We are having a CRATE time.

Michele here from the City that Built the Hoover Dam. That is Boulder City, NV if you did not know that fun fact.

This week the Joshua Tree Genome Project team was greeted by a break from the desert heat. A high of 81℉??? What a delight. At 10PM I felt a chill in the air for the first time since I arrived in the desert. For a group of interns that are accustomed to fall breezes and leaves turning blazes of orange and red, we were ecstatic to see some weather that even sort of resembled a “fall” before a swift return to 100 degrees awaits us.

Aside from the cool weather, this week the interns split into two teams. Two of us went into the desert to help monitor a restoration project and two of us continued working at the greenhouse taking care of the Joshua Tree seedlings. I was on the greenhouse team. Along with continuing to collect data on the growth of the Joshua Trees, our task for the week seemed simple at first. Our goal is to plant new seeds for the Joshua Trees that had died after transplanting the seedlings into the crates, but then we took a closer look at how many needed reseeding. Lets just say, we planned for 3,200 trees in our crates and we need to reseed nearly half that number. Nonetheless, we took on the task and persevered through the maze of tracking down each seedling that needing replacement, preparing plant bands for reseeding, finding the corresponding maternal lines to reseed, and of course planting the seeds. This time around, we would plant the seeds directly into the plant bands and we would plant two seeds in hopes of increasing our chances of having a healthy tree from all of the maternal lines needed. By the very end of the week, we had reached our goal, and our crates were FULL of seeds.

The crates are prepped and labeled for reseeding. Intern Nick is seeding away!

To say that all of our plants were dying, however, is far from the truth and quite the negative perspective. The trees that are healthy, are absolutely thriving! We are starting to have a little forest of Joshua Tree seedlings. They are beginning to have as many as five leaves on them! It is amazing to see them grow from the first signs of life, as at the first stages they could be easily confused for a blade of grass. Now they are beginning to look a bit more like multiple blades of grass! I know, how thrilling! But for the life of a Joshua Tree Genome Project intern, it really is incredible.

A thriving Joshua Tree seedling
Joshua Tree seeds; some say they look like watermelon seeds. What do you think?
A little ‘forest’ of Joshua Tree seedlings

Next week the team is switching spots, which means I get to go out into the field! I am excited for my first true adventure out into the desert. Usually the field work I have done in the past has been venturing out into forests or prairies, so I am excited to see the contrast the desert will provide. One of my true joys is venturing far into natural landscapes that are well off the beaten path. Having the opportunity to experience places that many others have not is such a blessing. I am excited to see the native plants, walk through the dust, and gaze up at the stars at night.

Until next time, happy trails!

Michele

Summer in the Desert with Pupfish!

My how time flies! I have made it passed the half way mark on my internship. I am surviving the desert heat and still have yet to be bitten by a rattle snake, though I did have a very close call a few weeks back while making a seed collection. Luckily the snake and I came to a very quick mutual decision to get the heck away from each other as fast as possible. We were literally less than a foot away from each other! Despite the hardships of the desert, the heat, the sweat, and all the salt everywhere, I am truly going to miss this place in a few months when my internship ends. I can’t believe I’m over the half way mark.

In addition to seed collections and plant monitoring I have been doing a lot of work with the desert pupfish. This includes monitoring, surveys, and relocation efforts.

These are male pupfish in their breeding colors at Dos Palmas

These are male pupfish in their breeding colors at Dos Palmas

Here we see both female (brown with stripes) and male (blue) pupfish at Dos Palmas

Here we see both female (brown with stripes) and male (blue) pupfish at Dos Palmas

These fish are protected under the federal endangered species act and only occur in a very limited number of places. As summer temperatures persist, local streams and other habitat is prone to drying up. It is then that we go in and execute rescue missions, trapping and relocating populations to safer, more stable waters to ensure their survival.

This work is very rewarding and when I go back home at the end of the day, wash off the sweat and mud, I get to think of all the endangered fish that now swim happily among other of their species in safe waters that won’t dry up this summer or there after. I even made the weekly BLM news bytes: /https://blmca.sites.usa.gov/2016/08/11/from-the-field-releasing-pupfish/ And here too at the Fisheries and aquatics program blog: http://fisheriesprogram.blogspot.com/2016/08/pupfish-conservation-in-dos-palmas-acec.html and a video which is on the BLM’s Facebook and Twitter pages!

