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Fire at the BFS!

Late in the afternoon of May 18, a fire started inside the BFS fence along College Avenue. Although the fire was thought to have been quickly extinguished, the wind came up and blew embers east so that the fire quickly spread to pHake Lake and along the south shore of the lake.

The fire eventually covered about four acres before it was stopped just east of the lake, thanks to an outstanding response from the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Fortunately, no one was injured and no structures were damaged. The native sage scrub, which is fire-adapted, will recover.

The area south of pHake Lake enveloped in smoke and flames. ©Nancy Hamlett.

Dead palm fronds in flames. ©Nancy Hamlett.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department responded quickly, summoning a dozen fire engines from surrounding communities and three water-dropping helicopters.

Fire engines and other emergency vehicles on College Avenue. ©Nancy Hamlett.

Two water-dropping helicopters. ©Nancy Hamlett.

Fire crews heading into the field station. ©Nancy Hamlett.

A firefighter manning the hose while a helicopter drops water. ©Nancy Hamlett.

A helicopter dropping water on the fire. ©Nancy Hamlett.

As the wind blew embers, new sites ignited.

Flames leaping up on the south shore of the lake. ©Nancy Hamlett.

At the command center, a computer screen displays the location of each firefighter. ©Nancy Hamlett.

A firefighter on the south shore of pHake Lake. ©Nancy Hamlett.

On Friday, a small group was allowed in to assess damage as fire crews continued to work to ensure that no hot spots remained.

Firefighters clearing the lake trail and checking for hotspots. ©Nancy Hamlett.

A firefighter walking through the damaged temporary outdoor classroom. ©Nancy Hamlett.

A firefighter walking past the Donaldson-Matasci lab bee hives, which were saved. ©Nancy Hamlett.

BFS Lead Dean Audrey Bilger and BFS Director Marty Meyer looking at the site where the fire started. ©Nancy Hamlett.

The cause of the fire is unknown, but it must have resulted from human activity since there was no lightning or other natural cause that could have started the fire. This is, alas, too typical of Southern California as a whole, where 95% of wildfires are caused by humans (Syphard et al. 2007). The resulting increased frequency of wildfires can mean that even in fire-adapted plant communities, some organisms have insufficient time to re-establish between fires (Koh and Levins 2010).

The early May date for this fire – much earlier than the start of the traditional fire season in Southern California – may in part reflect cumulative effects of the multi-year drought and on-going climate change, a topic addressed by Professor Char Miller, Pomona College, in a commentary in the Daily Bulletin. Climate change models predict that the area burned in California will increase over the next 30 years. Recent work, however, indicates that a substantial portion of the predicted increase is actually due to human activity rather than climate change per se (Mann et al. 2016).

Understanding the interplay of these various factors is obviously important for managing fire in Southern California, especially at the urban-wildland interface. We at the Claremont Colleges are fortunate that students have a resource like the BFS, where they can study these issues.

References:

  • Koh SW and Levins S. 2010. Wildfires and the metapopulation dynamics of saproxylic lichens. Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research.
  • Mann ML, Batllori E, Moritz MA, Waller EK, Berck P, Flint AL, et al. 2016. Incorporating Anthropogenic Influences into Fire Probability Models: Effects of Human Activity and Climate Change on Fire Activity in California. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0153589. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0153589
  • Syphard AD, Radeloff VC, Keeley JE, Hawbaker TJ, Clayton MK, Stewart SI, et al. 2007. Human influence on California fire regimes. Ecol Appl. 17: 1388–1402. http://silvis.forest.wisc.edu/file/5443/download?token=5iCtdcOI

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Here are some scenes from this year’s Bernard Field Station Earth Day Celebration for the Claremont Community:

One of the most popular events was the Family Science tour.

Families gather for the science tour.

At the Invertebrate Station, BFS Director Marty Meyer introduced families to some of the invertebrates at the field station, including millipedes, centipedes, beetles, and snails.

Marty explains millipedes to a rapt audience.

Families got to let a big millipede crawl on their hands – very exciting!




Reactions to the millipede!

At the Bird Ecology Station, Prof. Elise Ferree from the Keck Science Department showed how her research group studies hummingbird ecology.

Professor Ferree at a hummingbird feeder.

Elise Feree shows a visor that her students modified to keep bees out of the hummingbird feeder.

