Previous Grant Recipients
Abundance and Distribution of Western Pond Turtles from North Fork Trinity River to Weitchpec, CA (2017 – $1,500)
Western pond turtles (Actinemys marmorata) are a herpetological species of importance because of their status as a California state-listed Species of Concern and their potential listing on the U.S. Endangered Species List. They are also a long-lived (40-70 years) species, making them potentially more susceptible to declines in poor or degrading ecological and hydrological conditions. With the help of a conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo, Oshum O’Rourke, a Biologist with the Yurok Tribe, studied the distribution and abundance of western pond turtles, along with the habitat characteristics of their basking sites along the Trinity River, a system with augmented water flows. By illustrating the key differences in size and mating age associated with temperature and hydrological conditions, O’Rourke hoped to better inform the management decisions relating to water releases from the Lewiston dam and river restoration efforts.
Understanding the Influence of Masting Hardwoods on Tree Squirrel Occupancies and Fisher Habitat Use in Northern California (2017 – $1,405)
Sciurids (tree squirrels) make up an important component of the fisher (Pekania pennanti) diet in California, with western grey (Sciurus griseus) and Douglas (Tamiasciurus douglasii) squirrels being the most commonly identified prey item in scat. Masting trees such as members of the genus Quercus (oaks) and tanoak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus) produce the majority of acorns – an important component of the western grey and Douglas squirrel diet – in areas where tree squirrels and fishers co-occur. Using the funds provided by a conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo, Andria Townsend, a graduate student at Humboldt State University, deployed 87 baited remote cameras to estimate tree squirrel occupancy rates in stands of differing tree species compositions. She hypothesized that forest stands with mixed conifer/oak would support higher squirrel occupancy rates, and consequently would be selected disproportionately higher by fisher than other stands within their home range. Results from her research will have direct conservation impacts by informing forest management practices that support healthy fisher populations by providing information on important tree species to leave in stands during timber harvest.
Monitoring Disease Threats for the Reintroduction of the Endangered Iberian Lynx in Extremadura, Spain (2017 – $1,400)
In 2014, a region of Extremadura (Spain) was chosen as a suitable reintroduction site for the endangered Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), a cousin of the bobcat (Lynx rufus). To date, 22 adult Iberian lynxes inhabit the area. This small population is more vulnerable to stochastic events such as exposure to infectious agents, therefore measuring the disease risk in endangered species populations may help predict potential outbreaks and serve as a conservation tool to develop careful intervention actions. With the Iberian lynx, the lack of genetic diversity, small population size remaining in the wild, and the coexistence of sympatric carnivores (feral cats/dogs) that could act as disease reservoirs, put this species in a scenario of disease-induced extinction. Dr. Fernando Najera, Director of Veterinary Services for the Iberian Lynx Reintroduction Program, used funds provided by a conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo to capture, test and release 60 individuals (10 lynxes and 50 feral cats) for the presence of Canine Distemper Virus, Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. His results showed that there is a low but active circulation of both feline leukemia virus (6.8%) and feline immunodeficiency virus (3.5%) in the reintroduction area which poses a risk for the reintroduced lynxes. However, through education and community outreach, his team has improved the perception of the Iberian lynx within the community and has eliminated some myths and misconceptions so that locals now understand the importance of keeping a social positive attitude towards this top predator for its’ long term conservation.
Thermal Characteristics of Pacific Marten Habitat and Rest Structures (2017 – $730)
Many carnivores have suffered pervasive and significant declines in distribution and abundance. Additionally, the weight of climate change and associated habitat alterations appears to fall disproportionately on montane regions. This has led to relatively greater impacts on montane carnivores and associated prey communities, as they are sensitive to declining snowpack and changing temperatures. One such carnivore, the Pacific marten (Martes caurina) may be particularly sensitive due to its long, slender body, short coat, and relatively little body fat. Previous research has shown that forest management and disturbance change the way martens perceive their surroundings, causing them to move more quickly and erratically. With conservation grant funding by Sequoia Park Zoo, Marie Martin, a Master’s degree candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, showed that increasing speed of movement and shifting climatic conditions increased the energetic expenditures of martens. She also found that ambient temperature was significantly more stable in complex forest patches and tree cavities. Further, tree cavities appeared to have significant insulative properties – when it was very warm, cavities stayed cooler than ambient temperature and when it was very cold, cavities stayed warmer than ambient temperature. These results suggested that martens may be able to offset the costs of extreme temperatures by moving through complex, densely vegetated forest patches or by resting in tree cavities.
