Norris Center Blog

  • November 27, 2023

  • 50 years of wonder gathering

    November 27, 2023

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    Dancing Flowers: Floral Movement of Pussypaws for Pollination and Seed Dispersal in a Harsh Environment

    December 20, 2021

    The ground is sandy and rocky, exposed to full sun for most of the day. Any water that does arrive quickly leaves the topsoil since the large sand particles make room for it to pass. And yet despite this harsh environment, elegant ballroom dresses balanced upon disproportionately small stems slowly swing with intention. In these patches of exposed sandy soil where few others grow, the friendly waves and bewitching gowns attract many a visitor.

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    Moderno Mori: Transcendence A collaboration between the Arts & Natural Sciences

    September 21, 2021

    The present series Moderno Mori: Transcendence reimagines natural history specimens as an opportunity to visualize the abstract nature of taxonomies processes as they relate to the digital era. This project visualizes energy fields that depict the sublime and unimaginable. It aims to capture the audience’s imagination and curiosity by presenting specimens in unrelated photographic poses not usually seen in the scientific way of illustration for taxonomy purposes.

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    The effects of coastal prairie restoration and drought on soil carbon

    August 31, 2021

    There are many reasons to restore the native coastal grasslands of California, both on a local and global scale. In facilitating the decolonization of invasive species, restoration helps with resisting the destruction of biological and cultural diversity. Globally, there are potential benefits to restoring these ecosystems far beyond the scope of the California coast. Our research explores the relationship between California coastal prairie restoration and carbon mitigation in the context of climate change induced drought.

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    Investigating the effects of Scoliopus bigelovii leaf mottling on herbivory

    August 5, 2021

    Fetid Adder’s Tongue occurs on the UCSC campus; it has two leaves per plant which are often spotted with deep purple mottling, has an ill scent, and is fly pollinated. Leaf spotting may be an herbivory defense mechanism. My research aimed to examine this possible association in the Fetid Adder’s Tongue. I found that leaf spotting did not deter herbivores, however, this study provides a framework for further questions surrounding the evolutionary significance of leaf spotting in the Fetid Adder’s Tongue.

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    Acclimation temperature affects skin resistance of Southern long-toed salamander

    July 13, 2021

    I studied plasticity in the skin resistance of the southern long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum sigillatum). Skin resistance is the biological component of an organism’s resistance to evaporation from its skin. Salamanders are amphibians with permeable skin, making them especially vulnerable to evaporative water loss, particularly as climate change advances. If a trait like skin resistance has plasticity, its value can change with environmental conditions, and could thus enable terrestrial salamanders to survive and adapt to the emerging circumstances of climate change. My project explored whether the skin resistance of A. m. sigillatum increases in response to acclimation at a higher temperature. I acclimated individuals to controlled temperatures in the lab, then dehydrated them inside a dry flow-through air system, measuring the mass in water evaporated after ten minutes. I then calculated skin resistance for each trial and used it as a proxy for fitness, plotting it against temperature to construct thermal performance curves (TPCs) for each acclimation group. From data analysis and visual comparisons of the TPCs, I found that acclimation temperature does have a significant impact on the value of skin resistance, but that this impact is different depending on the group. This knowledge of skin resistance plasticity may provide a more complete picture of A. m. sigillatum’s survival prospects under climate change.

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    Using Progesterone to Determine the Beginning of Pregnancy in Northern Elephant Seals

    October 21, 2020

    Northern Elephant seals become pregnant and gestate their embryos while out to sea in the Pacific Ocean. Jesse Cole, Norris Center student award winner, sampled progesterone in Elephant Seals hauled out on a beach in Año Nuevo State Park over multiple years to predict which seals would become pregnant while out to see. By monitoring progesterone over multiple times during the haul out, Cole was able to tell which progesterone levels indicated embryo implantation, and whether a seal returning without a pup had lost her offspring at sea, or if she had never been pregnant at all.

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    Surviving the Hunt: How Fear of Predation Influences Nocturnal Rodents in Maritime Chaparral

    July 22, 2020

    Norris Center Student Award winner, Nick Bergeron, summarizes his work studying how small mammals at Fort Ord Natural Reserve change their behavior in response to predators. Nick played Barn Owl calls and measured how small mammals changed their foraging time, distance and behaviors in the maritime chaparral environment.

