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Santa Lucia Conservancy

26700 Rancho San Carlos Rd.

Carmel, California 93923

Tel: (831) 626.8595

Fax: (831) 626.8522


Ecological Research

The protected lands within the Santa Lucia Preserve provide exceptional opportunities for ecological research. The property contains a rich diversity of species and natural communities for study that are easily accessible, and provides a secure location where sampling locations and equipment can remain untampered. The Preserve also serves as an outdoor classroom for instructors and students interested in the ecology of the central coast region of California.

The Santa Lucia Conservancy provides access and collaboration to researchers from universities and other science-based organizations, who wish to study topics that will inform our land management goals or advance our understanding of the interfaces between human residences and natural environments. Researchers interested in accessing the Preserve are encouraged to contact the Conservancy for more information.

Current and recent research projects include:

Tricolored blackbird Enhancement, Monitoring, and Radio-Telemetry Research

Tricolored blackbirds were once described so numerous "as to darken the sky". During the last 70 years, their numbers have declined by over 80%. Follow the links below to learn more about the Conservancy's efforts to study and conserve this unique species on the Santa Lucia Preserve:

Habitat Enhancement and Radio-Telemetry Research 2012

Tricolored Blackbird Tracking Project

Making a Home for Tricolored Blackbirds

Effects of cattle grazing on grasslands birds

Grasslands are a threatened habitat on the Preserve due to encroaching shrubs, invasive plants, and the build-up of thatch resulting from a lack of natural disturbances such as fire and native herbivore grazing. Carefully prescribed cattle grazing provides a sustainable method to maintain grasslands, and has the potential to improve habitat for declining grassland birds. However, little research has been done on this topic in the Central Coast region of California. Beginning in 2010, SLC staff collaborated with researchers at Point Reyes Bird Observatory to design a study comparing the breeding birds on the Preserve’s currently un-grazed grasslands, to the actively grazed grasslands on the neighboring Palo Corona Regional Park (owned by the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District). During the spring and summer of 2011, breeding birds and habitat structure was sampled at over 40 grassland locations across both properties. In 2012, the study was expanded to include grasslands on BLM's Fort Ord property, as well as a nearby private ranch. In addition to providing a comparison between grazed and un-grazed grasslands, this work will provide baseline data to measure management effects in the future. Conservancy staff plan to conduct a third season of field research in 2013.

Christopher Wilson, Wildlife Conservation Biologist, Santa Lucia Conservancy

Establishment of a permanent Plate Boundary Observatory

The Plate Boundary Observatory is a geodetic observatory designed to study the three-dimensional strain field resulting from deformation across the active boundary zone between the Pacific and North American plates in the western United States. The observatory consists of arrays of Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers and strainmeters which will be used to deduce the strain field on timescales of days to decades and geologic and paleoseismic investigations to examine the strain field over longer time scales.

The Plate Boundary Observatory

Development of periphyton index of biotic integrity

Periphyton, algae attached to the substrates in the water column, can be used as an indicator of water quality. In this work, researchers from the California State University – Monterey Bay are surveying streams from Santa Cruz County to Santa Barbara County to investigate how algae communities are structured by water chemistry, canopy cover, and substrate. The Santa Lucia Preserve provided several much-needed pristine un-degraded streams to provide a benchmark reference for water quality and periphyton composition.

Marc Los Huertos, Assistant Professor, California State University Monterey Bay

Evolution of altruistic prey defenses in Mule Deer

Mule deer females defend fawns that are not their own offspring including fawns from another species. Apparent altruism such as this is hard to explain, because the helper increases its own risk of predation or injury without obtaining an obvious benefit. The altruistic behavior might simply be one of a suite of traits correlated with a female’s motivation to defend her own fawn.

Susan Lingle, The University of Winnipeg

Cooperative breeding in western bluebirds

Western bluebirds have a complex social organization. Both juvenile and adult offspring may help their parents raise younger siblings, and brothers or sons nesting nearby may return to help if their own nests fail. Additionally, both members of a pair may pursue sneaky copulations with individuals who are not their social mates. To track the coming and going of individual birds, a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag is attached to the bird's leg bands, and every time a tagged bird enters or exits the nest box, an antenna at the nest entrance will record the tag's number, along with the date and time of the visit, on a memory chip.