At Robotics for Bio-monitoring, Professor Chris Clark and his students from Harvey Mudd College described the equipment his group makes and uses for bio-monitoring.

Prof. Chris Clark explains the robots and how they work.

Harvey Mudd students show families the robots they made.

Families actually got to operate robots that are used to monitor biota (including sharks!) in aquatic systems.

A young visitor drives a robot in the lake.

The robot in the lake.

The Night Family Tour was also very popular. Families looked at the night sky with the Keck Science Department telescope and learned about nocturnal animals of the BFS from Prof. Paul Stapp from Cal State Fullerton.

Prof. Stapp shows families a der mouse.

We don’t have many photos because it was, well er, dark.

Check out the Bernard Field Station Facebook Page for more photos.

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BFS 2017 Earth Day Flyer

On April 15, 2017, the BFS is hosting a variety of tours for the Claremont Community in celebration of Earth Day 2017, and we hope you can join us! (Click here or on the image at the right to download a PDF poster.)

A list and description of the different tour options is below. We do expect that tours will fill up quickly, so please reserve your spot as soon as you can. Numbers for each tour are limited to make sure that participants are provided a wonderful experience. Just use the links below each tour to access the appropriate registration form.

Once registered, it is critical that all participants arrive at least 5 to 10 minutes early. Everyone will need to sign a waiver of liability. Everyone under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

Please prepare yourself for the conditions. We recommend that everyone wear closed-toed shoes, long pants, and a hat. Sunscreen and water are also recommended and critical if it is hot. Specific equipment for each tour is listed under the description.

List of Tours:

  1. Bird Watching Tour – 8:00 to 10:00 AM:
    Prof. Catherine McFadden from Harvey Mudd College will be leading a bird-watching tour. For a list of birds that you may see while at the BFS refer to the BFS list of bird species. Records of birds observed during the monthly surveys at the BFS can also be explored on eBird. People of all ages are welcome, but everyone must be in good enough shape to hike for ~ 2 hours.

    • Please bring your own binoculars. We do have a few for people who don’t have any, but please indicate on your registration form if you require binoculars.
    • Water, closed toed shoes, and sun protection required.
    • Click HERE to register for the Bird-Watching Tour
  2. Native Plant Tour – 9:00 to 11:00 AM:
    Professor Susan Schenk from Keck Science will be leading a native plant tour. The heavy rains have provided unique opportunities for viewing native shrubs in their glory and many wildflowers. People of all ages are welcome, but everyone must be in good enough shape to hike for ~ 2 hours.

    • Water, closed-toed shoes, and sun protection required.
    • Click HERE to register for the Native Plant Tour
  3. Family Science Tour – 3:00 to 5:00 PM:
    This tour will lead groups to a variety of stations:

    1. Robotics for Bio-monitoring, where professor Chris Clark from Harvey Mudd College will describe the equipment and let people operate robots that are used to monitor biota in aquatic systems.
    2. Bird Ecology, where Professor Elise Feree from Keck Science will teach people to identify local bird species and focus on aspects hummingbird ecology.
    3. Invertebrates, where BFS Director Wallace Meyer will introduce you to some of the invertebrates at the field station.

    People of all ages are welcome, but the focus of this event is for K-12 students interested in science. Everyone must be in good enough shape to hike for ~ 2 hours.

    • Water, closed-toed shoes, and sun protection required.
    • Click HERE to register for the Family Science Tour
  4. Night Tour for Families – 7:45 to 9:00 PM:
    This tour will lead groups to two stations in the evening:

    1. Night Sky, where participants, led by professor Prof. Naftilan from Keck Science, will examine aspects of the night sky using the Keck Science telescope
    2. Bat Surveys and Night-time Mammals, Professor Paul Stapp from Cal State Fullerton will teach participants how to survey for and identify different bat and other nocturnal mammal species.

    People of all ages are welcome, but the focus of this event is for K-12 students interested in science. Everyone must be in good enough shape to hike for ~ 1.5 hours.

    • Please bring a flashlight with you.
    • Water and closed-toed shoes required.
    • Click HERE to register for the Night Family Tour

If you have any questions, please contact the BFS Director, Wallace Meyer, at wallace.meyer@pomona.edu.

