with it.
I was able to reunite with a fellow University of Virginia alum, Janet Walker, while helping her in the field. And you guessed it. Her experiment was in a salt marsh in Bolinas, CA called Bolinas Lagoon. She is a PhD candidate at UC, Davis and is researching the impact of burrowing crabs on the native salt marsh plant communities at three different sites throughout California.
It was an absolutely beautiful day out in Bolinas Lagoon. With the help of a volunteer who recorded data, my task was to survey the vegetation in the 25 open-air cages that Jan has put in place throughout the site. This involved maneuvering around the marsh, which was a wonderful adventure. Jan mentioned that after some practice one develops “marsh legs”, which she and her intern have certainly acquired. Jan and her intern were able to gracefully glide through the marsh as though they were deer prancing through a field of their favorite greens. I, on the other hand, plopped over a couple of times and even stepped out of both of my boots allowing my socked feet to have an intimate encounter with the marsh’s goop. It was truly awesome, and I’ll be joining Jan in the field again later in July!
Above is the lovely marsh crew with me and Jan, my fellow Wahoo, in the middle. I highly recommend venturing out to a salt marsh with someone who has already acquired “marsh legs”! They are beautiful ecosystems that provide a plethora of vital ecosystem services and are home to incredible plants, critters, birds, and more. Hooray for salt marshes!
The third week had come to an end, and Summer Connections is more than halfway done! The students got to explore two ecosystems this week: the meadow and the forested woodlands. A meadow is a field habitat vegetated by grass and other non-woody plants. Forested woodlands are habitats covered with trees and shrubs. Both of these ecosystems are known for their high biodiversity, thus making them ideal areas for students to explore and discover.
During this week the students learned what entomologists are, and what their careers, as field scientists, consist off. An entomologist is a scientist that studies insects such as beetles, ants, butterflies, etc. The students explored the micro-wilderness of the two ecosystems with the same tools entomologists use: aspirators, field journals, butterfly nets, beating sheets, jars with magnifying caps and vials.
Craig demonstrating how to put together a beating sheet.
Once the students arrived to the site they circled up and located themselves on a map. Then they took a few minutes to write careful observations and sketch what they noticed, what they wondered, and what they were reminded of.
Exploration time! After writing down their observations the students ventured into the meadows and woods with their tools, catching all kinds of insects. To help further their understanding of the micro-wilderness, the students counted insects and used their field guides to help identify them. The students found a variety of insects including moths, worms, crickets, and bumble bees.
Students and ranger Matt trying to identify the captured insects.
The summer is really flying by, but what a great week this was! Students not only explored what it means to be a real entomologist, but some of them also conquered their bug phobias. Tune in next week to hear about the students’ adventures on the Salt Marsh!
The Santa Cruz River supports a huge diversity of life in Arizona. Most of the ecosystem has been lost due to irrigational pumping and tree clearing, making this riparian habitat endangered. Yet, many animals still depend on this very important ecosystem. Entering the river corridor you are first impressed by the 90’ tall Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) and their close neighbors the Gooding willow (Salix goddingii). Both of these trees support large numbers of insect populations.
One common insect is the giant mesquite bug (Thasus gigus) which lives in velvet mesquite bosques. Mesquite bosques (bosque is a Spanish word that means forest or woodland) run parallel to the Cottonwood riparian habitat. Giant mesquite bugs come alive during the monsoon. They are social insects and will stay in clumps feeding on the legumes of the mesquites. As the bugs feed on the mesquites so do the birds that prey on them. Black phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) can be seen feeding on insects, A typical flycatcher, it will return to its perch once it gets its food. The most common migrant raptor in the river is the gray hawk (Buteo plagiatus). A species of concern, its squeaky cries can be heard for miles but especially so along the river corridor. It hunts in the air and nests in cottonwood trees during the spring.
The Santa Cruz River is also home to the largest cat in the Americas, the jaguar (Panthera onca). It was last seen at the river in 1993, but has been captured on wildlife cameras in the nearby Santa Rita Mountains. Recently the Santa Cruz River has seen the return of a lost species, the gila topminnow (Poeciliopsis occidentalis occidentalis), an indicator that life at the Santa Cruz is slowly returning. The biodiversity of the Santa Cruz River is a clear sign that this ecosystem deserves our full attention.
