Habitat Management Projects

Copeland Creek Riparian Restoration Project

2013-present: The section of Copeland Creek that runs across SSU lands is heavily invaded by blackberry and other undesirable species. An integrated vegetation management plan and long-term consistent treatments are needed for successful restoration. Students are developing grant applications, treatment plans, cultivation of natives, and monitoring for a 1.08-acre restoration area on the creek. Volunteer events undertaken in partnership with local organizations assist in the restoration efforts.

  • Faculty: Caroline Christian (Environmental Studies and Planning), Wendy St. John (Biology/ ENSP), Heidi Herrmann (ENSP)
  • Partners: Wendy Trowbridge (Laguna de Santa Rosa), Craig Dawson (SSU Facilities), Claudia Luke (CEI), Suzanne DeCoursey (CEI) CSU Campus as a Living Lab, Sonoma County Youth Ecology Corps, Friends of Copeland Creek, California Conservation Corps, Sonoma County Water Agency
  • Students: Native Plant Propagation; Restoration Ecology (GEP 423)
  • Results: click on link above

Effects of the 2017 North Bay Fires on Lizards Adjacent to Ponds

2018: 95% of the Pepperwood Preserve burned during the 2017 North Bay fires. We examine the effects of the North Bay Fires on the southern alligator lizards, western skink, and western fence lizard.

  • Faculty: Derek Girman (Biology)
  • Partners: Michelle Halbur, Pepperwood Preserve
  • Students: Special Studies Research Project

Spread of Sudden Oak Death in the Copeland Creek Watershed

2017: Copeland Creek is possible vector for Sudden Oak Death spread from SSU’s Fairfield Osborn Preserve to the SSU Campus. We found that SOD occurs in bay laurel and European sweet bay trees on SSU campus but that symptomatic leaves are lower on campus than at the preserve. Although tanoaks had visible symptoms (including stem cankers), tests found they were infected by a related species (P. nemerosa).

Carbon Content of Wetland, Forest and Grassland Soils

2018: The amount of organic carbon is a direct indicator of the soil’s ability to sequester carbon dioxide. We collected samples from an elevational gradient on Sonoma Mountain to determine which factors (vegetation, elevation, land use, or fire) have the greatest influence on soil carbon stocks

  • Faculty: Michelle Goman (Geography, Environment and Planning)
  • Partners: SSU Center for Environmental Inquiry, Crane Creek Regional Park
  • Students: Special Study Research
  • Results: Chandler 2018 (Poster 2.1 Mb) - Anthropological and environmental factors impacting climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration: an evaluation of elevation, vegetation, fire and land use *Winner of the 2018 Best Poster Award*

Variation in arthropod diversity in aquatic habitats

2018: We used pitfall traps to study arthropod diversity on three pond edge habitats at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge  

  • Faculty: Derek Girman (Biology)
  • Partners: Colusa National Wildlife Refuge
  • Students: Special Studies in Research
  • Results: 2018: Bartlone et al. 2018 (Poster 2.3 Mb) – Dominant plant type affects arthropod diversity

Habitat characterization of the red-legged frogs on Sonoma Mountain

2018: Sonoma Mountain is characterized as critical habitat for the threatened red-legged frog. We are exploring habitat requirements for this species and how they vary among types of aquatic habitat. .

  • Faculty: Derek Girman (Biology)
  • Partners: Sonoma Mountain Ranch Preservation Foundation
  • Students: Special Studies Research
  • Results: Jain et al. 2018 (poster 0.5 Mb) – Radio-telemetry and basking behavior in red-legged frogs (Rana draytoni)

Newt Species Identification

2018: Identification of newt species is a challenge for field biologists. We found that Taricha granulosa could be distinguished from T. torosa using measurments of tail length and snout-vent length.  

  • Faculty: Derek Girman (Biology)
  • Partners: Sonoma Mountain Ranch Preservation Foundation
  • Students: Special Studies Research, Master’s Thesis
  • Results: Morales et al. 2018 (poster 4.1 Mb) – Identification of newt species using morphometrics

Diet Comparison of Populations of Invasive American Bullfrogs

2018: The American Bullfrogs and swamp crayfish are non-native and  invasive in California. We studied whether bullfrogs eating large amounts of crayfish showed a reduction in the number of native species they consumed.

