July 11, 2011
Today was our first day of collecting soil samples and transect data throughout Catalina. Lisa Collins came out on the morning boat with Lisa Chung and we took one of the Wrigley 13 passenger vans to Middle Ranch. We met up with Charlie who told us he had areas in mind that would be relevant to our study regarding soil in disturbed areas.
Our first stop was a riparian area not too far from Middle Ranch just along the road. We set up our transect by throwing the meter tape over the dense vegetation in the drainage. This was not my first time using a transect tape, but it was my first time using a transect tape on land which was a different experience. While this was fun to set up, collecting our data proved challenging because a large percentage of the vegetation was poison oak and thorny blackberry plants. After weaving our way through the plants we had assembled our data about plant coverage, recording species name and abundance, at 3 meter intervals and we collected our soil sample from the 15 m mark. After a quick lunch we ran a second transect perpendicular to the first which was much easier to collect our data and soil sample as there was less plant cover, especially poisonous ones.
After we compiled our data from the Middle Ranch area, we drove to a ridge near Avalon where the Conservancy has established an exclosure, to keep deer and other animals from getting to the plants within. These exclosures are particularly interesting because they are dominated by ceanothus arboreus or Catalina ceanothus. The difference in plant abundance and size was very obvious along our 2 transects. Although we haven’t seen the results of our soil analysis, it will be interesting to see if there is difference in the soils due to the presence of this plant. The exclosure had tall ceanothus covered in leaves whereas just a few feet away outside of the fence the same ceanothus were short with much smaller foliage.
To finish our collecting Charlie to us to an area of heavy Genista coverage and an area nearby where the conservancy had treated for these plants. Genista is a member pea family or Fabacea, a family which has root nodules that associate with symbiotic nitrogen fixing bacteria. This acts as a fertilizer for the plant. It will be interesting to see whether these Genista monocultures have an effect on total soil nitrogen as a result. Charlie “scree surfed” down the steep slope along loose soil and rocks to collect our soil samples and then just hiked right back up. After a long day of data and soil collection we headed back to the Wrigley Institute and stuck around for a stress-free dinner with Lisa cooked by the wonderful staff.
July 9, 2011
By Alexandria Cheung and Sabrina Lawrence-Gomez
After a wonderful breakfast cooked by Dan, our resident breakfast chef extraordinaire, Alex and I hiked over to the Wrigley campus for Associates’ Day, a day for donors to explore the amenities and projects going on! When we arrived, the day had already started with arts and crafts for the youngsters and events at the waterfront and marine lab. Alex and I were recruited to lead two nature hikes along the south facing slope of the campus up to the bluffs with Ellen Kelly, Wrigley’s Naturalist.
Before we set off, we handed them these really advanced headsets. They look like pre-recorded audio guides that you would get at a museum, but they actually tune in to a microphone so the crowd can listen to Ellen’s guide on real time. We thought this was a brilliant idea. It was also extremely useful because the trail is very narrow, and everyone has to hike in a single file line.
Ellen began the hike near the sycamore trees, and she introduced us to the the crowd. We started talking about our trail and our work here this summer, educating the hikers about invasive fennel . Then we hiked up the narrow path. Alex and I were stationed at different spots of the line, in the middle and at the end, to answer any questions. We also pointed out interesting geological features and plant species.
The crowd was extremely receptive and asked wonderful questions. Sabrina and I were happy to get to know them , especially since most of them were affiliated with USC, like professors, or had generations of family members that attended USC. Towards the end of the hike, Ellen did a demonstration on ocean waves for some of the kids in the group. We stood in a line and held hands, starting an oscillation at one end by lifting our arms, then transferred it back to the other side creating a wave. The little hikers really enjoyed it.
When it was our turn to lead the hike, Sabrina and I were super nervous, but we overcame our fears. We passed out the headsets and Sabrina led the hike above, while I lead it from behind. The experience was very nerve-wracking as we wondered what to talk about and what to point out. It became more natural as we showed plants that we knew and understood and told stories about our island experiences. It was nice to share all of the knowledge that had been imparted to us from Ellen and Charlie, and teach it to someone new. Sabrina did a wonderful job leading on top. All in all, it was a great learning experience.
