UCSC Campus Natural Reserve Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI Fall 2015) interns measure tree growth rates.

“Looking back at the start of the quarter, I'm pretty proud of what I have accomplished. At the beginning, I had no clue how to create a plant guide and still had minimal botany knowledge and now I can say I'm a little more skilled and knowledgeable in both. Writing summary text was particularly beneficial, even though it was sometimes a difficult/tedious task (thank goodness for the Jepson glossary!). It wasn't always easy, as I sometimes felt unqualified for the task, but I have become more confident in my abilities. I'm really excited to be involved in this project!”

- 2015 CNR Intern

CNR intern observes tree growth rings in core sampleEach university quarter, UCSC undergraduates from a variety of majors intern with UC Santa Cruz Campus Natural Reserve staff. The UCSC Environmental Studies Internship Office and additional agencies across campus facilitate the ability for students to earn credit for taking part in our offerings. The Campus Natural Reserve also pairs with university courses to facilitate concurrent related field experience in the form of internships. Some of our partners and collaborating classes include the UCSC Forest Ecology Research Plot (UCSC FERP), the College 8 Sustainability Internship course (CLEI 155), the Merrill College Theory and Practice of Field Study course, ENVS Restoration Ecology (ENVS 160), and the Kenneth Norris Center for Natural History. Students range from first-quarter freshman to graduating seniors and each spends between 6 and 15 hours a week working on a variety of projects on the reserve. Reserve staff and student supervisors lead interns in a wide variety of field-based research and hands-on-learning experiences in and around our 409-acre Reserve; a unique living laboratory and outdoor classroom.

In addition to our official offerings each quarter, we help students to design their own projects on the UCSC Campus Natural Reserve. Prospective applicants can contact our office with experiment, project, and thesis ideas. These opportunities are generally set up one or more quarters in advance, so that reserve staff can set aside appropriate time and resources. Select major programs allow for this work to apply toward degree credit. Contact our office for more details. 

Examples of Student Work with the Campus Natural Reserve

Here we briefly summarize a handful of recent CNR internship opportunities and student accomplishments:

Forest Ecological Research Plot (FERP) expansion census internships 2012-2015

Student interns worked on the FERP expansion census during Fall, Winter, and Spring Quarters (additional interns worked on a variety of other FERP internships; see below). Students hailed from a variety of majors, including Environmental Studies, Linguistics, Marine Biology, Physics, Bioengineering, Molecular & Cellular Biology, Art, Human Biology, and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. Students gained valuable field research skills as they learned plant identification, techniques for accurate woody species measurement, and the use of field instruments such as hypsometers, compasses, and DBH tapes. Attention to detail is an absolute must for this internship, and despite its rigors and the unavoidable exposure to poison oak, students invariably expressed strong interest and satisfaction in their internship experiences and often spoke about how this experience was their first opportunity to get hands-on experience in their field of study. Interns were led by undergraduate crew leaders who themselves had interned on the FERP during previous years. These seasoned FERP veterans continued to work on important leadership and evaluation skills and did an excellent job leading their crews. This involvement of trained students allowed us to support a larger number of interns. The FERP is part of the Smithsonian Institute’s Center for Tropical Forest Science Forest Global Earth Observatory (CTFS-ForestGEO), a global network of 62 mapped forest plots that allow for a broad range of scientific investigations into the world’s forests, carbon fluxes, and effects of climate change.

Stewardship Assistant internships

Students assist with a variety of land management projects on the CNR and surrounding natural lands. Work includes sign/sign post installation and repair, fencing off ad hoc/unauthorized trails, trash removal from abandoned campsites and student party sites, invasive species mapping and  control, trail work and erosion control, and cave clean-ups. Students gain experience using GPS units and hand tools, while gaining confidence navigating in the field and contributing valuable information to the campus.

Invasive Species Management Plan (ISMP) internships

The UCSC ISMP includes prioritized species lists, goals and objectives, field methodology, and database maintenance procedures. The development of this product involved strong collaborations between the CNR, UCSC Grounds Department’s Site Stewardship Program (SSP), UCSC Arboretum, UCSC Greenhouses, and several faculty members, graduate and undergraduate students. Interns focus on field work implementation of the plan. Stewardship Assistant interns (see above) also contributed to ISMP-related field work. Work includes off-trail surveys and mapping of invasive plant species within interior portions of a 107 acre ISMP management unit. This project is agreat example of using in-house faculty, student, and staff expertise to develop and implement a campus wide activity/plan. Often these types of projects are contracted out to private consultants at great cost and do not support the primary objectives of our institution: research and education.

Herps on the FERP

This project tracks long term spatial and temporal patterns in the populations of herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles) on the UCSC FERP. In 2014, this internship was initiated by two senior ENVS undergraduate students in their final year at UCSC, and was implimented with the assistance of undergraduate interns and volunteers. Though as senior interns they were enrolled in two consecutive 5-unit internships, they actually worked on the project for a full year. From conception and design to the establishment of a grid of plywood coverboard sampling stations to biweekly field monitoring to training and recruiting a team of undergraduate interns and volunteers to writing a monitoring manual, the students exhibited high levels of initiative and produced a valuable research and monitoring tool for future students. This additional layer of data adds to our understanding of the FERP’s mixed-evergreen forest.

FERP canopy photography

This internship allowed 5 undergraduate interns to gain experience with canopy photography and analysis. Field work was rigorous, involving waking up at or before dawn and hiking off-trail through the poison oak-filled and log strewn forest to take photos of the forest canopy using a panoramic lens before the sun rose high enough to make the photos unusable. Photographs were taken at 441 FERP quadrat corner posts and analyzed using Gap Light Analyzer software to produce data on canopy openness which was then layered on top of the FERP’s woody plant census data. This process allows researchers to track the influence of light on forest composition and will be done periodically to record the effects of the forest’s changing canopy.

Plant field guide photography internship

Nine undergraduate students developed botanical and photographic skills while building a comprehensive plant photo library that we will use to produce a new field guide to campus plant species. One intern followed her 2-unit Winter Quarter internship with a 5-unit Spring Quarter internship in which she focused more on the design of the guide and composition of text content. She developed a passion for the project and has continued on as a volunteer into summer 2015 with the hopes of producing the guide in fall 2015.

A Field Guide to the Birds of the UCSC Campus

This volunteer project by Benny Jacobs-Schwartz (ENVS 2013) adds to the growing collection of student-created field guides describing our campus’s amazing wildlife. CNR staff is working with UCSC personnel to publish these books and make them available to the larger UCSC and Santa Cruz communities.