Western Ecological Research Center

Santa Cruz, CA, United States

Western Ecological Research Center

Santa Cruz, CA, United States
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Lowrey C.,Western Ecological Research Center | Longshore K.M.,Western Ecological Research Center
Western North American Naturalist | Year: 2017

Human activity may mimic predation risks for wildlife by causing abandonment of foraging sites and increasing expenditure of energy. Animals that can tolerate nonlethal disturbance may minimize these fitness costs. We examine this aspect of the risk-disturbance hypothesis by first analyzing recent habitat use of desert bighorn sheep relative to areas of attraction and disturbance. We then compare and contrast sheep responses to differing levels of anthropogenic disturbance between 2 time periods, 30 years apart. Desert bighorn sheep were tolerant of suburban activity when a consistent forage resource (municipal grass) was provided. Males were more tolerant than females, and females returned to natural, steep areas during the birthing season. Increased recreation activity, specifically mountain bike use, may have resulted in avoidance by sheep of otherwise suitable habitat that had been occupied decades earlier, thereby reducing availability of limited habitat. Tolerance increased only when attractiveness was relatively high and decreased as perceived fitness decreased, supporting risk-disturbance theory.


Das A.J.,Western Ecological Research Center | Stephenson N.L.,Western Ecological Research Center | Flint A.,California Water Science Center | Das T.,University of California at San Diego | van Mantgem P.J.,Western Ecological Research Center
PLoS ONE | Year: 2013

Recent increases in tree mortality rates across the western USA are correlated with increasing temperatures, but mechanisms remain unresolved. Specifically, increasing mortality could predominantly be a consequence of temperature-induced increases in either (1) drought stress, or (2) the effectiveness of tree-killing insects and pathogens. Using long-term data from California's Sierra Nevada mountain range, we found that in water-limited (low-elevation) forests mortality was unambiguously best modeled by climatic water deficit, consistent with the first mechanism. In energy-limited (high-elevation) forests deficit models were only equivocally better than temperature models, suggesting that the second mechanism is increasingly important in these forests. We could not distinguish between models predicting mortality using absolute versus relative changes in water deficit, and these two model types led to different forecasts of mortality vulnerability under future climate scenarios. Our results provide evidence for differing climatic controls of tree mortality in water- and energy-limited forests, while highlighting the need for an improved understanding of tree mortality processes.


Kim S.L.,University of California at Santa Cruz | Tinker M.T.,Western Ecological Research Center | Estes J.A.,University of California at Santa Cruz | Koch P.L.,University of California at Santa Cruz
PLoS ONE | Year: 2012

There is growing evidence for individuality in dietary preferences and foraging behaviors within populations of various species. This is especially important for apex predators, since they can potentially have wide dietary niches and a large impact on trophic dynamics within ecosystems. We evaluate the diet of an apex predator, the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), by measuring the stable carbon and nitrogen isotope composition of vertebral growth bands to create lifetime records for 15 individuals from California. Isotopic variations in white shark diets can reflect within-region differences among prey (most importantly related to trophic level), as well as differences in baseline values among the regions in which sharks forage, and both prey and habitat preferences may shift with age. The magnitude of isotopic variation among sharks in our study (>5‰ for both elements) is too great to be explained solely by geographic differences, and so must reflect differences in prey choice that may vary with sex, size, age and location. Ontogenetic patterns in δ15N values vary considerably among individuals, and one third of the population fit each of these descriptions: 1) δ15N values increased throughout life, 2) δ15N values increased to a plateau at ~5 years of age, and 3) δ15N values remained roughly constant values throughout life. Isotopic data for the population span more than one trophic level, and we offer a qualitative evaluation of diet using shark-specific collagen discrimination factors estimated from a 3+ year captive feeding experiment (Δ13Cshark-diet and Δ15Nshark-diet equal 4.2‰ and 2.5‰, respectively). We assess the degree of individuality with a proportional similarity index that distinguishes specialists and generalists. The isotopic variance is partitioned among differences between-individual (48%), within-individuals (40%), and by calendar year of sub-adulthood (12%). Our data reveal substantial ontogenetic and individual dietary variation within a white shark population.