Juvenile Coho Over-winter Survival in Freshwater Creek (2016 – $1,250)
Humboldt Bay was historically one of the largest producers of coho salmon in the state of California. Recent off-channel habitat restoration projects such as Wood Creek, Jacoby Creek Ponds upper (completed summer 2015) and lower (proposed), and re-connection of slough channels such as Faye slough and Janes Jolly Giant Creeks, all aim to increase the survival of “early emigrant” coho and contribute to the recovery of the species in Humboldt Bay. With the help of a conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo, Colin Anderson, a Biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, refurbished the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) antenna located at the Freshwater Creek Weir so that monitoring of the early emigrants and surrounding habitat could continue. This continued monitoring will hopefully provide the motivation to restore other areas inside and outside of Humboldt Bay and return this iconic and once prolific species to its former status.
Porcupine Habitat Selection in Coastal Northern California (2016 – $1,250)
In April 2017, following several years of discussion on their status and need for protection, North American porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) were listed as a species of special concern (SSC) by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Building off his pilot study (funded by Sequoia Park Zoo in 2014) Assistant Professor of Wildlife at Humboldt State University, Tim Bean and his team continued their work by making year-round trips to collect data and develop a comprehensive dataset on porcupine habitat selection, home ranges, diet, and unique natural history observations. From March through November of 2016, they made 27 trips from Arcata to the study site at Tolowa Dunes State Park, Del Norte County, and spent 32 days in the field tracking and monitoring radio-collared porcupines, as well as capturing new porcupines to test improved methods for attaching radio collars and GPS trackers. Furthermore, they found that although winters on California’s north coast were relatively mild compared to other parts of their range, porcupines in their study experienced a similar loss of body mass and increased mortality between the months of November and March, due to poor diet and the physiological stress of high precipitation and cool temperatures. This information will undoubtedly be critical in building habitat suitability models and developing management plans across the state.
Restoring Forest Corridors for the Critically Endangered Black-handed Spider Monkey in Nicaragua (2016 – $1,000)
Through support of a conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo, Dr. Kimberly Williams-Guillen, Director of Conservation Science at Paso Pacifico, and her team made significant advances towards ensuring the long-term survival of the endangered Black-handed Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi). During the project period, a team of eight community rangers carried out monitoring twice weekly and conducted daily protective patrols at locations across the Paso del Istmo Biological Corridor in southwestern Nicaragua. The community rangers, together with the project primate specialist, incorporated behavioral observations and tree phenology into the monitoring regime to further assess the impacts of fragmentation and climate. They used information from this monitoring to identify strategic locations for restoring connectivity and planted over 21,000 native trees in partnership with local farmers. These trees included fleshy, fruit-bearing species preferred by spider monkeys for food. Two hundred children in the Junior Ranger program participated in the primate education curriculum and contributed as citizen scientists by conducting twice-monthly wildlife monitoring near their community. The primary research goal was to identify how primates and other arboreal mammals were using corridors and habitat patches in response to a fragmented landscape. They found evidence that howler monkeys used fence rows as corridors, and sampling at such features demonstrated that these tree lines were critical to the survival and movements of bats and bees, two ecologically important pollinator groups. During the project period, they identified key sites for reforestation and partnered with fourteen rural farmers to plant 21,620 native trees of 18 different species including fleshy, fruit-bearing species, such as Anacardium excelsum and Pouteria sapota, that are preferred foods for spider monkeys. A cumulative area of 23 hectares was planted across three geographic locations.