 

 

 

Life vs. Un-life

The first detailed description of the Mojave Desert before I encounter on the CLM Internship:

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“… over the pass and into the Mojave Desert, a burned and burning desert even this late in the year, its hills like piles of black cinders in the distance, and the rutted floor sucked dry by the hungry sun. … The Mojave is a bit desert and a frightening one. it’s as through nature tested a man for endurance and constancy to prove whether he was good enough to get to California. The shimmering dry heat made visions of water on the flat plain. And even when you drive at high speed, the hills that mark the boundaries recede before you.”

Thank you Steinbeck for that bleak description of the Mojave Desert. But then he goes on about the mysterious aspects of the desert:

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” The desert, being an unwanted place, might well be the last stand of life against unlife. For in the rich and moist and wanted areas of the world, life pyramids against itself adn in its confusion has finally allied itself with the enemy non-life. And what the scorching, searing, freezing, poisoning weapons of non-life have failed to do may be accomplished to the end of its destruction and extinction by the tactics of survival gone sour. If the most versatile of living forms, the human, now fights for survival as it always has, it can eliminate not only itself but all other life. And if that should transpire, unwanted places like the desert might be the harsh mother of repopulation. For the inhabitants of the desert are well trained and well armed against desolation. Even our own misguided species might re-emerge from the desert. The lone man and his sun-toughened wife who cling to the shade in an unfruitful and uncoveted place might, with their brothers in arms- the coyote, the jackrabbit, the horned toad, the rattlesnake, together with a host of armored insects- these trained and tested fragments of life might well be the last hope of life against non-life. The desert has mothered magic things before this.”

For the whole chapter he writes about the desert in Travels with Charley. It was this northern girl’s first introduction to the desert. Sure, I have heard about deserts before on nature shows and in old west movies, but to know I will be there for the next five months, working in the desert… I have heard about the curious beauty of the desert, and those who inhabit it. Now I get to see it first hand for myself, and decide what I think of it. I have been told that every biologist should see the desert sometime in their lives to witness flora and fauna living in an extreme environment, and for me it is one of the first things I am doing on my way to becoming a biologist. Check that off the to do list. And as for the desolate absence of water and the searing heat I say… bring it on.

Oh Mohave

From the bustle of the Chicago suburbs to the quiet, slow-paced town of Needles, CA, my first weeks of the CLM internship have been a period of great adjustment.  I’m glad to finally be away from the fast-paced days of Gurnee summers that are choked by traffic from the Six Flags amusement park and the mall.  Though not much goes on in close proximity to my residence, I enjoy my work with the Needles field office greatly.  My adviser Tom Stewart has been very helpful with my adjustment to the extreme temperatures and with navigating the region.  I am only beginning to get used to the temperatures that exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit on a sunny, summer day.  A strategy to combat the summer heat has been starting work early.  My field work is done before the afternoon hours.

What I love about the field work is the many lizards I can see dashing across the rocky terrain, the Joshua trees that I had only seen in photographs and the dry climate.  I don’t mind warm weather, but extreme humidity has always bothered me.  Though it is not work-related, I also love the cheapness of produce at some stores in the region.  I have bragged to friends and family about the affordability of avocados, grapes and strawberries.  The only scary part of the work is the threat of rattlesnake bites.  Though I have yet to hear that fear-inducing rattle, I have made myself a promise to not listen to an iPod while collecting so that I do not foolishly stumble across an angry rattlesnake.

As far as work goes, most of my time thus far has been spent collecting seeds for SOS from key plant species such as white bursage, creosote, indian ricegrass, big galleta and more.  Proper and efficient seed collection from desert plants is a new skill that I am developing.  Luckily I spent a great deal of time with flora and fauna identification in college; thus, my understanding of desert wildlife is rapidly expanding.  I hope that my seed collecting can help to preserve plant species that are at risk due to pests, grazing animals, invasive species, pollution and other causes.  Some seeds are extremely easy to collect (white bursage) but some can be very time-consuming (creosote).  I have noticed that my first days of seed collection were awkward and confusing.  Since my most recent field work, I can confidently say that my skills are improving.

I am also using GPS to mark good locations for seed collection as well as animals that are spotted.  I found two desert tortoises (endangered species) on the same morning on my way to a desert spring.  Some employees at the office say that they have only seen one tortoise after years of working in the field!  Photographs of anything that catches my eye are taken at my leisure.

I am on the verge of working with water source management, bat surveys and other projects in the near future.  Until then, I will see you fellow interns at the Grand Canyon.

Kudos.

– Eric Clifton