Stood in silence for a minute and enjoyed the light breeze grazing my skin in the hot humid morning. Took in the sound of cars driving past and a variety of bird songs all coming together. I glanced around at the tops of trees hoping to find one of the sources behind the choir of bird songs. Then from behind the branches of a tree, a vibrant orange dot was seen. When observed with the scope, you could see it moving it’s beak to make its contribution to the choir calling out, “Hear; hear; come right here; dear.”
Walking along, the trail winded out from the shaded understory and opened out into a sunlit meadow. As the sporadic breezes of wind blew the taller plants swayed along with it. During one of these breezes another bird was seen bobbing up and down perched on the plant. It opened it’s beak and sang, “Hip; hip; hurrah boys; spring is here!”
After a nearly 70 year absence, 41 wolves from Canada and northwest Montana were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park between 1995 and 1997. Predation is a fundamental ecological process, therefore research is most often conducted using large carnivores. Wolf predation has been amongst the best-studied predator-prey relationships of all. Doug Smith, a senior wildlife biologist manages wolf programs along with several other programs. Him and his crew catch and collar wolves of various wolf packs located in the park to effectively track their movement. I am pleased to say that I was able to meet Doug Smith along with some other wolf project crew members, and assist them in studying wolf clusters in Northern Yellowstone.
Wolf clusters are areas where wolves are observed (via GPS collars) to spend a significant amount of time. pack locations are updated roughly every 30 minutes, therefore if the wolves have, for example made a kill, or are bedding down, there will be a cluster of GPS points. Once the clusters are found, crew members hike out to these clusters and look for hair, scat, signs of bedding, and bone shards to name a few. I was able to tag along with the crew and look for these signs at several wolf clusters. While surveying these clusters, we found various bone shards and other remnants of wolf kills. We also found hair, scat and bed sites, but the kills were must more interesting to see! If bones were found, samples were taken from the carcass to determine overall health and age of the prey. The data collected from GPS clusters along with things found at cluster sites are used to determine, on average, territory, how frequent a pack is making a kill, and how much they are consuming. I was very fortunate to get to see an adult wolf, two cubs playing outside of a den site, and even the alpha female of one of the packs! While observing wolves, we saw grizzly bears, black bears, bison, elk, and big horn sheep.
I am very lucky to have been able to meet, and work with such dedicated people. “Spread the good word about wolves to all your friends and family”‘ says Doug Smith. Wolves play a very important role in the ecosystem, and are very rewarding to see in the wild. Wolf populations should be protected to be maintain an ecological balance, as well as to be observed by future generations.
Leatherback sea turtles are the largest of all living turtles, weighing up to 2000 pounds. They’re also the most pelagic (open ocean dwelling), while other sea turtle species spend most of their lives in neritic (nearshore) environments. Unlike other sea turtle species, leatherbacks lack a bony carapace (shell). Instead of scutes (scales), their carapace is composed of a layer of thin, tough, rubbery skin that is strengthened by thousands of tiny bone plates. This allows them to expand their lungs while they dive to depths deeper than 1,000m to feed, primarily on jellyfish. Like the green turtles I’m working with, leatherbacks are also listed as an endangered species.
Dr. Kelly Stewart, Southwest Fisheries Science Center (NOAA), leads a field program at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge in St. Croix. The program focuses on genetically fingerprinting leatherback hatchlings as they leave the beach after emerging from their nests. The purpose of her study is to determine the age to maturity. This is an important measure that allows scientists to evaluate population status and design management strategies to protect this long-living, slowly maturing species. While obtaining this measure seems simple, it is particularly difficult to do so for sea turtle populations, especially for pelagic species like leatherbacks.
I had the opportunity to volunteer with her interns in patrolling the beach at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge for nesting leatherbacks. First patrol began at 7:30pm and last patrol was at 3am. The beach was divided into sections that had to be cleared, checked for turtles, every 45 minutes. This was not an easy task by any means. We had to walk up and down the beach, exposed to the elements (rain, insects, etc.) until just before sunrise. I couldn’t imagine having to do it on a regular basis for several months … and then I held my first hatchling. At that very moment, something clicked and it all made sense. Roughly one in one thousand hatchlings survive to adulthood. Very little is known about the life history of leatherbacks, largely because they spend most of their lives in pelagic environments. I would happily trudge through sand all night to help find out more about these fascinating creatures.
