Who’s your neighbor? Wildlife Monitoring at SSU

Written by: Danielle Wegner


Another viewpoint we wanted to incorporate when examining the Copeland Creek is Screen Shot 2016-12-12 at 11.10.50 AM.pnghow species with large ranges utilize the creek that cuts through the north end of Sonoma State. We grouped this category into the wide range apex species, which incorporates species such as mountain lion, bobcat, deer, river otters, and western pond turtles. These species are considered “umbrella” species that maintain a wide habitat and can help assess the health of the surrounding community. Often conservation management programs that focus on umbrella species will benefit many other species that share the same area. Our first step was to determine what species we had utilizing Copeland creek. We set up four camera traps, loaned to us by the Sonoma Land Trust, along the creek, one in each of four designated zone sites of our study. These cameras were set up over a long weekend and we were delighted to see the different wildlife that share the campus with us students. Despite not seeing bobcats or river otters, we cannot rule out the potential for them to utilize the creek. A more extensive camera trap study spread out over the year would be beneficial to get a greater scope of the wide range species that may or may not use the area. Inference can also be drawn upon the previous Copeland Creek master plan, along with citizen science reporting’s to better determine what wildlife are present within the area.  We also performed visual survey for tracks and scat across the four zones to help identify what wildlife were in the area.

Screen Shot 2016-12-12 at 10.41.28 AM.pngThe western pond turtle was another species we wanted to draw attention to due to its conservation status as a species of concern in California. Western pond turtles utilize not only waterways but they also migrate to nearby highland areas for nesting purposes, meaning they met our criteria of a wide ranging species.  Our first step was to determine if western pond turtles were present on campus. This was done by visual surveys in which turtles were counted at the campus lake adjacent to the stream during the basking hours of the afternoon. We next wanted to determine the population dynamic by mark recapturing the turtles to determine gender and age category by setting up a hoop trap, a safe way to capture the turtles without causing harm. We were able to confirm western pond turtles are present on Sonoma State campus, however due to the cooler fall season our counts were not very high and no turtles were captured in our trap. We hope in the future this monitoring program can continue over a longer period of time that would include the different seasons.

Problem Species

Manuel Hernandez and Julianne Bradbury

Most problems are relative, right? In an urban creek like Copeland Creek, certain species are bigger problems than others. The Restoration Ecology class at Sonoma State has detected a whole spectrum of problem species living in and around the creek that might not be obvious until you learn about them.

The most common way for a species to cause problems is to be “invasive” – an invasive species reproduces profusely and outcompetes other species, reducing or even eliminating them from the local environment. This common threat to biodiversity can come in either plant or animal form, and in Copeland Creek it comes in both of those forms. First, we took a close look at the creek banks and surrounding area for plant species that threaten the quality of the habitat. Second, we set some clever (and exceedingly gentle) “traps” to discover what some of our most adorable problem predators are up to.

One of the most common and easy to spot invasive plants in Sonoma County is Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus), a strong, fast growing shrub with wicked thorns and delicious berries. Another common perpetrator is fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), an aromatic plant with fluffy, dissected leaves and  tall flower stalks. Many other invasive plants found in Copeland Creek are ornamental plants that have escaped from landscaped areas on the Sonoma State campus; these include maytens (Maytenus boaria), tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), plums (Prunus spp.), black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), and eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.).

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Fennel is a common invasive plant in Sonoma County, CA. Photo by Stanley Spencer, 2009.

 

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A close-up of the rigid stalk and impressive thorns of the Himalayan blackberry plant, a major invasive species in Copeland Creek, Rohnert Park, CA. Photo by Zoya Akulova, 2009.

Before we can begin to control the populations of invasive plants in the creek, we needed to document just how widespread they are – this will help us determine how successful our removal efforts have been from year to year. We moved slowly but surely along the banks of Copeland Creek over 4 days in October 2016, estimating the percent cover of Himalayan blackberry and noting the presence of every species of invasive plant we could identify. We used this data to generate maps depicting the state of invasive plants along the SSU campus reach of the creek, which will be used to track the successes of our restoration efforts for years to come.

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Domestic cats are one of the largest threats to small mammal and avian biodiversity. Even well-fed house cats will kill animals simply to kill. To assess the cat population we joined with the two other groups using wildlife cameras, and Tony Nelson from the Sonoma Land Trust who kindly loaned us five cameras and taught us how to set them up.

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Tony Nelson Demonstrating the Proper Way to Set Up a Wildlife Camera. Photo by Wendy St John

We selected four locations, one in each zone and set the cameras to take three pictures, one every three seconds, per trigger event. The cameras were left out for a 72 hour period before being collected.

Our first cat was seen in Zone 2, and only appeared in one of the three photos.

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An overexposed picture of a Blurry Cat. Photo by HCO SG550

Again in Zone 2 we captured what looks like the tail of the same cat.

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The tail of a Cat. Photo by HCO SG550

The camera in Zone 3 captured a black cat in two separate  trigger events within the same day.

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While we did not capture many cats on our cameras, we do know that cats use the creek regularly and future camera traps left for multiple, longer periods could show a much larger population.