Award Recipients

Winter 2017

Teague Corning: Identification and Information to Aquatic Insects of Marin County

Benthic macro invertebrates are important key species to a streams health. Through my senior internship, I have come to realize there are not many easy identification booklets or information on aquatic insects, especially for children to use. For my senior project, I will be producing waterproof easy-to-use identification cards and an informational booklet on the aquatic insects of Marin County. Both products will include specific families and drawings of the benthic insects. The ID cards and booklet will be used by an educational program at Point Reyes National Seashore to teach local students, 4th-11th grade, the importance of these little creatures and their role to the environment.

Max Taus: Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Fort Ord

Once a former army base, the Fort Ord Natural Reserve was established with the intent of preserving a representative sample of the diverse flora and fauna that exist within the extensive maritime chaparral habitat of Monterey county. As part of the University of California Natural Reserve System (UCNRS), both students and faculty are able to explore Fort Ord’s surrounding landscapes and observe, study, and appreciate its inhabitants. I plan on creating a comprehensive field guide of the reptiles and amphibians found on the Fort Ord Natural Reserve to aid future researchers and students find, identify, and better understand their natural history and distribution across the reserve.  I hope to inform and educate members of the community interested in studying the herpetofauna of the Fort Ord natural reserve. Besides describing each specimens ecology and natural history, I'd like to illuminate current issues threatening local reptile and amphibian populations.

Fall 2016

Carrie Niblett: A Guide to the Slime Molds of the UCSC campus.

Slime mold! It’s not really mold, and it’s only sometimes slimy and it might be one of the coolest things that few people know exist. My project was to create a guide to the slime molds (myxomycetes) that one is likely to encounter on the UC Santa Cruz campus. My project also included collecting these fascinating organisms to start a curated collection for the herbarium at the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History. I started to notice slime molds around campus about two years before this project was even a possibility. I was charmed by their tiny stature and bright colors. After observing and becoming fascinated these strange organisms, I got the opportunity to do this project and dove in and researched the slime mold I was seeing. I found out how interesting they are in their life cycle, behavior and appearance. Slime mold has a fascinating life cycle which includes a single cell feeding and locomotive stage where they consume bacteria, decaying vegetation and sometimes small insects. Once it runs out of things to consume it moves to a multicellular reproductive phase where it spores, germinates and starts over. I hope this project can create or strengthen peoples’ connection and appreciation for the campus by introducing them to these strange organisms and supplying them with the tools and knowledge needed to go out and find them.

Dylan Huntzinger:  An Overview of Land Conservation Challenges in California

With California’s wild land under growing threat from human impacts, it is critical that those most knowledgeable and most passionate about nature know the “tricks of the trade” needed to protect those places. For my senior project, I investigated how land managers and environmental activist groups tackle the political and ecological challenges facing California’s wild land. Using success stories from the Mojave Desert, Fort Ord, and the Mono Basin, I produced a booklet that provides readers with an understanding of the agencies, policies, ecological realities, and institutional structures that can aid or impede conservation.  Selections of this booklet have been included in the Natural History Field Quarter Reader.  With this booklet, I hope to pass down the wisdom of successful conservationists and orient passionate individuals towards the first steps of progress.

Trevor Barclay: Assessing the Validity of Mass Estimation Via an Unmanned Aerial system on Northern Elephant Seals

Aerial surveys have long been used in marine mammal research as a way to collect census data. Historically these aerial surveys have been limited to large-scale research efforts using manned aircraft. However, recent technological advances in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have the potential to allow aerial surveys to be conducted at a much smaller scale. The aim of my research is to test the limitations and potential benefits of using an UAS for aerial surveys of marine mammals. Specifically my research entails testing the level of accuracy that mass can be estimated from photos take by an UAS. In order to do this I will be working with Dan Costa’s northern elephant seal lab, taking advantage of the on going bio-logging research that takes place at Año Nuevo state park. I will be using a DJI phantom III quad-copter to take aerial photos of female elephant seals that have had their masses measured. After the images are collected I will be taking a footprint measurement of the individual seals and comparing this to their mass in order to see how accurate of an estimation of mass can be from an image alone. The goal of my research is to provide insight into the potential usefulness of UAS’s as research tools for marine mammals.