Volunteer workdays for Spring 2017 will resume Saturday, February 4. We had originally planned to start January 21, but a number of faculty, staff, and volunteers requested the day off to attend the Women’s March.

You can check out the volunteer schedule here.

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For the last workday of the fall semester, volunteers removed a number of invasive woody plants, including:

  • Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca)
    A flourishing Tree Tobacco -- it's no longer there!

    A flourishing Tree Tobacco – it’s no longer there! ©Nancy Hamlett

    This South American native was introduced to California about 100 years as a landscape plant. It produces the poisonous alkaloid anabasine and is very toxic to both humans and wildlife.

    Tree Tobacco is drought resistant, tolerates a wide range of conditions, and grows rapidly to form dense stands that displace native vegetation.

    At the BFS, Tree Tobacco plants are currently mostly along the fire roads and other disturbed areas, but we want to remove them before they spread.

     

     

     

     

  • Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta)
    One of the Mexican Fan Palms that have popped up around the lake.

    One of the Mexican Fan Palms next to pHake Lake. ©Nancy Hamlett

    Mexican fan palms are native to central Mexico, but were introduced into the Los Angeles area as a ornamental, where they became iconic Los Angeles street trees. In the 1930s alone 40,000 Mexican Fan Palms were planted along 150 miles of streets in Los Angeles.

    Mexican Fan Palms reproduce by seed, which can be dispersed by droppings from bird that eat the palm fruits or spread by water along washes, streams, and storm drains. Mexican Fan Palms are especially invasive in riparian areas, where the palms can form monospecific stands that threaten biodiversity. The dead palm fronds can also pose a fire hazard.

    At the BFS, a number of these Mexican Fan Palms popped up around pHake Lake.

     

  • Bird-of-Paradise Shrub
    (Caesalpinia gilliesii)

    A Bird-of-Paradise Shrub growing in the 'Neck'.

    A Bird-of-Paradise Shrub growing in the ‘Neck’.

    The Bird-of-Paradise Shrub is native to Argentina and Uruguay, but has been widely planted around the world for its beautiful flowers. It tolerates dry conditions and invaded arid areas of the American southwest as well as South Africa, displacing native vegetation.

    At the BFS, seeds from plants in adjacent yards have been carried across the fire road, and new Bird-of-Paradise shrubs have started cropping up in the sage scrub, where we want to remove them while they’re still small.

 

The workday was very successful, and the volunteers removed every one of the Mexican Fan Palms, Tree Tobaccos, and Bird-of-Paradise shrubs that we have located. They also removed a few young Mexcian Palo Verde Trees and some horehound for good measure. Here are some photos of the volunteers at work:

Digging out Tree Tobacco.

Digging out Tree Tobacco. ©Nancy Hamlett

 

Searching for invading Bird-of-Paradise Shrubs in the Neck.

Searching for invading Bird-of-Paradise Shrubs in the Neck. ©Nancy Hamlett

 

Volunteers vs. palm tree -- the volunteers emerge victorious!

Volunteers vs. palm tree – volunteers emerge victorious! ©Nancy Hamlett

The next workday is scheduled for January 21 February 4 – we hope you can join us then!

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On this Thanksgiving, we at the BFS give thanks for all our wonderful volunteers! The BFS is so much better because of your efforts!

For November, the BFS volunteers were planting and clearing….

November 5 – Planting:
Back last January, Antonio Sanchez, the Nursery Production Manager, at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG), helped us make and root cuttings from BFS plants so we could have plants from the indigenous genetic stock for restoration of disturbed areas.

By this fall, the propagated plants we big enough to plant out, and on our first November workday, volunteers planted them on the “mounds” on the west side of the BFS ‘Neck’, adjacent to the RSABG greenhouses. We’re not sure of the history of this area, but it’s clearly disturbed and has mostly supported growth of invasive, non-native mustards and star thistles. Repeated weed removal has reduced the non-natives, so it was time try to get some natives established.

White flags mark the newly planted plants.

White flags mark the newly planted plants. ©Nancy Hamlett

 

A newly planted White Sage (Salvia apiana).

A newly planted White Sage (Salvia apiana). ©Nancy Hamlett

November 19 – Trail clearing:
On our second November workday, thirty-nine volunteers – our largest contingent ever – cleared the overgrown trails around pHake Lake and from the drive to the southeast corner of the lake, so that classes and researchers can access the lake easily. They also removed some invasive Mexican Fan Palms (Washingtonia robusta) that have sprouted up around the lake.

