- Author: Cameron Barrows
A "Natural History Note" From UC California Naturalist's new lead scientist, Cameron Barrows.
Back in 2016 I published a paper that quantified the added value of volunteer community scientists contributing to field surveys of lizards in Joshua Tree National Park. The reason for the paper was that there was and, in some cases, still is a cultural bias ingrained in many professional scientists against the quality of the data that volunteers collect. If I was going to incorporate citizen scientists into my research, I needed to demonstrate that citizen science collected data were at least as accurate as data collected by “professionals”. For that study we sent a pair of National Park biologists to survey lizards on a half a dozen 300 x 300 m plots. Then I brought a group of 5-7 community scientists out to the same plots a few days later and together we resurveyed each plot. The results were unequivocal. On every plot the community scientists and I counted at least twice as many lizards. More eyes, even if those eyes did not earn a university degree in science, equal more sightings, and so a more complete assay of the lizard population.
Science is perhaps the only way of gaining knowledge that requires going back and repeating experiments to be sure that conclusions are robust. One experiment or one observation is not conclusive. So yesterday, back in the National Park, four community scientists (Tracy Bartlett, Larry Heronema, Jane Spider Fawke, and Pete Schwartz) and I set out to repeat that experiment once again. This time we changed things up a bit; rather than large square plots, we conducted linear surveys along an existing public trail (the Panorama Loop Trail – 7 miles from start to finish) out of the Black Rock campground area. My question was, walking single file along the trail, how many additional lizards were seen by each position in that line-up. I was always in the lead, so my counts were the same as if I was conducting the survey by myself. The 2nd through 5th positions were rotated among the citizen scientists to avoid any observer ability effect. Here are our results:
It should not be any surprise that the first person in line, whether it is me or someone else, would see more lizards. The interesting finding was that each and every position was able to contribute additional sightings, even the last person in line saw lizards that the first four had missed. The reason is that the first person will see the obvious lizards sitting out in the open, and those that move right away, but some lizards sit tight hoping their camouflage will protect them. But, as the next four people walk by, the lizards “lose their nerve” and dart for cover. How long it takes each lizard to dart, dictates which person in line sees it. But then how does that compare to my findings in the 2016 paper? It turns out that the cumulative addition of those four community scientists more than exceeded my count alone. Our combined count was more than double the number of lizards I would have seen if I were by myself – precisely the same conclusion of that I came to back in 2016.
There is no question that community scientists make a huge contribution. In another paper that I am in the final “polishing stage” on before submitting it to a journal for peer review, five California Naturalist community scientists will be included as co-authors because their contributions unquestionably warrant that honor. Not only are the data better, much better, but the discussions we have while counting lizards are tremendously helpful to me for clarifying what questions to address. Yesterday there was much speculation as to what seemed to be fewer lizards than we expected to see. It turns out those musings were right. Comparing surveys made in September-October of each year, in 2018, a drought year, we saw 42 side-blotched lizards. Last year, a wet year, we saw 76, and this year (also a wet spring) we saw just 37. Why? That's where those in-the-field group discussions get fun. We did notice a huge increase in California scrub jays this year; they are omnivorous and would be pleased to gobble down a small lizard. So perhaps successive wet years allow predator populations to build up and then create a top-down dampening of the side-blotched lizards' ability to build their populations. Another question to explore and just another way that community scientists contribute to better science.
However, this pandemic, which has created challenges at every level of our lives, has made it hard to do community-based science and keep everyone safe. We are finding ways that seem to work: small groups of folks who are taking their health and safety, and those of others seriously, masks, and physical spacing. Going forward, because this pandemic will not last forever, if any of you are interested in joining our “Community Science Collaborative” please let me know.
I am adding an image of a desert spiny lizard we saw along the trail.
Go outside, tip your hat to a lizard, and be safe.
- Author: Gregory Ira
The frequency of disasters doesn't diminish the pain they bring. With 28 major fires burning across the state and the greatest area burned in a year, the scope of this disaster is unprecedented even in the context of recent record breaking fire seasons.