Deanna Rhoades: Surveying the Distribution of the Critically Imperiled Santa Cruz Kangaroo Rat

The kangaroo rat functions as a keystone species in several ecosystems because of its perturbation of soil, herbivory impacts, and seed caching. In the isolated sandhills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the endemic Santa Cruz kangaroo rat (Dipodomys venustus venustus) provides the important role of caching seeds and burrowing in the soil, disrupting the growth of grasses and providing refugia for other endemic animals. In the last century, the range of D. v. venustus has drastically contracted due to habitat loss from anthropogenic activities, resulting in their ranking as a Critically Imperiled subspecies by California Fish & Wildlife.
 Dipodomys v. venustus is currently known to persist at a single site within Henry Cowell State Park, yet there have been no recent surveys throughout their range or efforts to describe intact suitable habitat. Therefore, I plan to document the current range of D. v. venustus by 1) evaluating the current state of sites that historically supported them, 2) creating a map of historic distribution and suitable habitat, and 3) conducting live-trapping at a subset of suitable sites to detect presence or absence.

Erica Ferrer: Understanding, Documenting, and Communicating the Effects of Ocean Acidification on Marine Ecosystems

Ocean acidification (OA) is a biogeochemical process by which the ocean is becoming more acidic; As anthropogenic carbon emissions increase, the ocean sequesters about 30% of that carbon, lowering the pH and increasing the acidity of seawater. My senior thesis aims to characterize the relationship between acidity and seafloor community assemblages in a rocky-reef ecosystem off the coast of Naples, Italy. This work -- made possible by a series of subtidal CO2 vents -- will help us predict what our oceans may look like in a high CO2 world. Support from the Norris Center will allow me to fly to Italy, complete my senior thesis, and create a short documentary, vividly illustrating the effects of OA across this unique system. Once complete, the video will be disseminated through various channels, including UCSC’s Coastal Sustainability Blog and MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement) Program. My video will be made with a general audience in mind such that it can be used as a tool for communicating OA science to those who may be unfamiliar with its effects.

Kylie Sullivan: Presence of Chytrid Fungus Pathogens on UCSC’s Ferp

Global climate change is causing major species declines through a variety of mechanisms and has been linked to outbreaks in diseases and fungi. Batrachochytrium dendro batidis (Bd) and a related fungi, Batrachochytrium salamandr ivorans (Bsal), have caused major die-offs of an array of amphibian species globally. Dr. Barry Sinervo and colleagues located Bd, or Chytrid, near UCSC’s North Remote parking lot in recent years. I will investigate the presence and distribution of Bd and Bsal on the UCSC Forest Ecology Research Plot (FERP) and its correlation with temperature and canopy coverage. Knowledge of the presence, distribution, and environmental factors associated with Bd on the FERP will inform land managers and could lead to actions to preserve biodiversity before a major pathogenic outbreak occurs. The Herps on the FERP herpetofauna monitoring program, created by previous recipients of the Norris Center student award Krystal Stevenson and Andrea Horvath (both ENVS 2015), provided the perfect framework in which to conduct this investigation. Their bimonthly coverboard transect methodology allowed me to track salamander presence and swab each captured specimen for later Bd lab testing. In order to determine the environmental preferences of the fungi, I collected temperature of salamanders under both coverboards and natural cover (logs within 10 m of coverboards) and used previously collected canopy cover data to examine how these variables may correlate to Bd/Bsal distribution. The funding I receive will be used to pay for DNA analysis of swab samples to detect Bd and/or Bsal presence on the plot. Samples will be analyzed at the lab of Dr. Vredenburg of San Francisco State University.

