"Teams tally biological oddities on Bay Area's federal land"
2014-03-29 by Peter Fimrite [www.sfgate.com/science/article/Teams-tally-biological-oddities-on-Bay-Area-s-5359003.php]:
Scientists were swinging in the trees at Muir Woods on Friday as botanists, lepidopterists, entomologists and other lab-coat-wearing types poked around the Presidio and other sites in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in a frenzy of research.
The professorial convergence is part of a two-day celebration of biodiversity called BioBlitz, in which 300 volunteer scientists document the bats, bugs, plants, mosses, worms and other oddities living on federal lands in the Bay Area.
The event, sponsored by the National Park Service and National Geographic, is expected to attract 5,000 people, including 2,700 youths, who will take part in field science and attend a Biodiversity Festival at Crissy Field on Saturday.
The idea is to increase scientific knowledge about national parks in the Bay Area and inspire future generations of citizen scientists to become park stewards, according to the organizers, who have held yearly BioBlitzes at parks around the nation for a decade.
The redwood research at Muir Woods was serious business for Stephen Sillett, a professor of forest ecology at Humboldt State University and the head tree-swinger on a team of scientists conducting measurements, taking core samples and documenting life in the canopy of the giant trees.
Charting health of trees -
Sillett and his colleagues were climbing 250 feet up to the top of a clump of coast redwoods at Cathedral Grove. Their work, the first significant scientific study of the tree canopy at Muir Woods, is part of the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative, a statewide project started by the Save the Redwoods League, a San Francisco advocacy group working with scientists from Humboldt State and UC Berkeley. They are documenting the age, size, health and tree-ring history of California's last remaining old-growth redwood groves.
"The goal is to measure this tree all the way from the base to the top," Sillett, a pioneer in research conducted in the redwood canopy, said as he prepared to climb one of the trees. "We are trying to figure out the biomass of the redwood forest, what is its capacity to sequester carbon ... and relate its performance over the last century to previous periods."
The plan is to chart the health of the trees over time and use laboratory analysis of carbon and oxygen isotopes to figure out how the trees have reacted to climate and weather conditions. By studying the rings, scientists hope to be able to plot biological changes dating 1,000 to 2,000 years and forecast how the redwoods will change as the Earth warms up.
The redwood tree-ring record can reliably be traced back to the year 328, revealing drought years and other major weather events, according to dendrochronologist Allyson Carroll, who analyzes and documents tree-ring patterns for Humboldt State and the Save the Redwoods League. Researchers have documented a significant growth spurt among redwoods in the past century.
Remnant of Spanish fort -
The research at Muir Woods also has a more immediate purpose: to determine the age of the old adobe found at the historic Presidio Officers' Club. The adobe, hidden for years under a covering of wood plank and plaster, is believed to be the last remnant of the original Spanish fort El Presidio de San Francisco.
The problem: No one can figure out when the 3-foot-thick adobe walls were built. The hope is that core samples from Muir Woods can be compared with the tree rings in the timber beams propping up the adobe to determine when the wood was cut to build the garrison.
"We have long-term redwood-monitoring plots from throughout the range, but we don't have any here in Muir Woods," Carroll said. "This site here is going to be the closest of all our redwood plots to where the (old military) journals indicated the wood came from."
Trees are not the only subject of the brainiac blitz. A team of UC Berkeley microbiologists is counting bacteria and acoustic-monitoring devices will detect bats in the Presidio.
Meanwhile, forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey is leading a team of 30 UC Davis undergraduates identifying Presidio bugs.
"There are over 500 families of insects in California and somewhere in the order of 25,000 individual species of beetles alone. ... So when it comes to diversity, arthropods have it all over everything else by orders of magnitude," Kimsey said, explaining why the insect count is important. "There is a hell of a lot out there right now that we just don't know about yet."
It is "very much within the realm of possibility" a new insect species will be discovered, Kimsey said.
Citizen scientists encouraged to help -
Public events at Crissy Field on Saturday include dung beetle races, science demonstrations, photography workshops and live raptor and animal exhibits. The final species count, including bugs and bacteria, is to be announced at 3:45 p.m. Saturday.