The Effect of Human Disturbance on the Diversity, Distribution, and Seasonal Abundance of Large Terrestrial Mammals in Tropical Dry Forest (2016 – $1,250)
Tropical dry forest is the most threatened of the major tropical forest types. Ecuador’s central and southern coasts were once cloaked with dry forests rich in biodiversity. Today, Ecuador has lost an estimated 98% of its coastal dry forest. While there has been a significant outcry over the loss of forest in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the deforestation and resulting desertification on the coast is often overlooked within Ecuador and in the international community. The Cordillera del Bálsamo is a ~12,000 hectare section of deforested coastal mountains in Central Ecuador with significant sections of mature second growth tropical dry forest. This area is one of the last remaining, semi-intact sections of tropical dry forest in Ecuador. With support from a conservation grant provided by Sequoia Park Zoo, Jon Johnston, an undergraduate student at Humboldt State University, used non-invasive wildlife monitoring to inventory the species of medium- to large-sized mammals that occur in this largely unexplored area, and determine the ecological significance of this regenerating habitat as refugia for large mammals in a region dominated by development and agriculture. He hoped to determine the effect of human disturbance on terrestrial mammal ecology via a comparative analysis of diversity and seasonal abundance between forests of various stages of regeneration and disturbance, with the primary goal of
demonstrating the importance of sections of mature secondary growth for wildlife. Due to the extreme difference in vegetation patterns amongst forest degradation gradients, he showed that mammal diversity and abundance was much higher in more mature forest stands. Additionally, due to the fact that moisture was better retained in more mature forest stands he showed that mammal communities were more stable between seasonal
changes in more mature forests. These results will hopefully have significant implications for the preservation of mature tropical dry forest within the backdrop of global climate change.
Community Based Conservation of the Loggerhead Sea Turtle (2015 – $1,000)
Loggerhead sea turtles, found within the Uta Ewa coastal area in Southern Nigeria, are classified as endangered, with major threats including: illegal/excessive hunting, habitat destruction from fishermen and farmers, and ocean bank erosion (accelerated by deforestation). With the help of a conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo, Ikponke Nkanta, of The Tropical Research and Conservation Centre, aimed to increase the protection of critical feeding, breeding, and nesting habitats along the Nigerian coast. His project mapped out several critical sites within the Uta Ewa estuary, enacted habitat restoration of those critical sites, and promoted community dialogues about conservation. He ultimately hoped to reduce habitat destruction and pollution, adopt alternative economic activities for hunters and poachers, and request that turtle poachers and hunters turn down their traps.
Variables Influencing Fisher Den Attendance (2015 – $1,000)
The fisher (Pekania pennanti) is a forest carnivore of the weasel family that depends on cavities in live trees and snags to birth and rear their offspring. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed that west coast fisher populations be listed as Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act due to significant population declines and range contractions over the past century. Caylen Cummins, a graduate student at Humboldt State University, conducted a research project with the aim of describing “the environmental variables that influence den attendance patterns of fishers to determine if timber harvest and related activities alter those patterns.” Cummins captured approximately 20 female fishers of reproductive age in both the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation and private timberland, fitted them with radio collars, and observed their denning behavior, especially as it related to timber practices. If timber harvest-related activities were found to influence denning behavior negatively, provisions in accordance with the U.S. Endangered Species Act could be incorporated into Forest Management Plans.
Barn Owl Nest Boxes in Vineyards: An Ecological Trap? (2015 – $1,000)
Barn owl (Tyto alba) populations are declining worldwide. In North America declines are primarily due to land conversion, resulting in a loss of hunting and nesting habitat. With support from a conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo, Carrie Wendt, a wildlife graduate student at Humboldt State University, conducted a research project to examine the relationships of habitat quality, artificial nesting boxes, and barn owl quality of life in Napa Valley vineyards. Many farmers in Napa Valley construct artificial nest boxes to attract barn owls for rodent control, but there has been no published report in the U.S. addressing the concerns of habitat quality surrounding nesting boxes in vineyard ecosystems. Wendt’s project attempted to understand how various habitats surrounding nest boxes influence barn owl nestings, then used this information to determine what constitutes high quality habitats for barn owls so recommendations could be made to farmers accordingly.
