Entries in Biological (5)


Corpse Flower "Terra the Titan"

Today, I was able to view the blooming of the "corpse flower" (Amorphophallus titanum), on exhibit as "Terra the Titan" at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. This event was high on my botanical bucket list and it was totally unforgettable. 

What makes this event so special?

To begin, the plant itself: titan arum is the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world (typically 6-8 feet tall) and produces the largest leaf in the world (reaching up to 20 feet high). The event is also special because it is rare; the plant only blooms once every 7-10 years and only for about two days. Finally, the event is special because it is marvelously malodorous: during the bloom, the plant emits a foul odor of rotting animal flesh, hence the common name of "corpse flower." 

Photo by 'adambadwound' on Instagram.

Photo by 'adambadwound' on Instagram.


Coho Mojo!

For the past 10 weeks, I’ve been learning about the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), an award-winning, science-based watershed protection organization that engages community members to take action in order to help the salmon recover and thrive. SPAWN is a project of the Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) and the program partner for my California Naturalist Certificate program from the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The mission of SPAWN is to protect endangered salmon in the Lagunitas Watershed and the environment on which we all depend. SPAWN uses a multi-faceted approach, including grassroots action, habitat restoration, policy development, research and monitoring, citizen training, environmental education, strategic litigation, and collaboration with other organizations, land-owners, and agencies.

SPAWN offers walks to view spawning salmon, an email action alert list-serve, homeowner consultations on creek protections, seminars, training and volunteer and internship opportunities.

As a soon-to-be-official naturalist, I have come to appreciate the focus of SPAWN’s efforts around the protection and preservation of the Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), a native species to the Lower Columbia River (threatened), Oregon Coast (threatened), Southern Oregon and Northern California Coasts (threatened), and Central California Coast (endangered).

According to the SPAWN website, "Coho have declined more than 95% from historic population levels, and are a listed species under the US Endangered Species Act. Just 30 minutes from the SF Bay Area's urban centers, Lagunitas Creek Watershed is one of the most important waterways left for these wild coho salmon, supporting 10 to 20% of all wild Central California Coast Coho surviving today."

By focusing on the Coho, our instructors explain their path to and from the ocean in the course of their lifecycle, drawing upon the connections that this species has with all of the other species is meets on its journey. We also learn about how the geography and geology play an important part in connecting such a fragile web of life.

I’m amazed at how intelligent, careful, and fun the SPAWN staff are in working with the community and watershed. Many of them are expert researchers, while others are local residents that care for the life around them.

This past weekend, I volunteered on a habitat restoration as part of the capstone project for two of my classmates. We removed the awful Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) that has taken over many areas near the SPAWN office in the Lagunitas Creek watershed.

Checkout this huge invasive weed pile that we pulled, on its way to become compost:

I hate weeds! - I HATE 'EM!


What it Means to be Native

One of my classmates in the California Naturalist program, Francis Mendoza, wrote an article for his capstone project, “What it Means to be Native” in Tidal Tales, the newsletter of the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center. In my own capstone project, I’ve been thinking about what it means (mostly for plants) to be indigenous/native, introduced/non-native, naturalized, invasive, and/or ornamental - to name a few of the terms used to describe the ecological characteristics of the species living in a given habitat. Defining these concepts reminds me of parallels to the various human definitions of place of origin, adaptation, inhabitation, colonization, and immigration.

From my understanding, the naturalist and scientific communities usually mean something very specific when they refer to native and invasive species. Usually, invasives are the worst because they adversely affect the habitats and bioregions they invade economically, environmentally, and/or ecologically.

Checkout the article – it’s a good reminder that our cultural heritage and natural heritage are fundamentally linked.

What it Means to be Native
By Francis Mendoza
California Naturalist Certificate Candidate

We’ve all heard the term “native” used to describe plants, animals, and even people. But what does it really mean to be native? You’ve also probably heard of native plant societies, native animal habitats, and native plant restorations, but why place so much importance on where things are from? Aren’t non-native animals and plants just as important as native animals and plants?

Many people are forced to answer this question when they try to alert park rangers of an injured animal they see on the trail. Some park agencies have the policy of only rescuing and treating native animals.

So if you’re a gray fox or snowy egret and you get stuck in the mud or injure your leg, chances are you’ll find yourself rescued or even in the cozy confines of an animal hospital, such as Sulphur Creek Nature Center. However, if you’re a red fox or European starling, you’ll probably have to fend for yourself.

It may seem cruel to do so, but this distinction has helped to focus limited park resources on native animals and plants, such as gray foxes and California sea lavender. Despite such park policies, many animal volunteer from Sulphur Creek are still willing and able to rescue non-native animals. Still, the question begs to be answered, who determines whether or not the life of native gray fox is more important than that of nonnative red fox?

To help answer this question, we have to look at the natural and cultural history of both species and where they originate from. Gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) range from as far north as southern Canada and as far south as the northern part of South American, with origins are in the Western Hemisphere. Despite this extensive range, their numbers are dwindling because they are being outcompeted by the larger, more aggressive red fox (Vulpes vulpes).

Red foxes originated in Europe and Asia and found their way to the Western Hemisphere through one of two ways: through the Bering Strait land bridge connecting modern-day Russia and Alaska tens of thousands of years ago, or purposely introduced into the “New World” for the lucrative fur trade and game hunting. Red foxes are now found virtually all over the world, and have been listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species.

Not only do red foxes out compete gray foxes for food, resources, and shelter, they are also a major reason why the native California clapper rail is on the endangered species list. As a top predator in the salt marsh, the red fox preys heavily upon the clapper rail, the species of bird we proudly display on our building logo. Coupled with habitat destruction and the seemingly ubiquitous presence of a non-native plant called Atlantic cordgrass, the California clapper rail is an unfortunate example of a native animals being threatened by both non-native animals AND plants.

