Tracking nature’s health indicators over time

Watershed Sentinel Site

Pepperwood serves as a Watershed Sentinel Site dedicated to tracking ecosystem health over time by systematically monitoring things like weather, soil moisture, stream flow, and the diversity and vitality of local plant and animal populations. Over 70 projects onsite are run by a combination of staff, citizen scientists, visiting scholars, and university partners. This long-term monitoring has immediate benefits for land and water managers, and will be vital to evaluating climate impacts in real time and informing best resource management practices over time.

Much of Pepperwood’s Sentinel Site data is available for researchers. Click here to contact us about obtaining data or to apply to conduct research at Pepperwood.

Pepperwood's Sentinel Site is designed to meet the following objectives:

  • Inform the adaptive management of our 3,200 acre preserve, help inform regional best practices
  • Empower local land and water managers with accurate data on weather and ecosystem health
  • Provide a foundation for research by visiting scholars and partner organizations
  • Expand the application of this Sentinel Site model via outreach and collaborations with other researchers, citizen scientists, and land and water managers to create a regional network

Weather - Understanding our climate

A changing climate poses perhaps the most unpredictable threat to our landscapes and the plant and animal life they support. In addition to weather monitoring equipment installed in collaboration with the US Geological Survey and the National Weather Service (check out the Pepperwood Weather website here, Pepperwood has an expanding network of microclimate sensors positioned strategically across the preserve and connected to a central hub via a wireless “mesh” network.

Pepperwood’s TBC3 combines these empirical measurements with global climate models to estimate how our local climate may change in the years to come. We are also learning how our diverse topography may create “climate refugia,” pockets of resilient habitat that may prove key to certain species’ survival.

Water - Protecting a healthy water supply

Patterns of water in the landscape control flow in streams, rates of groundwater recharge, and where plants can live, which in turn determine the state of our water supply and the diversity of habitat available for wildlife. Using rain gauges, soil moisture probes, and stream flow stations, Pepperwood measures where the rain goes as it travels through soil, creeks, aquifers, and vegetation. Pepperwood also hosts the USGS Pacific Coastal Fog Team’s fog water collectors to assess fog influences on our local water cycle. As a result, Pepperwood has one of the most comprehensive data sets capturing the effect of the 2013-2014 extreme drought on watershed conditions. This data has already been used by the Sonoma County Water Agency to estimate the amount of rainfall needed to effectively recharge our reservoirs.

Plants - Stewarding native plant life

Because of the diversity of its plant life, Pepperwood is a perfect place to study how climate and watershed hydrology drive patterns of vegetation across the landscape. The timing of the plant life cycle, also called phenology, is finely tuned to the weather. In partnership with the University of California and Sonoma State, Pepperwood has installed long-term monitoring transects in our abundant grasslands and forests. As a result, we are gaining a better understanding of what drives plant species distributions, survival and growth rates, and reproductive success. Given recent trends towards warmer and drier conditions, we can observe how the plants respond and in turn how habitat structure and fire risks may change.

Wildlife - Supporting thriving wildlife populations

Weather and vegetation influence the life cycles of our local wildlife by controlling habitat structure, available water and food, mating season dynamics, and the ability to ensure the survival of offspring. With our citizen scientists we track the distribution of birds, amphibians, and reptiles around the preserve. We were also the first site in North America to utilize the Wildlife Picture Index (WPI) method for studying wildlife populations and to track occupancy over time. By better understanding drivers of wildlife distribution and migration, Pepperwood will help guide the identification and protection of wildlife corridors throughout our region.

Learn about specific research projects that support our Sentinel Site work here.