Buler J.J.,University of Delaware | Randall L.A.,National Wetlands Research Center | Fleskes J.P.,Western Ecological Research Center | Barrow W.C.,National Wetlands Research Center | And 3 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2012

The current network of weather surveillance radars within the United States readily detects flying birds and has proven to be a useful remote-sensing tool for ornithological study. Radar reflectivity measures serve as an index to bird density and have been used to quantitatively map landbird distributions during migratory stopover by sampling birds aloft at the onset of nocturnal migratory flights. Our objective was to further develop and validate a similar approach for mapping wintering waterfowl distributions using weather surveillance radar observations at the onset of evening flights. We evaluated data from the Sacramento, CA radar (KDAX) during winters 1998-1999 and 1999-2000. We determined an optimal sampling time by evaluating the accuracy and precision of radar observations at different times during the onset of evening flight relative to observed diurnal distributions of radio-marked birds on the ground. The mean time of evening flight initiation occurred 23 min after sunset with the strongest correlations between reflectivity and waterfowl density on the ground occurring almost immediately after flight initiation. Radar measures became more spatially homogeneous as evening flight progressed because birds dispersed from their departure locations. Radars effectively detected birds to a mean maximum range of 83 km during the first 20 min of evening flight. Using a sun elevation angle of -5° (28 min after sunset) as our optimal sampling time, we validated our approach using KDAX data and additional data from the Beale Air Force Base, CA (KBBX) radar during winter 1998-1999. Bias-adjusted radar reflectivity of waterfowl aloft was positively related to the observed diurnal density of radio-marked waterfowl locations on the ground. Thus, weather radars provide accurate measures of relative wintering waterfowl density that can be used to comprehensively map their distributions over large spatial extents.


Larson S.,Research Animal Health | Jameson R.,Western Ecological Research Center | Etnier M.,University of Washington | Jones T.,California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo | Hall R.,Oregon State University
PLoS ONE | Year: 2012

All existing sea otter, Enhydra lutris, populations have suffered at least one historic population bottleneck stemming from the fur trade extirpations of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. We examined genetic variation, gene flow, and population structure at five microsatellite loci in samples from five pre-fur trade populations throughout the sea otter's historical range: California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Russia. We then compared those values to genetic diversity and population structure found within five modern sea otter populations throughout their current range: California, Prince William Sound, Amchitka Island, Southeast Alaska and Washington. We found twice the genetic diversity in the pre-fur trade populations when compared to modern sea otters, a level of diversity that was similar to levels that are found in other mammal populations that have not experienced population bottlenecks. Even with the significant loss in genetic diversity modern sea otters have retained historical structure. There was greater gene flow before extirpation than that found among modern sea otter populations but the difference was not statistically significant. The most dramatic effect of pre fur trade population extirpation was the loss of genetic diversity. For long term conservation of these populations increasing gene flow and the maintenance of remnant genetic diversity should be encouraged. © 2012 Larson et al.


van Wagtendonk J.W.,Western Ecological Research Center
Park Science | Year: 2011

Historically, the only fire policy practiced by federal land management agencies was suppression, a policy that remained in place until the National Park Service officially recognized fire as a natural process in the late 1960s. The policy change allowed lightning fires ignited in specially designated management zones of some parks to run their course under prescribed conditions. The programs grew slowly as managers became comfortable with allowing fires to burn under controlled conditions, predominantly in wilderness areas. Events such as the Yellowstone fires in 1988 and the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000 resulted in reviews and updates of federal fire management policies that changed the Service's policies. Today, wilderness fire management is a vital component of the fire and fuels programs of many units of the National Park Service. Because of increasing budget and smoke management constraints, the future of restoring and maintaining fire-prone ecosystems will need to rely increasingly on the use of fire in wilderness.


Inman R.D.,Western Ecological Research Center | Inman R.D.,University of Nevada, Reno | Nussear K.E.,Western Ecological Research Center | Richard Tracy C.,University of Nevada, Reno
Endangered Species Research | Year: 2010

Assessing the recovery of the federally listed Mojave population of desert tortoises Gopherus agassizii requires detecting subtle changes in population size over a period of many years. The methods that have been employed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to estimate population density of desert tortoises are inadequate for detecting modest trends in population density, partly due to a hidden variance in a parameter (g0) that corrects for the proportion of tortoises that are inactive and thus unavailable for sampling when population density is being assessed. We used small dataloggers to record the activity of tortoises throughout their active season, and derived daily estimates of g0, which we compared with the 2004 estimate published by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Due to the substantial variation in animal activity that we found within and among days during the active season, we used a daily method to estimate density. We found that this method, while providing a more accurate assessment of g0, translates into estimates of density with coefficients of variation that are 4× larger than previously reported due to the variation in g0 and n (number of animals encountered). This discrepancy could adversely influence managers' perceptions of population recovery for desert tortoises, and could undermine any ability to monitor the efficacy of recovery actions for populations. © Inter-Research 2009.


