Spring 2012 Newsletter

Privacy by SafeSubscribe

Director's Greeting

Claudia Luke

Welcome to the SSU Preserves' 2nd on-line newsletter. In the few short years since I became Director, interest in our Preserves has broadened and deepened. Last year, 7,233 visits were made to the Fairfield Osborn and Galbreath Wildlands Preserves by 2,554 visitors. Our visitors became part of a learning community composed by equal portion of academics and members of the public. These experiences were shared with over 17,000 learners via our Entomology Outreach Program at events throughout the North Bay.

What excites me about engaging with the Preserve learning community is our capacity to create change. Students, faculty and members of the public engage with each other to tackle real-world challenges of Preserve management - from grassland management and watershed planning to technology and historical databases. Each participant leaves a legacy for the next group to pick up where they left off.

The spring season has been no exception. I hope you enjoy our 2nd newsletter with updates on a few of our on-going collaborations at the Preserves.

Featured Photo

photo: Nathan Rank

The feature under these trees may look like nothing more than a pile of rocks, but it is one of the oldest rock fences on the Fairfield Osborn Preserve, built in the 1850s to mark the northern boundary of the Russell family land claim. This and other rock fences were constructed throughout what is now the Fairfield Osborn Preserve; if you tour the preserve, you might get a chance to see one up close and literally touch a piece of history.

For consideration for our next issue's 'Featured Photo', please submit your photos to our flickr site, noting the location and date where the photo was taken.

Getting Your Feet Wet Can Change Your Life

photo: Nathan Rank

With our daily lives increasingly dominated by science and technology products, one might expect parallel growth in science majors at our universities. But around the world, student interest is not keeping up with demand. "Lack or loss of interest in science" coupled with a "belief that other majors are more interesting" contribute to the decline.

As part of a new National Science Foundation grant, the SSU Preserves are working with at team of faculty to recruit more students into science majors by engaging them in inspirational experiences at the Fairfield Osborn and Galbreath Wildlands Preserves. "Science 120: Sustainability in My World" is a year-long course that explores sustainable use of water while learning basic skills in mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science, engineering, and critical thinking. With faculty, peer mentors and community partners they apply their new skills to find solutions to local environmental challenges.

"The Preserves are natural classrooms that inspire learning" says SSU Preserves Director Claudia Luke. "With the Preserves as a centerpiece of Science 120, the Osborn and Galbreath Preserves are directing students towards professional employment, and addressing societal needs for a qualified work force."

The 5-year National Science Foundation grant was awarded to Lynn Stauffer, Dean of the School of Science & Technology, in 2011.

Choosing a Mate that Doesn't Stink: Female Mate Choice in the Pacific Newt

Emily Harvey

Every year hundreds of Pacific Newts migrate from their summer forest habitat to their winter breeding grounds on the Galbreath Wildlands Preserve. Newts are primarily terrestrial for much of the year, only migrating to creeks and ponds to breed during the winter months. At Galbreath Preserve we have all three species of Pacific Newts including the rough skin newt, Taricha granulosa, the California newt, T. torosa, and the red bellied newt, T. rivularis. These three newt species are very similar in appearance, and to the untrained eye may appear to all be the same species; but they do not interbreed in the wild. However, Pacific Newts have been successfully hybridized and produced viable offspring when experimentally crossed in the lab. How Pacific Newts maintain reproductive isolation in the wild has become the main question driving my master's research.

There are several ways species maintain reproductive isolation, but for my study I focused on behavioral isolating mechanisms. The Pacific Newts at Galbreath Preserve breed in the same pond and creek habitats at about the same time, so they come into contact with sexually mature individuals of the opposite species all the time. Rough skin newts breed in both pond and creek habitats, whereas California newts only breed in ponds, and red bellied newts only breed in creeks. For this reason we chose to study female rough skin newts specifically so we could study mate choice and species recognition of all the Pacific newt species that are present at Galbreath Preserve.

To simulate mate choice decisions in nature as closely as possible, we chose to conduct our behavioral experiments in the field using a Y-maze apparatus. Research at Galbreath Preserve has proven to be quite a challenge, particularly gaining access to the pond site during winter, and not having access to water. Every weekend during the field season about 100 gallons of water were transported up to the preserve, and some days we would have to go home early because we ran out of water. I was fortunate to have the help of over 15 undergraduates who woke up at the crack of dawn and caught newts with me in freezing cold water (you think I'm kidding about the freezing cold water, one day we had to break through a sheet of ice to catch the newts beneath!)