Spring 2016

Mike MacDonald: Experiential learning through biodiversity sampling at CASFS

When students have opportunities to put their classroom knowledge to work with hands-on work experience, they gain a deeper understanding for, and sense of ownership over the skills they have learned. As a member of the ANTS Lab, I have had the opportunity to work with CASFS on developing insect and plant biodiversity sampling protocols to be used by undergraduate students in agroecology classes. Sampling by undergraduates not only gives them useful experience with field methods, but provides a valuable source of long-term data, revealing important correlations between local and landscape factors and insect diversity.  I developed three field guides to 1) the most common plant species on the Farm, 2) insects found most commonly in pan traps on the Farm, and 3) insects found most commonly in pitfall traps on the Farm. These guides will provide support to students in the most time-consuming part of the sampling process: identification. The funds from this award will pay for the cost of printing the guides.

Devin Chance: Understanding the effects of temperature on invasive mosquitofish sex ratios using a natural geothermal laboratory

Devin ChanceMosquitofish are one of the world's worst invasive species due to their global distribution, extreme densities, and noxious ecological effects. They also exhibit sexual dimorphism, with femals sometimes doubling males in body size. These differences in size cause females to have much stronger competitive and cascading ecological impacts. Because of this dimorphism in ecolofical effects, it is critical to understand the sex ratio of a population in order to determine their local ecological impacts. Despite extreme sex ration variation, with some populations being over 90% female, we still poorly understand the drivers behind it. Some studies have suggested that temperature plays a large role; however, there are few and they are contradicting. By determining how mosquitofish sex ratios are shaped by temperature, we can predict how the ecolofical impact of mosquitofish populations may change in the face of global warming. My objective is to collect mosquitofish sex ration data from several geothermal springs outside Bishop, CA. In collecting data from the springheads (hottest temperature) downstream to ambient temperatures I will be able to test my hypothesis that higher temperatures are correlated with increased proportion of females, thus exacerbating the ecolofical impacts of mosquitofish with warming. 

Winter 2016

Vanessa Cabrera: Investigating vector-borne diseases on the University of California, Santa Cruz Forest Ecology Research Plot (FERP)

Vanessa CabreraZoonotic diseases are a genre of emerging infectious diseases (e.g. zika, ebola, avian flu) that normally cycle in non-human hosts, but that can sometimes spillover to humans due to increasing contact between humans and wildlife. Some zoonotic diseases are also vector-borne, meaning that an intermediary host, such as ticks and mosquitos, are responsible for transmission between vertebrate hosts. In North America, tick-borne pathogens play a particular risk to human health, as many of us often encounter ticks during recreational outdoor activities. Ticks have a complex life cycle, morphing in three life stages from larvae to nymph to adult, and requiring a blood meal from a vertebrate host at each stage. Humans don’t tend to be good hosts for ticks since we are good at grooming ourselves, and as such, other animals serve as primary hosts for ticks, including lizards, rodents, and deer. However, when we encounter ticks, we are potentially exposed to any zoonotic pathogens vectored by ticks. My study investigates the ecology of two tick-borne zoonotic pathogens, Borrelia burgdorferi that causes Lyme disease, and a new emerging pathogen, B. miyamotoi, which causes a related disease in humans. I sampled tick vectors of Borrelia and two species of Peromyscus mice that host ticks and potentially Borrelia on the Forest Ecology Research Plot in Santa Cruz County in the spring of 2016. I performed molecular analyses to identify the presence of these two Borrelia pathogens in tick and mammal samples. I found the presence of B. miyamotoi and B. burgdorferi in mammal and tick samples. Importantly, I found B. miyamotoi present in a California mouse (P. californicus), which is the first identification of a non-human vertebrate host for this novel emerging pathogen. The interaction between ticks, vertebrate hosts, tick-borne pathogens, and the environment forms the complex ecology that determines the incidental risk of tick-borne zoonotic diseases to humans. My research, funded by the Norris Center Grant for undergraduate research, provides important and novel information regarding the ecology of Borrelia pathogens in California and highlights the risk of these diseases to humans in Santa Cruz County.

