SRJC student advancing post-fire redwood research


Pepperwood’s Stephen J. Barnhart Herbarium Internship—named in honor of our Academic Director emeritus—provides Santa Rosa Junior College students studying the natural sciences with opportunities to gain critical experience conducting a research project at Pepperwood during a year-long paid internship. 

By Angela Brierly, 2019 Stephen J. Barnhart Herbarium Intern

My name is Angela Brierly and I have recently returned to college to pursue a degree in Ecology. I am a sophomore at Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) and will be transferring in Fall, 2019. I plan to pursue a PhD and ultimately develop a career doing field research in Tropical Forest Ecosystem dynamics. I have always been fascinated with plants, insects and bats, and this has now led me to being interested in pursuing questions about plant-animal interactions that would lead to a better understanding of forest systems. During the summer of 2017, my passion for understanding the ecology of forest systems led me to an applied conservation internship in the Amazon Basin, where I conducted an Independent Research Project and presented my findings to resident and visiting scientists. This experience solidified my conviction to pursue a career in ecological research.

When I learned about the Stephen J. Barnhart Internship at Pepperwood Preserve through my SRJC Zoology instructor, Dr. Shawn Brumbaugh, I was so ecstatic! Here was an opportunity to practice my research skills under the guidance of respected scientists in an ecosystem very dear to my heart. I have fond memories of educational fieldtrips to Pepperwood, and the opportunity to return—in a research capacity—to such a magical place was very compelling. The internship also presented a unique and important opportunity to explore how the recent wildfire influenced the plant and animal communities of the area.

I am very excited to be working at Pepperwood under the mentorship of Professor Brumbaugh and Preserve Ecologist Michelle Halbur. My project will investigate post-fire survival and regeneration trends at the plot and individual-tree level of Pacific coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) in Redwood Canyon and Grouse Hill. With the help of volunteers, data is being gathered on mortality, trunk diameter, basal (ground-level) sprout growth, epicormic (trunk and branch) sprout growth, char height and the water potential of individual trees. Thanks to the Teen Nat program, we have some pre-fire data that I am eager to compare to the post-fire data.

Though there is much evidence of historical post-fire survival (think of the burn-scarred and hollow redwoods you find in Armstrong Woods), there is scant academic literature on immediate post-fire responses. My internship at Pepperwood offers me an amazing opportunity to contribute to a greater understanding of the short-term survival and regeneration patterns of our majestic Pacific coast redwoods. As of the end of 2018, data collection of every redwood tree in the first 1000m2 plot is nearly complete—a slower start than anticipated due to wet and windy weather—and it is nice to see such a high survival rate and mild burn severity in the study area in Redwood Canyon. This location was a comparatively level area of predominantly smaller trees and I am curious if there will be different post-fire responses in the predominantly larger trees on the steep slopes at Grouse Hill.

To get to this point in my research has been an amazing learning experience. I have further developed my understanding of Pacific coast redwood, expanded my knowledge of fire ecology, continued to refine my skills in scientific protocol selection and data collection. I am looking forward to learning more about data management and analysis when I have completed my data collection. The professional connections that I am making at and through Pepperwood are invaluable for my professional development. As I complete my time at the SRJC and prepare for transfer, I realize the indispensable gift these connections are—instead of having a late-start building my natural sciences network as a transferred-in Junior, I have already begun to develop it. I now have a budding group of mentors that can guide and inspire me as I carve my own path toward my academic and scientific goals. Under the guidance of these mentors not only is my redwood research flourishing, but I also have the opportunity to pursue my own scientific inquiry through exploring the relationship between foliage/bark roosting bats and wildfire by assessing bat species richness and activity levels at Pepperwood.

These research experiences, beyond being learning experiences in themselves, will be highly advantageous additions to my graduate school applications. I am excited to share my findings with the communities of Pepperwood, the Santa Rosa Junior College, and the public upon conclusion of my project!

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