We are especially grateful to students from Pitzer College, Citrus College, and the Environmental Club and Key Club of Claremont High School for making this workday a big success! We also owe a big “Thank you!” to Sue Schenk, Mike Tschudi, Dick Haskell, and Al and Gloria Cangahuala for helping to supervise work crews. Here are a few photos of the workers and their work:

Many hands make light work.

Many hands make light work. ©Nancy Hamlett

 

Well, that's one less sagebrush in the middle of the trail.

Well, that’s one less sagebrush in the middle of the trail! ©Nancy Hamlett

 

How are we ever going to get this pesky palm out of here?

Now how do we get this pesky palm out of here? ©Nancy Hamlett

 

Trail on the west side of the lake. Left: Before. Right: After.

Trail on the west side of the lake. Left: Before. Right: After. ©Nancy Hamlett

 

Trail on the east side of the lake. Left: Before. Right: After.

Trail on the east side of the lake. Left: Before. Right: After. ©Nancy Hamlett

 

Southeast corner of the trail. Left: Before. Right: After.

Southeast corner of the trail. Left: Before. Right: After. ©Nancy Hamlett

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Volunteer workdays continued on October 1, when a terrific crew of stalwart volunteers cleared cattails, bulrushes, and reeds from the northeast corner of pHake Lake. The little island there is a prime spot for viewing waterfowl and other wildlife at the lake, but the view had been completely blocked by the cattails and bulrushes. The volunteers also cleared overgrown vegetation from the island to improve the habitat for the native digger bees that nest there, and cleared the path to the island.

Sometimes cutting back cattails reveals other surprises, as this volunteer found when his cutting revealed a motion-sensing wildlife camera:

Volunteer meets wildlife cam.  ©Nancy Hamlett.

Volunteer meets wildlife cam. ©Nancy Hamlett.

Once the cattails are cut, they need to be collected and piled in an accessible location, from where some were collected and taken to the Cooper Regional History Museum in Upland, to be used to refurbish a Tongva shelter. The rest will be collected and used for mulch. It turns out that gathering up the cut cattails and transporting them to the collection site is even more work than cutting them. Some are put in boats and rowed over the site…

Picking up cut cattails. ©Nancy Hamlett.

Picking up cut cattails. ©Nancy Hamlett.

 

Piling cut cattails into the boat.

Piling cut cattails into the boat. ©Nancy Hamlett

…while others are taken by overland route:

Dragging cattails out of the lake. Nancy Hamlett.

Dragging cattails out of the lake. ©Nancy Hamlett.

 

An armload of cattails. Nancy Hamlett.

An armload of cattails being taken off the island. ©Nancy Hamlett.

After a morning of hard work, the volunteers were re-fueled with our usual pizza lunch. This lunch was a bit special, as it was the last one held in the old outdoor classroom, which will soon be demolished for renovation of the old infirmary for the new home of Pitzer College’s Robert Redford Conservancy of Southern California Sustainability. The renovation will include two new outdoor classrooms, but we will have many fond memories of this one, which was built when the field station was first established (see 1978 photo here).

Volunteers eat pizza in the old outdoor classroom. Nancy Hamlett.

Volunteers eat pizza in the old outdoor classroom. ©Nancy Hamlett.

Volunteers eat pizza in the old outdoor classroom. Nancy Hamlett.

Volunteers eat pizza in the old outdoor classroom. ©Nancy Hamlett.

At the end of the day, we could enjoy the restored view from the island.

View from the lake shortly before sunset. Nancy Hamlett.

View from the lake shortly before sunset. ©Nancy Hamlett.

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The first BFS Volunteer workday for 2016-2017 academic year was held Saturday, September 17, when 14 volunteers, including Claremont Colleges faculty and students, Citrus College students, and community members, cleared cattails from the south shore of pHake Lake, where this heavily used lake access point had become almost unusable. Here are some photos of the volunteers hard at work:

Cutting the cattails.

Cutting the cattails. ©Nancy Hamlett

 

Piling cut cattails into a boat.

Piling cut cattails into a boat. ©Nancy Hamlett

 

Rowing the cut cattails across the lake.

Rowing the cut cattails across the lake. ©Nancy Hamlett

And here’s the result:

'South Beach' before cattail clearing.