Marushia R.G.,University of California at Riverside | Marushia R.G.,University of Toronto | Brooks M.L.,Western Ecological Research Center | Holt J.S.,University of California at Riverside
Invasive Plant Science and Management | Year: 2012

Invasive species researchers often ask: Why do some species invade certain habitats while others do not? Ecological theories predict that taxonomically related species may invade similar habitats, but some related species exhibit contrasting invasion patterns. Brassica nigra, Brassica tournefortii, and Hirschfeldia incana are dominant, closely related nonnative species that have overlapping, but dissimilar, distributions. Brassica tournefortii is rapidly spreading in warm deserts of the southwestern United States, whereas B. nigra and H. incana are primarily limited to semiarid and mesic regions. We compared traits of B. tournefortii that might confer invasiveness in deserts with those of related species that have not invaded desert ecosystems. Brassica tournefortii, B. nigra and H. incana were compared in controlled experiments conducted outdoors in a mesic site (Riverside, CA) and a desert site (Blue Diamond, NV), and in greenhouses, over 3 yr. Desert and mesic B. tournefortii populations were also compared to determine whether locally adapted ecotypes contribute to desert invasion. Experimental variables included common garden sites and soil water availability. Response variables included emergence, growth, phenology, and reproduction. There was no evidence for B. tournefortii ecotypes, but B. tournefortii had a more rapid phenology than B. nigra or H. incana. Brassica tournefortii was less affected by site and water availability than B. nigra and H. incana, but was smaller and less fecund regardless of experimental conditions. Rapid phenology allows B. tournefortii to reproduce consistently under variable, stressful conditions such as those found in Southwestern deserts. Although more successful in milder, mesic ecosystems, B. nigra and H. incana may be limited by their ability to reproduce under desert conditions. Rapid phenology and drought response partition invasion patterns of nonnative mustards along a gradient of aridity in the southwestern United States, and may serve as a predictive trait for other potential invaders of arid and highly variable ecosystems. Nomenclature: Black mustard, Brassica nigra (L.) Koch; Sahara mustard, Brassica tournefortii Gouan; shortpod mustard, Hirschfeldia incana (L.) Lagr.-Foss. © 2012 Weed Science Society of America.


Mattsson B.J.,Western Ecological Research Center | Mattsson B.J.,University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna | Zipkin E.F.,Patuxent Wildlife Research Center | Gardner B.,North Carolina State University | And 4 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2013

Understanding interactions between mobile species distributions and landcover characteristics remains an outstanding challenge in ecology. Multiple factors could explain species distributions including endogenous evolutionary traits leading to conspecific clustering and endogenous habitat features that support life history requirements. Birds are a useful taxon for examining hypotheses about the relative importance of these factors among species in a community. We developed a hierarchical Bayes approach to model the relationships between bird species occupancy and local landcover variables accounting for spatial autocorrelation, species similarities, and partial observability. We fit alternative occupancy models to detections of 90 bird species observed during repeat visits to 316 point-counts forming a 400-m grid throughout the Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge in Maryland, USA. Models with landcover variables performed significantly better than our autologistic and null models, supporting the hypothesis that local landcover heterogeneity is important as an exogenous driver for species distributions. Conspecific clustering alone was a comparatively poor descriptor of local community composition, but there was evidence for spatial autocorrelation in all species. Considerable uncertainty remains whether landcover combined with spatial autocorrelation is most parsimonious for describing bird species distributions at a local scale. Spatial structuring may be weaker at intermediate scales within which dispersal is less frequent, information flows are localized, and landcover types become spatially diversified and therefore exhibit little aggregation. Examining such hypotheses across species assemblages contributes to our understanding of community-level associations with conspecifics and landscape composition.


PubMed | Western Ecological Research Center
Type: Journal Article | Journal: PloS one | Year: 2017

The Central Valley of California is one of the most important regions for wintering waterbirds in North America despite extensive anthropogenic landscape modification and decline of historical wetlands there. Like many other mediterranean-climate ecosystems across the globe, the Central Valley has been subject to a burgeoning human population and expansion and intensification of agricultural and urban development that have impacted wildlife habitats. Future effects of urban development, changes in water supply management, and precipitation and air temperature related to global climate change on area of waterbird habitat in the Central Valley are uncertain, yet potentially substantial. Therefore, we modeled area of waterbird habitats for 17 climate, urbanization, water supply management, and wetland restoration scenarios for years 2006-2099 using a water resources and scenario modeling framework. Planned wetland restoration largely compensated for adverse effects of climate, urbanization, and water supply management changes on habitat areas through 2065, but fell short thereafter for all except one scenario. Projected habitat reductions due to climate models were more frequent and greater than under the recent historical climate and their magnitude increased through time. After 2065, area of waterbird habitat in all scenarios that included severe warmer, drier climate was projected to be >15% less than in the existing landscape most years. The greatest reduction in waterbird habitat occurred in scenarios that combined warmer, drier climate and plausible water supply management options affecting priority and delivery of water available for waterbird habitats. This scenario modeling addresses the complexity and uncertainties in the Central Valley landscape, use and management of related water supplies, and climate to inform waterbird habitat conservation and other resource management planning. Results indicate that increased wetland restoration and additional conservation and climate change adaptation strategies may be warranted to maintain habitat adequate to support waterbirds in the Central Valley.

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