Rozy Bathrick: Nectar secretion patterns of the Cardón cactus in Baja California, Mexico

Rozy Bathrick

With natural history as my inspiration and the Norris Center as my generous sponsor, I went to Baja California Sur in April 2016 to study the nectar of the Cardon cactus.The Cardón cactus (Pachycereus pringlei) is a columnar member of the Family Cactacea, growing ubiquitously along the peninsula of Baja California. It produces large, white night-blooming flowers from April - June, on plants of three sexes (trioecy): female (producing ovules but no pollen), male (producing pollen but no ovules), and hermaphrodite (producing both ovules and pollen). The flowers produce an abundance of nectar and attract the Lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae) during its breeding months. L. yerbabuenae is a migratory nectar feeding bat, endangered in the United States and an obligate pollinator of the Cardón cactus. I studied the nectar secretion schedules of female and hermaphrodite Cardón cactus in response to simulated bat visitation. I found a difference in nectar secretion between the sexes with females producing significantly more nectar, which could be a display of different resource allocation. I also found  a response to the nectar production after repeated removal of nectar. This could indicate that early foraging bats are more successful in areas of high bat activity and competition increases later in the night, influencing the success of L. yerbabuenae during its breeding season.  

Fall 2015

Laurel Wee

Laurel Wee: Mobile Tour of the Downtown Trees of Santa Cruz

Laurel is majoring in ENVS combined with biology. She decided to do her project with the Norris center for Natural History after taking Natural History Field Quarter in the Spring of 2015. Her senior internship project is a mobile tour of the downtown trees of Santa Cruz. The tour will be presented through the to free mobile application, Mobile Ranger, which presents tours throughout the Santa Cruz area on natural and human history. The tree stops on the tour include information about the species and the significance it has in human history.

Kylie Smith: Field Guide to Pogonip 


As a first year at UC Santa Cruz, I would wander through Pogonip City Park, in Santa Cruz California, and discover so many amazing natural things. Whenever I had time to spare I would find myself in the forests and meadows of Pogonip looking under logs, discovering plants I had never seen, and wondering what birds I was hearing and seeing. I became enthralled by the curiosities that Pogonip held and wanted to learn more about this area. Now as a fourth year for my senior project, I have created an interpretive natural history field guide in the form of a twelve-panel brochure for Pogonip. The field guide is available at Spring St. and Golf Club Dr. entrances into Pogonip as well as digitally on Mobile Rangers’ website along with an article explaining the creation of the guide. A Field Guide to the Communities of Pogonip provides information and identifying illustrations of species that occur in the four most prominent habitats of Pogonip. Through this field guide I hope to connect the community of Santa Cruz with the community of Pogonip to help foster stewardship and an appreciation of the natural world.

Evan Silk: Tracking Native American Footprints at Big Creek

Visiting many cultural sites hidden among the diverse habitats of the Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve, I knew that I wanted to create an educational resource that shared what we know about the presence of the aboriginal groups that lived side by side with the natural world on this particular property. The goal of my internship project was to create a 36 in. x 24 in. interpretive poster that would outline the prehistoric human presence on the reserve offered by artifact clues analyzed by past on-site archeological studies conducted by the UC Santa Cruz Anthropology Department. Past archeological scans noted an evolution in hunting, fishing, and grinding tools found throughout different sites on the reserve, some of which can still be seen today. This poster introduces the slow, but complex changes in the design of some of the Esselen and Salinan tools and serves as an overall learning opportunity for visitors to bring a vanished people’s life into focus as they explore the reserve’s beauty.