Hello once again. My time here at Craters of the Moon continues to expose me to new and valuable experiences in the field of conservation. This past week I went on a 5 day hiking trip, aiding the park’s wildlife biologist in invasive species removal. The target is a plant know as Dyer’s Woad that, if left unchecked, has the potential to outcompete and reduce native plant population numbers. So armed with that knowledge and a 30 pound spray pack we ventured across the lava fields at the southern end of Craters of the Moon National Monument.
Days consisted of hikes ranging from 6 to 12 miles, following previous GPS data points that indicated potential plant hotspots. Some areas were devoid of Woad, others brimming with the vibrant green and yellow plants.
In the end, we sprayed and removed the seed pods from thousands of plants with the goal of reducing and minimizing the spread of the invasive Dyer’s Woad. The resilience in fending off all attempts to stop the spread of it is both amazing and terrifying. Hopefully, with increased awareness to the plight of our native landscape and continued removal efforts this invasive can be managed over time The experience is one I (and my shoes) will never forget.
This post marks the end of another excellent and fairly short work week, one spent mostly behind a very cool telescope. The solar forecast has been fairly calm over the last four days, so there were very few prominences or sunspots to be observed through the solar telescope’s H-alpha (hydrogen-alpha) filter. With the larger telescopes that we set up for astronomy programs, we’ve been observing the moon’s transition from waxing crescent to waxing gibbous, Jupiter and its Galilean moons, the ancient globular star clusters M13 and M92 in the Hercules constellation, the Whirlpool Galaxy, and the double star Albireo. Next week, light from the full moon will most likely drown out some of these objects in the night sky.
This week, I was fortunate enough to have a three-day weekend, so I had more time than usual to explore the area in and around the park. I was invited to ride the Success Loop, a 38-mile scenic drive through public lands north of Ely (pronounced E-lee, not E-lie), the closest town with a grocery store.
There were quite a few aspen trees along the drive, some with arborglyphs carved into their trunks. Quaking aspens are one of the oldest known living organisms on earth, with the oldest aspen colony estimated to be 80,000 years old. There are many aspen colonies within Great Basin National Park that also bear reminders of the area’s human history, namely in the form of arborglyphs carved by Basque sheepherders from the late 1800’s onward.
Farther along the drive, at a mountain pass called the Success Summit, my co-workers and I found a trilobite ichnofossil, brachiopods, and some other marine fossils that I have yet to identify.
Before returning the the park, we made a stop at the Ward Charcoal Ovens. These were used from 1876 through 1879 to turn timber into charcoal for the greater purpose of refining silver ore. After mining in the area ended, they became makeshift shelters for travelers, and according to local legends, even a hideout for bandits. Now completely empty (save for the occasional rattlesnake), you can walk inside these haunting 30-foot-high stone ovens and experiment with their incredible acoustic qualities.
I’ve also gotten connected with the gardeners in the local community, and they have welcomed me into what is essentially a community garden on private property near the park boundary. In return for assisting in the garden, I’ve been allowed to take home a share of whatever vegetable or herb needs to be thinned or harvested!
Keep an eye out next week for some fossil and Full Moon Hike photos!
A Mosaics in Science Internship is a rich opportunity to work side-by-side with scientists and other professionals. In 2016, participants were part of bat research, bird surveys, seed collection projects, geological surveys, archeological explorations, and much more. Throughout MIS, interns receive additional training through weekly webinars and help to share the mission of the program through this Blog. At the conclusion of their experience, interns share their work with other participants during the post-internship career workshop. The career workshop, for most interns, is the first opportunity to meet other interns face-to-face. Each shares their summer’s work during an oral or poster presentation. Guest speakers provide additional information about preparing applications for federal positions, diversity in the workplace, and science careers. Want to be a Mosaics in Science intern? Visit the internships and learn more about the 2017 positions.
