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IoES students tackle urban wildlife projects

Students in the Institute's undergraduate degree program have undertaken urban wildlife research projects as part of a senior capstone experience designed to provide "real world" experience. The group research projects are implemented for an off-campus client over the course of a year-long program and involve original research. Associate Adjunct Professor Travis Longcore coordinates the senior practicum, which has grown in four years from 17 to 77 students, and advised both projects. The senior practicum project reports cover topics ranging from green business to water quality to urban wildlife.

In 2009-2010, the National Park Service requested investigation of rodenticide application of residents on the urban-wildland interface. Two teams totaling 12 students distributed over 1,600 fliers to households in neighborhoods adjacent to Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and received 60 valid responses to the associated online survey. Students conducted a similar phone survey of Pest Control Operators (PCOs). Homeowners (as opposed to gardeners or PCOs) were the primary applicators of rodenticides, predominantly second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs), and some residents reported improperly applying rodenticides (e.g., exceeding prescribed distances from structures). In one instance a respondent reported observing dead animals outside after placing poison inside a structure. The students concluded that improper application of SGARs that ignores label guidelines occurs in neighborhoods along the urban-wildland interface, thereby providing a transmission pathway for chemical rodenticides to reach native wildlife.

field workIn 2010–2011, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority asked for a study of wildlife use of an underpass that is part of a highly significant linkage between wildlands in the greater Los Angeles region that is threatened by development on one side. With assistance of expertise and equipment from Erin Boydston of the USGS, the 6 students 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, the photographs showed use of the area by coyote, mule deer, bobcat, striped skunk, Audubon’s cottontail, California ground squirrel, gray fox, and, most notably, American badger. The cameras along the road leading to the underpass also captured human and vehicle activity, which they found to statistically differ temporally from that of the wildlife. They also produced data on species accumulation over trap effort, temporal activity patterns of coyotes, and directionality of underpass use. Geographically, they found that animals traveling under the underpass were heading 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. The students and their advisors reported their findings at the 2011 MEDECOS conference at UCLA.

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