CNDDB News Blog

  • April 13, 2020

A meadow with California native wildflowers
Photo by Katie Ferguson

Happy Native Plant Week! In 2010, the California legislature designated the third week of April to be California Native Plant week, so this is the perfect time to take a moment to appreciate the beauty and diversity of California’s native flora. With approximately 6,500 species of plants naturally occurring in our state, and one third of those species growing nowhere else in the world, there is certainly quite a lot to appreciate!

While in-person gatherings and outings associated with Native Plant Week have been postponed to prevent the spread of coronavirus, there are still plenty of ways to explore and appreciate native plants from within your own home.

link opens in new windowCalflora is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in native plants. It is a comprehensive database that includes all plants that grow wild in California (both native and non-native species) and has a detailed profile page for each species, among many other useful features.

link opens in new windowiNaturalist is a citizen science project that allows users to upload and share observations. If you need help identifying a plant, iNaturalist will offer suggestions based on your photos and other species seen nearby, or you can enlist the help of other users to identify your observation. It is also a useful tool for exploring observations that have been made nearby; if your local ordinances allow, take a walk to a park and make some observations. And don’t forget to link opens in new windowjoin the CNDDB iNaturalist project!

link opens in new windowZooniverse: Notes from Nature - Capturing California’s Flowers is a citizen science project that allows anyone to help California herbaria by transcribing herbarium labels from their collections. This is a perfect activity for when you’re stuck inside, but still want to help contribute to the botanical knowledge of California.

You can also visit the link opens in new windowCNPS website for additional information and activities related to Native Plant Week.

Categories: Education and Awareness
  • March 26, 2020

Today we tip our hat to stoneflies, aquatic insects in the order Plecoptera. Stoneflies have a worldwide distribution of over 3,000 species, around 160 of which occur in California. They’re a hugely important part of riparian food webs!

Stoneflies spend the first 1-4 years of their life underwater as nymphs (or naiads). The nymphs require well-oxygenated water and are highly sensitive to pollution. They undergo successive molts, finally emerging from the water for their final molt into adult form when conditions are just right. Adults are typically winged, though not strong fliers, and survive just a few weeks to mate and lay their eggs over water, beginning the cycle again. Ralph and Lisa Cutter’s film, link opens in new windowBugs of the Underworld, includes a beautifully-filmed stonefly’s-eye view of this life cycle.

Of the two stonefly species CNDDB currently tracks, the Lake Tahoe benthic stonefly (Capnia lacustra) is unusual in that it is wingless and spends its entire life cycle underwater, in the deep-water plant beds 30 to 90 meters below the surface of Lake Tahoe. UNR biologist Annie Caires documented an even more surprising adaptation during her studies of the species: live birth! link opens in new windowAn article in New Scientist shares more about Dr. Caires’ findings. Unfortunately, the studies also showed habitat and population declines for this unique organism.

At least seven of California’s native stonefly species have developed another astonishing behavior: communication by drumming! Certain species signal potential mates by tapping their posterior abdomens on resonant substrates, producing characteristic rhythms. Dedicated researchers have developed special equipment to record these unique drumming signals. John Sandberg, at CDFW’s Aquatic Bioassessment Lab at CSU Chico, takes his miniature stonefly recording studio into the field; his website includes instructions on how to build your own recording setup. If you’re not ready for that level of dedication, don’t worry: the website also has a page of downloadable link opens in new windowrecordings and videos of drumming for several species.

If you enjoy these sounds as much as we did, stay tuned for Dr. Sandberg and coauthor Luke Myers’ upcoming manuscript summarizing the known Nearctic signal description from 1977 to 2015. The manuscript, to be published in the online journal link opens in new windowIlliesia, will provide a starting point for all future research.

Let the incredible sounds and remarkable behaviors of these tiny animals be a reminder to us all to pay more attention to the insects around us! See the Special Animals List on our website for a complete list of the insects and other invertebrates we track. And don’t forget to report your observations on our Online Field Survey Form!

Close up view of stonefly live birth; small stonefly exiting a larger stonefly - © Annie Caires, all rights reserved
Live birth of Capnia lacustra nymph (Credit: Annie Caires)

Close up of two wingless stoneflies - © Annie Caires, all rights reserved
Wingless, aquatic adults of Capnia lacustra (credit: Annie Caires)

Categories: Education and Awareness, Taxon of the week
  • March 24, 2020

A pebble plain scattered with quartzite pebbles and short unique plants

Big Bear Lake is a beautiful mountain lake in Southern California and a popular year-round resort destination. What many visitors to Big Bear Lake don’t realize is that this area is home to a relict Ice Age habitat type called pebble plains; the only place in the world where this ecosystem occurs. Pebble plains are flat open areas left over from when glaciers receded in the Pleistocene age and are named for the quartzite pebbles that are pushed to the surface of the clay soil by frost heaving. Pebble plains support a unique plant community comprised of 17 protected plant taxa and 4 rare butterflies. The plants that occupy the pebble plains are sometimes referred to as “belly plants” due to their miniature stature, but once you get close to them you can see that they are just as beautiful as their larger-sized counterparts.

Pebble plains are extremely fragile and the endemic plants are very slow growing so any damage to the soil or plants can be devastating to the ecosystem. A large portion of pebble plain habitat was lost when Big Bear Lake was created in the late 1880s and early 1900s, with additional habitat lost to development around the lake in the subsequent decades. Besides development on private lands, one of the biggest threats to the remaining pebble plain habitat is high-impact recreational activities, especially off-road vehicles. Agencies and conservation organizations have made efforts to curtail off-road vehicle use through use of barriers, fencing, and signage but trespassing still occurs.

March through June are great times to visit the pebble plains, see beautiful wildflowers, and experience this unique ecosystem that only California has to offer. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Baldwin Lake Ecological Reserve has a self-guided interpretive trail and visitor center that allows hikers to experience the pebble plains. The reserve is currently closed due to COVID-19 concerns but keep an eye out for its reopening in the coming weeks.

closeup of Castilleja cinerea (ash-gray paintbrush): a Federally Threatened plant species that inhabits pebble plain habitats

Categories: Education and Awareness