After the hike, we had a delicious meal with the USC Associates. Associates Day is a great program and I am glad we could be a part of it.
July 8, 2011
Today was our second day of species collection with Sarah! We had such an awesome time working with her last week, we were excited to continue our work today. We began at the borrow pit (an area where soil is mined and deposited for various purposes) where we had left off the previous Friday. One of the coolest plant species I have encountered on this island lives in this borrow pit. It is South African native succulent part of a genus called Mesembryanthemum and it is beautiful! The plant grows low to the ground and in wide patches. Because it is a succulent, this ice plant is great at living in dry conditions and has adaptations that allow it to store water in its tissues. This trait manifests itself as tiny water droplet like structures that surround the plants stems. When they catch sunlight, the plant glitters! It is really neat, and its no wonder this plant is cultivated for ornamental purposes.
One of the things that I have learned working on this island is that invasive plants aren’t bad or even necessarily ugly, they simply just don’t belong. Despite this plants beauty, it has some gnarly effects on the ecosystem. The ice plant has the ability to concentrate salt within its tissues (which also aids with water absorption). When the ice plant drops its leaves, it concentrates salts in the soil. Many plants cannot grow in this salty environment, so the iceplant can essentially take over once it establishes. As we continued our survey we identified two types of invasive Mesembryanthemum along the trail, Mesembryanthemum nodiflorum and Mesembryanthemum crystallinum. We haven’t discussed the removal of invasives other than fennel along the trail, so I can’t speak to the fate of these ice plants, but I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t miss them. They are just that beautiful! I guess I will have to move to South Africa to have some in my yard.
As our identification work continued, we moved to from the Bird Rock lookout point to the Picnic oak. Right past the oaks, we collected one of the trail’s three endemics, the Catalina bedstraw or Gallium nutalium. We continued up the trail, still in the Island chaparral and grassland type plant community, past the fenceline up to a unique looking tree. It has beige bark that peels away to reveal a bright burnt umber interior. As it turns out, this tree is quite special. It is a Xyloccocus bicolor or mission manzanita, a tree native only to Southern California and Northern Baja. I think it is so cool we found such a rare plant along our trail! We carefully collected fruit and leaves from this tree, placed some more species in the press and continued towards the top of the trail.
Near the top, we collected some more unique plants: the Catalina chrososoma, the Island redberry, and Indian paintbrush. I remember reading The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by Tomie dePaola as a child, and since then it has been an iconic representation of Native American culture to me. It was neat to see Indian paintbrush in the wild, especially since I wouldn’t expect to see it on Catalina.
We finally made it to the top and with 40 species samples! I was so impressed by the diversity of the plant community in this area, I would never have guessed there were so many different kinds of plants. It also goes to show how important preventing a fennel take over is; there are too many species on this trail at risk. I hope we protect this area and can highlight all of these unique plants along our trail so others can see them!
For more pictures, check out today’s photo album: Day 27 Plant Collection with Sarah
July 7, 2011
After a delicious lunch of enchiladas, we brushed the trail and removed fennel in the afternoon with the Conservancy members. As a unit our fennel removal skills are definitely improving by the day and we are taking them out of the ground with increased efficiency. Dan prefers the shovel but my weapon of choice is the pulaski, which is like a fireman’s axe with an axe on one side and an adze on the other. The shovel is quick, efficient, and can pop out smaller fennel easily, but the larger fennel with ridiculously strong roots that go deep into the ground are best taken down by the blades of the pulaski. Sometimes the huge fennel plants have to be taken out in parts to sufficiently expose the root. We worked hard for a few hours and managed to clear a substantial area of fennel, but we still have quite a ways to go in our battle against the invasive fennel population. Great day overall.
July 6, 2011
Today we helped Ellen Kelley, assistant director of education, finish creating a bison bench. The bench was started as part of an ongoing collaboration between USC Alternative Spring Breaks crews and Wrigley, to create a trail from the bottom of the hill to the dining hall as well as an outdoor classroom. The 2011 USC Alternative Spring Break group was unable to finish the bench due to misunderstanding with the staff, so our task was to make a plaster to cover the bench.