‘South Beach’ before cattail clearing. ©Nancy Hamlett

'South Beach' after cattail clearing.

‘South Beach’ after cattail clearing. ©Nancy Hamlett

What a difference! Thank you, volunteers!

We plan to continue cattail removal for the next two workdays, so join us if you can!

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If you’re curious about what went on at the BFS this past academic year, you can check out the “Robert J. Bernard Field Station 2015-16 Annual Report”, which is posted on our website.

The 2015-2016 BFS Annual Report

“Robert J. Bernard Field Station 2015-2016 Annual Report”
Click on the image to see the report.

We’ve also posted research publications for the 2015-2016 academic year, including six peer-reviewed journal articles and five senior theses. Do check them out!

Journal Articles:

  • Hollowell, A. C., J. U. Regus, D. Turissini, K. A. Gano-Cohen, R. Bantay, A. Bernardo, D. Moore, J. Pham, and J. L. Sachs. 2016. Metapopulation dominance and genomic island acquisition of Bradyrhizobium with superior catabolic capabilities. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 283: 20160496. Abstract | HTML | PDF (Subscription required)
  • Wheeler, M. M., M. M. Dipman, T. A. Adams, A. V. Ruina, C. R. Robins, and W. M. Meyer III. 2016. Carbon and nitrogen storage in California sage scrub and non-native grassland habitats. Journal of Arid Environments 129: 119-125 Abstract | HTML | PDF (subscription required)
  • Thomson, D. M., R. Cruz-de Hoyos, K. Cummings, and E. L. Schultz. 2016. Why are native annual abundances low in invaded grasslands? Testing the effects of competition and seed limitation. Plant Ecology 217: 431-432. Abstract | HTML | PDF (Subscription required)
  • Hollowell, A. C., J. U. Regus, K. A. Gano, R. Bantay, D. Centeno, J. Pham, J. Y. Lyu, D. Moore, A. Bernardo, G. Lopez, A. Patil, S. Patil, Y, Lii, and J. L. Sachs. 2016. Epidemic spread of symbiotic and non-symbiotic Bradyrhizobium genotypes across California. Microbial Ecology 71: 700-710. Abstract | HTML | PDF (Subscription required)
  • Wu, G. C., and J. C. Wright. 2015. Exceptional thermal tolerance and water resistance in the mite Paratarsotomus macropalpis (Erythracaridae) challenge prevailing explanations of physiological limits. Journal of Insect Physiology 82: 1-7 Abstract | HTML | PDF (Subscription required)
  • Staubus, W. J., E. S. Boyd, T. A. Adams, D. M. Spear, M. M. Dipman and W. M. Meyer III. 2015. Ant communities in native sage scrub, non-native grassland, and suburban habitats in Los Angeles County, USA: conservation implications. Journal of Insect Conservation 19: 669-680 Abstract | HTML | PDF

Theses:

  • Adams, Tessa (2016) Effects of fire on ant assemblages in California sage scrub. Bachelor of Arts, Pomona College, Biology. Advisor: Wallace Meyer. Abstract
  • Cowen, Madeline (2016) Offspring dispersal and territory acquisition of Western scrub-jays (Aphelocoma californica californica) at the Bernard Field Station. Advisor: Rachel Levin. Abstract
  • Sartorius, Andrea (2016) The effects of type-conversion and fire on sage scrub vertebrate assemblages. Bachelor of Arts, Pomona College. Advisors: Nina Karnovsky & Wallace Meyer. Abstract
  • Startin, Charlotte (2016) The effects of light pollution on the foraging behavior of Caltpte anna
    and Selasphorus sasin. Advisor: Elise Ferree.
  • Farooq, Ana (2016) Effects of light and noise pollution on bird vocalizations. Advisor: Elise
    Ferree.

We have a new addition to our lists of biota of the BFS – a preliminary list of bryophytes, including 10 types of moss and 4 different liverworts. The list was generated by an introductory level bryophytes class offered on February 20-21, 2016, by the Rancho Sanata Ana Botanic Garden and taught by Dr. Paul S. Wilson, California State University, Northridge. Mosses and liverworts were identified visually in the field with the aid of a hand lens; consequently this is very preliminary list, and definitive identification will require more detailed study, which we hope to be able to do in the future.

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