Planting Graminoids!


Yesterday and today, we achieved a big milestone in the Copeland Creek riparian restoration project: putting in some native plants! For this first phase of planting, we started out with grasses, rushes, and sedges (collectively known as “graminoids”), all of them planted near the spot we call Snowberry Corner.

The plants were cultivated here on campus, by the Native Plant Propagation class – they provided us with more plants than we were able to get into the ground! Here they are in the greenhouse, the day before our first planting day:

On Friday, first thing, I sent part of my Restoration Ecology class to retrieve the plants from the greenhouse, while the “surveying team” marked out some plots, all roughly 800 meters square. They were marked with PVC piping – these would become our permanent zones, to help us track survivorship. We’ll keep track of how many plants were planted in each zone, and in future years we’ll be able to come back and monitor their progress.

Map showing the newly established plots. The large building in the lower left quadrant of the photo is the Environmental Technology Center.

(A more detailed map can be found here:

Finally, we were ready to start planting! In the drier area close to the bike path, we put in mostly native grasses – Blue Wild Rye (Elymus glaucus), and Beardless Wild Rye (Elymus triticoides). To the east, and back a bit from the path, there’s an area that retains more moisture throughout the year, so we’re treating it as a seasonal wetland. In those areas, we put in mostly Santa Barbara Sedge (Carex sp), and Juncus.

Alongside the planting, we also grubbed out a bunch of Himalayan blackberry. I did most of the grubbing (so my students could focus on planting, which is arguably more fun).

We made some great progress on Friday, but since there were still plants left unplanted, a smaller group of students offered to come in on Saturday morning, and help me get even more plants in the ground:

Dream Team: Wendy, Desirae, Audrey, and Jesica

In addition to the planting, we also constructed a little woodpile out of sight behind a slight hill. Partly, we wanted to clear away some branches from the wetland meadow area, but we also took the opportunity to build it up around a small California blackberry plant, to give it some support as it grows.

Even though we didn’t get every single plant into the ground, I’m thrilled with the progress we made. Look at all these precious baby plants in the ground, ready to grow:

The final touch: a string of yellow flagging tape all around the Snowberry Corner area. That’s an area where joggers and bicyclists like to cut through, rather than staying on the path. So, we put up some tape to discourage this type of “foot” traffic while the plants are getting established.

A little bit of pedestrian protection.

Such great progress! Looking forward to watching them grow.


2017 Science Symposium

Jessi, Caroline, Jana, and Wendy
Science Symposium 2017
Science Symposium 2017

One of my favorite annual events happened today: the annual Science Symposium on campus, part of the campus-wide Symposium of Research and Creativity. I love it for so many reasons, but mostly to see my students – dressed up in their good clothes – standing with their posters and talking about the research they performed during the past year. There’s a great energy and excitement about the event . . . to be honest, I don’t even mind the last minute flurry of crises that inevitably appear as we’re all trying to get our posters ready to be printed in time for the symposium.

I’ve been involved with this event in some way from its very first year, in 2013, when it was created as a way for students in the Science 120 course (a freshman year experience for students interested in STEM fields) to showcase the independent projects they’d completed during the Spring semester. Back then, they all gave oral presentations, and the poster session was relatively small. Since then, however, the event has shifted away from being focused on Science 120, and opened up to the entire campus. Today, one of the ballrooms was opened up as large as possible, and the room was FILLED with student posters. (My Science 120 students no longer do oral presentations at the event . . . they presented posters in the main hall. We’ll be hosting a separate presentation event for them on the last day of the semester).

This year, I had 8 groups of Science 120 students presenting posters (some of whom I worked with very closely), and I helped a student in my former lab (working with western pond turtles) put together a poster comparing some of my previous findings with data she’d collected over the past couple of years. Finally, along with two undergraduate students and one of my colleagues (and dear friend) Caroline Christian, we presented a poster of our own, about the restoration we’ve been doing on Copeland Creek this semester.

First things first: getting our poster set up before the start of the event. Here is “Copeland Creek Restoration: a Model for Creek Restoration on a University Campus.” Considering that the whole thing came together in less than 48 hours (the poster, haha; the restoration has been going on for months), I’m really pleased with the way it turned out:

Once things got underway, I left Jessi and Jana to hold down the fort, and I wandered through the posters. My intention was to stop by each of my students’ posters and get back to the Copeland Creek poster. It didn’t work out quite that way, though . . . I wasn’t able to just walk past all the other posters, as so many of them looked genuinely interesting. I did stop at a few, and had great conversations with presenters. In the end, however, I did get to most of the Science 120 posters. Here’s a round-up of some of their projects (their posters all look fantastic!):

I stopped by to visit with Chelsey, and to see the poster that she and I put together the night before the symposium:

Several other current and former students presented their research, as well (although I didn’t have a direct role in most of these projects):

Dinosaur Stamps for Extra Credit
Dinosaur Stamps for Extra Credit

Another thing that was fun for me today was running into lots of my current GE students. In particular, loads of Introduction to Biology students were on hand. Since I am usually teaching that class during the time of the symposium, instead of just cancelling class, I asked them to come to the symposium, and ask questions of a few of the presenters. They were able to get a few points of extra credit by hunting me down in the crowd, and I gave dinosaur stamps to a whole bunch of students – they mostly seemed to be enjoying themselves a lot, and engaging with the presenters.


About half way through, all four of the collaborators on our Copeland Creek project were finally able to get together to pose for a photo:

Jessi, Caroline, Jana, and Wendy
Jessi, Caroline, Jana, and Wendy

So much love for these marvelous ladies!!!!!!! And loads of love to all my students who did such a great job with their projects. I’m so proud of them. Definitely one of the best events of the year.