Overall, this research has answered some of our questions and generated a lot more. We found that females were not attracted to males of the same species over a water control or females of the same species, with mate choice decisions being nearly random. However, females significantly preferred the male of the same species over both males of different species. Our results suggest that female rough skin newts are repelled by chemical cues of males from different species, and that a repellent chemical cue may function to prevent hybridization between these species.

Since my graduation, biology undergraduate Kellianne Minarik has taken over the project and has spent the last few months at Galbreath Preserve finishing up some data collection. She has been able to do so with the help of four undergraduates, all seeking to gain more experience in the field. Next year she will begin taking the project in a new direction for her master's research. It is her aim to build upon our findings thus far, while incorporating a new aspect; anthropogenic chemicals. Though she is still in the process of designing her project, she hopes to focus on the behavior of Pacific Newts and their ability to recognize potential mates while in the presence of chemical pollutants commonly found in run off. Overall, Galbreath Wildlands Preserve has been a vital landscape that has helped Sonoma State Students to answer some of those nagging unknowns.

Emily Harvey is a Master's student in the Derek Girman Lab, Department of Biology, Sonoma State University

New Developments

California Coastal Prairies Website

The SSU Field Stations & Nature Preserves is pleased to present this beautiful website, a definitive resource for coastal grassland management and appreciation. Only 10% of this highly diverse ecosystem remains in California. We encourage you to peruse its pages to learn fun and exciting facts about grassland plants, animals and processes. This project is part of a coastal prairie restoration study funded by the Coastal Conservancy, UC Davis, and UC Natural Reserve System and engaging over 15 partner organizations.

Preserves on Facebook

Perhaps you already follow the Insecta-Palooza! facebook page for updates on this October's event, interesting insect news, videos, and stunning macrophotography. But did you know that the Preserves also has a facebook page? We love to share news of the natural world, and encourage you to share your news with us and our fans!

Arts & Letters

Wildlife Hedgerows

Frederique Lavoipierre

Are you interested in landscaping for wildlife? Preserves Entomology Program Coordinator, Frederique Lavoipierre, recently wrote an article about the SSU Garden Classroom hedgerows. See Hedgerows: For the Birds, in the February newsletter of the Milo Baker chapter of the California Native Plant Society.


Lakin Khan

This winter has been almost drought-dry, with most of the Bay Area barely receiving a third of the normal amount of precipitation for the season. Until March, that is, when the heavens opened and downpours became the usual thing; a sunny day the rarity.

Yet after weeks of rain, no matter how relished, cabin fever can set in. So when April First dawned sunny and clear, a visit to the Fairfield Osborn Preserve on Sonoma Mountain seemed in order. My nominal purpose: to check on Copeland Creek, which tumbles down on the western slopes of the mountain; it was bound to be running full after this month of rain and the waterfalls abundant. A secondary purpose: to put my training as Docent at the Preserve to good use, a position I had earned through one of the rainiest springs on record. (One of the perks of being a Docent: visits to the Preserve!) But really, I just needed to get out and about, smell fresh air, breathe deep.

I picked up a boon hiking companion and headed north, the sun bashfully cheerful, like an unexpected visitor, the fields and slopes along Petaluma Hill Road blanketed with masses of yellow mustard. We parked and opened the car doors to air bright and wide awake, as if freshly-slapped with aftershave. The little tributary that runs along the parking lot and under the footbridge combed through a grassy section, green blades flowing straight and true. We wandered down the Marsh Trail, keeping our eyes on the muddy path and slippery rocks. Beside us, the brooklet rushed along, hishhing and burbling quite merrily, bouncing over and between rocks, racing along the runnels, hurrying downslope toward the marsh.

The peculiar wheek-wheek-wheek call of a Virginia rail, resembling a high-pitched, juicy grunt of a piglet, sounded as we edged the marsh. We, of course, didn't see it. Crossing over the ridge on the other side of the marsh, we could hear the bustle and rush of Copeland Creek and our pace quickened. Soon we were at the stair-step falls, the creek galloping down the rocky steps, over and around rocks and under fallen tree-limbs. We leaned against a huge boulder so moss-covered it resembled a very lumpy, somewhat slumpy, brilliant-green sofa, something designed by Dr Suess. Except it wasn't as soft as it looked. Still, the ozone-rich air, the mesmerizing rush and gurgles of the water slowed us into quiet introspection.

