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    • March 20, 2020

    Front view of a foothill yellow-legged frog half-submerged in flowing water, under a rock.
    The blank stare of foothill yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii) as it rests in a stream. What is it thinking about?

    Today we celebrate members of the order Anura which is composed of frogs and toads. What’s not to love about our froggy friends? These moist goblins have large protruding eyes and a wide mouth that make them expressive, and some would describe them as “ugly cute.”

    Perhaps the most remarkable life history feature of frogs and toads is their metamorphic life cycle. They start off as water dependent lifeforms, tadpoles, that have a tail for swimming and gills for breathing. The tadpoles transform into their adult form, growing lungs and limbs that enable them to survive out of the water.

    Unfortunately, living a double life does not make them impervious. Amphibians are seen as “canaries in the coal mine,” indicators of environmental health. Global amphibian populations are in decline, and about one third of species are believed to be threatened. In some cases, they are even disappearing from protected areas without clear explanations. The exact cause of the decline is unknown but thought to be a combination of diverse factors that include habitat destruction, introduced species, chemical contaminants, disease, and climate change.

    California is home to a number of frog species, so keep an eye out for our froggy friends next time you find yourself at a pond or stream. The CNDDB tracks 16 species of frogs or toads. Help us keep track of them by submitting your observations to us!

    Person with frog boots in a marshy pond
    A frog fan explores a pond.

    Categories: Education and Awareness
    • March 19, 2020

    History Hunters logo

    Today is link opens in new windowTaxonomist Appreciation Day, an unofficial holiday which draws awareness to the incredibly important but often overlooked field of taxonomy. Taxonomists work to name, classify, and describe species, sorting organisms into groups based on shared traits and evolutionary history. Here at the CNDDB, we couldn’t do the work we do without taxonomists researching animal and plant families, writing descriptions of newly-discovered species, and reevaluating the work of past taxonomists to incorporate new data and methods. These behind-the-scenes efforts build a strong foundation for all species-based biodiversity conservation.

    Many taxonomists over the past 150 years have had their hand in cataloguing and defining the species that make up California’s diverse flora and fauna. Today we’d like to highlight one taxonomist in particular: Alice Eastwood.

    Portrait of Alice Eastwood
    California Academy of Sciences, via link opens in new windowOnline Archive of California

    link opens in new windowAlice Eastwood (1859-1953) was a self-taught botanist who worked her way up to becoming the herbarium curator for the California Academy of Sciences from 1894-1949. When the 1906 earthquake hit San Francisco, she risked her life to rescue the academy’s botanical type specimens, protecting them from earthquake damage and the subsequent fires ravaging the city, even as she lost her home and personal possessions. After the earthquake, she worked to rebuild the herbarium’s collections, going out on numerous collecting trips throughout the Western US and trading duplicate specimens with other herbaria until the herbarium’s collections were three times as large as they had been before.

    Without Alice Eastwood’s tireless work, much of our knowledge of California’s flora would have been lost forever. She published over 300 scientific articles, described 395 plant species, and founded the journal Leaflets of Western Botany with her friend and successor John Thomas Howell. She was especially interested in studying the Arctostaphylos, Castilleja, and Lupinus genera, all of which are well-represented in the California flora.

    Alice Eastwood’s contributions to California botany are all over the place if you know where to look, and she is immortalized by the many taxa bearing her name. Two plant genera are named after her—Aliciella and Eastwoodia—as well as 17 species. Seven of these are CNPS-listed rare plants tracked by the CNDDB: Aliciella ripleyi (Ripley’s aliciella), Aliciella trilodon (Coyote gilia), Arctostaphylos crustacea ssp. eastwoodiana (Eastwood’s brittle-leaf manzanita), Delphinium parryi ssp. eastwoodiae (Eastwood’s larkspur), Eriogonum eastwoodianum (Eastwood’s buckwheat), Fritillaria eastwoodiae (Butte County fritillary), and Sedum laxum ssp. eastwoodiae (Red Mountain stonecrop). If you come across one of these special plants honored to bear her name, take a moment to remember Alice Eastwood, and then fill out an Online Field Survey Form to tell us about your discovery. It’s what she would have done.

    Categories: Education and Awareness
    • March 13, 2020

    Lange's metalmark perched on a small flower cluster

    Did you know? March 14th is National Learn About Butterflies Day!
    Thankfully, we have one of the world’s leading experts in Learning About Butterflies right here in California: Dr. Art Shapiro, at UC Davis.

    For nearly 50 years, Dr. Shapiro has conducted bi-weekly monitoring at 11 sites along an elevational transect across Central California. --We’ll let that sink in for a minute.-- As of the end of 2006, Dr. Shapiro had logged 5476 site-visits and tallied approximately 83,000 individual records of 159 butterfly species and subspecies. And he hasn’t stopped counting. Even better, he and his team have made this extraordinary dataset accessible on link opens in new windowArt Shapiro’s Butterfly Site.

    In addition to data access, Art Shapiro’s Butterfly Site hosts a wealth of educational resources and activities, with something to offer folks of all ages and levels of expertise. In honor of National Learn About Butterflies Day, check it out TODAY!

    Dr. Shapiro graciously answered some questions to help us all on our Butterfly Learning journey:

    1. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from your long-term study?
      Butterfly populations and faunas are constantly changing. At least some of the changes can be correlated statistically to short-term weather and long-term climate trends, land use and vegetation change, and pesticides. The importance of these factors varies according to location and species. Overall, butterfly faunas in low-elevation California are declining due (we think) primarily to land use and pesticides, while declines in the mountains are probably climate-driven. The only rigorous way to assess these phenomena is through long-term monitoring!
    2. Are there additional unanswered questions you have that you hope this research will help resolve?
      Many. We would like to understand the actual mechanisms underlying population change. For example, is climate change acting directly on butterfly physiology, through the host plants, or both? For the Monarch, which is sort of a "poster child" for butterfly conservation, are changes in its overwintering and breeding patterns being driven by climatic warming, host availability, or...?
    3. For the aspiring lepidopterists out there, what do you consider the most crucial or urgent needs for research going forward?
      We need reliable, consistently gathered data on what occurs where and in what numbers!
    4. What resources should the average, concerned citizen consult to learn what they need to know about butterflies?
      Lots of resources are available on-line. You can visit comprehensive websites (like mine) or search individual species names or regional faunas. On-line searching done intelligently opens the door to limitless resources. Good field guides (link opens in new windowlike mine for the SF Bay Area and Sacramento Valley, but quite a few others too) and popular or semi-popular books about butterflies can be extremely valuable. Remember there is much more to butterfly biology than just identification!
    5. How can we all contribute to butterfly research?
      Contribute to link opens in new windoweButterfly and other on-line resources. Get in touch with your local chapter of the link opens in new windowNorth American Butterfly Association and butterfly-oriented people at regional universities and museums to learn what is happening in your area and how you can get involved.

    For a more comprehensive interview, read link opens in new windowDeborah Netburn’s Nov 2019 piece in the LA Times.

    Go to link opens in new windowArt Shapiro’s Butterfly Site today. Bookmark it! And as always, please report your sightings of rare species on CNDDB’s Online Field Survey Form. The butterflies thank you!

    Categories: Education and Awareness