“walk a simple path a simple way”

For my third and final CLM internship I am in our nation’s floristic gem. I’ve been reeling in excitement since spring’s arrival, so many plants and so little time! I was very worried about starting work in the California Floristic Province due to the number of plants, I felt pretty rough from not being able to botanize over winter. However, a lot of my fears have been allayed- and while I’m definitely not back at even close to full ability yet, I am on the upswing.

Vertic clay soil community, Panoche Hills

I am working in the Central Coast field office with botanist Ryan O’Dell. For the last month and a half we have largely been working in the San Joaquin Desert ecosystem. It is a rather interesting system and while a part of the CFP has a very strong Mojave desert (Dmoj) affinity. As I always like to think about it, why learn one flora when you can be a geek and work on learning two floras? The area has allowed me to start to learn about the hot desert, and annual plant life. I have actually had very little experience with the annual life cycle so this is very valuable experience. In particular I am very interested in inconspicuous low statute annuals, especially when they are ‘understory’ (of other annuals!). I’m finally seeing a lot of stuff I’ve been reading in Venable papers, especially about year to year co-existence dynamics. I have a whole slew of questions stemming from these topics now, but am having difficulties designing experiments to test them.

In principal our work tasks are simple, to survey and document the diversity of plant life across our field district. Our area, which is mostly in San Benito county is a pretty incredible natural laboratory. Their is a diverse range of geologies (e.g. Sandstone, Marine shale, and Serpentine) generating a number of soils which foster distinct edaphic endemic plant species. Due to a lot of this area being poorly accessible due to steep topography, private ranch ownership, and few roads, the area is shockingly under-botanized, for any Western state, let alone California. Accordingly, many of the plants which occur on these unique soils have been seldom collected historically and are believed by many to warrant some type of conservation status.

sandstone conglomerate ‘fin’, with marine shale in foreground

So we survey extensively, and share information regarding the number, location, and general size of the local plants and their populations. Fortunately, due to Ryan’s understanding of the relationships between geology, soils, and plants, we have been able to find many very large populations. Furthermore, what’s awesome is that due to their edaphic habitats these plants are not being encroached upon by noxious weeds, and their habitats are generally undesirable for human usage (eg. mineral or fossil fuel extraction, and cattle ignore them), and so the plants must only adapt in the face of climate change. In my budding professional opinion, a great deal of these species are safe for a long time to come! I anticipate that they may have rather infrequent above-ground showings for a couple hundred years, but will be fine. Fortunately knowing this will allow Conservation efforts to focus on other more deserving of immediate attention taxa.

Caulanthus inflatus (Brassicaceae), interesting study plant for mulling over water dynamics

This job is pretty incredible so far. We basically camp out and spend four days of the week botanizing all day. Then we both split up and spend the next three weekend days botanizing and then tell each other about it during the week. I’m learning a lot, I’ve already collected about 300 specimens for herbaria collections and keyed nearly all of them, and I anticipate that I will keep up to that rate of about 8 plants/day throughout the next few months. As you could imagine I am becoming pretty OK at identifying plants. Most importantly to me is developing my understanding of the relationship between geology, soils, and plant life; and being able to identify soil and minerals types for make astute botanical observations.

As always current readings: closing out on Crawleys Plant Ecology and starting up on John Thompsons  the Coevolutionary Process. I am reading a lot less these days, and well I guess doing science now. I am spending most of my free time collecting and studying specimens. I’m also getting a lot more into plotting, and graphing, my field observations and am slowly warming up on doing more theoretical matrice and mathematical modeling of them and hypothesis derived from these observations.

Assessing reproductive status of disjunct, and slowly recruiting Astragalus pachypus var pachypus

“Not to run away
Just to live a day
To carry my load on my back and walk
On the Crest running next to the sea
The Crest running next to the sea”

-the Crest by Hot Buttered Rum String Band

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