Even more unfortunate is the fact that Atlantic cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) was introduced to the west coast of the United States from the east coast for restoration purposes. In the 1970’s, well-meaning restoration biologists used the plant to restore wetlands all along the Pacific Coast, but it has served to do the opposite: growing thick patches of dense vegetation that outcompete native plants and inhibit native plant habitat - habitat ideal for the California clapper rail.

Despite their good intentions, the introduction of Atlantic cordgrass by restoration “experts” forty years ago has been quite detrimental to the ecology of the marsh. Unfortunately, it’s been a long part of our human history to introduce plants for our benefit, regardless of the damage it might do to the local ecology. The Spanish missionaries planted European black mustard to satiate their appetite and to mark trails between missions. Gold Rush prospectors purposely planted sharp, invasive thistle to prevent other prospectors from encroaching onto their territory. As a result, the shoreline is littered with mustard and thistle plants. The damage is seemingly done, but is there anything we can do?

Join us for our monthly Weekend Weed Warrior program to help rid the shoreline of invasive plants such as mustard, thistle, and ice plant. Over the past few months, the non-native Algerian Sea Lavender (Limoneum ramosissimum) has been detected along the shoreline, and volunteers at the Bay Area Early Detection Network and East Bay Regional Park District rangers have been hard at work trying to get rid of the Algerian sea lavender out-competing the native California sea lavender for space, water, and sunlight.

Native plants are not only beneficial to salt marsh ecology, but can also help save plants, and attract a host of native animals such as hummingbirds, butterflies, and other insects. So join a native plant society, accompany us on one of our native plant restorations, or learn how to identify a native plant from a non-native one. It’s time we all went native; our wetlands can’t afford us not to.


Naturalist Certification

Summer 2012 University of California Naturalist Certification cohort. Photo credit: Dr. Christopher Pincetich.Many of my current professional and personal projects involve translating scientific research and STEM education programs into key deliverables, such as grant proposals, reports, and fundraising case statements. I communicate to diverse audiences, from established scientific research and government agencies, to philanthropic foundations and the general public.

To become better at communicating science, I’ve enrolled to become a Certified Naturalist from the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The program "utilizes a science curriculum, hands-on learning, communication training, and community service to engage adults in interactive learning and provides them with scientific literacy and critical thinking skills."

I'm also excited about becoming certified because I'll be able to participate in a wide variety of citizen science programs, including those at the Academy's Naturalist Center. This certification and these programs are part of a growing field of public participation in scientific research (PPSR), in which members of the public engage in the process of scientific investigations:  asking questions, collecting data, and/or interpreting results.

Watch the video below to learn more about the program and be sure to follow the "Green Blog" - it's highly informative and effectively uses stunning visual images.


Serving Science and Society - Under One Living Roof!

California Academy of Sciences

Claude, the Academy's lovable albino alligator.

Although this site reflects my research interests – and by no means represents my employer – I am delighted to feature the California Academy of Sciences, where I recently began working in the development division.

Inside and out, this place is amazing.

The Academy has the deepest coral reef exhibit in the world, a 4-story tropical rainforest, a towering T-Rex skeleton, a colony of African penguins, a fully-immersive digital planetarium, and an albino alligator named Claude, along with 40,000 living animals!

The Academy was founded in 1853 (wow!) and today it supports 46 world-class scientists and hundreds of researchers in 11 fields of study. With over a million visitors annually, each year the Academy's accredited teachers, highly-trained docents and scientists share their knowledge and enthusiasm for the natural sciences with tens of thousands of children, teens, and life-long learners. 

The world's greenest museum.It’s new, living and breathing building in Golden Gate Park opened in 2008 and earned the platinum rating (highest rating possible) for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and is the largest public building with this rating in the world. This commitment to sustainability extends to all facets of the facility - with a 2 ½ acre living roof, an expansive solar canopy, an extensive water reclamation system, and walls insulated with recycled blue jeans. The building also houses the Academy science labs and administrative offices (shout out to my colleagues in the development division!), including an extensive library and scientific archive consisting of more than 26 million specimens.

The Academy holds a variety of educational events, such as lectures, in addition to many other public programs. For example, the ’Tis the Season for Science events include indoor snow flurries, an igloo presentation dome, special events and daily presentations. Young visitors can also meet “Santa Claude,” the Academy’s lovable alligator.

Each Thursday, the Academy holds an event called Nightlife, where 21+ adults can enjoy music, science, entertainment and cocktails, while experiencing the Academy’s world-class exhibits and having fun with friends. Each weekly installment features something new and different. For example, last week featured chocolate tastings from around the world!

The Academy also has a useful iPhone application: Golden Gate Park Field Guide. I’ve downloaded it regularly use it to navigate my way through the 1,000+ acres of the park. The app highlights the park’s common wildlife, popular attractions, and hidden gems. As an interactive tool, it invites users to engage with the park and by recording and sharing their experiences.

As a donor and nonprofit professional, I can’t think of a better place to serve or a better mission to support. On my first day of orientation, I was thrilled to see that the very first item on the slideshow was a simple and clear mission: to explore, explain and protect the natural world. 

However, as I learn more about the collections, I also understand that the Academy also provides profound insights into human nature. My experiences in the Academy are a reminder that all forms of life are connected, biodiversity is our greatest strength, and that science and society are fundamentally linked.

Friends, I encourage you to visit the California Academy of Sciences to see it with your own eyes. I also encourage you to become a member, to support this unique cultural and scientific institution, volunteer, and spread the word!