Sampling For Benthic Macroinvertebrates

I had a great morning out on the creek yesterday, taking some Entomology students out to sample benthic macroinvertebrates in Copeland Creek. This project is a true win/win: I’m getting data for a long-term monitoring study of the creek, and the students are fulfilling a service learning requirement for their biology course.

Before I go into the details, let me take a quick step back for some definitions, for anyone who might not be familiar with some of these terms: Macroinvertebrates are animals without backbones that can be seen with the naked eye (“macro” = large), and benthic refers to the ecological zone at the bottom of a body of water, in this case the creek bed. Entomology is the scientific study of insects, and they were our primary focus, although we’re looking at other invertebrates as well, including arachnids (spiders, and their kin), worms, and maybe even some crustaceans, like crayfish, if we happen upon any of them.

What we’re doing is pretty straightforward: I’m having them follow the same protocols our Restoration Ecology students developed last semester, so we can add to that data set. Copeland Creek is seasonal, and doesn’t have running water for part of the year (including the period of time when last semester’s sampling was done), so I’m particularly interested in having data taken at different times of the year.

Copeland Creek
Copeland Creek

Yesterday, we reviewed the protocols in lab, and brainstormed some ideas about how to format our data collection forms. Then I sent them out into the creek to (literally) get their feet wet. They sampled for an hour, and we’re planning to collect at least one more set of data next week, and possibly a third set, as well. Right off the bat, though, we noticed a BIG different in both abundance and diversity of aquatic inverts, compared with what they found last semester. We sampled in the same general area, but in the fall, there’s just a small pool that holds water year round. This time of year, the creek is running quite nicely.

I really enjoyed being out on the creek, and my students seemed to enjoy it as well. It’s not a hard sell . . . getting to wade into the creek and catch stuff and get school credit for doing it? It’s a pretty sweet gig. 😀 Once we’d finished sampling, we preserved all our samples in alcohol, but we didn’t even try to ID most of them. We’ll key them all out at once, after we’ve finished all our collecting trips.

More soon . . . we’ll be meeting again next week!


Copeland Creek Work Day

After months of planning, on Saturday, March 25, a group of volunteers gathered on the Sonoma State University campus to start the “muddy boots” part of our project to restore the riparian habitat along Copeland Creek. Over the past couple of weeks, our SSU project team identified native plants that we want to keep, and today our work team pulled up invasive species around these natives, to give them the best possible chance to thrive, and to make certain they’re not accidentally pulled up during a future phase of restoration work.  (All photos © the author, except where noted).

Our collaborators, Nick and Callie from the California Conservation Corps’ Watershed Stewards Program arrived first thing in the morning, to set up for the workday. SSU project team members Jessi and Jana walked through our project area and flagged the native plants where the clearing was to take place.

Just after 10:00 a.m. we got started. To a group of both SSU students and community volunteers, I gave a brief overview of the history of the creek, as well as our goal for the project as a whole. It turns out that, historically, there wasn’t actually a creek running through this part of the landscape . . . the creek ran down off nearby Sonoma Mountain, and spread out across a floodplain. This area would have been mostly wetlands, not dry land with a creek. So, our goal isn’t to try and restore this area to some previous “natural” state. Instead, we’re working to restore native vegetation, and encourage a habitat that supports a wide variety of native species, some of which we saw while doing our work (see this post for some photos of lizards and salamanders and things).

Then, everyone got to work! And boy, oh boy, did they work! We did take a break for lunch (sandwiches provided by Callie), but other than that, our team worked from 10 a.m. until about 2 p.m.

Sometimes you’ve just got to crawl right in.

Some of my intrepid Conservation Biology students tackled a huge patch of Oregon grape that was being choked out by Himalayan blackberry. This invasive non-native species of blackberry is one of our main targets for this project. We want to replace as much of it as possible with native species, but we need to do this in a way that won’t disrupt the existing ecosystem too much while the new species become established. Removing the blackberry from this particular patch was a great place to start, and definitely above and beyond what we’d hoped to accomplish today. Hector, Paolo, Andrew, William, and Vince did an amazing job of “grubbing” out the blackberry.

The “Dream Team”

Oregon Grape, after blackberry removal:

We accomplished more today than I thought possible. Sending out a huge thank you to our team, and to all the wonderful volunteers who came out and helped us get out Copeland Creek restoration project started! We hope to see you again on Earth Day, when we’ll work on the the next phase of our project.

Photo by Callie Grant

Wildlife on Copeland Creek

On Saturday, March 25th, SSU collaborated with the California Conservation Corps’ Watership Stewardship Program to start work on our riparian restoration project (more details about the work we did on Saturday coming soon). One of the side benefits of working alongside the creek is encountering some of the wildlife that shares the campus with us. Here are a few of the highlights of our day . . .

Southern alligator lizard (Elgaria multicarinata): 

This gorgeous lizard was spotted in the middle of the bike path – one of the largest alligator lizards I’ve ever seen! What a gorgeous specimen!

Pacific chorus frog (Pseudacris regilla): We found more than one of these little cuties during our work day.

Slender salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus): At least 9 of these little amphibians were discovered while working in an area of about an acre. The one at bottom right is the smallest I’ve ever seen.

We also saw lots of great native plants and fungi.

While I didn’t get many photos of them, I did see or hear a wide variety of birds, including western scrub jay, red-shouldered hawk, brown towhee, Anna’s hummingbird, turkey vulture, wild turkey, and Canada geese.

Best of all, the creek is gorgeous right now, with a good amount of water after our recent rains.


Copeland Creek

This is the stretch of Copeland Creek running through the Sonoma State University campus, right behind the Environmental Technology Center. In nearly 10 years on campus, I’ve never seen Copeland Creek with this much water, or running so fast. It was worth giving my Conservation Biology students a quick break so we could walk down and see the creek, and take a quick video.