Our Blog - Happenings at Hopland REC
The critically imperiled plant called Beaked Tracyina (Tracyina rostrata) is only known from about 16 locations found in Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Sonoma, and Trinity counties. Four of those sites are located on the UC Hopland Research & Extension Center. The CA Rare Plant Ranking for Tracyina is 1B.2 - meaning that it is rare, threatened, or endangered in CA and elsewhere, and is fairly endangered in California. Well, in this case it is also endemic to California.
This plant has a history of "disappearing" from local known sites ... or at least plants cannot be found in subsequent years after discovery. The plant can grow to 30 cm in height, but recent years' monitoring of one location at HREC has shown that the population persists at one location each year, but the size and number of plants may be dwarfed in dry springs.
This year, due to the fact that HREC has had only about 5 inches of precipitation since January 1, the Tracyina plants are extremely small, and very easily missed. You can see in the photos that the plants are only about 3 to 4 cm in height. It is literally like finding a "needle in a haystake" since, this year, the plants are only about the size of needles.
Handling venomous rattlesnakes takes much expertise and training. Matt Holding, Ph.D. candidate from The Ohio State University, has years of experience handling such critters. With methods and techniques approved by the Ohio State University Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee and a Scientific collecting permit from California Dept.of Fish & Wildlife, Matt added valuable data to his study. He also has northern Pacific rattlesnake data and California ground squirrel data from places like Carrizon Plain Ecological Reserve, Dye Creek Preserve, Vandenberg Air Force Base, various CA State Parks, Folsom Lake S.R.A., and many others.
An accumulation of blood samples from both species, venom samples from the rattlesnakes, and scale samples from the snakes, will help Matt uncover if coevolution of the two species is driving the levels of venom toxicity in the rattlesnakes and venom resistance in the ground squirrels. His goal is to be able to isolate specific venom and resistance genes in each snake and prey ... and calculate rates of molecular evolution across populations.
Here you see Matt obtaining a venom sample and a blood sample from a northern Pacific rattlesnake collected at the Hopland Research & Extension Center. For more information you can visit Matt Holding's Blog site
Last week, on April 25-26, the UC Hopland Research & Extension Center (HREC) hosted the spring meeting of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council (find out more here). The event was attended by well over 100 interested individuals ... from state (ie. CalFire) and federal agencies, tribal lands managers, private landowners, students, community and non-profit groups, and researchers.
The first day was spent conducting the meeting and watching/discussing presentations in the new Rod Shippey Hall. The general focus for fire managers is to figure out how to preserve natural shrublands while simultaneously protecting humans from wildfire. Friday's field tour of HREC let the participants see diverse ecosystems, with a focus on UC Berkeley fire ecologist Scott Stephens's field research plot work conducted on the Center and adjacent BLM lands since 1999.
Jennifer Potts, Kate Wilkins, and Erica Newman, all from Stephens;s UCB fire lab (past or present) explained the research work and the natural and social tradeoffs of chaparral fire risk reduction.
The UC Hopland Research & Extension Center has an abundance of Pacific Rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus oreganus) and California Ground Squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi). The question, since the species are predator and prey, is how much has coevolution changed or "steered" genetic traits such as venom resistance in the squirrels, or venom toxicity in the snakes.
Matthew Holding, Ph.D. student (link to Matt's Blog here) from the Dept. of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology at Ohio State University, has those questions in mind. He is seeking to uncover whether coevolution drives the genetic evolution of venom composition in the rattlesnakes and the resistance in prey (squirrels) within this system. His plan is to use lab-based methods to quantitatively assess whether ground squirrels from a given population show greater resistance to venom from resident (sympatric) as compared to non-resident (allopatric) rattlesnakes.
Here you see Matt getting ready to get a captured rattlesnake into the safe "holding tube" for taking measurements, blood samples, and scale clip. The bottom photo (photo #2) is a safe look at the snake from the end of the holding tube.
At the UC Hopland Research & Extension Center there is a group of researchers looking at predicting disease risk from community context and host phenotype. They refer to this study as being a "trait-based" approach. They are basically using various species of grasses, aphids, and grass viruses to assess this theory.
The experimental manipulations in field and greenhouse environments have allowed the collection of an enormous amount of data on plant ecophysiological traits, virus infections, aphid populations, and damage to plant leaves by fungal pathogens and insect herbivores.
Here you see the "field crew" from the Department of Biology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as led by Miranda Welsh (photo #2), looking at their field samples closeup with the help of magnifying goggles. This gives a whole new meaning to the song phrase, "I can see clearly now..."