Collaborative BioBlitz in the Milpitas Special Interest Area

Arroyo Seco bushmallow (Malacothamnus palmeri var. lucianus, CNPS List 1B.2). Photo by Mike Splain.

On April 15, 2017 the Ventana Wilderness Alliance (VWA) partnered with CNPS Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz chapters for its first-ever BioBlitz in the Milpitas Special Interest Area (SIA). This area was designated by the Los Padres National Forest in 2005 to preserve the natural and cultural resources of the upper Arroyo Seco and San Antonio watersheds.

The Milpitas SIA is located on the eastern slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains where one can find the largest valley oak savannah on public land. Surrounding ridges feature diverse chaparral, five tree oaks species, and six conifer species. The regional diversity is nurtured by numerous springs, wetlands, seeps, and streams which complement towering rock outcrops. This abiotic complexity facilitates a wide range of plant habitats—and much more.

Humans have occupied this area for thousands of years and evidence still remains in the form of rock art, midden remnants, and bedrock mortars. Over this time of Native America occupation, plant assemblages were shaped, in part, by active Salinan management including seed and bulb harvesting and the ignition of periodic fires that promoted the growth of food and fiber plants.

To adequately understand and better protect this diverse and sensitive place, land managers and scientists continue to collect data on the variety of habitats. We contributed to this data with our recent BioBlitz.

Goldfields and owl’s clovers on Wagon Cave Plains. Photo by Amy Patten.

Naturalists from VWA and CNPS joined forces to documented as many species in the SIA as possible. While the scenery was grand the search was challenging—including looking for insects under logs, scrutinizing mammal tracks for species ID, and scrambling steep hillside to photograph wildflowers. All challenges aside, participants were treated to a “superbloom” that included carpets of goldfields (Lasthenia sp.), owl’s clover (Castilleja sp.) and sky lupines (Lupinus nanus). VWA/CNPS members Mike Splain, Deanna Giuliano, Dave Nelson, Kate Cunningham, and John Libby helped participants track down rare endemics, including Arroyo Seco bushmallow (Malacothamnus palmeri var. lucianus, CNPS List 1B.2), Butterworth’s buckwheat (Eriogonum butterworthianum, CNPS List 1B.3), and Santa Lucia fir (Abies bracteata, CNPS List 1B.3). Other unusual sightings included naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflora), harlequin lupine (Lupinus stiversii), dwarf brodiaea (Brodiaea jolonensis) and bitter root (Lewisia rediviva var. minor).

Once back from the field, all of our team’s observations (including 179 plant species) were entered into iNaturalist, a publicly accessible database of natural history observations. Once in the database, citizen scientists in the iNaturalist community review observations to generate research-grade data.

Citizen scientists collecting data on Santa Lucia Fir, Abies bracteata. Photo by Amy Patten

BioBlitz observations provided a valuable snapshot of regional biodiversity, phenology, locations of species of concern, and data on the spread of invasive plants. These data will be shared with the US Forest Service to guide research and management decisions. Plans for future BioBlitz events and targeted monitoring are already in the works.

Interested in participating in future citizen science projects? Contact me!

Amy Patten
CNPS Santa Cruz Chapter and Ventana Wilderness Alliance

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