Red Solo Cups and Binoculars: A Biodiversity Party

By Sidhaant Shah- Biodiversity

It has been a long and eventful road to get to the actual surveys but man, it just got a whole lot more interesting!

Every UCLA party has the ubiquitous red solo cup and we couldn’t start ours without it. Last week the cup played the pivotal role of a mock insect trap set up. We went to all 6 of our manicured and wild type spots and placed these cups flush into the ground and covered them with elevated rock platform acting as a cover (thank you UC Davis for that idea). While we implemented those cups we started collecting our flora data. This meant photographing every plant, vine, weed and tree within a 10 foot perimeter from the central spot of each study site (speaking of, each area has 2 study sites so we have 12 study sites in total). The biodiversity team is pretty inseparable at this point and so we had a good number of us, usually 4, out in the field for every survey. While some of us honed our mining skills and dug up the earth to lay our traps the others either surveyed the plants or the birds. Oh and all of this is happening at 6:30 in the morning. The crisp morning air combined with the beautiful song of the birds and the smell of freshly dug wet earth really helped us forget that classes started in a few hours. It was our little escape into paradise.

As awesome as this sounds these mock surveys actually exposed several gaps in our methodology. This to us has been our most productive outcome as we are now well equipped before we embark on the actual surveys. Firstly, our perimeter for floral data is very small and we have extended it to more than 10 feet (10 feet for shrubs and 50 feet for trees) as now we include the trees that are used by perching birds. And yes, the birds. 6:30 am is when they chose to sing but early mornings in mediterranean climate during winter means a grey and sulky sky which silhouetted most of our birds making them almost impossible to identify. We needed an expert and so Richard Hedley, ornithologist from the EEB department has performed the exact same surveys with us this past week making our jobs much easier. He’s like the Shazam app for bird songs and probably the best birder at UCLA for identifying California natives. We can’t not talk about the red cups so here it goes. These cups were kept in lieu of the cover boards and malaise traps that we will be using (our funding from TGIF was finally approved this week). The weekend after the cups had been placed was a rainy weekend and when we went to dig them out this past week they had been muddied and drained by run off. The few insects that we did catch were not enough for us to estimate the probable diversity for that region and so we’re hoping to find more when the proper traps come in). We hope Grand Challenge cover boards are our solution for the ground insect dilemma.

In the meantime we are well on track. With final floral surveys and completion of a succinct bird list, our focus can then be put to insect data collection which we feel is the most tedious task of this project. We have been in contact with Dr. Pentcheff of the Natural History Museum BioSCAN project and he has given us some excellent guidance and advice in regards to our traps (which will be arriving soon!). There has been talks of a possible campus survey regarding the idea of a reserve, but fieldwork is currently the only thing on our agenda. As winter winds down and the heat of a California spring sets in the campus biodiversity is about to start changing and so will the data. We are looking forward to seeing some migratory birds make pit stops at our campus. Who knows, they might even say ‘Hi’ on their way out.