The COVID-19 Pandemic has created worldwide restrictions, one of which is the ability to easily cross borders. This is not a huge issue if you can easily work virtually but as a field ecologist whose field sites are in a different country, you have to come with creative ways to conduct experiments here at home. Our lab room was not getting much use since classes went virtual, so we decided to transform it into a sandbox germination experiment and livestream it so we can view the experiment any time, from anywhere. We used cotton fabrics and burlap in a half tent design and placed trays of Phacelia tanacetifolia (desert fiddlenck), an annual species native to the Southwestern region of the U.S.A, and Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa (buckhorn cholla), a native cactus, in the open and underneath tents. We also used temperature, light, and humidity loggers to monitor how microclimatic parameters are affected underneath the shelters and in the open. Additionally, we set up LED lights for UV and heat lamps to replicate the desert heat. You can say things are heating up in the lab!
Positive interactions are key to many systems worldwide. Foundation species such as shrubs are able to benefit other taxa through various mechanistic pathways. The canopy of these species is also an structural agent, able to reduce light intensity and temperature variation experienced by vertebrates. But, do the instances of animal near a shrub increase as temperature and light intensity increase? Can artificial shelters be as good as shrubs when comes to lowering the variation in the above parameters? Disturbances such as land use and climate change are the current reality of many regions. To be able to artificially restore these systems post-disturbance while new vegetation is grown is thus key.
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Foundation plant species, such as some shrubs, are able to facilitate other taxa though the cooling effect provided by their canopy. Under the new paradigm of climate change, more and more animals are relying on these canopies during the peak heat hours of the day as a cool oasis. Unfortunately, new shrubs do not grow as fast the demand for their canopies, and this demand will only increase in the upcoming years as the impacts of climate change continue to accelerate.
This field season, my colleague Mario and I embarked on a journey of building man-made shelters that can withstand extreme weather, but also serve as a cooling canopy for animals. We deployed these shelters in Panoche Hills, California.
Designing these shelters was a long process (although they look quite simple), but all the back and forth with the design proved to be useful when the they assembled almost perfectly in the field. At the end the deign was narrowed down to two shapes: square and triangle.
The design consisted of PVC piping and the connector parts, metal stakes for sturdiness, as well UV resistant shades with different percentage of light permeability. We paired the shelters with temperature and light loggers to test how each shelter affects these parameters.
The aim is to provide a cheap and effective design, which can be used for animal conservation while more shrubs are grown.