Two mice with one trap

A small mammal trapping protocol to let field classes inform climate science

Dena Spatz, UC Santa Cruz

small mammal trapping
Standardizing live-trapping methods for small mammals will allow field classes to collect data usable for climate research. Image credit: Lobsang Wangdu

The UC Natural Reserve System is an ideal network of sites where long-term studies can be implemented to provide an understanding of both the taxonomic groups undergoing changes with climate change and the mechanisms underlying these changes. However, there has yet to be a systematic study that brings together historic biological inventories and current monitoring procedures to ask important questions about how California’s biodiversity has changed in the past, and will continue to change into the future in the face of a changing climate.

The UC Natural Reserve System is an incubator for undergraduate education and serves as an outdoor laboratory for many UC field courses. This provides a great opportunity to develop a long-term monitoring strategy that can be supported by students and professors visiting NRS reserves during field courses.

To facilitate the coordination of available biological inventories and the establishment of long-term studies, I am focusing on developing protocols for small mammal diversity and abundance surveys.

Small mammals are present in most ecosystems and NRS reserves, occurring in habitats ranging from harsh deserts to alpine tundra. Species such as voles, mice, and kangaroo rats are also relatively easy to trap and measure compared to other vertebrate taxa. Moreover, small mammals are primary and secondary consumers that interact significantly with plants and ground invertebrates. Studies on their diversity and abundance have provided useful insights and metrics of impacts from climate change and other important drivers of demographic changes in biodiversity.

I am assessing where long-term research plots are currently monitoring small mammals at NRS reserves, what is being monitored, how methods are implemented, and who is leading the research. 

small mammal trapping
Field classes routinely live trap small mammals such as this kangaroo rat and release them back into the wild. Image credit: Michelle Yasutake

To encourage adoption of these trapping protocols, I am collaborating with UC field studies programs that bring undergraduates to UC Natural Reserves to study California’s unique ecology. I am also working with reserve managers to understand the likelihood of establishing long term trapping plots where monitoring can be facilitated by field courses. 

With the acquired information about monitoring methods and implementation, I will test potential procedures to monitor small mammals at the NRS’s Fort Ord Natural Reserve. The results of this test will be a protocol of best practices for establishing and maintaining long-term plots for measuring the diversity and abundance of small mammals across habitats in California that are monitored by UC-wide field courses and undergraduate students.

The larger impacts of this work include the compilation of available biological inventories, stimulation of research into establishing long-term monitoring across NRS reserves, and the forging of relationships and communication among researchers and managers across the UC Natural Reserve System.

A UC Santa Cruz graduate student, Dena Spatz’s work is supported by a grant from the Institute for the Study of Ecological and Evolutionary Climate Impacts (ISEECI). ISEECI leverages the UC Natural Reserve System as a biologically and geographically diverse laboratory to study the effects of climate change on California ecosystems.

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