Within the places directly affected by these disasters are California naturalists, staff from our partner organizations, their families and the communities that they serve. This year, everyone knows someone who has been affected.
For those of us spared the worst our thoughts turn to those who have been affected the most. It is difficult for us to reconcile our understanding of the ecological role of fire in California with the widespread devastation and personal loss across our state. Notwithstanding the resilience of Californians and California Naturalists, we know that impact from these fires will be painful and lasting. We also know that the most vulnerable will face the most difficult challenges and have the longest road to recovery.
During these times, our community rises to the challenge by sharing time, resources, and strength. We know these efforts can't replace what has been lost, but they are our way to connect with those affected, and connections are what define communities. There are many worthy causes to support and ways you can respond, many of which you already do through your volunteer service as a naturalist. As naturalists with a deep connection to our communities, our state and the entire west coast, this collective experience will unite us as we recover, rebuild and re-envision our future in these special places we call home.
Finally, we also know that no matter how difficult conditions get, we will endure. Beyond the lingering haze are blue skies, beneath the ash are seeds prepared to sprout, and behind much of the charred bark water and nutrients still flow through living tissue. Our community too will rebound. We know – now more than ever – that our work is vital to addressing the underlying influence that climate change plays in transforming natural hazards into disasters, and we will respond with a renewed sense of purpose.
Greg and the CalNat Team
- Author: Brook Gamble
- Author: Brook Gamble
A new certification course needs a course emblem fit for a beautiful pin and certificate! We're pleased to announce the new design, a lupine (Lupinus sp.). After passionate debate and multiple rounds of votes for different flora and fauna by course instructors, staff, and our Strategic Planning Committee, we finally settled on the lupine, without designating a specific species. Lupine are found throughout California and are a flower familiar to many people. Lupine are in the pea family, they are nitrogen fixers, and they help sequester carbon in the soil. Furthermore, many species are threatened by climate change. By CalFlora estimates, there are 138 species of lupine in California. Check out CalFlora to learn about the astonishing diversity across the state.
- Author: Gregory Ira
The California Naturalist Program's Program Advisory Committee (PAC) is a volunteer advisory group to the Director designed to provide feedback to the program, guide priorities, assist in evaluation, strengthen collaborations, and support program development efforts. I want to thank several of our members who have completed their term and welcome those who have recently joined the PAC. Those completing their term include Dr. Peggy Fiedler (UC Natural Reserve System), Jessica Bautista (UC ANR), Dr. Mark Schwartz (UC Davis), and Dr. Jeremy James (UC ANR Sierra Foothill Research & Extension Center). These members served during a critical period that included the successful completion of the program's Five Year Program Review. Now, we are pleased to welcome new PAC members: Dr. Sam Sandoval-Solis (UC ANR/UC Davis); Dr. Erin Marnocha (UC Natural Reserve System); Claudia Diaz Carrasco (UC Cooperative Extension Riverside County), and Dr. Jairo Diaz (UC ANR Desert Research & Extension Center).
As an existing CalNat instructor, a member of the CalNat Program Advisory Committee, a UC faculty member, a pilot instructor for the new UC Climate Stewards course, and pioneer in natural history-focused participatory science, Dr. Barrows is imminently qualified to serve as the first Lead Scientist for the program. He is currently a Research Ecologist at the Center for Conservation Biology at UC – Riverside working from the UCR Palm Desert Center. He is a recognized ecologist and naturalist who has studied, managed, and explored a huge swath of our diverse state from Humboldt County to the Mojave Desert. He recognizes the importance of the UC California Naturalist program in revitalizing natural history training, increasing trust, engagement and public participation in science, and capturing the sense of urgency that climate change brings to our work.
Over the next three years, we will work together through the CalNat PAC, Quarterly Instructor Calls, and program convenings to build upon our collective knowledge of the best practices that make the UC California Naturalist Program a transformative learning experience for so many people.