Lake Earl River Otter Study (2015 – $500)
Phillip Johnston, a wildlife undergraduate at Humboldt State University, conducted scat-collection and on-foot tracking of North American river otters (Lontra canadensis) in order to assess the diet, latrine-use patterns, and latrine-site fidelity at Lake Earl in Del Norte County. Using funds provided by a conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo, Johnston followed and expanded on a study of the same nature conducted at Lake Earl in 1964, and documented how latrine sites have shifted over the past 50 years and what purposes they may serve. Previous research has shown that river otters can help maintain or create refugia for smaller fish species by hunting larger piscivorous fish. Therefore, Johnston also attempted to determine the degree to which river otters support the declining Lake Earl tidewater goby (Eucyclogobius newberryi) population by suppressing predators through their own feeding habits.
Improving the Marine Mammal Stranding Program at Humboldt State University Using Genetic Analyses (2015 – $500)
Ashley Donnell, a biological sciences graduate student at Humboldt State University, worked with the Marine Mammal Stranding Program to improve the identification process of stranded marine mammals. Donnell’s project, funded in part by a conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo, involved using DNA barcoding to identify marine mammal species documented by the Marine Mammal Center’s volunteers, and created an inexpensive and efficient genetic identification process. DNA barcoding has gained momentum over the past decade, and aims to “develop a standardized, rapid, and inexpensive species identification method available to non-taxonomists.” (Barrett and Herbert, 2005).
Frogs & Coffee: Biodiversity Impacts on Jamaican Coffee Farms (2014 – $1,000)
One of the biggest concerns for wildlife conservation is large-scale habitat loss due to agricultural production. Of equal importance is climate change which new research indicates promotes the spread of infectious disease. With such changes imminent, it is important to determine where, in modern fragmented landscapes, we may aid in creating refuges for species on the brink. Creative use of agricultural settings can provide such refugia while still satisfying human needs. For her HSU masters thesis, Jennifer Brown tested 800 frogs on 27 Jamaican coffee farms for the presence of chytrid fungus, a disease which can have devastating effects on amphibian populations. Her findings, supported by a conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo, will help inform coffee plantation owners and staff how management practices can help support native frog species.
DragonWatch Citizen Science Project (2014 – $1,000)
Dragonflies rely on a variety of clean freshwater habitats, which have been disappearing at an alarming rate over the last several decades. Dragonflies are good indicators of aquatic ecosystem health, but have not been studied along the northern CA coast. A conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo aided local biologist Sandra Hunt-von Arb to began a pilot project to train volunteer community members to “adopt” a local lake, pond, marsh or river and conduct weekly surveys of dragonfly emergence. The citizen-scientists enter data using a collection form on-line, which adds to the national Dragonfly Migration Project database.
Community-Based Conservation of the Rare Monkey Red-Capped Mangaby in the Ikpa Wetland of Southern Nigeria (2014 – $1,000)
Red-capped mangabys (Cercocobus torquatus) were once thought to have gone extinct in the wild between central Ghana and the Nigeria-Cameroon border. However a small population was rediscovered within the Mbiakong-Ikpa wetlands in southern Nigeria. The Tropical Research and Conservation Centre surveyed the area for this endangered primate, counting around 90 individuals. Human activities on the wetlands such as deforestation, hunting, bush burning, and slash-and-burn agriculture are posing serious threats to wildlife resources in this area. With support from a conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo, the TRC Centre held workshops for the local community on sustainable agriculture, and planted 500 food trees in monkey habitat to supply food sources for both humans and monkeys. Monitoring of habitat and mangaby populations are ongoing.
