Undergraduate Studies Ecology of Fear at Fort Ord

Air Force Veteran and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology student Nicholas Bergeron navigates field research at UCSC Fort Ord Natural Reserve in the time of COVID 19.

May 03, 2020


Nicholas Bergeron is entering his senior year of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology undergraduate program  at UCSC. This is one of his field sites, using a "Giving Up Densities" technique to study animal foraging behavior.

EEB student Nicholas Bergeron holds a Coast Horned Lizard at UCSC FONR.

Nicholas Bergeron's field research project might feel a little more remote this Spring, even while taking place within Marina, CA city limits. Bergeron is studying the fear of predation experienced by nocturnal rodents in the rare maritime chaparral habitat on UC Santa Cruz Fort Ord Natural Reserve (FONR) in Monterey County. The 600 acre UC Natural Reserve System site would normally have dozens of students collecting data, visiting with classes, or restoring habitat in Spring. This year there are few people on the reserve due to shelter in place orders related to COVID-19. Limited staff has received special permissions to perform essential work related to teaching, safety, research, and restoration. 

Bergeron is working with Gage Dayton and their research is likely to benefit from the lack of activity at FONR this Spring. Their work involves setting out trays with known amount of seeds at different distances from cover and, playing owl calls.. "Specifically, I am studying how distance from cover and barn owl vocalizations affect food intake and foraging behaviors. This is being accomplished using artificial foraging patches and motion-activated field cameras." Bergeron said. Reduced additional noise disturbance may be influencing the rodents activity. "This place was an active army base from 1917 to 1994. After that the airport has remained active. Last year nearly 30 classes visited the reserve, and we had about 6000 unique visitors." FONR Field Manager Joe Miller remarked. "Nick's research is unique in documenting the quietest spring in quite some time."

Bergeron is uniquely prepared for successful independent work. After growing up in nearby Felton, CA, Bergeron spent 6 years in the Air Force as a Maintenance Crew Chief working on KC-135 tanker aircraft. Upon completing military service, he attended West Valley Community College in Saratoga, and then transferred to UC Santa Cruz. Nick was interested in field research and completed an internship with UCSC SMURF (Small Mammal Undergraduate Research in the Forest). In addition, he attended field based research classes in his first year at UCSC. "It is remarkable how much real-world experience a dedicated transfer student can get in two years if they take advantage of internships, field classes, and unique research grants offered at UCSC" said Field Manager Miller. Bergeron was awarded an undergraduate research grant, the Norris Center Student Award, for the materials he is using for research at FONR. "It is our job at UCSC Natural Reserves to help steer a bit, but these great students do most of the important work" added Miller. 

UCSC reserve staff have been able to stay busy with assisting limited on-the-ground research and remote learning in the face of the adversity presented by COVID-19. "FONR staff has helped me immensely throughout my project. In the early stages, drone surveys were completed by Joe Miller which were essential in locating my study sites. Since then, I have been allowed to borrow Sherman traps, field cameras, and mounting hardware which made it possible for me to expand and better my research." said Bergeron.