  • Faculty: Derek Girman (Biology)
  • Students: Special Study Research
  • Results: Lozano et al. 2018 (poster 0.4 Mb) - Diet comparison of invasive American bull frogs (Lithobates catesbeianus)  


Using DNA to Detect Aquatic Species

2018: We used eDNA to detect non-native invasive species from water samples

  • Faculty: Derek Girman (Biology)
  • Students: Special Studies Research
  • Results: Nabor et al. 2018 (poster 0.9 Mb) – The viability of using eDNA to detect the presence of species in a warm water ecosystem. Torres et al. 2018 (poster 0.7 Mb) – Development of eDNA tools for California tiger salamanders (Ambystoma californiense) in vernal pools on the Santa Rosa plain.

Carbon Storage in Saltwater Marshes

2017: Tidal salt marshes are important carbon sequestration environments. We analyzed sediment gathered from three core samples at varying distances from a tidal channel to determine carbon accumulation for the past century.

Impacts of Cattle Grazing on Grassland Communities on Sonoma Mountain

2017: Despite decreased vegetation height, thatch depth, and increased soil compaction, cattle grazing did not impact the observation rate of ground-dwelling grassland vertebrates.

  • Faculty: Derek Girman (Biology)
  • Partners: SSU Center for Environmental Inquiry, Sonoma Mountain Ranch
  • Students: Internships
  • Results: Bradbury et al. 2017b (poster pdf 8.8 Mb) - Impacts of Cattle Grazing: a comparison of two properties on Sonoma Mountain

Sustainability of Sonoma County Wineries

2017: These projects review the effects of wine-growing on water and other natural resources. Biodynamic agriculture and other sustainable practices are recommended for reducing environmental impacts. Ethical issues are explored.

A Habitat Suitability Model for California Tiger Salamander

2017: A habitat suitability model predicts areas in Sonoma County that contain suitable habitat for the California tiger salamander and highlights areas that may be needed to be maintain viable populations.

  • Faculty: Jeff Baldwin (Environmental Studies and Planning)
  • Partners:
  • Students: BIOL 599 Thesis Research
  • Results: Carlos 2017 (thesis pdf 1.3 Mb) - Modeling habitat suitability for the California Tiger Salamander in Sonoma County

Road crossings of California tiger salamanders (Ambystoma californiense) near mitigation tunnels

2017: The number of California tiger salamanders crossing Stony Point Road showed a slight increase in the 2015-16 rainy season over the previous year but not as high as levels observed in 2012-13.

  • Faculty: Derek Girman (Biology)
  • Partners: Dave Cook (SCWA), Julian Weisler (US Fish and Wildlife)
  • Students: BIOL 599 Thesis Research
  • Results: Bradbury et al. 2017a (poster pdf 2.7 Mb) - Road crossings of California tiger salamanders (Ambystoma californiense) near mitigation tunnels in Sonoma County, CA

Vernal pool habitat for endangered California tiger salamanders

2015-17: We investigate how environmental factors affect reproduction of tiger salamanders in vernal pools on the Santa Rosa plain.

  • Faculty: Derek Girman (Biology)
  • Partners: Dave Cook (SCWA), Julian Weisler (US Fish and Wildlife)
  • Students: BIOL 599 Thesis Research
  • Results

Land use changes and their affects on riparian areas

2015-16: Changes in land management have had significant effects on riparian areas of the North Coast. We conduct interviews with neighbors of the Fairfield Osborn Preserve (Sonoma Mountain) and Galbreath Wildlands Preserve (Outer Coast Range) to find out more about land use and riparian changes in the last 50 years.

Determinants of red-legged frog abundance in critical habitat

2016-18: The top of Sonoma Mountain is designated critical habitat for threatened red-legged frogs. Over a dozen ponds within the area have potential to support breeding. We study how abundance and distribution vary with habitat.