Pilot Study of Diet and Tracking Methods with North American Porcupines (2014 – $500)
North American porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) were historically abundant on the north coast of California however, recent findings indicate a dramatic decline in porcupine populations from the southern Sierras to the north coast region. In many parts of their range, porcupines are important prey for the Pacific fisher (Pekania pennanti), a proposed threatened species in California and one with significant interest locally. Further, porcupines are a culturally significant species to local Hoopa, Karuk, and Yurok tribes. Assistant Professor of Wildlife at HSU, Tim Bean tested various diet preferences of the Zoo’s porcupine resident “Dorsie”, and also observed her reaction to wood samples of local tree species, to determine which ones she selected to chew. This data was then applied to field testing for the presence of wild porcupines in various locations in Humboldt County. This will help refine porcupine populations studies, a species whose decline in the past few decades has not been studied.
An innovative approach to Saola detection in the Central Annamite Mountains of Vietnam (2013 – $1,000)
The saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) is an antelope found only in the Central Annamite Mountains of Vietnam, and is considered one of the world’s rarest and most elusive animals. Described in 1992 following a discovery of a skull, the saola has only been documented in the wild four times. Almost nothing is known about the saola’s basic ecology, including habitat requirements and regional distribution within the Central Annamite Mountains. Without this information, conservationists cannot effectively plan for protected areas and anti-poaching efforts to help this enigmatic animal. A main challenge in studying the saola is that its presence is difficult to detect with standard survey methods, due to its secretive nature, low densities, and the rugged terrain of its habitat. Sequoia Park Zoo assisted Andrew Tilker in testing a novel and cost-effective method that uses DNA extracted from terrestrial haematophagous leeches to detect saola presence. A preliminary test of 25 leeches was able to detect the presence of two large ungulate species, the serow (Capricornis milneedwardsii) and the Annamite dark muntjac (Muntiacus truongsonensis). In the summer of 2013, Andrew conducted surveys in Bach Ma National Park to collect leeches and habitat data. A conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo funded genetic analysis of the samples. If successful, this method could revolutionize the way in which mammalian biodiversity surveys are conducted, especially in the dense and rugged terrain of the Central Annamite Mountains where other survey methods have failed.
Persistence of Tagua in the Paraguayan dry Chaco (2013 – $1,000)
The endangered Chacoan peccary or tagua (Catagonus wagneri) is the largest of three species of peccaries found in the Dry Chaco ecoregion of South America. In a remote region characterized by high temperatures, low rainfall, and impenetrable forests of thorn bushes and cactus, the tagua’s greatest threat is overharvest by locals that rely almost entirely on subsistence hunting for food. Loss of intact forest habitat is also likely to increase the tagua’s vulnerability to hunting pressure. A Sequoia Park Zoo conservation grant partially funded travel and equipment expenses for Silvia Soledad Saldivar Bellassai of SUNY-College of Environmental Science and Forestry to conduct a camera trapping study on tagua in her native country of Paraguay. A series of motion-detection cameras were set up in Defensores del Chaco National Park in areas of intact forest, recent clearcuts, and roadway habitats to detect the presence or absence of tagua and other wildlife using these habitats. These data will be used to determine the levels at which tagua occupy habitats that expose them to different levels of hunting risk, and assess whether tagua are being forced out of the “safer” intact forest habitat by the two more common and aggressive peccary species, the collared peccary (Pecari tajacu) and the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari). This is part of a larger study to better understand the combined effects of harvest and habitat loss on tagua populations.
A question of synchrony: phenological cuing in the dune silver bee and one of its important floral resource, the silky beach pea (2013 – $1,000)
The dune silver bee (Habropoda miserabilis) is a native solitary bee that is thought to be one of the most important pollinators on the coastal dunes of Humboldt Bay. Ideally, the timing, or phenology, of the dune silver bee’s flight season (March – June) will match that of its preferred nectar plants. However, the phenology of pollinators and the plants they visit has become an important conservation concern in the light of climate change. Therefore, it is critical to understand what is cuing the flight phenology of our native bee species, as well as their floral resources, in order to implement successful management practices to conserve these species. With support from a conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo, Rachael Olliff of Humboldt State University conducted a field study to characterize the flight season phenology of the dune silver bee and the blooming phenology of its main floral resource, the silky beach pea (Lathyrus littoralis). To raise awareness about bee conservation on the dunes, Rachael also created a manual with information about silver bees, citizen science methods to track phenology of silver bees and their nectar plants, and conservation actions that can be taken to support bees on the dunes. This manual will be made available through the Humboldt Nature Center. Results of her study will be submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, providing these agencies with information that will help inform habitat conservation and management actions in dune areas where this important native bee species occurs.
