Hastings Natural History Reservation is celebrating 75 years of science research into California ecosystems. Located among the rolling oak hills of eastern Carmel Valley, Hastings became the first biological field station of the University of California in 1937. Hundreds of students and scientists have worked there since, advancing the study of subjects such as bird behavior, native bunchgrass growth, mouse monogamy, and oak biology.
To mark the occasion, Hastings resident director Vincent Voegeli opened the gates of the 2,700-acre reserve to the public on September 14 for a day of science talks, hillside hikes, and history walks. Visitors gathered beneath the spreading branches of a 400-plus-year-old valley oak to learn about reserve use and research.
Voegeli began with an overview of the reserve and its history from prehistoric times through its acquisition by the University of California. Once visited by Native Americans collecting acorns for food, these lands became a site for homesteading farmers before being acquired as a country home by San Francisco couple Frances and Russell Hastings. The Hastings invited scientists from UC Berkeley to use the property for their research, and deeded the site to the University in 1963. Two years later, Hastings became one of the seven founding reserves of the UC Natural Reserve System.
“As a research facility, Hastings and its long record of research is absolutely unique and is a crown jewel in the NRS system,” said UC Berkeley biology professor and Hastings faculty director Eileen Lacey. “We can use those long-term data sets to really figure out what’s going on right now in California, how things are changing as climate changes. I bring classes here regularly, more and more just to get students outdoors, to experience a little bit of nature.”
Biologist Walt Koenig said his career studying the social lives of acorn woodpeckers was built on the decades he spent living at Hastings as its resident researcher. “I have devoted pretty much my entire career to studying these birds,” Koenig says. “We’ve banded about 5,000 acorn woodpeckers over the past 40 years.
Matina Kalcounis-Rueppell first studied deer mice at Hastings 20 years ago as a UC Berkeley graduate student, and continues that research today as a professor at the University of North Carolina. She puts out audio recording equipment, cameras, and traps to capture how the animals use ultrasonic squeaks to communicate with mates or warn away intruding mice. “A combination of the isolation, the preservation, and the long-term history of collecting data on basic natural history of California vertebrates here allows us to get to these really particular behavioral questions,” she says.
After the talks, people dispersed to hike and explore. Voegeli led a tour of the reserve’s central buildings, which include housing, laboratories, a historic barn, and a library, while many scientists stayed behind to answer questions about their work.
The event was well attended by local residents. Karen Moore of Salinas brought her Cub Scout troop for the afternoon. “They’re working on their naturalist and forester badges. A lot of the work they do here at Hastings ties into that. I didn’t know the reserve existed before the celebration. It’s great they’re willing to open it up to the community and let people see the research they’re doing.”
John Dungan of Pacific Grove had known about the reserve for more than 25 years, but had never had the chance to visit before. “A friend studied animal behavior here years ago, so I’ve been interested in the reserve for a long time. I thought it might be nice to do a hike in such a beautiful area. It’s eye-opening to see what kind of science is going on here.”