We lifted off the blue tarp covering the bench and rinsed it out with a hose. Then we prepared our workspace. We made a huge circular nest out of hay and added a silver tarp into the nest. Then we layered the ground with hay. Afterwards we prepared the ingredients. We shoveled 15 gallons of sand and 5 gallons of clay. We poured the sand into the nest while Sabrina mixed it with her feet. I sprayed the bison bench, getting it wet and damp, while Dan and Ellen searched for bison manure. After obtaining the bison waste, Miller mixed it with water, creating a pasty consistency. Dan mixed the clay with water then added it to the nest. I jumped in with Sabrina to help blend the muddy concoction. Ellen realized we need cooked flour so she made it in the kitchen. We also figured out we didn’t have enough clay. So after lunch, we went to get more from the bone yard. We sifted 5 gallons of clay, and poured it into the huge mixture. The sifting process was a bit tedious. We had to wear masks as the finer dust kicked up in the air because of the wind. We also filtered the clay twice. Sabrina and I continued to stomp through the mix as Dan, Miller, and Ellen added the sifted clay in a gradual manner. Soon afterwards, we added cooked flour and 2 gallons of water. It looked like chocolate milk. Throughout the mixing, we folded and flipped the mixture to make sure there was an even consistency. Sabrina and I gauged the mixture based on the texture. It was first thick and hard then as we added more of the ingredients it got really sticky, gooey, and muddy to a point it attracted flies and wasps. Then we added the finishing touches: a gallon of bison manure and cattail puffs. The bison manure was gross and I was squeamish about stepping in it. But by time it was mixed, I couldn’t even tell what it was. Those last two ingredients were the binding elements of the plaster.
At last, we had our plaster! Dan and Miller used buckets to scoop the mixture, while Sabrina and I used our feet to fill the bucket. We smeared the plaster on the surface of the bench and slowly spread it on the sides. Then we evened out the mix. It was a challenge because we put too much and we didn’t realize how thick the coating was. We took out lumps that didn’t mix properly and cleaned up excess mix that touched the ground. When we finished, we rinsed out our workspace and placed ladders around the bench. Before we left I saw a thick layer of plaster beginning to dry up, it was pretty cool.
July 5, 2011
Today we had a second visit from our advisor Lisa Collins and this time she brought along some special guests; Lisa Chung a USC graduate student in the School of Animation and Digital Arts and Michelle a visiting international student in the same department. This was Lisa and Michelle’s second visit out to Catalina. As a part of one of their animation classes, they took a visit out to Wrigley and animated some of the ecosystems of Catalina. Lisa showed us her project from this trip and it is truly spectacular! (Check out Spontaneous Sea-mphony) The goal of their visit today is to begin an animation about the work we’ve been doing on the trail.
We began the morning by leading Lisa and Michelle up the trail and talking about our purpose for the project. They were so receptive to learning about all of the science! We taught them about how fennel grows into monocultures, and how you have to remove the entire root in order to keep the plant from growing back. As we continued talking, Lisa shared with us her goal for the animation: to help scientists illustrate a complex idea in a visual that is easy for the general public to understand. Often times it is difficult to bridge the gap between technical experts and the public, which is a unfortunate considering the general public is often affected by the actions experts. This is especially true in Catalina where the Conservancy is the manager of the land that local residents rely on for recreation and some for their livelihood. I hope that the animation Lisa creates can serve as a tool to share the work of the Conservancy with the community and help explain the science behind restoration.
Lisa asked us for some inspiration for the animation and two ideas came to mind. The first was an idea Charlie de la Rosa is always focused on- the future. Charlie often talks to us about points in time, how the island we are seeing today is only a snap shot of what the island has looked like and what it will look like. He often uses the phrase, if we don’t act now “what will this landscape look like in 50 years?”. When we remove fennel, our goal is not just for the landscape to look fennel free for the next year, it is so the island isn’t entirely taken over by fennel monocultures in 50 years. So we proposed this animation idea to Lisa- showing a landscape treated for fennel in a 50 year time-span versus a landscape not treated with fennel in fifty years. The second idea was comparing tactics for fennel removal, mowing (short term removal) and digging out the entire plant. In both animations we wanted to have the idea of a fennel monoculture versus a native, biodiverse landscape illustrated.
