As the summer rages on and the dog days approach, the field season slows, but the work certainly does not…
I have exactly a month left here at the Santa Lucia Conservancy. After six weeks on the job, I know my way around the Santa Lucia Preserve well. I arrive at work and jump into gear. After grabbing the GPS and Kestrel weather meter, I drive one of the trucks to Peñon, a peak in the eastern part of the Preserve.
I’ve become comfortable going out into the field by myself; sometimes those are actually the best days. I have the opportunity to reflect and enjoy nature on my own, which I learned to appreciate as an only child growing up in the southern Appalachians. I’m always eagerly keeping an eye out for bobcats and snakes while I conduct my field work. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing two of each this week! Almost any little whatever in nature can make me pause, and wonder, and try to learn; these are acceptable distractions from my main task. Plus, the Conservancy encourages scientific curiosity, so I feel justified in chasing after a snake or coyote.
I generally only go on solo field days when I am collecting invertebrates for my personal research project. The Conservancy manages two cattle herds that are strategically moved around the Preserve’s grasslands for conservation purposes. The goal is to use the cattle to revitalize our grasslands; they eat the dead thatch and many of the invasive species, helping native grasses recolonize the land. Additionally, dotted around the grasslands are about 20 completely untouched “exclosures” that the cattle cannot enter. Two of the photos I’ve included show the grazed area and the un-grazed exclosure.
The plot of land that has experienced ‘conservation grazing’ on a yearly basis (M2G) has much less invasive thistle and weeds than the adjacent plot that has purposefully never been grazed (M2N). I use a sweep net to catch insects and other Arthropoda in each plot of land, aiming to compare biodiversity and total invertebrate abundance between grazed and un-grazed sites. I’m repeating the same collection method at five other pairs of sites around the Preserve.
The survey assuredly doesn’t come without obstacles. Sometimes, the exclosures are so overrun with spiny thistles and tar weed that they’re painful to sweep. Rattlesnakes might be in the way, especially at Peñon, where they’ve established a healthy population. However, the real challenge comes in the lab, sorting my bagged samples. Today, I used tweezers to pick roughly 300 insects out of a single sample of swept-up and bagged vegetation. I might be buried in bugs for the rest of the summer.
A comforting part of our non-profit is that once I am tired of being by myself in the grasslands, I know I have welcoming company waiting for me in our cozy office. There’s always at least a few of us in there working on various projects, giving each other constructive feedback, and chatting about conservation or happenings on the Preserve.
I overheard somebody this morning who described our effort well: “At a small non-profit like ours, everybody does the work of at least two people”. Fortunately, our office is homey, and our field site is gorgeous, so the work passes pleasantly.
Interning at the Santa Lucia Conservancy reinforces my desire to build my career plans around conservation and ecology. My experiences on the Preserve have strengthened my passion for the natural sciences and working outdoors. Equally importantly, my internship has shown me what I still wish to explore in future vocational endeavors.
With that, I’m signing off. Thank you!
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