Blue Oak Ranch Reserve

UC Berkeley Natural Reserve System

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Current Research at Blue Oak Ranch


APP#32939 - Linking land use change, host diversity and amphibian malformations and 2) Disease in complex communities: How multi-host, multi-pathogen interactions drive infection dynamics

Project Dates: May 2015 to Aug 2016

Principal Investigators: Pieter Johnson

Other Members: Dana Calhoun | Margaret Summerside | Travis McDevitt-Galles

Affiliations: University of Colorado


National Science Foundation $700,000.00

National Institute of Health (NIH) KK1408 $398,000.00

Project Abstract

Host-parasite interactions are embedded within dynamic, often highly disturbed environments, which can sharply alter patterns of infection and disease risk among hosts. Changes in land use and the resulting shifts in biological communities have been linked to the emergence of pathogens with medical and veterinary importance. However, the ecological mechanisms responsible for increases in infection often remain conjectural. This proposal examines how the ongoing transformation of landscapes surrounding wetlands influences an emerging issue of conservation importance: amphibian limb deformities. The flatworm parasite Ribeiroia ondatrae, which sequentially infects freshwater snails, larval amphibians, and birds, has been linked to widespread limb deformities in amphibians. Infection and the resulting malformations also increase amphibian mortality, potentially causing declines in amphibian populations. Building upon previously funded NSF research and ecological theory, the current proposal combines broad-scale field surveys and mechanistic experiments to understand how land use change, by altering host density and host diversity, will promote or limit R. ondatrae abundance and amphibian malformations. This effort will specifically seek to identify how biodiversity losses in freshwater ecosystems affect the transmission of pathogenic parasites, such as R. ondatrae. Considering the growing number of emerging infections that threaten human health and wildlife conservation, results of the proposed efforts have broad application potential. Ribeiroia ondatrae is not only growing in conservation importance itself, but is an excellent analog for other parasite infections of economic and human-health significance (e.g., human blood flukes). This proposal would further support cooperative efforts among amphibian biologists and ecologists to address ongoing declines in amphibian populations worldwide.

APP#19315 - Geographic divergence of coevolving plants and insects

Project Dates: May 2009 to Apr 2016

Principal Investigators: John Thompson

Other Members: Christopher Schwind | Magne Friberg | Paula Lemos

Affiliations: University of California, Santa Cruz | University of california santa cruz

Sponsor: National Science Foundation NSF is completing the paperwork now (Jan 2009) $620,000.00

Project Abstract

I would like to visit the reserve during spring 2009 to look for potential new study sites and collect some Greya moths and Lithophragma leaves, capsules, and seeds for use in DNA analyses and morphological studies. I have been using these moths and plants as a model for understanding the geographic scale of local adaptation in coevolving interactions and the effects of fragmentation on coevolved interactions. These interactions occur from the Canadian border to the edge of Baja California, and one of the gaps we have in our understanding of these interactions is right in the Mt. Hamilton area. NSF just renewed my grant a few weeks ago to fill in a number of these gaps over the next four years and expand the work in several ways. In addition to evaluating the interaction between Greya moths and Lithophragma plants, I will also be interested in evaluating whether insects than other Greya moths are involved in pollinating Lithophragma plants at Blue Oak. The likely co-pollinators include solitary bees and bombyliid flies

APP#21789 - Predator prey communication between rattlesnakes and ground squirrels

Project Dates: May 2010 to Dec 2016

Principal Investigators: Rulon Clark

Other Members: Breanna Putman | Erik Jourgensen | Joseph Chase | Jennifer Schefski | Lauren Kong | Michael Doward | Michael Hogan | Susan Anthony

Affiliations: San Diego State University (CSU) | UC Davis |  Mills College

Sponsor: National Science Foundation 951010 $390,000.00

Project Abstract: When confronted with predators, many animals engage in lengthy, conspicuous interactions involving several stereotyped signals and displays. These antipredator signals have been studied mainly in regards to their function as warning signals directed toward conspecifics, even though they may also serve to communicate with predators. However, the study of the impact of these signals on predators has been rare because predation is infrequent and difficult to observe in the field; consequently, data on natural predator responses to antipredator signals is lacking. We propose to assemble a large database of natural antipredator signaling interactions and predator responses in two systems that have been well characterized from the perspective of the prey species. These data will be augmented with biorobotic playbacks of antipredator signals, providing the first experimental examination of key predictions derived from predator-prey communication theory. These methods will allow us to address several fundamental questions concerning communication dynamics and the evolution of antipredator signaling behavior. 