You can’t pick a better or more beautiful place to spend a summer than in a National Park. In 2017, Mosaics in Science (MIS) interns will travel to Denali National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, and Great Basin National Park, to name a few. Each of the sites has competed with many others to be part of MIS 2017 and are working to make the summer experience fulfilling. With these diverse sites comes an array of research and education opportunities in an equally broad suite of habitats and climates. From Alaska to Colorado to Washington, D.C. and Florida, each intern will have a different, yet similar experience. While one may sweat during turtle surveys, another may be bundled in a coat and hat to while tracking butterflies. Whatever the experience, it will last a lifetime!
A day in the field for a Mosaics in Science (MIS) intern can be a journey into a lava tube, a hike to a high elevation pond, or time indoors at the computer entering data. MIS experiences happen all over the country in some of America’s most spectacular national parks, such as Yosemite National Park in California, Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, and Everglades National Park in Florida. Wherever they are, participants gain critical skills needed to pursue careers in geology, natural resources, wildlife ecology, environmental education, and more. Just a few insights from our 2016 MIS interns include:
I have gained skills related to field work…and also have learned to become a more independent worker. I believe I am now better at independent research and finding solutions or answers to unknowns.
Skills I developed are how to use GPS, frog surveying, and tracking encroachment using Arc Collector app.
The highlights of my internship included learning how to navigate with a compass and map in remote wilderness settings, becoming familiar with the backpacking lifestyle, experiencing the solitude of the landscape of backcountry Yosemite, and meeting scientists from all around the country.
After processing the video footage from our first week of stationary camera deployments, we noticed we were not alone. Most people just recognize her as a shark, but that’s an understatement. She’s a tiger shark. Locals have taken to calling her Tony the Tiger. National Park Service biologists and technicians have yet to encounter one in their many years of diving around Buck Island so my team and I are confident we won’t be crossing paths with Tony while scuba diving.
NPS has been working with multiple collaborators to study the movements of sharks within the monument using acoustic telemetry. Given these recent sightings of Tony in our video footage, NPS biologists are eager to see if they can cross reference these sightings with detections from acoustic receivers installed near our camera monitoring site. We hope to find that Tony is one of the individuals that was tagged in previous years.
Tiger sharks are natural predators to sea turtles. Their serrated teeth allow them to tear through the turtle’s carapace (shell). Even though Tony has been feeding on our study subjects, we’re happy that she’s here. The presence of apex predators is one of the signs of a healthy ecosystem. Believe it or not, they play an important role in structuring seagrass ecosystems. They balance the food web as well as prevent lower levels from exhausting resources.
Healthy seagrass ecosystem = Abundant greens turtles = Tiger sharks
It’s important to understand the significance of top-down control in natural ecosystems in order to better establish conservation and management baselines that could predict ecosystem responses to natural and anthropogenic change.
Lisa Norby Welcome to the National Park Service and the Mosaics in Science Diversity Internship Program! I am pleased that you are joining us as a Mosaics in Science intern this summer. Your role is critical in fulfilling the National Park Service (NPS) mission and I hope that you will find your work rewarding, challenging, meaningful, and lots of fun.
My name is Lisa Norby – I am the NPS Program Manager for the Mosaics in Science Diversity Internship Program and have bachelors and masters degrees in geology. I work with the NPS Geologic Resources Division and have been working with the NPS for the last 23 years. I have worked with a variety of youth programs since I was in high school, and in 2013, I created the Mosaics in Science Program with George McDonald, Chief of the NPS Youth Programs Division. The Mosaics Program is funded by the NPS and is managed in partnership with Environment for the Americas (EFTA) and Greening Youth Foundation (GYF). The Program’s objectives are to encourage diverse youth 18-35 years old to pursue studies in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and science) fields, introduce program participants to science careers in the National Park Service, and increase relevance, diversity, and inclusion in the NPS workplace.
I am excited that you will be joining the NPS team and hope that you have a fun and successful internship with the NPS. We really appreciate your interest in the National Park Service and your assistance protecting and preserving the outstanding natural resources in our national parks. Most of the communication you will receive this summer will be from EFTA/GYF, but I want you to know that I am available anytime to answer any questions you have about the program, the NPS, or science careers. I can be reached at email@example.com. I am really excited to talk with you over the summer and to meet you in person at the career workshop in Colorado!