There's a curious thing about the upper reaches of Copeland Creek. Though it is a perennial creek, it is fishless. Not a common state of affairs for a creek with no obvious physical barriers, like tall waterfalls, to block the movement of fish, or excessive pollution and the resultant loss of fish habitat. And while strong winter rains pounding through the rocky armored creek bed can thrust fish downstream in a downrush of water and mud, you'd think they would swim right back up and re-establish themselves rather quickly.

Professor Stephen Norwick, in the Environmental Studies and Planning Department, at Sonoma State University theorizes that landslides generated by tectonic rumbles push massive amounts of rocks, tree-fall and mud through the stream bed, a big muddy flushing every so often, resulting in a short-lived but effective dam that prevents fish from venturing into the upper, rocky reaches. But here's the interesting question: without fish around, what creature becomes the top predator? Who eats the whatsits that munch on the whosiejammies that feast on the bittiest of bugs? Salamanders, that's who. In the absence of fish that would otherwise prey on them, salamanders have become the top predators in Copeland Creek. And of the six species of salamanders and newts on the preserve (Pacific Giant Salamander, Rough-skinned Newt, California Newt, Ensatina, Arboreal Salamander, California Slender Salamander) the Pacific Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus) is definitely the head honcho, el hefe, the boss.

They are called giant for good reason; they can be a foot long, a somewhat startling size when you first encounter them. But they are kind of cute, in a bare-skin, no-frills kind of way: big googly eyes, a permanent grin when seen from the front, a distinct, if drab, brown that blends with wet leaf litter in stream beds. They are the only known salamander to vocalize, emitting a croaky cry, almost a bark, when surprised. In general, the adults are adapted to land and so can more likely escape the mad torrents of high-winter rain or quake induced slides.

Our next stop was the Stone Circle, where we sat enveloped in the magic of the double falls, the quiet of the contained, water-rich air. Then after a small spate of being, well, not lost, mind you, just slightly confused about where we were in relation to the trail, we climbed up the Woodland Trail, past what I think of as the Salamander Condo Complex a collection of rocks and small logs, under which ensatinas and slender salamanders can often be found. We didn't find them ourselves that first day of April; perhaps they were all off at some party, perhaps they hadn't quite received the message that spring had arrived. But we weren't all that persistent; light was starting to fade, high faint clouds beginning to gather; it was time to leave the mountain. A few more minutes of brisk hiking and we were back at the parking lot, doing a quick tick check and washing our shoes to prevent the spread of the pathogen, Phytophthora ramorum. Sunset overtook us as we drove down the mountain; we watched the clouds bronze and brighten into an apricot glow, the sun sliding lower and lower and then behind the coastal range.

The creek was running, the waterfalls were full to bursting; all was right with this world.

Invest in Your SSU Preserves

Join Us

Students of all ages and backgrounds engage in first-hand experiences at SSU Field Stations & Nature Preserves that lead to new discoveries and understandings that greatly and positively impact the world. Join us in developing an enduring legacy of innovation in education and research. Your investment impacts today, tomorrow and the decades ahead. Your gift - whether one time, annual or a gift of a lifetime - is greatly appreciated. Checks can be made payable to SSU (Memo: SSU Preserves) and sent to:

SSU - University Development 1801 E. Cotati Ave. Rohnert Park, CA 94928

Credit card, stock transfer, property or estate gift contact Michelle Covington, SSU - University Development, michelle.covington@sonoma.edu or 707-664-4151.

Visit Your Preserves

Learn to Be A Docent

Learn how to lead educational hikes at the Osborn Preserve. Informational Meetings about the Program 5-6 pm, August 27-August 30 and September 6. Read more about being a docent.

School Field Trips

Bring your 3-5 grade classes for a standards-based hike at the Osborn Preserve. Read more about field trips.

Public Hikes

Come for a docent-led hike at Osborn Preserve Oct 13 throuhg Dec 1 (Saturdays only), 10:00 am @ Osborn Preserve parking lot. Read more about public hikes.

Group Theme Hikes

Schedule your group for an Insect Safari at the Osborn Preserve. For more information contact Frederique Lavoipierre