Fort Ord Natural Reserve

reviving field research
Fort Ord Natural Reserve, a refuge for rare maritime chaparral, is one of four sites in the UC Santa Cruz Natural Reserve System. Image credit: Christopher Woodcock

Located on part of the former Fort Ord Army Base, Fort Ord Natural Reserve supports excellent examples of maritime chaparral endemic to the Monterey Bay region. This rare habitat and several associated plant and wildlife species depend largely on Fort Ord land for their survival.

Eleven listed plant species reside there (including the federally endangered, state-threatened sand gilia and the federally threatened Monterey spineflower), along with six listed animal species (including the federally endangered Smith’s blue butterfly). The site also supports a mixture of other habitats: coast live oak, coastal scrub, mixed annual grassland, and native perennial grassland.

The reserve was established because of its unique flora and fauna of the Monterey Bay maritime chaparral and as mitigation for the adjacent former UCSC Monterey Bay Education, Science, and Technology Center (MBEST) under the Fort Ord Base Closure Habitat Management Plan (HMP). As part of this plan, the reserve will protect rare habitats and associated special-status species into perpetuity and foster teaching/research opportunities, especially in conservation biology of the HMP species.

Field Learning

Rich habitat diversity, unique biotic communities, and proximity to UCSC and other campuses create valuable teaching opportunities; students use the site for internship programs and independent research on projects that directly support management efforts.

Habitat Restoration

UCSC Fort Ord staff and student researchers study occurrence and phenology of rare native annuals across native and restored habitats on the reserve. UCSC undergraduates and student staff propagate and plant thousands of listed annuals each year on disturbed sections of the reserve. Small disturbed areas are available for other experiments in restoration ecology.

Selected Research

  • Ongoing reserve monitoring: Status of Habitat Management Plan-listed species; bird monitoring, small mammal monitoring, herpetology monitoring, coast horned lizards population study, invertebrate identification and DNA barcoding, environmental DNA sampling, and long-term storage
  • Conservation biology: Distribution and genetic studies of the black and silver forms of the California legless lizard; survey of coast horned lizards; survey of native ants and invasive Argentine ants; research on the demographics and community ecology of sand gilia, Monterey spineflower, and maritime chaparral shrubs; the role of change in ant biodiversity on seed dispersal; comparative genetic and morphological analysis of different sand gilia populations; and manzanita pathogen studies.

Joe Miller
UCSC Fort Ord Natural Reserve
3180 Imjin Rd. Suite 104
Marina, CA 93933
Fort Ord Natural Reserve website

Marina, Monterey County, CA
20 min./12 mi. north of Monterey
45 min./40 mi. south of Santa Cruz

Primitive campground available for research and class use. Small conference facility, wifi, and indoor office area available at adjacent UC MBEST Center. Hotels and other overnight accommodations are nearby.

The reserve bibliography includes citations of journal articles, books, theses, art, and other works published about or based on activities conducted at the reserve.

Plant and vertebrate species lists

Reserve baseline-survey data were collected for the Fort Ord Base Closure Habitat Management Plan (HMP).

Reserve drone imagery, datasets of rare annual plant distributions, long term mammal monitoring data, and long term herptile monitoring data are available upon inquiry. 

Reserve director

245 hectares (605 acres)

21 to 58 m (70 to 190 ft.)

46 cm (18 in.) per year

15 ºC (59 ºF)
Dendra Weather Data

Fort Ord Natural Reserve 1
Bombus vosnesenskii
Does where a bumble bee forage affect its tastes? A project at Fort Ord Natural Reserve and Younger Lagoon Reserve aims to find out.