Both animators were really interested in getting some good photos of all of the plant parts of the fennel, so we spent some time taking them around and showing them different plants. I was truly impressed with their attention to detail. After we talked business, we all sat in the toyon grove and learned a little bit more about animation and the program that Lisa and Michelle are a apart of. The animation program is an extremely intense program that requires not only artistic talent but outstanding time management skills. These two traits are imperative considering 1 second of animation requires 24 drawings. I repeat 1 second of film requires 24 drawings! This truly amazed me, and I have a lot of respect for the work these women do. Lisa really seems like an expert and is super professional. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with!
In the afternoon, we spent time with Lisa Collins discussing our plans for the research project. We talked as a group and decided to focus on the affect different disturbances have on the native plant communities and the growth of invasive species. Our plan is to sample soils in the area of the 2007 Avalon fire, and the 2011 Two Harbors fire and look at plant communities in each region. We will be analyzing the soil samples for total nitrogen and pH. I am really looking forward to working on this project! I have never had an opportunity to work with soil chemistry and I think our findings will provide knowledge that the conservancy can use to guide management strategies regarding fires.
July 2, 2011
Since I had been regularly waking up before seven for the past couple of weeks I had no problem hopping out of bed with plenty of time to spare before the 10:00 am Saturday at the Lab, an open to the public outreach program run by Wrigley. Losing track of the time, I suddenly realized I was going to have to hustle to make it to Wrigley on time. Fortunately I had borrowed one of the Specialized mountain bikes, available at Wrigley, donned the requisite safety gear and hit the dusty trail, literally. The ride to Two Harbors, though uphill, was able to be taken at a leisurely pace and was quite pleasant. Unfortunately, being in a rush had quite a different effect on biking uphill on dirt roads. If I stood while going uphill the rear tire would spin without my weight pressing down on it and the downhills were rapid, causing me to fishtail both a harrowing and thrilling experience as I would take a couple of the hairpin turns along the road to Wrigley. Eventually I arrived at Wrigley in one piece, parked the bike and stopped by the office to talk to Sean Connor, Wrigley Manager, and met up with Sabrina and Alex. He talked over the general plan of Saturday at the Lab, gave us a cheat sheet to reference during the tour if need be and introduced me to Cheryl, a graduate student studying bacteria and protists who has been giving tours on Saturdays for awhile, and Wei, a graduate student joining Saturday at the Lab for the first time.
Once the visitors assembled Cheryl gave a history of the Wrigley facility and discussed the research focus of the facility. She then led everyone into the lecture room where she discussed her research of bacteria, including her worldwide travel and the shocking statistic that there are more bacteria in the ocean than stars in the sky. After fielding questions, Cheryl led the group through the lab facility discussing who can research at the facility and the benefits of having a Marine Protected Area right next to the lab. The tour then went to the touch tank, which the kids definitely loved, especially the “dancing” leopard shark. After the touch tank Sabrina, Alex and I gave a short discussion about island chaparral ecosystems, invasive species [with a piece of fennel for display] and our work as trail-builders. The tour ended at the Hyperbaric Chamber, a place to treat dive injuries run by USC and LA County. Karl Huggins gave the tour of the facility and is the director of the hyperbaric chamber and worked towards the development of the HUGI dive tables so that divers would not need to visit a hyperbaric chamber. Saturdays at the Lab are very informative and the people that come to Wrigley all seem to be very knowledgeable people looking to learn a little bit more about marine science and Catalina Island.
For more information on Saturday at the Lab click here.
July 1, 2011
By Sabrina Lawrence-Gomez
We had a visit from Sarah Ratay, the Senior Plant Ecologist for the Conservancy today. Since this is the first time the anyone has done major work in the Deer Valley area, the Conservancy wanted to get an idea of what plants exist in this territory. So, we are completing a plant species survey much like what we did in Descanso Canyon, Avalon, except this time we are creating an entire Herbarium collection for our trail. This will be a great opportunity for us to practice our plant species identification skills and learn even more about plant and Herbarium work.
The last time we visited Sarah she gave us a field plant press, a contraption with sheets of cardboard and blotting paper sandwiched between two wooden boards strapped held together by two belts. The idea is to collect plants including their roots and flowers, place them between sheets of newspaper, then between two pieces of cardboard, and stack them inside the press and squeeze the sides together using the belts to stabilize. The goal is to squeeze the water out of the plants and have it absorbed by the newspaper so they don’t rot, essentially preserving the plants in a dried form For plants that contain a lot of water, like invasive ice plant, we add blotting paper to the mix to help absorb the excess liquid.