Our research will focus on the behavior of rattlesnakes confronted by ground squirrels and kangaroo rats. Because these two distantly related rodents have evolved sophisticated antisnake behavior independently our methods will allow us to examine the role of various ecological and organismic factors that shape predator-prey signaling interactions. We will rely on proven methodologies that have been used in past studies of predation behavior and antipredator signaling, including field videography and radio telemetry to quantify the predatory behavior of free-ranging rattlesnakes, tethered snakes and snake models to induce antisnake signaling, and biorobotic rodent models to conduct playback experiments. The uniqueness of our approach will be in combining these methods in studies that simultaneously consider both prey signaling behavior and predator responses in an experimental context. The immediate intellectual goal of this research is to draw robust conclusions about the proximate dynamics and ultimate functions of antipredator signaling, shedding light on why prey engage in such displays and the circumstances under which predators respond to them. This system promises to provide novel insights into such areas as honesty in animal communication, antagonistic coevolution, and the role of receiver sensory systems in shaping signaling behavior. 


APP#28194 - Assessing regional differences in community composition, infection, prevalence, and human risk of tick-borne disease in California

Project Dates: Dec 2013 to Apr 2016

Principal Investigators: Andy MacDonald

Other Members: Ashley Larsen, Erik Viik

Affiliations: University of California, Santa Barbara

Project Abstract: Tick-borne diseases are the most commonly reported vector-borne diseases in North America and recent estimates of Lyme disease prevalence in the United States alone are as high as 300,000 cases annually. While the vast majority of cases in the US are reported in the upper Midwest and northeast, there are cases reported from throughout California every year, yet research on ticks and the diseases they vector has been restricted primarily to a handful of northern California counties. Recent research has extended this work to Santa Barbara County and yielded results suggesting both that phenology of some tick species is remarkably constant over large geographic areas and that tick populations and communities can be highly variable even within relatively small geographic areas with similar habitats and climate. As a result, acaralogical risk is expected to be highly variable across the landscape. Recent large-scale studies and surveillance efforts have been undertaken in the eastern US to characterize this variability and identify areas of high expected acaralogical risk. This type of large-scale sampling effort on the ground is crucial to our understanding of the highly geographically variable nature of ticks and tick-borne diseases and what factors are driving their emergence. This project aims to use the UC Natural Reserve System to carry out a standardized sampling and surveillance effort applied at a larger geographical scale than has yet been undertaken in California. The goal of which is both to begin to characterize regional differences in tick communities, infection prevalence, and human risk as well as provide baseline information for the UC Reserves, and for the safety of staff and researchers working on them, that can be built upon in future studies. Specifically, data collected from the reserves will be used to ask the following questions: 1.How do tick community composition and relative abundance differ regionally in California? H1: I. pacificus will make up a larger proportion of the community at higher latitudes and in cooler, wetter climates; the proportion will decrease as latitude decreases and as climate becomes hotter and drier where it will be dominated by Dermacentor spp. H2: Overall tick abundance will decrease with latitude and as climate becomes more arid. 2.Are there differences in infection prevalence of I. pacificus with B. burgdorferi on a regional scale in California? H3: Infection prevalence will be highest in the north and decrease with latitude.

APP#29402 - RAPID - Drought effects on hydrology & physiology of plant species at BORR

Project Dates: May 2014 to Dec 2016

Principal Investigators: David Ackerly | Sally Thompson | Todd Dawson

Other Members: Andrew Weitz | blair mclaughlin | Cameron Williams | Christopher Wong | Gopal Penny | isabel schroeter | Jay Scherf | Ken Schwab | Lee Hovey | Laurel Wee | Stefanie Mambelli | Naia Morueta-Holme | Prahlada Papper | Juliana Wu | Xue Feng

Affiliations: University of California, Berkeley | University of California, Santa Cruz