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    Meet Some of the Thousands of Tiny Oceanic Animals Along Calfornia's Coast

    June 24, 2020

    Norris Center student award winner Sean McCollum shares his investigation into the world of zooplankton off the coast of California. These tiny organisms form a backbone of the ocean ecosystem. Sean worked to identify them and to see what factors affect the community composition of zooplankton in the ocean.

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    Building A Stone Library: Natural History and Native American Agency

    April 23, 2020

    Norris Center Student Award winner Peter Banke describes his senior research project on the origins of chert from Central California. Banke used lasers and a mass spectrometer to inventory the chemical signatures of sites where Native Americans extracted chert from rock deposits in California. Banke describes how he analyzed the rocks, and how, thanks to his library of chert deposits, anthropologists and archaeologists can determine the geographic origin of Native American chert fragments.

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    Wing and Feather Field Guides for the Bird School Project

    April 2, 2020

    Webster Fellow Julia Cheng describes her artistic process and sources of inspiration to create field guides for the Bird School Project. Using Norris Center specimens, Julia drew a field guide of bird wings and of bird feathers that the Bird School Project will use in schools around the Monterey Bay.

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    California Conifers

    February 18, 2020

    Norris Center Student Award Winner Rikki Lougee describes creating informational plaques about the varied and wonderful conifers of California. The plaques will be on display at the UCSC Arboretum in their California Conservation Garden and Laurasian Forest.

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    Specializations Associated With Invasive Behavior in the Swamp Eel

    February 4, 2020

    Chelsea Kintz, a Norris Center Student Award winner, explains her work drawing the internal anatomy of an invasive eel, the Swamp Eel. Using dissection and scientific illustrations, she compares the anatomy of Swamp Eels to other fishes to determine what makes Swamp Eels so good at invading new areas.

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    Yucatec Maya Stories of Natural History

    January 21, 2020

    Norris Center Student Award winner Eric Medina (UCSC class of 2019) describes the process by which he created block prints illustrating stories of natural history in the Yucatan, Mexico. Eric's insights draw on the idea that practicing natural history in academia can be very different from how many other people, including indigenous people, regularly use natural history in their everyday lives.

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    Educational Guides to the Small Mammal Diversity of the UCSC Campus and Natural Reserves

    October 29, 2019

    Gabby Reynosa and Shelby Thompson share their insights about the SMURF internship. The SMURF internship takes students out to the Campus Natural Reserve and Fort Ord Natural Reserve to catch, identify and measure small mammals as part of a long-term monitoring program. Shelby and Gabby also describe how and why they designed educational guides to small mammal diversity at the Reserves.

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    Tracking Evolutionary Change in Threespine Stickleback

    October 21, 2019

    Erik Beckman, Norris Center Student Award winner, describes his research tracking evolution over the past 40 years. By resampling populations of threespine stickleback across the Central Coast of California, Erik and post-doc Simone DesRoches quantify how the presence of bony plated individuals in stickleback populations change over time.

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    What the Randy Morgan Insect Collection Tells Us About Lycaenid Butterflies in Santa Cruz County

    August 5, 2019

    Norris Center student Alexandra Ahmad summarizes both the incredible Randy Morgan Insect Collection, and her senior research work on how lycaenid butterfly diversity changed over the 10 years that Randy Morgan collected insects in Santa Cruz.

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    Serpentine Endemic Plants: Understanding Endemism in Stressful Soils

    July 22, 2019

    UCSC EEB students undergrad Nate Blackmore and graduate student Shelley Sianta highlight some of their work understanding what drives some plant species to survive, and even thrive, on harsh serpentine soils. Serpentine soil contains some of the highest levels of plant endemism anywhere in California, and their work underscores how some species might have adapted to this harsh soil.

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    An Ancient Bison From the Russian Far East

    July 8, 2019

    EEB undergraduate, and Norris Center Student Award winner Christian Lowson talks about his research investigating a mysterious ten thousand year-old bison from far Eastern Russia. Christian extracted and analyzed ancient DNA from this bison to determine what species it was most closely related to. His results have implications for why bison diversity mysteriously declined across the world within the last ten thousand years.

