Practicum 2010-2011

The following are the final reports prepared by IoES students for the 2010-2011 Practicum.

Addition of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi to Seeds at Alta Vicente in Palos Verdes Peninsula

Student(s): E Ahn, J Chiang, C Chui, M Varner, S Vaughn, and S Wittenberg

Client: Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy

Advisor: Travis Brooks

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Coastal sage scrub (CSS) is a habitat characterized by drought-resistant shrubs found in Mediterranean-type coastal climates such as Southern California. Many of these habitats are threatened due to increased urban development, historic grazing and extensive farming, and thus the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy (PVPLC) has begun to make efforts to repopulate the native species communities. Studies have shown that Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF) displays positive effect to native species by extending the root surface, hence increasing the uptake of limiting resources, especially phosphorus and water. This prediction was tested by an experimental addition of AMF to the seed mix of a CSS restoration site located in Alta Vicente, Palos Verdes Peninsula. Limited field germination of the native seed mix occurred in the first spring, following a winter of above average rainfall and events of lower than average temperatures. Subsequent growing seasons may result in higher native germination, at which time the effect of AMF addition can be re-assessed. The application of AMF did not have an effect on non-native plants, except for sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus), a non-native annual herb. Sow thistle abundance and cover were lower (p<0.05, n=20) with the addition of AMF.

Crow Density and Anthropogenic Subsidies Near the Venice, California Least Tern Colony

Student(s): Margarita Armendariz, Allison Davison, Alessandro Maganuco, and Aaron Whitby

Client: Los Angeles Audubon

Advisor: Travis Longcore

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Crow predation on California Least Tern colonies is a well-documented activity and decreases tern breeding success. In an effort to learn more about these generalist predators and their increases in urban environments, we investigated their spatial distribution around the Least Tern colony in Venice, California. In order to accomplish this we surveyed crows and food subsidies within a semicircle area of 5.52 square kilometers around the colony in the 2 months leading up to the 2011 tern nesting season. We mapped these location data with ArcGIS and used land use data to determine correlations between food subsidies and crow density. An increase in food subsidies, especially around developed parks, correlated with an increase in crow sightings. We also observed more crows on weekends than weekdays. The data conclusively showed that crows are found within all land use types; because of this, landscape management will likely not have a significant impact on deterring crow distribution from the Venice Least Tern Colony. While this research is novel in that it is the first crow survey done around this colony, further research is needed to determine seasonal variation and larger scale patterns in crow density before any conclusive recommendations can be made to enhance Tern nest viability.

Current and Historical Distribution of Vegetation Communities at Paramount Ranch, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Student(s): Ross Bernet, Morgan Fahlman, Kevin Kawakami, Charles Le, Jessica Savio, and Karly Wagner

Client: National Parks Service

Advisor: Travis Brooks

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Vegetation boundaries change naturally over time, but native vegetation communities are especially at risk following the introduction of exotic species and changes in land use patterns from human urbanization. This study is aimed at understanding the historical trends in the distribution of native and non-native vegetation communities in the Santa Monica Mountains, including Coastal Sage Scrub (CSS), native perennial grassland, non-native annual grassland, oak woodland and riparian, within the protected area of Paramount Ranch. By using two approaches – historical photo analysis and vegetation mapping – we assessed which communities have undergone an increase, decrease, or remained stable in their area coverage through the past few decades. We observed that the vegetation has largely remained stable overall, with the exception of a few areas. Additionally, the study added detail to previous vegetation map efforts by providing further classification of the grassland areas into native and non-native communities.

Online only material

Effect of Urban Runoff on Water Quality Indicators in Ballona Creek, CA

Student(s): Uma Bhandaram, Andrew Guerra, Brooke Robertson, Heather Slattery, Kailey Tran