QUEST Program (Qualcomm) NA $5,000.00

Project Abstract

Summary. California is experiencing the most severe drought to occur in 160 years of state meteorological records. While the drought may not be directly attributed to climate change, it provides a valuable indicator of projected future conditions, when warmer temperatures are anticipated to reduce soil moisture, which will then be exacerbated by years of low precipitation. Understanding how species and ecosystems will respond to these future conditions is complicated by (i) the biodiversity of the affected ecosystems, and (ii) the topographic and edaphic complexity of much of the landscape. In diverse California woodlands, the same imposed meteorological drought conditions may be translated to dramatically different physiological stresses across the landscape, because different species and different individuals employ a variety of strategies that mediate exposure to stress. Our core hypothesis is that species-specific strategies for water-carbon economy, combined with niche-scale differences in the habitat of individual plants will translate into a spectrum of physiological responses to drought and susceptibility to change. The proposed research featured in this RAPID is urgent because the current drought event represents a once-in-a-century opportunity to study the physiological responses of different plant species to severe water limitation, and its consequences at the community and ecosystem scales. Four broad hypotheses will be tested: 1) species and location-specific differences in drought response metrics will be evident across an array of different plants measured, 2) deep-rooted plants that access groundwater and shallow-rooted plants that efficiently exploit occult precipitation or light rainfall events will exhibit less drought stress than plants that do not efficiently exploit these water sources, 3) observed variation in drought-related damage or plant mortality among species and sites is correlated with abiotic variables (beyond rainfall input) that influence the level of stress tolerated, and 4) the suite of strategies that mediate plant responses when particular species or functional types are exposed to extreme drought may lead to population and community level changes that persist well beyond the immediate drought conditions.

APP#29507 - Avian community composition and parasite transmission in California ponds

Project Dates: Jul 2013 to Mar 2016

Principal Investigators: Pieter Johnson

Other Members: Austin Rife | Chelsea Wood | Ken Ferguson | Travis McDevitt-Galles

Affiliations: University of Colorado | University of Michigan

Project Abstract

California has long been recognized as a biodiversity hotspot of global conservation importance. However, wildlife habitats throughout the state face encroaching development, and marked declines in abundance have been documented for many iconic species, particularly birds. How do these changes to Californias diverse bird assemblages affect the food webs in which birds are influential actors? The study we propose aims to describe the effects of bird biodiversity loss on an ecologically important and highly threatened California ecosystem: freshwater ponds. Our proposed study aims to identify the ecological changes that arise in ponds as a result of alterations in bird abundance and diversity. We hypothesize that changes in bird abundance strongly affect the structure and function of California pond communities. Specifically, we anticipate that change in bird abundance may influence parasite transmission in these pond ecosystems. This is expected because birds are both important sources of parasites to ponds and because they are major predators in those ecosystems, and may regulate the density of pond species that would otherwise increase in abundance and experience related increases in the transmission of disease agents. We believe that it is especially important to characterize the influence of biodiversity loss on disease processes because disease is among the most important challenges to amphibian conservation. Our planned experiment is designed to elucidate how anthropogenic change in bird assemblages affects California ponds. We will accomplish this by experimentally manipulating the rates of visitation by birds to ponds and monitoring resultant changes in free-living and parasitic aquatic and terrestrial species composition.

National Science Foundation $700,000.00

National Institute of Health (NIH) KK1408 $398,000.00

APP#30062 - Identification of bistability in ponds to combat amphibian disease.

Project Dates: Jan 2015 to Oct 2015

Principal Investigators: Sally Thompson

Other Members: Michaella Chung

Affiliations: University of California, Berkeley


U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 25-0511-0110-002 $142,857.00

Project Abstract

My research proposes to address the challenge of identifying high-priority habitats to enable the survival of endangered species by exploring how anthropogenic changes differentially impact a system of isolated vernal pools and farm ponds that serve as the primary habitat of Red-legged Frog and Tiger Salamander. I will characterize the response of the trophic status of a subset of ponds to varied nutrient loading across a land use gradient, defined by different cattle stocking rates in the pond catchments. I will use new quantitative PCR (qPCR) protocols to determine the presence of the disease-causing organisms Ribeiroia ondatrae (Rb, which causes teratogenesis in tadpoles) and Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd, widely known as the Chytrid fungus, a key agent of the global amphibian extinction event). Using physical data, I will develop a hydrologic model that can be forced with climate change projections for California under different land use scenarios and will apply this model to the system of 400 ponds in the East Bay region to identify the highest priority areas for watershed management and conservation.

APP#30650 - Oak hybridization, population dynamics, and ecology

Project Dates: Mar 2015 to Jun 2018

Principal Investigators: Prahlada Papper

Affiliations: University of California, Berkeley

Project Abstract

Population genetics and the paleobotanical record indicate a surprising stability to the ranges of most California oaks dating to at least the last interglacial period (~120kya) and possibly to the Pliocene (5-3mya). This long-term range stability would have included dramatic variations in the local climate experienced by populations of oaks. Oaks also show exceptional species-level diversity, which may in part result from interspecific hybridization between two or more ecologically distinct species of the same infrageneric group within Quercus. I hypothesize that hybridization, gene flow, and resulting physiological variability help to explain the range stability of the genus in California over geologic time scales. While several studies have investigated local hybridization in California oaks, the rate of hybridization, especially over longer distances, and its evolutionary and ecological significance remain unclear. My doctoral research will investigate these using a variety of methods, including genetics, physiology, and functional ecology. I will perform a rangewide artificial pollination experiment within and between the target species Quercus douglasii and Quercus garryana, whose combined range extends from southern California to British Columbia. Results of this experiment will be combined with data collected on molecular and population genetics and physiological ecology of the same species.