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    Combating Climate Change with Redwood Conservation

    July 2, 2019

    Griswold Fellow and ENVS undergrad Lilianne de la Espriella sampled soil in redwood forests across California to see how much carbon redwood forest soil holds. Lilianne talks about what her findings mean for saving redwoods and lessening the effects of climate change, and about her experiences doing outreach about climate change around Santa Cruz

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    Examining Monarch Mortality: A Study in Declining Beauty

    June 24, 2019

    UCSC undergraduate Sara Ford Oades, along with partners in Groundswell Ecology, examined hundreds of monarch butterflies to attempt to determine how they died. By studying causes of monarch mortality, Ford Oades hoped to find out why California's monarch population is declining so precipitously.

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    Making Nature Accessible: Engagement through Observation and Conversation

    May 21, 2019

    Webster Fellow Maria Velazquez describes her work creating activities and learning spaces to help students from the Neuva Vista Community Center engage with nature and science. Her work both helped strengthen partnerships between the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History and the Nueva Vista Community Center, and also helped dozens of students engage with nature from their local Community Center.

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    Behind the Scenes at a Natural History Museum: Preservation and Curation

    May 14, 2019

    Webster Fellow, and longtime Norris Center intern, Brian Johnson shares insights about his time working behind the scenes with the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History's collections. He focuses on a topic near and dear to the Norris Center's heart: preservation and curation.

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    Sharing Resources Promotes Biodiversity at Fort Ord Natural Reserve

    May 7, 2019

    Norris Center Student Award winner Gozong Lor summarizes her fascinating research on browsing habits of rabbits and wood rats at Fort Ord Natural Reserve. Zina investigated whether wood rats and rabbits compete or coexist when eating similar manzanita resources in the maritime chaparral of Fort Ord.

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    The Randall Morgan Insect Collection at the Norris Center for Natural History

    April 30, 2019

    Norris Center student Alex Ahmad describes the history and use of the Randy Morgan Insect Collection as part of her senior project studying changes in butterfly phenology using Randy's collection.

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    Salamander Coloration Versus Predator Detection: a Race for Survival

    April 9, 2019

    Some salamanders at Fort Ord are bright pink instead of their usual camouflaged brown. Using hundreds of clay model salamanders, Caitlyn Rich investigates whether this coloration might be more common at Fort Ord because it helps the salamanders blend into the pale sand.

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    Community Volunteer Highlight: Al Keuter

    March 28, 2019

    Luba Kaplanskaya interviews Al Keuter, a long-time Norris Center community member and lead volunteer for the Herbarium group. Al serves as a mentor for many students at the Norris Center and studies oaks to show that natural history can be just as valuable as genetic sequencing.

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    US/Mexico Biodiversity Border Project: Engaging the Nature Culture Divide with Participatory Art

    March 13, 2019

    Norris Center undergraduate Alejandra Rueda, and Norris Center graudate student Juniper Harrower highlight their work using biodiversity art to bridge cultural divides across the US/Mexico border.

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    Making the Dead Look Alive: Behind the Scenes of Taxidermy

    January 30, 2019

    Luba Kaplanskaya interviews three students that are currently interning for Alex Krohn under the taxidermy internship. She asks them about their experiences and explores reasons why taxidermy can be considered a valuable asset.

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    Using Feathers to Investigate Cross-Seasonal Effects of Nutrition on Important Winter Traits

    December 19, 2018

    Dylan Pereira describes his project determining whether the colors, and body size of Golden Crowned Sparrows at the UCSC Arboretum are a result of the food they eat. His fascinating research was funded by the Norris Center, and is a part of the ongoing 15-year study of Golden-Crowned Sparrows at the Arboretum headed by Dr. Bruce Lyon.

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    Helping the People of Ulithi in this Rapidly Changing World

    August 27, 2018

    Charlotte Grenier describes her experiences on the Micronesian island of Ulithi where she worked with locals to improve fisheries management, and understand patterns of ocean trash, among other projects. Charlotte is a Norris Center Art and Science Resident, and winner of the Norris Center Student Project Award.