Our Doris Duke Conservation Scholars are taking part in conservation internships all over the US this summer. They are guest blogging here at L-C-Ideas to keep us up to speed on what they’re doing. Please check back for more!
Settling into the field of Endangered Species Ecology
By Eva and Margarita
On June 8th, we moved happily into our new home at the UC White Mountain Research Center. WMRC is located in the Owens Valley, a couple of miles east of Bishop, and is home to many student and professional researchers as well as the base camp for a number of college field courses. To the east, the rounded White Mountains roll out of the soft desert and glow bright pink when the sun sets. To the west, majestically sculpted peaks of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains tower over the valley, dark blue and tipped with snow. Upon arrival, we were welcomed with a vegetarian barbeque at our boss Dr. Rob Klinger’s home with the rest of our project team.
For the first week of our internship, we stayed at WMRC in a cozy cabin fitted with two beds and no room for much else. We worked in an office ten feet away from our room, cooked in a common kitchen stacked with tasty free leftovers, and have befriended a few other researchers staying at the station. In the office, we worked on data entry and data analysis. Our mentor, Rob Klinger, gave us a few lessons on compass navigation and got us started using programs like GIS, Microsoft Access, Microsoft Excel, and R. We were able to generate some pretty cool graphs and gain a more wholesome understanding of the situation with the Amargosa Vole and the Lane Mountain Milkvetch. Here are a few graphs that we created using a combination of those programs previously mentioned to demonstrate the intense loss of bulrush over the past three years, the vole’s habitat species.
When we weren’t busy with data entry and familiarizing ourselves with different data bases, we went on some memorable adventures that consisted of breathtaking sights and wonderful hikes! Our first venture was hiking along Lake Sabrina. Eva makes hiking look so easy due to her vast experience in hiking, at elevations ranging from 6,000 to 9,000 feet it was quite challenging for Margarita to endure the full length of the hike to Blue Lake. As a novice hiker, she was still able to hike up 2.5 miles, climbing a total of 134 steps! (according to her Fitbit) Nevertheless, we had a great time challenging our bodies while taking in the view, the mutual support we had for one another made the journey fun and safe.
We even got Monday off on our first weekend, so we were able to explore some more of the area. We drove around the volcanic tableland looking for petroglyphs, but found a railroad museum instead. Then, we drove up the White Mountains to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, where at 10,000 ft elevation we were able to touch, sniff, and hug the world’s oldest trees–thousands and thousands of years old! Here is a photo of us at the top, where you can see the snowy Sierras stretching endlessly southward while the drier White Mountains unfurl eastward in a series of valleys and plain rounded peaks into Nevada. We are learning so much about the landscape, native ecosystems, and natural history of the area.
For the second week of our internship, we traveled through Yosemite to the USGS Oakhurst office, also known as the Western Ecological Research Center Yosemite Field Station. We stayed in a beautiful house in the national park owned by the NPS, which is full of young people working in the same field as us. In this office, we continue to prepare ourselves for fieldwork by working to better understand the data already gathered. We downloaded NOAA Climate data and Landsat Satellite data to assess the changes in vegetation cover in the vole’s habitat over the years.
In the USGS’s office in Oakhurst, we have several useful books to help guide us through the intricacies and functionalities of different programs like R and ArcGIS, which are useful in data manipulation and analysis. Here, Eva delves into the world of vectors, matrices, and data frames as she learns more about the programming language R.