UCSC forest research site joins Global Earth Observatory, nearly triples in size

Students and researchers in forest ecology research plot

Students and researchers conduct studies on plants and animals in the UCSC Forest Ecology Research Plot within the north campus natural reserve.

The nearly 15-acre Forest Ecology Research Plot (FERP) located within the UC Santa Cruz Campus Natural Reserve has been accepted into the global network of the Smithsonian Institution's Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS) / Global Earth Observatory (SIGEO).

Environmental studies professor Greg Gilbert established the research and teaching site in 2007 in the mixed-evergreen coastal forest on the north campus.  Since then, students and researchers have cataloged and tagged 8,180 individual plants from 31 species and 18 families. The four dominant species in the FERP are Douglas fir, coast live oak, Shreve's oak, and tanoak.

The research site will be expanded by more than 250 percent to nearly 40 acres as part of its inclusion into the CTFS-SIGEO global network. Gilbert said the research plot was invited to join the network after he and colleagues published a 2010 article describing it in the Journal of Vegetation Science. It is the only Mediterranean climate site in the network.

More than 100 students have attended classes with significant field work components using the site, including plant ecology, plant disease ecology, herpetology, environmental electronics, and a UC Berkeley class, ecosystems of California.  Gilbert said the research plot has led to at least 24 senior theses and senior internships, and dozens of lower division internships in which students gain hands-on experience in ecological monitoring and forest ecology research.

The plot expansion will mean a better ability to follow how tree populations change over time, Gilbert said. It will also include a steep slope and a significant area of redwood-dominated forest and will now include an area where, for unknown reasons, a large number of large trees have died over the last 20 years.  

The UCSC Campus Natural Reserve covers 400 acres of protected natural lands on the UC Santa Cruz campus. This land was set aside in the 1980s to preserve natural communities for teaching, field research, and natural history interpretation.

"If we step back a bit and think about the values of the campus reserve as a living laboratory and outdoor classroom it doesn't take long to realize we have a real jewel here at UCSC," said Gage Dayton, director of UCSC Natural Reserves. "There is nothing like it in the UC system."

A full-time campus reserve steward was recently hired to support and enhance education, research, and stewardship activities on the reserve.

In addition to mapped trees, student researchers have made detailed studies of soil nutrients, texture, and moisture; understory light conditions, and have ongoing monitoring of phenology, micrometeorology, small terrestrial mammals, bats, and some arthropods. 

The Smithsonian's CTFS-SIGEO is a global network of scientists and forest research plots dedicated to the study of tropical and temperate forest function and diversity. The network involves many institutions and comprises 46 forest research plots in 21 countries with a focus on tropical regions.

CTFS member institutions monitor the growth and survival of approximately 4.5 million trees and 8,500 species. SIGEO builds on the pioneering work of CTFS to study carbon fluxes, temperate forests, and the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and forest function.