FONR Staff Continues Support for ENVS Grad Research

During shelter in place orders across the state, UCSC Fort Ord Natural Reserve staff have been fortunate to continue facilitating research at the reserve for a limited number of projects that have been approved as essential work.

May 03, 2020


Jon Detka takes reference photos from a camera suspended above chaparral at UCSC FONR
Arctostaphylos pumila, Sandmat Manzanita, is a rare shrub endemic to the Fort Ord area in Monterey County.

UC Santa Cruz Environmental Studies Graduate student Jon Detka is studying disease ecology interactions in the rare maritime chaparral habitat at UCSC Fort Ord Natural Reserve (FONR) in Marina, CA. During the UCSC Winter quarter the project was assisted by three interns from UCSC and CSUMB. Detka and reserve staff have found creative ways to remain physically distant, while collecting important data, in the face of work restrictions related to COVID-19. This work helps to answer questions related to the importance of disturbance in the rare habitat in this conserved space.  

"My research is focused on understanding the role that plant pathogens, namely fungal, play in shaping plant community assemblages in maritime chaparral." said Detka. This work provides important insight into the interactions between disease related dieback and protracted drought in this threatened habitat type. "I utilize a combination field-based vegetation surveys, lab isolation of fungal cultures, and precision drone-based remote sensing techniques to map and characterize patterns of dieback across two dominant species of manzanitas in the Fort Ord Natural Reserve." Detka added.

Using small format weather stations and autonomous drone mapping, much of this ecology field work is done remotely. Reserve staff are setting up control points and taking data, and arranged for additional assistance from Becca Fenwick, the Director of Environmental Information and Technology for the UC Natural Reserve System's California Heartbeat Initiative. Fenwick used advanced mapping tools to gather multispectral imagery to assess disease in manzanita shrubs. 

To continue his work Detka will monitor micro-meteorological conditions across the reserve; including temperature, relative humidity, soil moisture, leaf wetness duration. He also is consulting with established maritime chaparral  researchers like UCSC Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Professor Dr. Laurel Fox, as well as reserve staff to document site history and interpret historical aerial imagery that are a vital part of his dissertation research.

Detka works collaboratively with UC staff to execute drone flight missions and process flight data, which is all completed remotely. FONR staff assists with ground data collection of GPS positions, install micro-meteorological stations, and complete vegetation transects. "On several occasions I have worked with staff to design and implement field monitoring equipment and troubleshoot field equipment. FONR staff support is a vital part of this work." Detka said.

While the reserve hopes to include more undergraduate interns in the future, as soon as safely possible, this valuable work is able to continue. "This place just isn't the same without all of the insight, energy, and curiosity of undergraduates." said Joe Miller, UCSC FONR Field Manager. Students from CSU Monterey Bay, UC Santa Cruz, and local community colleges usually participate in internships at the reserve during healthy times. Miller added, "We are getting it done, but it's not quite as fun."