  • Faculty: Fran Keller (Biology), Derek Girman (Biology)
  • Partners: Jeff Wilcox (Sonoma Mountain Ranch), Norwick Memorial Fund
  • Students: BIOL 495 Special Studies, BIOL 393 Independent Research
  • Results: Defancesca et al. 2016 (Poster 4.5 Mb) - Ecosystem Dynamics of California Red-Legged Frog Habitat (Rana draytonii) Throughout a Breeding Season, Jain et al. 2018 (poster 0.5 Mb) – Radio-telemetry and basking behavior in red-legged frogs (Rana draytoni)

Management implications of climate change impacts on amphibians and reptiles

2015-16: As seasonal changes in temperature and precipitation are altered by climate change, amphibians and reptiles face new challenges. An improved understanding of how abiotic conditions and species interactions affect abundances of these vertebrates in a variety of habitat types can inform land management practices and allow scientists to predict the impacts of climate change on ecosystems. This study incorporates IT technology and citizen science.

  • Faculty: Derek Girman (Biology)
  • Partners: Jack Arnold Memorial Fund, Fairfield Osborn Preserve, Pepperwood Preserve
  • Students: ES 599 Thesis Research
  • Results: Bradbury 2016 (Poster 1.3 Mb) - Impacts of abiotic conditions on herpetofauna abundances in the Mayacama and Sonoma mountains, Wittman 2016 (Poster 1.4 Mb) - The Evaluation of Citizen Science Smartphone Technology in Herpetofauna Monitoring

Freshmen studies in riparian habitat management

2015-present: A Watershed Year is a freshman year experience that introduces students to local watersheds as they learn about science. The course focuses on teaching students how to conduct their own research. Course development was funded by National Science Foundation (PI: Lynn Stauffer).

Evaluation of fish habitat restoration on Dry Creek

Spring 2015: A backwater channel on Dry Creek was constructed in the winter of 2012. This project evaluates whether the channel provides a refuge for Steelhead and Coho Salmon as planned.

  • Faculty: Jeff Baldwin (Geography)
  • Partner: Neil Lassettre (Sonoma County Water Agency)
  • Students: GEOG 490 Senior Seminar
  • Results: Penpraze 2015 (Report) - Quivira backwater channel survey

Center for Environmental Inquiry's Land Management Training Program

student collecting insects

Spring 2014 - Present: The Land Management Program prepares 20 students each Spring semester to work on ecological restoration projects at partner sites in Sonoma County. With WATERS support, a watershed unit was introduced into the program and included training in riparian restoration strategies and watershed management principles and skils. Partner organizations provided training and supervised students at work sites. Some students in the program additionally undertook independent watershed related research projects.

  • Staff: Suzanne DeCoursey (Center for Environmental Inquiry)
  • Partners: Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District, UC Davis Bodega Marine Reserve, Fairfield Osborn Preserve, Occidental Arts and Ecology Center and Pepperwood Preserve

Insect biodiversity monitoring at riparian restoration sites in the City of Santa Rosa

student collecting insects

Spring 2014 - present: Students documented insect biodiversity at three restoration sites in the City of Santa Rosa: Colgan Creek, Fresno Avernue Migration Corridor Preserve, and Samuel P Jones Shelter and Community Center. Comparisons before and after restoration determine how restoration efforts affect insect biodiversity.    

  • Faculty: Fran Keller (Biology)
  • Partners: City of Santa Rosa

Effects of vegetation management on native plants and animals

February 2012-present: New riparian management techniques are focused on promoting native species diversity and maintaining flood capacity. These techniques include removing and controlling non-native blackberry, active restoration of native plant species, limbing the lower branches of existing trees to promote taller, shadier canopies and to allow maximum  flow during floods. Do these techniques meet the multiple objectives of controlling floods and increasing the abundance of native species? What are the effects on other organisms (e.g., birds and fish)? Can successional processes be ‘fast-forwarded’ to result in taller, shadier, riparian communities with an understory dominated by native plant cover?

  • Faculty: Caroline Christian (Environmental Studies and Planning)
  • Partners: SCWA

Vegetation measurements of this project are part of a separate SCWA-SSU contract to Caroline Christian

Copeland Creek exercise project

students working a garden bed to grow native riparian plants

Spring 2013-present: Stewardship and restoration of watercourses requires physical activity to clean up refuse, maintain paths, plant natives, and remove invasive species. At the same time, these activities can potentially improve the health of participants. This project examines the effects of self - paced restoration activities on heart rate and metabolism.

  • Faculty: Bulent Sokmen (Kinesiology)
  • Partners: City of Rohnert Park, Center for Environmental Inquiry, SSU Garden Classroom