We started the day at the bottom of the trail and worked our way up to the first control point, off-roading and scouting around for plants. While the others started searching for plants, I worked with Sarah in determining the plant community, slope and aspect, and tracking our GPS location. We then worked together to determine the plant species associated with the community. Alex took charge of labeling all of the newspapers with the collection name and sample number. As Dan, Miller, and Sarah came back with plants we placed them in the newspaper and recorded the number of samples and the species name. Sarah would help us identify each plant and I would attempt to write the Latin species name. I had such a difficult time spelling them! But Sarah knew each plant, its common and scientific name and all of the spellings. After we finished the first site, we continued past the toyon grove to the waterfall collecting plants and recording them. By the end of the day, we had collected 20 species!
We headed home with our full plant press with instructions to keep it in a cool dry place, away from food which could encourage bacterial growth. It was a really successful day and I can’t wait to see how our specimens turn out. More on plant collection next week…
June 30, 2011
We were on the hunt for several invasive plant species, including tamarisk, figs, and pampasgrass. However over the course of the entire day we could only find a single pampasgrass so it ended up just being a beautiful hike. Once we reached the bottom of the drainage it was time to turn around and head back up the mountain through a different drainage. The heat of the sun was picking up now and the trek back up was challenging. I quickly forgot about all that though as soon as we saw a wreckage of an old airplane sticking out of the ground about halfway up the hillside. Old rusty plates of sheet metal were scattered about with some random airplane parts. We saw two more pieces of the wreckage on the way up. Over the course of the day I saw at least four different species of grasshoppers and crickets, including one with crazy orange patterns on its back that was at least the size of my thumb. The interior of the island is such an amazing place that few people get to ever see, and I am blessed that I was able to explore it.
While the work we are involved with through this internship is terrestrial, Sabrina and I are scientific certified divers. In order to stay certified I need to perform 12 dives each year otherwise I will no longer be considered a scientific diver. Today Jim Haw, head of the ENST department, and Mariah Gill came out to Catalina to dive. Sabrina and I decided to join them on their dives for the day, one at Bird Rock and one at Isthmus Reef both locations I had not previously dived. As we were assembling our gear to get out in one of the skiffs, Gerry came up and said he needed a volunteer for a working dive. I was quite jealous when Sabrina snagged the opportunity to perform her first working dive.
I felt better once I was in the water and saw a thick cover sea grass. We descended along the anchor line to make sure we were secure and found we needed to embed the anchor further into the sea floor. Mariah set about securing the anchor and a startled sea hare inked nearby, surrounding us in a fluorescent purple haze. Once it was properly secured, Mariah took lead on the dive pointing out lobsters, a horn shark and all sorts of sea life. She has a knack for taking her time in the water and finding the most interesting things. I noticed a harbor seal that was swimming around the kelp near us, checking us out but never getting too close or staying in one place long enough for me to show Mariah and Jim. It ended up being a very enjoyable dive that got us back to Wrigley with just enough time to grab lunch at the mess hall.
Our second dive at Isthmus Reef proved to be much more challenging. Since Mariah and Jim were planning on taking the afternoon Miss Christi back to the mainland, the planned dive was expected to be much shorter. However, once Jim was in the water, he checked the anchor and found that it wasn’t secure and Mariah was going to need to stay in the boat since she was the only one who had completed her BoatUS course. We performed a 20 minute dive along the reef, weaving through kelp and we even had enough time to find a moray eel. When we returned to the boat Mariah told us that she couldn’t pull up the anchor, so we descended along the line and found a huge mess of kelp. The leaves were so thick that I could hardly see a few inches and quickly got wrapped up in kelp. After getting free I found Jim using his EMT shears to free the anchor. By the time we were back in the boat with the anchor Jim and Mariah had to scramble to get on the boat before it left at 3:30. Overall it was a fantastic day of diving with the ENST crew that had a few surprises. In my limited experience diving, most of which have been in Big Fisherman’s Cove, every dive is a new experience with something different to see or a new challenge to overcome.