AGCI Insight

Intern Reflection: Reflections on the Spring Valley bioblitz

July 12, 2017

In the last week of June researchers and interns from the Colorado Natural Heritage Program joined forces with Colorado Mountain Colleges students and faculty, AGCI, and other local community members to conduct a Bioblitz on the Spring Valley property near the CMC campus. A Bioblitz is an intensive event where data are collected on things living in a given area. Plants and birds, bugs and mammals are all counted and classified to give a sense of the property’s biodiversity. It’s a time of long hours and enthusiastic collaboration. AGCI’s Research and Education Coordinator, Elise Osenga, and our intern, Asa DeHaan both shared a few thoughts about the experience. ( Header Image Credit: Copyright Bill Cotton, 2017)

Bug Nets and Whittaker Plots

By Asa DeHaan

(Image Credit: Copyright Sarah Johnson, 2017)

Day one at Spring Valley was a lot of fun and a great learning experience. I went with the insect and wildlife group to the far side of the property. I don’t know much about insects, but I really enjoyed walking around with a butterfly net catching them–I haven’t done that since I was in elementary school. The wildlife biologist’s name was John, and he was a great guy and knew a lot about all the insects in the area. I also enjoyed talking with and learning from the two CNHP interns in the insect group. They were both very knowledgeable. I do remember one insect that we saw a lot was the robber fly. John and the others have the insects’ Latin names down really well, but the names just went in one ear and out the other for me. While we were out on the far end of the property I was also looking for plants. While focusing on the plants I really noticed how diverse it is up there. I usually only notice the pinyon, juniper, and cactus, but there really are many more plants to see and appreciate beyond the most noticeable ones. The second part of the day we spent setting up the Modified Whittaker Plot. This activity offered good insight into what I will be doing for my project (on soil moisture gradients between pinyon juniper and sage zones), even though my plot will be a line intersect and the Modified Whittaker approach is rectangular plot. The biggest lesson I learned is that consistency and note taking are very important in creating any chance for an accurate long term study. Everyone was great at recalling Latin names of the plants we were identifying and noting the plants within the plot–I will get there someday. Being up at Spring Valley and really spending some time looking around makes me excited to start my own research: I would like to see what is happening underground as well as aboveground, and I want to know if there are any notable changes between the three zones (p/j, transition zones, and sage land).

Asa is entering his senior year in the Sustainability program at Colorado Mountain College. He was AGCI’s iRON intern for this summer and will be returning to continue his internship in the fall.

The Mysterious World of Mosses

By Elise Osenga

(Image Credit: Copyright Stacey Anderson, 2017)

This was my second year participating in a Bioblitz at Spring Valley, and I continued to be impressed with enthusiasm and energy of everyone involved. Although I participated in helping to coordinate the Modified Whittaker Plot plant survey of the course of the two days, my most memorable experience of the bioblitz was being introduced to the fascinating (and complex) world of moss identification. On the first day, our moss group consisted of a moss expert, an early-career scientist, and two ebullient high school interns with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program. Trailing happily about with this informative group of women, I learned about a few of the different leaf shapes a moss can have and received an introduction to a beginner’s approach to visually telling mosses apart from lichens. (Hint: lichens don’t have leaves). Formerly I passed by mosses at Spring Valley without noticing them because they are so unobtrusive where they hunker down against the rocks or under the sagebrush. Additionally, they are made hard to spot by the fact that in this dry weather, many of them are a dusty gray brown color. Via the enthusiasm of the moss group members, though, I have now been reformed! I discovered that looking through a hand lens at bryophytes reveals a complexity of structures comparable to a tiny forest in appearance and that watering the dried mosses yields an unexpected blossom of bright green color. Thank you ladies, for introducing me to the wonderful wold of moss!

Elise Osenga is the Research and Education Coordinator at the Aspen Global Change Institute and manages the iRON project.