Adam Taylor: Tracking Changes in the Microbiome of a Mesopelagic Predator, the Northern Elephant Seal


My senior thesis objective was to investigate and establish a baseline complete microbiome in Northern Elephant seals upper respiratory tract. My study advanced our knowledge and has provided insight into what bacteria exist inside of wild marine mammal host as the seals traverse the North Pacific Ocean. I used an innovative approach to investigate this, taking advantage of recent technical advances in DNA sequencing to determine bacteria in a sample without the need to culture them, as most bacteria are not culturable in lab. The results of my study provide evidence that male and female seals have different microbiomes, that are influenced by migration. Furthermore, my project provides support that pathogenic bacteria in colonial marine mammals is influenced by sea birds and maternal transfer on shore. The outcome of this project has been accepted at a conference for presentation (ISME 2016) and manuscript of this work is intended to be published. The funds received from the Norris Center Award assisted in the purchase of sample collection swabs, DNA extraction and Illumina Sequencing. 

Spring 2015

Alexander Shenton & Alexandra Molen: Investigating Impacts of Anthropogenic Disturbance on Small Mammal Species in UCSC Upper Campus

SMURF project

Our project was part of the Small Mammal Undergraduate Research in the Forest (SMURF), a collaborative program that has been monitoring small mammal population dynamics in the UCSC Forest Ecology Research Plot (FERP) since 2009. Small mammal communities may be sensitive to anthropogenic disturbance, yet research is lacking to improve our understanding of landscape-scale disruption or alteration of small mammal abundance, life stage patterns, and diet. We conducted studies on two species of deer mouse in locations that compare plots of protected forest to areas closer to campus experiencing greater human impact. Using this comparative approach, we hope to gain insight regarding the impacts of anthropogenic development and human activity on small mammal populations, while also expanding our understanding of wildlife on the UCSC campus.

Alex Prieto: Climate Change and Native Bumblebee Species


With global climate change underway, I wanted to study how nectar resources could physiologically constrain bumblebees ability to withstand heat stress. Specifically, I investigated whether the quantity (volume) or quality (sugar content) of nectar would affect thermoregulation in bumblebees. After feeding different nectar treatments to Bombus vosnesenskii workers in lab, I focused a narrow beam of light onto the thorax while the abdomen was shielded with aluminum foil. I then simultaneously recorded the temperatures of the thorax and the abdomen using a pair of infrared temperature thermometers. This allowed me to calculate the rate of heat transfer to the abdomen as the temperature of the thorax increased. The results of my investigation showed that bumblebees that consume high quantity or quality nectar transfer heat more efficiently from their thorax to their abdomen. Metabolic heat is primarily generated in the thorax of bumblebees during foraging activities, and excess heat is actively transferred from the thorax to the abdomen. This is a vital physiological process for bumblebees and a decrease in heat transfer capacity would coincide with a reduction in foraging effectiveness. The current drought combined with habitat destruction has reduced floral resources in California. Investigating how nectar resources affect bumblebee thermoregulation is vital for enhancing our understanding of how bumblebees will adapt to changing temperatures and moisture regimes. 

Krystal Stevenson, Andrea Horvath, Haley Burrill, Brian Charles: Herps on the FERP (Forest Ecology Research Plot)

herps on the FERP

Herpetofauna (reptile and amphibian) biodiversity is a good indicator for ecosystem health, and establishing long term monitoring systems is important because they can provide insight into the drivers behind local changes and worldwide declines. The goal of our project was to create a long term monitoring system for tracking spatial and temporal patterns in the herpetofauna on the Forest Ecology Research Plot (FERP) on the Upper Campus. This involved establishing a network of coverboards, creating a monitoring protocol manual, developing and testing hypotheses about herpetofauna distributions, and preparing scientific reports.  This project will provide a rich data set tracking herpetofauna populations through time and opportunities for student research projects for many years to come. These data, along with training materials and other related files are shared in Google Drive for all participants to access, ensuring the continuity and the integrity of the research.