Welcome to the Mosaics in Science Program! Congratulations on having been selected as a Mosaics intern this summer. The coming weeks may be a life-changing experience for you. My name is Limaris “Lima” Soto, and I am the Program Coordinator with the National Park Service. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Geology from the University of Puerto Rico and my Master’s degree in Geology from the University of South Florida. My scientific interests include; cave/karst science, hydrogeology, geophysics, education and outreach, and youth programs. I partner with the NPS Geologic Resources Division, and I have been working with Mosaics for the last two years. In my spare time, I like to go hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and camping. I also love to read, knit, and spend time with my family. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions during the internship. I am looking forward to hearing about your project at the career workshop in Colorado.
Welcome to Mosaics! I am Mike Fynn, and I am the VP of Operations at the Greening Youth Foundation. I come to you with a background in engineering, construction, and operations management. I’m excited to work with you all this summer, and hear about your experiences at the different parks. I will get to meet a few of you during the site visits, and again at the career workshop in Colorado. The Mosaics team has some amazing things in store for you this summer, and I can’t wait to hear about your experiences! If you have questions, please feel to reach out to us at any time.
Welcome to the Mosaics in Science Diversity Internship Program! My name is Eboni Preston, and I am a Program Manager with the Greening Youth Foundation (GYF). For the last few years I have worked in nonprofit management, community development, and youth development programs. I, along with GYF, EFTA, and NPS, am very excited to work with all of you this summer. I am thrilled to follow you as you embark on this amazing journey!
Hello Mosaics in Science participants, welcome to the program! We are all looking forward to working with you this summer and to hear about all that you will accomplish in the months to come. My name is Lily Calderón, I am a Chicago native who loves to travel and learn about the world and the birds that live on it. Thanks to EFTA I have been able to experience Oregon and New Mexico through two different internship programs, Celebra Las Aves and Mosaics in Science respectively. Currently I am enjoying Colorado as a full time staff member at EFTA Headquarters in Boulder.
If you are curious about my Mosaics experience, I interned at Capulin Volcano National Monument in northeastern New Mexico during the summer of 2016. As an intern there I worked with the resource team and primarily assisted with the hummingbird research at the park by banding the little hummers. It was a great experience and I hope you all enjoy your experience as much as I did! I can’t wait to meet you all at the workshop in Colorado and to hear about your work.
At Cabrillo National Monument we have a few ambassadors that are typically behind the scenes. Every Thursday this summer at 1:30 pm, our ambassadors get to demonstrate to the public why this preserved and protected land is so significant in our urban San Diego community.
Wildlife Biologist, Ranger Stephanie Root, along with other park biologists represents our snakey co-workers and help communicate to the public on their behalf. All of our snake ambassadors are native to the San Diego Region and have be rescued for various reasons by the San Diego Herpetological Society.
Meet the Team!
Salvador: Northern Three-Lined Boa – Lichanura orcutti (Formerly Coastal Rosy Boa)
He became an ambassador in June 2014 and is approximately 7 years of age. Sal is the most comfortable with visitor interaction. He particularly enjoys hiding in shoes and hooded sweatshirts. A Northern Three-Lined Boa has a lifespan of approximately 20 years.
Agnes: California Kingsnake – Lampropeltis californiae
She became an ambassador in August 2014 and is approximately 17 years of age. Along with being the oldest of the ambassadors, she is also the largest. A California Kingsnake is known to live up to 50 years in captivity.
Summer: Albino California Kingsnake – Lampropeltis californiae
She became an ambassador in August 2014 with Agnes and is approximately 8 years of age. Because of her pigment, her veins can be seen through her scales (especially since she recently shed her skin in these images).
Wilson: San Diego Gopher Snake – Pituophis catenifer annectens
He became an ambassador in February 2017 and is approximately 4 years of age. He is the timidest of the ambassadors, but warms up after a while, particularly with Ranger Adam Taylor. A San Diego Gopher Snake typically lives 12-15 years.
