Climate change study at Valentine Reserve/SNARL

by Katie Vane

Species trees
Quaking aspen are among the plant species monitored at the Valentine Eastern Sierra Reserves as part of the California Phenology Project. Image credit: Lobsang Wangdu

Eastern Sierra volunteers recently wrapped up the first full year of a study on the effects of climate change at the Valentine Reserve and Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory (SNARL) in and near Mammoth Lakes. The efforts are part of a larger California Phenology Project, which by observing and recording the life stages of selected plants over many years aims to track the effects of climate change on state ecosystems. Phenology is the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, such as budding and bird migrations, especially in relation to climate.

The Phenology Project began in 2010 with seven national parks, but expanded to eight University of California Natural Reserves in 2011. “At the most basic level, we wanted to increase the geographic range and sample sizes of each of our monitored species,” said Project lead and U.C. Santa Barbara Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Susan Mazer; “consequently, almost all of the species being monitored in the Reserves are also being monitored in one or more of our selected national parks.”

Mazer received the initial grant for the Project from the National Park Service. She received a second, smaller grant to expand the project to the eight UC Reserves. Altogether, the Project has established more than 100 monitoring sites between the parks and reserves.

The Reserves offer the boon not only of increased geographic range and sample size of species, but also of greater volunteer presence, Mazer said. She is currently working on the Phenology Project with the help of graduate student Brian Haggerty, postdoctoral fellow Elizabeth Mathews, and a cadre of other scientists, teachers, and volunteers. “We knew that the UC Natural Reserves often attract significant numbers of docents and volunteers who are eager to participate in scientific research,” she explained. “With a little bit of training, even botanical novices can learn how to record highly reliable phenological data that can be contributed to the USA National Phenology Network’s nationwide data base.”

As Valentine Reserve Director Dan Dawson said, “This is true ‘citizen science.’”

Read the rest of this article in The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra