Norris Center Student Award

Each academic quarter, the Norris Center funds a select number of undergraduate student projects. Any undergraduate conducting a project relating to natural history can apply for an award of up to $1,000. Click here to download the application.

Examples of past applications:
The application for the Winter 2020 award is due on Thursday, February 6 at 4 pm by electronic submission to

Past Winners

Winter 2019

Jesse Cole: Monitoring Pregnancy Status in Wild Northern Elephant Seals Using Hormones

 jesse cole surfingMost species of marine mammals undergo pregnancy while swimming at sea, making the study of this critical phase in their life histories difficult. While it is well documented that pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses) undergo embryonic diapause (i.e. delayed implantation), it is still undetermined when the fertilized egg implants in many species; in other words, when the pregnancy begins. The pregnancy status of these animals can only be confirmed when they return to land, yet it remains unknown whether females that return to land without a pup were initially pregnant or if they lost their fetus at sea. I will study the pregnancy of wild ranging northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris). I will determine pregnancy status of female northern elephant seals across the annual molt (April-June). By collecting a suite of different biological tissues (fur, blood serum, blubber, whisker) that will be analyzed for progesterone, I will be able to address the temporal patterns in progesterone concentrations while the animals are hauled out and infer when implantation likely occurs.

Sean McCollum: Trait-Based Functional Analysis of Three Near-Shore Invertebrate Zooplankton Communities of Santa Catalina Island, CA

scott at a microscopeZooplankton are highly abundant and important members of marine ecosystems. Their ecological functional roles vary based on functional traits such as what they eat, their size, how long they stay in the plankton, and their reproductive strategies. In this study I am investigating if there is a significant difference in the functional composition of plankton communities between diverse sites off northern Santa Catalina Island in the California Channel Islands. I am sorting, identifying, and assigning functional traits to the invertebrates from a sandy bay, protected rocky
kelp forest, and the local harbor. The functional trait approach allows me to assess ecological impacts that a simple taxonomic approach would not allow. Additionally, I am evaluating how environmental variables such as Marine Protected Area designation and substrate type are correlated with community composition. Our findings will expand our understanding of the structure and function of Santa Catalina Island’s invertebrate zooplankton communities.
Understanding zooplankton communities is crucial to understanding the trophic ecology of this island and other similar ecosystems.

Fall 2019

Rikki Lougee: Arboretum Signs for the Conifers of California

rikki lougeeThere are 52 species of conifers native to the state of California, far more than any other state or region of its size. There are eight species of coniferous trees native to the Santa Cruz Mountains, but most people can only name a few. I made a set of ten interpretive signs to be installed in front of California native conifers at the UCSC Arboretum and wrote an associated paper describing the coniferous forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Signs were made using the Arboretum’s laser engraver and contain identification and collection information, habitat, associated species, where to see local stands, and a fun fact or two. A map of sign locations will be available near main entrances to the Arborteum or potentially on their website. While the physical signs remain a more accessible, kid-friendly format, the paper, which will be available on the Arboretum website, intends to be more scientific in rhetoric with more detailed information. The paper will summarize information on each of the conifers native to the Santa Cruz Mountains including localized range, ecology, associated species, and topics in current literature.

Ishana Shukla: The Effects of Invasive Rats on Small Mammal Community Composition

ishana holding a voleThe Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) and the Black rat (Rattus rattus) have been linked to hundreds of seabird extinctions, yet very little research has looked at their effects on the small mammal community. Of the few studies that do exist, there is evidence that points towards the rats predating on small, milder-tempered rodents. These rats are heavily linked to extinction, so I will quantify their effects on the small mammals of UCSC to see if conservation action must be taken. My project analyzes the spatial distribution of the rats in relation to human habitation to see how far an “urban” population of rats will spread. I will then analyze the direct effects that the rats have on the small mammal community by testing for interspecific competition or possible predation. To do this, I will analyze the rats’ nitrogen levels to see if it is equivalent to the mice.

Nick Bergeron: The Effects of Auditory Predator Cues and Microhabitat on Foraging Behavior in Nocturnal Rodents

nick bergeron in the fieldThe concept of ecology of fear was introduced to better understand how predators influence the foraging behavior of prey. Laboratory experiments have shown that olfactory, auditory, and visual predator cues can incite fear responses in small rodents. However, due to the complexity of natural ecosystems, field experiments introducing predator cues have not been as conclusive. The majority of existing field research has focused on olfactory cues, such as urine, while very little effort has focused on the effects of auditory cues. Although direct factors such as predator cues have been found to influence foraging behavior, indirect factors such as lunar illumination and microhabitat also play a role. A combination of direct and indirect cues likely dictates the foraging behavior of rodents. The objective of my research is to examine how auditory predator cues affect foraging behaviors of nocturnal rodents in high cover and low cover patches within maritime chaparral and coastal scrub habitats. To accomplish this, I will use giving-up densities to quantify the amount of foraging at each site. By furthering our understanding of how direct and indirect factors influence the foraging behavior of prey species, we can gain more knowledge into the natural history and factors influencing their distribution and abundance across the landscape. This knowledge could then be utilized during the development of management practices.

Raymond Hurt: Abiotic Factors Influencing Invertebrate Communities

raymond hunter with a snakeI am interested in how variation in geochemistry and other abiotic variables of streams affects benthic macroinvertebrate (BMI) communities of coastal California. BMI have shown to be very responsive to changes in their environments, and understanding how variation in these abiotic factors shapes their communities is crucial for making connections in bottom-up effects between BMI and local salmonid populations that feed on them. To understand the effects of variation in abiotic factors, I am comparing BMI communities in Scott Creek (Santa Cruz County) and Big Creek (Big Creek Reserve, Monterey County) as they differ significantly in geomorphology and possibly predator abundances as a result. Understanding these processes that shape BMI communities and the individual species within will allow us to look into predator responses and see overarching trends in salmonid feeding preferences and limitations as well as create a detailed source of local BMI taxonomic reference. Furthermore, climate change may drastically alter coastal stream food webs by increasing stress on BMI populations which could then have cascading effects on salmonid populations. Being able to identify how BMI might respond to these changes would allow us to make future predictions on responses of endangered salmonid species in the area.

Spring 2019

Peter Banke: The Provenance of Monterey Chert

peter kneeling at a dig siteI study stone tools used by Native Californians in Central California. I focus on a stone material called chert from the Monterey Chert formation in Central California. Monterey Chert deposits developed over tens of millions of years from sediment composed of marine life forms settling on the seafloor. Chert is an important part of Native American material culture, and I am studying geochemical methods including Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry and portable X Ray Fluorescence for chert provenance studies.

Winter 2019

Eric Medina: Maya Knowledge of Natural History; A Story of Resistance
eric medina's smiling faceKnowledge of Natural History is a fundamental component of Mayan life in Southern Mexico. The maintenance of these practices and knowledge have been especially pertinent to communities facing immense poverty. This project will use a series of five woodblock prints to illustrate the ways this knowledge allows Mayan communities to circumvent harsh circumstances that are a result of rapid globalization in the area. Through this project the Norris Center is helping bring non-institutionalized forms of knowledge to the attention of a wider audience through art. This medium allows for stories passed down in Maya to be translated and interpreted to a much wider audience. The narratives illustrated will be based on interviews conducted by Eric Medina in his family’s hometown of Kimbila Mexico. The five pieces will be paired with text and offered digitally and original prints will be housed in the Norris Center.

Christian Lowson: An analysis of Pleistocene bison from the Russian Far East and China

christian in the mountainsThe skeleton of an ancient bison was recently discovered in the Russian Far East. I analyzed ancient DNA from this bison to determine which species it is most closely related to. Read more about my work in my blog post. 



Chelsea Kintz: The Shape of Aquatic Invaders with Anatomical Investigation of the Swamp Eel, Monopterus alba

chelsea looking at microscopeMany invasive fish species have morphological and physiological adaptations that enable them to tolerate a variety of environments. The goal of my project is to determine what characters facilitate invasive behavior in fishes. One morphological adaptation that may facilitate invasive behavior is body shape. Elongate fishes are able to move forwards and backwards more readily and many independent lineages of elongate fishes can traverse the water-land interface and move on land for limited or even extended periods of time. One of the aims of my study is to determine whether invasive fish species tend to have evolved a more elongate body compared to their close non-invasive relatives. I also plan to examine the anatomy of the Invasive Swamp Eel, Monopterus alba. Organ placement and size can provide information on physiological adaptations. I will document the organ placement through measurements and illustrations.   

Fall 2018

Sara Ford Oades: Investigating Mortality in Overwintering Monarch Butterfly Populationssara holding a wasp catcher

Monarchs populations across California have decreased by over 90% in recent years. In order to determine why monarchs are dying, I examined hundreds of dead butterflies to determine their causes of death. Read more about my work in my blog post. 


Nate Blackmore: Competition and Drought in Serpentine Endemic Plants

nate holding trays of potted plantsSerpentine habitats in California host some of our most unique plant communities due to the evolution of plants that can handle the harsh edaphic conditions.  Some of the characteristics that make serpentine soils so stressful are low calcium:magnesium ratios, high concentrations of heavy metals, lack of topsoil and low water holding capacity.  Despite these challenges, serpentine soils in California host 250 endemic species, which are found only on serpentine soils, and over 400 “tolerator” species, which have populations on and off serpentine soils. My research aims to understand why plants evolve to become endemics versus tolerator species. I am testing the hypothesis that a trade-off between serpentine adaptation and competitive ability restricts serpentine endemics, but not serpentine tolerators, from expanding into productive non- serpentine habitats. I am conducting a competition greenhouse experiment with 8 serpentine endemic species, 9 tolerator species, and their respective nonserpentine sister taxa.  Each species pair will be grown with and without a grass (Bromus carinatus) individual. I will measure above-ground biomass as a proxy for fitness of each species to calculate competitive ability. I am also testing the hypothesis that adaptation to drought-inducing serpentine habitats is what trades-off with competitive ability. I will test for differences in water-use strategies between endemics and tolerators by analyzing leaf tissue for carbon isotope ratios, which is an indirect measurement for water use efficiency. Through the comparison of competitive ability and water use efficiency of serpentine endemics and their nonserpentine relatives I seek to understand how adaptation to serpentine affects these two traits.  My goal through this research is to better understand the factors that lead to the evolution of rare, ecologically-restricted species that are of importance to conservation efforts.


Spring 2018

Caitlyn Rich: Leucistic Ensatinas and Potential Local Adaptation at Fort Ord

caitlyn rich smiling or screaming about  a broken alligator lizard's tail in her handFort Ord Natural Reserve has a unique pink (leucistic) morph of the common Monterey Ensatina. I tested whether this pink morph might be adapted to the lighter sands of Fort Ord using a clay model experiment. Read more about my findings in my blog post. 





Gozong Lor: The Effects of Small Mammals on Endemic Sandmat Manzanita at Fort Ord

gozong lor on a boat!Fort Ord Natural Reserve has an abundance of sandmat manzanita, along with the woodrats and brush rabbits that eat the manzanita. I studied whether these species compete for the ability to graze the manzanita, or whether they cooperate by partitioning the resource. Read more about my research on my blog. 





Charlotte Grenier: Preserving Micronesian Outer Island community culture

Micronesian Outer Island communities have coral reefs and fisheries that are degrading. I traveled to Micronesia to help create an illustrated story highlighting fisheries management practices and traditional stories around coral reefs. Read more about my work in my blog.




Erik Beckman: Climate change and rapid evolution of the three-spined stickleback

I am looking at the effects of climate change on rapid evolution in three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus. Stickleback are a small species of fish found in freshwater, estuarine, and marine habitats. Stickleback are often used to study rapid evolution that occurs as a result of climate change. In California, stickleback inhabit estuaries that are periodically closed off from the ocean. As droughts become more frequent, these estuaries will  breach less frequently and remain closed off from the ocean more often. When the estuaries remain closed it blocks the immigration of stickleback and their genes from marine to estuary and stream habitats. To study rapid evolution in stickleback in California we look at their lateral bony plates that cover their body, which are expressed in three morphs: complete, partial, and low plated. The bony plates provide a defense that increase the chance a stickleback will survive an encounter with a predator. Complete morphs have bony plates that completely cover a fish’s body. Partial morphs have gaps or large portions of the body that are not covered with bony plates. Lastly, low morphs usually have 4- 7 lateral bony plates in the estuaries we work in. Marine stickleback and stickleback that have access to an open estuary have higher numbers of bony plates than those stickleback that live in estuaries that periodically close. These bony plates have a strong link to a gene called Ectodysplasin A or EDA. I will be looking at stickleback samples collected in San Luis Obispo County. This location is a boundary between polymorphic populations that display all three morphs to monomorphic populations displaying the low morph. I will compare the phenotype from stickleback samples that were collected in 2017- 2018 to samples that were collected 40 years ago. We are comparing phenotypes between the two time points to see if polymorphic populations have retracted northward in California. I will also genotype the stickleback looking for the complete EDA gene. We will specifically be focusing on the heterozygous and complete plate morphs to determine if the transition from monomorphic low populations to polymorphic populations has retracted upward with increasing drought conditions and a lower frequency of breaching events.

Winter 2018

Michelle Pastor: A Multimedia Biography of Naturalist Randall Morgan

Michelle Pastor making art outsideFor my Environmental Studies senior internship, I created a multimedia biography of Randall Morgan, a master naturalist of Santa Cruz County who only recently passed away. He has left a legacy of extensive conservation efforts, plant and insect collections, and in his mentorship through the manner in which he loved the natural world and worked to protect the ecosystems of Santa Cruz. I created this project to be used as a resource for undergraduates and the community at large to understand the work Randall Morgan did throughout his life and the impacts he made. This paper is intended especially for undergraduates at UCSC who are interested in getting involved in working in the Ken Norris Center and specifically with Randy’s collections.  In addition, I created a series of illustrations to conceptually represent these details about Randy to accompany the written biography and to be displayed in the Norris Center, serving to inspire people to learn more for many years to come. Read the final biography here!

Dylan Pereira: Growth, Seasonality and Feather Coloration in Golden-Crowned Sparrows

Dylan Pereira's faceThere's more to a feather than just color. Research shows that growth bars on bird's feathers can indicate aspects of birds social dynamics, diet and nutrituional health. Using Bruce Lyon's long-term Golden-Crowned Sparrow monitoring project, I analyzed growth bars in Golden-Crowned Sparrow's tails to see whether the size of the growth rates coorelated with crown coloration and other social signals. I found that indeed black color intesity coorelated strongly with growth bar size, indicating that the black coloration is an honest signal of nutritional health in a bird. Read more about my research in my blog post. 



Ellen Stone: Ethnobotany Guide to the New Zealand garden at the UCSC Arborteum
Ellen Stone in a forestI created an ethnobotanical guide booklet to the New Zealand garden at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanical Garden. The booklets will be available just outside of the main entrance so that visitors can engage and learn about some of the plants they will discover in the garden. It will highlight plants that are endemic to New Zealand and that have been historically used for medicine, textiles, and food, and in spiritual practices of the indigenous Māori people. This guide contains sixteen plants found within the garden, complete with a map that may be used for a walking tour and pictures of each plant (a combination of my own photography and old botanical art prints). The hope is that this guide will help all who wander the garden to connect with the plants, their stories, the rich cultural history of the Māori people, and their own personal relationship with plants as well.  

Fall 2017

Diana Tataru: Pollen Dosing in Clarkia flowers.

Dian Tataru holding Clarkia flowers

I studied the function of two different types of anthers in several species of the native endemic genus, Clarkia. Some species of Clarkia have two types of anthers that are different colors and lengths, which have been proposed to perform two separate functions (feeding bees and pollination). I proposed a novel alternative hypothesis, pollen dosing, in which both anther types function to slowly release pollen to individual pollinators over time. I created multi-day time-lapse videography of individual flowers blooming, in order to provide a visual representation of the phenomenon. I also collected field pollen data and deposition counts, UV-VIS spectrometery readings of flower color, and flower pollen production counts. My research disproves the previously accepted division of labor hypothesis for this morphology, and suggests the alternative function of gradual pollen presentation. I hope to encourage public interest in flower-pollinator interactions and natural history through my exploration of science and media. Be sure to check out my video, here!

Spring 2017

Elexis Padrón: Coalescing Art and Science: Natural History Inspired Linocuts

I am creating a set of four postcard-sized linocuts of organisms inspired by the collection at the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History. This set of linocuts will be housed at the Norris Center and will be available for special events to actively engage audiences in learning about natural history by creating their own prints from these linoleum blocks.  I think it is important to bridge the perceived gap between art and science as they are both vehicles for discovery that, when brought together in one’s mind, can unlock exciting new ways of thinking and new perspectives through which to view the world.   I believe that it is important to recognize the value of the arts in the education system and give people a chance to realize their creative potential. One way to do this is to make art feel accessible through projects, such as this printmaking activity, that allow participants to create a piece of art they are proud of.  It is also important to find different ways for people to connect to the natural world -through natural history museums and the marriage of art and science, for example- because ecosystems and biodiversity are in danger. I hope to contribute to creating more consciousness of and love for the environment through connecting art, education, and natural history in this project.

Danielle Devincenzi :Seabird Habitat Restoration on Año Nuevo

Año Nuevo Island contains sensitive habitat for nesting colonies of sea birds, including the rhinoceros auklet, Cassin’s auklet, Brandt’s cormorant, black oystercatcher, and western gull. The final product of my senior project will be a photographic and text documentation of the importance and methods of seabird habitat restoration, using Año Nuevo Island as a case study. The booklet will cover at-colony threats to seabirds in California, various methods of habitat restoration, and techniques employed by Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge on Año Nuevo Island and similar projects along the California coast. Booklet will double both as an informational overview to seabird restoration on Año Nuevo Island for visitors to the reserve and as a supplemental material to distribute to potential grant funders for the ongoing project there. See the final brochure here!

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 Introduction to Land Conservation Challenges in the Mojave Desert, Fort Ord, and the Mono Basin

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.