Michael Spaeth, UC Merced

Michael Spaeth
Michael on the dunes with colleagues from the park service. Image courtesy Michael Spaeth

I’ve been working on the dune restoration project and also doing rare plant monitoring in the park. I’m out in the field four to five days a week, every week.

I’ve been helping the park surveying different types of federally protected and listed species, including Tidestrom’s lupine and beach layia. I think there’s only three populations of Tidestrom’s lupine along the West Coast. The biggest one is here at Point Reyes. For the park to restore and keep track of these populations, it’s really important to make sure they stay on the map, so to speak.

I do a lot of rare plant surveys, getting an idea of the population and numbers. I’ve done full censuses of the foredunes here. I’m trying to get a solid number on how the population’s looking relative to last year, especially with the restoration efforts they’ve been doing at the park.

Michael Spaeth, UC Merced 1
Michael surveys Tidestrom’s lupines to help the park monitor the population of this endangered species. Image credit: Lobsang Wangdu

There are a lot of invasive plants taking out entire habitats, especially on the dunes. One in particular is European beach grass. It almost creates a monoculture. For these endangered species, it’s a really big deal and could completely wipe them out.

Another big aspect of this internship has been going to the different dunes—restored, native, and ones totally invaded by the beach grass—and monitoring and recording the plant communities. It’s something they’ve been doing for many years now out on the dunes, seeing how the composition of the vegetation has been changing over time. Because of that I’ve been learning a lot of the flora out here, which has been very nice.

I’m mostly interested in plant ecology. This opportunity at the park has really given me a perspective on a large-scale way to monitor and keep track of the state of the natural flora. I’ve learned so much from the colleagues I’ve been working with this summer.

Michael Spaeth, UC Merced 2
Michael maps invasive plants in a park wetland. Image courtesy Michael Spaeth

At UC Merced there’s a natural preserve right behind campus, the Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve, which is part of the NRS system. I’ve been working there the past year surveying for rare and endangered plants, and doing weed removal. That’s how I got my foot in the door here; it was direct, overlapping experience. The reserve in Merced is much smaller scale. This has been a big step up.

Last fall, I took the NRS’s California Ecology and Conservation course. Through that course I developed all of these connections throughout UC and the NRS system, and heard about this internship. That field program definitely opened a lot of doors for me.

Working here has solidified my interest in plant management. It’s definitely a path I’d enjoy taking in the future.

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