Caitlin Stern and Dr. Janis Dickinson, Cornel University

Effects of climate change on conservation easements

Conservation easements are generally perpetual restrictions on land for conservation purposes. Because conservation easements (1) can be drafted with flexible terms, (2) are less expensive than fee simple purchase and management, and (3) are available to a variety of nonprofit and government organizations, they are an attractive option for conserving land in an effort to combat climate-change concerns for both adaptation and mitigation. However, the static perpetual nature of most conservation easements creates concerns in the context of climate change. In some cases, flexibility for adaptive management may be necessary to achieve the purposes of the conservation easement.

Jessica Owley, Associate Professor, SUNY University at Buffalo Law School

Adena R. Rissman, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison

[PDF]Owley, Jessica, Rissman, Adena R. 2011. Distributed Graduate Seminars: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Studying Land Conservation, 2 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. Online Companion 88

Sudden Oak Death ecology and impacts

Sudden Oak Death is a new tree disease caused by Phytophthora ramorum, a forest pathogen that has resulted in widespread dieback of Californian coastal forest trees, including coast live oak, California black oak, Shreve oak, and canyon live oak. The Santa Lucia Preserve has been used in numerous Sudden Oak Death research projects, including studies on the biology of the disease, the ecological effects of the disease, the effectiveness of phosphoric acid treatments, and variation in resistance of Tanoak, Notholithocarpus densiflorus.

Dr. David Rizzo, Professor, Department of Plant Pathology, University of California Davis

Dr. Matteo Garbelotto, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Forest Pathology and Mycology Laboratory, UC Berkeley

[PDF] R. K. Meentemeyer, N. E. Rank, D. A. Shoemaker, C. B. Oneal, A. C. Wickland, K. M. Frangioso, D. M. Rizzo. 2008. Impact of sudden oak death on tree mortality in the Big Sur ecoregion of California. Biological Invasions (2008) 10:1243–1255.

[PDF] Katherine J. Hayden, Alex Lundquist, Douglas J. Schmidt, Richard A. Sniezko, Susan J. Frankel, and Matteo Garbelotto. 2009. Tanoak Resistance: Can it be Used to Sustain Populations? Proceedings of the Sudden Oak Death Fourth Science Symposium.

[PDF] Allison C. Wickland, Kerri M. Frangioso, David M. Rizzo, and Ross K. Meentemeyer. 2007. The Big Sur Ecoregion Sudden Oak Death Adaptive Management Project: Ecological Monitoring. Proceedings of the Sudden Oak Death Third Science Symposium.

Garter Snake natural history, food habits and interspecific aggression

An in-depth examination of the diet of Thamnophis sirtalis, T. elegans, and T. atratus was conducted in cattle stock ponds on the Santa Lucia Preserve. The results indicate that when alone, T. sirtalis and T. atratus consume primarily anurans as their main food source. However, when sympatric, T. atratus consumes prey such as earthworms and slugs. Thamnophis sirtalis and T. atratus consume Taricha torosa throughout their California range. This study demonstrates that T. sirtalis and T. atratus prefer the same habitat when alone, but when together, T. sirtalis will frequently use aggression to manipulate the spatial occupation of T. atratus as well as the position of T. elegans at SLP. This behavior is not consistent throughout T. sirtalis, T. atratus, T. elegans, and T. couchii range in California and appears to be unique to the Santa Lucia Preserve.

Dr. Michael Edgehouse, Biology Instructor, Cabrillo College

[PDF] Edgehouse, Michael J. 2008. Garter Snake (Thamnophis) Natural History: Food Habits and Interspecific Aggression”. Doctoral Thesis. Utah State University.

Citizen Science

The SLC also collaborates with local citizen science efforts, such as the Audubon - Christmas Bird Count (CBC) and the USGS- North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), to monitor biological attributes on the Preserve. In 2008 and 2009, the Conservancy organized dozens of landowners to study the distribution of the Sudden Oak Death pathogen on the Preserve and surrounding conservation lands.


In order to maximize long-term conservation benefits from research on the Preserve, the Conservancy works to ensure that research and monitoring data are permanently archived and made accessible to future researchers. Results from SLC's breeding bird monitoring efforts are reported to the California Avian Diversity Data Center. All records of newly discovered populations of rare species and natural communities on the Preserve, as well as updates to known populations, are reported to the California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB). Results from the monitoring of species listed under the State- and Federal Endangered Species Acts are regularly reported to the CNDDB and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Results from stream baseflow monitoring on the Preserve are annually provided to Monterey County, and are available on the CSUMB Central Coast Watershed Studies publications page.

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