Client: Heal The Bay

Advisor: Dr. Rebecca Shipe

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Urban runoff has the potential to dramatically affect water quality in high-density coastal urban regions. In this study, we define water quality as a function of trash, fecal indicator bacteria (FIB), and harmful algal bloom (HAB) concentrations. Thus far, no studies have investigated the effects of runoff on all three of these water quality indicators. This study fills that gap by comparing water quality in dry and wet weather at the mouth of Ballona Creek in Marina Del Rey, California. Additionally, we examine the mechanism through which urban runoff affects water quality by measurements of total suspended solids (TSS), nitrate concentrations, salinity, and temperature. All samples and measurements were gathered at three sites at the creek-ocean interface twice weekly from February to April 2011. We observed a significant correlation between FIB and wet weather (r = 0.88), HAB and wet weather (r = 0.89) but not between trash and precipitation. TSS, salinity, and nitrate concentrations were related to abundances of FIB and HAB; nitrate from runoff or upwelling seem to support HAB whereas TSS and FIB likely enter coastal waters in runoff. Our study shows that rainfall has a negative effect on the health of Ballona Creek waters, where FIB will accumulate and persist within the creek for days after a rain event. There is not a consistent spatial pattern in all variables amongst the three sites; the furthest upstream site was more influenced by runoff whereas the further downstream sites were influenced by upwelled waters. Understanding the factors that affect coastal water quality are crucial as this has economic, ecological, and health implications for other similar geographic areas.

Measuring Carbon Efficiency

Student(s): Thomas Britt, Mitchell Howard, Andrew Hwang, Yohsuke Kobayashi, Jennifer Lu, Carly Lyons, Akhtar Masood, and Jae Suh

Client: Climate Earth

Advisor: Chien-Ming Chen

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There is currently no standardized system of comparing production companies on their business and environmental practices. In an effort to fill this gap, this research project creates a standard called the eco-efficiency frontier on which to compare company’s progress towards creating more goods and services while using fewer resources and creating less waste – in other words, being eco-efficient. We examine ten food manufacturing companies over the time span of three years to gauge their level of efficiency in comparison to each other. We then examine other financial information from all the companies to draw potential relationships between company operation processes and eco-efficiency scores. Our project yields interesting results and suggests that beverage companies may be more eco-efficient than other types of food manufacturing companies. Our eco-efficiency model has the potential to be applied to many different industries using different financial variables and can bring to light many interesting relationships and information that can be used to help all companies reach eco-efficiency.

Retrofitting Commercial Real Estate: Current Trends and Challenges in Increasing Building Energy Efficiency

Student(s): Adam Benson, Edgar Vargas, James Bunts, Justin Ong, Kelsey Hammond, Lindsey Reeves, Mack Chaplin, and Peter Duan

Client: CB Richard Ellis

Advisor: Paul Bunje

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The U.S. has invested billions of dollars to simultaneously improve its energy independence, create jobs, and reduce environmental impacts. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 alone, over 27 billion dollars were allocated to improving energy efficiency and renewable energy research and investment. While supply-side technologies receive the most press, energy consumption reducing technologies can also yield many of the same benefits. Currently, commercial real estate buildings constitute 18% of all U.S. energy consumption and have potential for significant reductions through cost-effective energy retrofits. Due to the complexities of the industry, however, these retrofits are not being installed. Our research is focused on identifying these complexities and establishing a better understanding of commercial building retrofits. Building owners and tenants have primarily stayed away from energy efficiency upgrades to their buildings because of perceived high upfront costs and uncertain returns. To analyze this line of thinking, we examine 129 commercial building retrofit reports to explore financial trends and returns. In addition, we surveyed organizations that perform energy efficiency retrofits to gain better perspective about the market and the drivers that relate to it. For conformity, our research focuses on insulation, lighting, HVAC, and solar retrofit projects. Our findings help build a foundation for understanding the current state of commercial building retrofits. The retrofit report data suggests that lighting is the least expensive retrofit while HVAC is the most expensive to install per square foot. Despite this, our surveys indicate that most organizations are primarily interested in HVAC commercial building upgrades. Both the retrofit report analysis and survey results suggest that decision makers expect a payback period between three and five years.

Southern California surf zone water quality: Fecal indicator bacteria and harmful algal bloom cells at the Santa Monica Pier and Malibu Surfrider Beach

Student(s): Tristan J. Acob, Taylor Cochran, Soo Yeun Park, Samuele L. Schoenberg, Samantha Tang, and Shannon Walker

Client: Heal The Bay

Advisor: Dr. Rebecca Shipe

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Surf zone water quality is directly related to human health and that of the coastal ecosystem. Fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) and harmful algal bloom (HAB) cells are microbiological indicators of water quality that periodically occur in the surf zone of southern California waters. Negative impacts of high FIB and HAB concentrations include contaminated waters and marine life, ecosystem disruptions, beach closures, and human illnesses. Previous research has addressed parameters that increase FIB and HAB concentrations independently, yet none have examined if FIB and HAB are directly related. Our main study objective asks if a correlation exists between FIB and HAB, and how ecological/environmental conditions (onshore vs. offshore, salinity, total suspended solids, temperature, and precipitation) may affect their growth. We collected water Monday through Thursday from Santa Monica Pier (SM) and Tuesday and Thursday at Malibu Surfrider Beach (MS) onshore and 100m offshore for 7 weeks. FIB concentrations were higher at MS onshore, whereas there was no onshore vs. offshore difference at SM. HAB abundances were higher offshore than onshore at both MS and SM. Onshore salinity and total suspended solids concentrations were lower at MS than at SM. Moreover, there was no significant relationship between FIB and HAB concentrations. Variability in FIB and HAB concentrations may best be explained by site differences and precipitous weather events.

