Sentinel Sites: Tracking Nature’s Vital Signs Locally & Globally

Humans, as a species, aren’t alone in experiencing the destructive impacts of climate change. Our wildlife neighbors and the habitats they rely on for food, water, protection, and mates, are enduring profound climate shifts that may threaten their very existence. Now more than ever, there is an urgent need to track and understand the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and the species therein at nested local, state, and global scales – so that we can act swiftly to protect them. Pepperwood’s President and CEO, Dr. Lisa Micheli, is working with partners to leverage key technological advances and new social network models to meet this challenge throughout California’s growing Sentinel Site network.

California’s Climate-Biodiversity Sentinel Sites combine data, community education, and public agency engagement to develop innovative, place-based solutions to some of our most pressing concerns, including climate change and natural disasters. At Pepperwood´s Sentinel Site, we collect climate, hydrological, and biological data and study their trends and interactions as a basis for stewardship response and actions. Our staff scientists engage in long-term assessments, and visiting scholars conduct shorter-term studies to produce a more robust body of research to inform climate solutions.

Like fine wine, Sentinel Site datasets improve with age. Launched in 2010, Pepperwood’s Sentinel Site has collected more than ten years of data on our uniquely biodiverse and fire-dependent landscape – including data preceding and following the Tubbs and Kincade Fires (of 2017 and 2019 respectively). Pepperwood boasts 725 individual data streams continually running at our Sentinel Site. Ecological patterns emerge when data is consistently collected over long periods of time in the same location, and these patterns inform our ongoing land stewardship.

“We need global networks of scientific observation stations, like Pepperwood’s Sentinel Site, to meet two critical goals. First, to create a stronger foundation for empirical scientific results to inform models that guide long-term public/private policies and investments. Second, to provide critical real-time data that can be immediately applied to pressing climate adaptation and nature conservation challenges in an era of rapid environmental change.”

Dr. Lisa Micheli, Pepperwood President and CEO

The Climate-Biodiversity Sentinel Site roundtable is on a quest to blaze a scientific path forward for California’s 30×30 Initiative. Co-chaired by Dr. Micheli and Dr. Steven Monfort, Executive Director of the UC Natural Reserve System, the roundtable aims to build a community among Sentinel Sites statewide as they monitor and capture data from California’s diverse bioregions.

By sharing existing and long-term datasets, we can:

  • Fill critical gaps in understanding climate and ecosystem change over time,
  • Inform conservation and stewardship priorities,
  • Serve as an early warning system for biodiversity at risk, and
  • Develop coordinated responses to climate threats.

Data collected by Sentinel Sites throughout California are being made publicly accessible on Dendra.Science – a data platform developed and managed by Collin Bode of UC Berkeley. Currently, Dendra includes data streams from Pepperwood, the UC Natural Reserve System, the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Research and Extension Centers, Eel River Critical Zone Observatory, and The Nature Conservancy. In the last two years, 42 new stations were created with California Sentinel Site Roundtable support by the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife on their own properties. Pepperwood researchers, Morgan Gray and Kai Henifin were directly involved in siting these new stations.

In the Spring of 2023, Dr. Micheli spent weeks touring field stations in Chile represented by UC Chile’s Red de Centros y Estaciones Regionales (Network of Research Centers and Field Stations). From the extreme desert of Atacama to the coastline of Central Chile, to the ice fields of Patagonia, Chile is working toward similar climate goals as California. “The conversations I had with researchers, station managers, agency personnel, and private conservation leaders reveal the shared challenges and opportunities as a global community that we face at this pivotal moment,” says Micheli of the experience. A happy outcome of this collaboration is the recent grant award from UC Davis for Pepperwood to assist in linking our pioneering fog monitoring network from California to Chile!

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