Even though all of our ambassadors are non-venomous, be aware all snakes have the potential to bite and may mistake a finger near their face as a yummy treat. We encourage visitors to gently touch the base of their body with one or two fingers. Remember our ambassadors are key members of the Cabrillo National Monument Staff, and they shall continue to be treated as such.
Seagrass ecosystems are incredibly important foundational ecosystems that provide a variety of ecological and economic services. These ecosystems, and the animals that rely upon them, have been threatened and disrupted by rapid declines and degradation in seagrasses worldwide. Much of the loss can be linked to anthropogenic stressors. Green turtles are the only herbivorous sea turtle species and are the primary consumers of seagrasses worldwide. Green turtle populations have been severely overharvested by humans over the last 200 years and are currently listed as a threatened/endangered species. However, populations are beginning to increase in some areas as a result of long-term conservation efforts. Given the rapid decline in seagrass coverage globally, there is growing concern that the altered ecosystems of today may not be able to sustain grazing by green turtle populations as they did two centuries ago. When an endangered species recovers, what ecological role does it fulfill if its ecosystem has been altered by anthropogenic activities? This is only one of many questions being asked by my mentor, Alexandra Gulick (Graduate Student, Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research, University of Florida). To begin to answer this prodigious question, she must start by investigating the fundamental factors that drive this plant-herbivore interaction. I’m here to help Alexandra execute two of her ecological objectives.
- Evaluate the productivity of naturally grazed and ungrazed seagrass meadows.
- Evaluate the effects of seagrass pasture characteristics on green turtle foraging behavior.
Accomplishing said objectives will then allow her to model the carrying capacity of Caribbean seagrass pastures for recovering green turtle populations.
Buck Island Reef National Monument (BUIS) was established in 1961 under President John F. Kennedy and was later expanded in 2001 under President Bill Clinton. It was the first fully marine protected area in the National Park Service system. The monument includes Buck Island (176 acres) and 18,839 acres of submerged land and coral reef systems. Buck Island is an uninhabited island 1½ miles off the northern coast of St. Croix, and is surrounded by a barrier reef and large expanses of seagrass meadows. Conducting this research at BUIS offers a unique opportunity to study green turtle grazing dynamics and habitat use. Fortunately, the seagrass ecosystem supports both juvenile and adult turtles throughout the year which is uncommon. Also, over the last decade NPS resource managers have documented increases in green turtle nesting and foraging populations. When combined, these factors make BUIS more than ideal for studying green turtle and seagrass interactions. I am thrilled to be a part of this research and partake in sharing it with the world.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to enter a cave by sinking up to your chest in a pool of quicksand-like packrat poop?
If not, I’m here to tell you that it is a slightly alarming but mostly hilarious experience, and feels very much like your legs and torso are being gently squeezed by a blood pressure cuff. It is also a prime example of the amazing, unexpected opportunities I’m just starting to discover in my first two weeks as the Astronomy Intern at Great Basin National Park. My name is Brenna Rodriguez, and I love my job!
When I left my home in North Carolina and struck out alone on a 2,293 mile drive to Great Basin National Park, I was terrified of the uncertainties that reared up before me. Could I handle five days of forced solitude? Would I get harassed by a creepy stranger in the middle of nowhere? Would my car break down in the desert, miles from cell phone reception or services?
Fortunately, my fears proved to be unfounded, and the drive was fairly tame. Since arriving in Nevada, park staff and local residents have been incredibly welcoming, and I’ve been able to watch the town of Baker and the park itself come alive with wildflowers and tourists as the high-visitation season begins. Many of my first days in the park were spent shadowing interpretive cave and astronomy programs, hiking in slightly snowy weather, looking for fossils, and getting to know the folks who make a living in this slightly lonesome town.
Great Basin National Park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park, and has a huge variety of natural points of interest, including a network of wild caves and a developed cavern. Since I recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in geology, and am particularly interested in speleology and astrobiology, I am very excited to have access to the park’s natural resources. Through the summer, I hope to develop meaningful interpretive cave and astronomy programs, and look forward to cross-training with other divisions to gain a more in-depth understanding of the park.
I’m thrilled to be living and working in Great Basin National Park, and I look forward to sharing my discoveries with you!