Project Feederwatch (2013 – $985)
Arcata Elementary School’s Sunset Creek Schoolyard Habitat Project is an ongoing project to restore and enlarge a two-acre riparian woodland habitat adjacent to the school. Students, parents, and the Arcata community are working together to improve the streamside habitat of Sunset Creek by removing invasive plants and planting willows and other native tree species. Plantings of native trees and shrubs in the riparian area are expected to make the habitat more attractive to warblers and other birds. Sequoia Park Zoo awarded Elizabeth van Mantgem and Arcata Elementary School with a conservation grant to start a citizen science program to monitor changes in the bird community in response to habitat restoration. Bird feeders were placed in the restored habitat, equipped with binoculars and field guides, and students were trained by local ornithologists to identify birds. Students counted the numbers of birds visiting the feeders twice a month, from November to March. Data submitted to Project Feederwatch, a national database maintained by Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology is used to track long term trends in bird distribution and abundance.
Eagle Nest Webcam (2012 – $1,000)
From a population of over 100,000 individuals in the 1700’s, the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) declined to 417 nesting pairs in the 1960’s, with fewer than 30 nesting pairs in California. Major threats to the species were habitat loss, illegal shooting, and contamination of their food source. The bald eagle was listed as a federally endangered species in 1967 and a California state endangered species in 1971. Due to captive breeding efforts and legislation banning the use of DDT and prohibiting the harming of eagles, the bald eagle has made a remarkable comeback. It was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2007 but remains endangered in California. Through its conservation grant program, Sequoia Park Zoo funded Diane Dickinson and the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center to install a video webcam to document the nesting and parenting routine of a local pair of bald eagles. The pair being observed has nested and successfully fledged chicks from this location for the past 5 years. Live video feed from the webcam is streamed to a website, offering the public an opportunity to witness the entire eagle nesting cycle, from nest building to the eventual flight of the juvenile eagles. The Humboldt Eagle Cam went live on February 5, 2013 with the first egg laid on March 16, 2013.
Visions of the North Coast: healthy ecosystems in the eyes of our youth (2012 – $770)
The California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) used to range from British Columbia to northern Baja California, but declined to 22 birds by the 1980’s. In 1987, the remaining condors were taken from the wild to be managed in a captive breeding program, with the intent of increasing the population and reintroducing condors back into the wild. Current condor release sites are located in Arizona, Southern California, and Baja California. In order to expand the condor’s range into Northern California and to return a culturally significant animal to their lands, the Yurok Tribe is working to make the Yurok Ancestral Territory a safe place to establish a new condor release site. Sequoia Park Zoo awarded Chris West, a biologist with the Yurok Tribe, a conservation grant to design and produce a set of educational posters to use as part of their outreach presentations to school children and hunters. The posters conveyed information on the risks to both wildlife and humans from the use of lead ammunition for harvesting wild game as well as offer alternatives to lead shot. These posters are intended to instruct the community’s youth on the cultural and ecological value of condors, and to inspire changes in cultural hunting practices that will impact the future of this magnificent bird.
Life history and competition with Northern red-legged frog: a proposed management strategy (2012 – $500)
Native to eastern North America, the bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeiana) was introduced into California in the late 1800’s as a food source for the gold miners. The bullfrog’s large body size and high reproductive rate gave it a competitive advantage over native amphibians, such as the threatened California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii) and endangered California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense), allowing it to invade a wide variety of aquatic habitats throughout the state. With support of a conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo, Tim Girod of Humboldt State University conducted a field study to test the effectiveness of traps for removing bullfrogs from local ponds. Tim also tested the effectiveness of two types of bullfrog attractants: recordings of male bullfrog calls and feeder cricket baits. If these tests are successful, the traps will offer managers a method that saves time and reduces costs associated with bullfrog control in aquatic habitats.