The Impact of External Variables on Management Practices in Protected Areas: An Analysis

Student(s): Naomi Elliott, Anni Gill, Amanda Grossi, Daniel Hogan, Ben Kertman, David Molmen, Shannon Skelton, and Charlotte Stanley

Client: Conservation International

Advisor: Kristen Cruise

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Our research focuses on the important question, how do cultural, economic and environmental factors influence conservation efforts? The threats to our ecosystems has lead to large amounts of biodiversity loss, exemplifying the importance of effective management plans to restore biological systems. Conservation International (CI) provided our group with data sets regarding management attributes and protected area site descriptions. Our research team compiled a list of 12 quantitative external factors that might describe relationships with the scores of our management attributes. Our data team used statistical analysis (two-tailed t-test) to compare the trends of the scores for each management attribute with quantitative external factor trends. Our goal was to provide CI with the management attributes and types of protected areas they should prioritize in order to make the most informed investment. Conservation sites that lay within areas that propagate the most influential external factors (Number of Endemic Species, GNI, and Percentage Urbanized) should be of upmost focus. Furthermore, the management attributes related to plans, land and boundary issues, and biodiversity targets, should receive increased attention as they are highly related to the external factors. There are also trends that suggest that funds may not be currently distributed in a manner consistent with CI's stated strategies.

To Certify or Not to Certify: A Dive into the Tannic Underbelly of the Organic Wine Industry

Student(s): Hayley Moller, Geoff Wright, Danny Suits, Jon Gim, John Lee, and David Wolk

Client: California Certified Organic Farmers

Advisor: Magali Delmas

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The present study aims to evaluate the quantitative quality of organic or biodynamic (eco-certified) as compared to traditional wines in California, in order to provide information to consumers, growers, and certifying bodies in the state’s wine industry. Data collection from three wine rating websites resulted in the creation of a comprehensive database of almost 70,000 wines, with details for each bottle relating to the age, type, and location of the wine. Our results show that overall the adoption of certification does not have a negative impact on wine quality as measured by wine ratings for specific groups of wines. The adoption has a positive effect of rating for wines under $40, wines from the Napa region, and wines under $40 from the Napa region. These findings hold implications for addressing the consumer information asymmetry, growers’ decisions to certify, and the marketing claims of the certifying bodies themselves.

Wildlife Use of the Los Piñetos Underpass, Santa Clarita, California

Student(s): Robert Freidin, Diane Schreck, Brooke Scruggs, Elise Shulman, Alissa Swauger, Allison Tashnek

Client: Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority

Advisor: Travis Longcore and Erin Boydston

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Corridors between fragmented habitats are critical to the maintenance of certain wildlife populations, especially those of larger, terrestrial mammalian carnivores. Commercial development is being considered in the small wedge of land between Sierra Highway and State Route (SR) 14. The Los Piñetos underpass is currently a corridor under SR 14 that provides a connection between Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) and City of Santa Clarita protected land and this site. Beyond this wedge is a habitat connection to the Los Padres National Forest, which makes the Los Piñetos underpass the most likely connection between two regionally significant blocks of protected habitat. To document wildlife use of this underpass, we installed ten remotely triggered cameras, in stages, over two months around this area. We installed seven cameras near and under the underpass, and three cameras as controls up to 1 km from the underpass, in protected lands. Following 429 trap-nights, our photographs showed use of the area by coyote (Canis latrans), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), bobcat (Lynx rufus), striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), Audubon’s cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii), California ground squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi), gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), and American badger (Taxidea taxus). The cameras along the road also captured human and vehicle activity, which we found to statistically differ temporally from that of the wildlife. We also produced data on species accumulation over time, relative activity of coyotes, and directionality of underpass use. Geographically, we found that animals traveling southeast via the underpass are veering toward an area of proposed development, and that the corridor location suggested by project proponents may not be in the area where animals are traveling, although further research on the proposed development parcel is warranted.