Winter 2015

Maycee Hash:   A Field Guide to the Spiders of UCSC


Since my 2nd year at UCSC I have been collecting, photographing, and identifying spiders on campus to produce a local field guide.  The first edition was published at the end of my 2nd year, the result of two consecutive 2-unit internships.  As a 4th year student, I wanted to transform the field guide into a stronger resource to promote local understanding and appreciation for the astonishing variety of spiders.  Thanks to the Norris Center Student Project Award in providing funding for reproduction of the guide and a good camera lens, I can go forward on the project in full steam.  By the end of the spring, I hope to dramatically increase the number of spider families, genera, and species and supplement these groups with natural history information based on research and my own observations in the field.

Fall 2014

Melanie Good: Building a Photo-Identification Database to Estimate the Abundance of Blue Whales in the Northern Indian Ocean


The pygmy blue whale of the Northern Indian Ocean (NIO), Balaenoptera musculus indica, is the only known subspecies of blue whale with a non-migratory population that can be seen off the coasts of Sri Lanka year-round. The population plummeted to extremely low levels during the 1960s, and until now, little research has been conducted on how many individuals remain or whether or not the population is recovering. This undergraduate thesis project will make the first estimate of abundance of pygmy blue whales utilizing  photo-identification techniques and mark-recapture models. A database was created as part of the project to compliment the Sri Lankan Blue Whale Photo-identification catalog that facilitates long-term monitoring of the NIO pygmy blue whale population. The funding provided by the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History was used to purchase software programs necessary to build the database and process digital photographs of the whales, as well as the materials necessary to make a field guide that will assist the identification of individual pygmy blue whales in the field.

Chris Santomero:  Kenneth S. Norris: Professor of Wonderment

Picture of Chris Santomero

For my senior project I  designed and created a permanent museum display for the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History.  My display will be one of three exhibits that will reside in the center and is based on the life and accomplishments of Ken Norris, an imaginative and remarkable researcher, conservationist, writer, teacher, mentor, inventor, and naturalist who has inspired myself and countless others. I have also helped design, in relation to my display, a portion of the Norris Center that is intended to be an open naturalist community space where students of all ages and backgrounds can meet and discuss the many quandaries of the natural world.  In addition to this display and community space, I have written a research paper on the teaching, conservation, and research career of Ken Norris that generations of students, interested in natural history and Natural History Field Quarter, will be able to reference and use as a resource for years to come.

Jenny Rieke: There's More Than Meets the Eye: Forest Ecology on the UCSC FERP


For my senior project, I created an exhibit for the new Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History. My exhibit highlights ecological research being done on the UCSC Forest Ecology Research Plot (FERP). My main goal for the project was to create an engaging, interactive exhibit that uses natural history to help relate research on the FERP to a broader audience of UCSC students and the Santa Cruz community, as well as attract new students to use this resource as part of their undergraduate education. The theme of the exhibit is "There's More Than Meets the Eye", which reflects the complexity of forest ecology. The exhibit dives into ways in which research and monitoring on the UCSC-FERP help reveal hidden patterns in the forest, and how these patterns lead to a deeper ecological understanding of both local and global forest ecosystems. I will also be creating an educational app paired with my exhibit that invites students and community members to explore the natural history and ecology of the mixed evergreen temperate forest on the UCSC campus.

Cady Watts: Randall Morgan: Santa Cruz Naturalist, Collector, Mentor, & Conservationist 

Cady Watts

For my senior project, I constructed a permanent exhibit that highlights the collections of Randall Morgan, one of Santa Cruz’s premier naturalists and the primary collector of 75% of the specimen collections held at the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History. I specifically focused on his comprehensive collection of local insect pollinators and native plants while illustrating their importance for species and habitat conservation in Santa Cruz County. I had the opportunity to work with Morgan himself as well as some graduate students currently working with his collections. My hope is that through this exhibit, we can attract new interest in researching his collections as well as educate the broader public about local natural history and species.