APP#31673 - Insect Photography

Project Dates: Aug 2015 to Sep 2015

Principal Investigators: Joyce Gross

Other Members: Diane Erwin

Affiliations: University of California, Berkeley

Project Abstract

Photographing insects for a revision of the Powell and Hogue "California Insects" book. Am working on this with Kip Will, Pete Oboyski, and Jerry Powell.

APP#32471 - Archaeological Survey and Excavation at Blue Oak Ranch Reserve: Summer of 2016

Project Dates: Jun 2016 to Jun 2017

Principal Investigators: Jelmer Eerkens | Roshanne Bakhtiary

Affiliations: UC Davis Anthropology


University of California, Davis Department of Anthropology $5,000.00

University of California, Davis Institute of Social Sciences $5,000.00

Project Abstract

Introduction: Traditional studies of settlement patterns in ancient California focus on the distribution of sites across a landscape and their associated artifact types to track people and their movements within broad temporal windows. Missing from this approach is seasonality data that can place people on the landscape at different points in a yearly settlement round. Since isotopic signatures found in ancient mollusk shells record signals about environmental conditions, they have the potential to be a good measure of season of harvest, and by extension, can provide information about where people were living during different times of the year. Coastal, shell-dense sites in the San Francisco (SF) Bay and inland in the Sacramento-San Joaquin (Sac-SJ) Delta provide a great platform for conducting such studies, an approach that has only recently been introduced to the region. Background: Salinity and water temperature affect the ratio of stable oxygen isotopes (18O and 16O) in shell carbonates according to well-defined and widely accepted methodologies. In the SF Bay, predictable annual changes in water salinity due to freshwater runoff from the Sierras has a marked effect on estuarine 18O which in turn affects the 18O of mollusk shells. Using modern salinity data, scientists can estimate the season of death for ancient shellfish harvested in these waters from isotopic signatures found in their growth rings. Previous studies show that foraging for mussels and clams in bayshore sites occurred throughout the year, but with noticeable harvesting peaks in early summer and late fall/early winter. By contrast, a recent study at a Middle Period (2000-1300 ca. BP) inland site in Fairfield, CA shows that harvesting occurred almost exclusively in the winter months, a marked difference from bayshore midden. With limited sampling along the bayshore and only one study from the interior, it is unclear if the difference in shellfish harvesting seasonality between these locations is contingent on temporal or environmental factors, and how they reflect broader patterns in land use and settlement. Research Objectives: With this dichotomy in mind 1) I will sample shellfish remains from CA-SCL-330 and analyze their oxygen isotope signatures. 2) Additionally, I will evaluate the role of shellfish in prehistoric local diets by comparing shellfish seasonality information with data on diet collected from stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in human bone collagen and apatite sampled at CA-SCL-330. 3) Lastly, I will synthesize this data within an optimal foraging framework, modifying the Diet Breadth model to analyze the caloric ranking/return rate of shellfish compared to terrestrial resources on a seasonal basis. I will also modify the Central Place Foraging model to illustrate how optimal foraging behaviors change as a function of increasing round-trip travel time from central-place (CA-SCL-330) to foraging location and back, and how this varies by season.

Complete list of Research Projects, and abstracts - 2008 - 2016

Station Bibliography

The Blue Oak Ranch Reserve is used primarily as a scientific research site to conduct various investigations across the Earth and Life Sciences, Engineering and Computer Sciences, as well as graduate student studies in the arts and humanities. Since opening in 2008, 85 research projects have been approved and conducted, spanning undergraduate projects, graduate studies, faculty research and numerous government agencies and businesses. In any given year 10-15 projects will run concurrently, with individual researchers spending an average of 10 days a year conducting their field studies. While the majority of projects originate from any of the UC campuses, a significant group from the CSU system, private Universities in California, out of state and International institutions are not uncommon. As a result of their hard work and dedication, BORR scientists have 10-12 journal manuscripts published annually that are based on research carried out in this landscape.