Science Spotlight

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Recent accomplishments of CDFW's scientific community


Following the Unusual Migration of a Trailblazing Elk

bull elk with large antlers in a field with trees and blue sky
About a dozen years ago, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) biologist Nathan Graveline heard rumors that a sole elk had been spotted in a highly unusual location – the Stanislaus National Forest, between the Clavey and Tuolumne rivers. At the time, scientists didn't have the technology to confirm the reports.

Rare coastal San Mateo County plant is in dire straits

2 cdfw scientist and a cdfw warden standing in san mateo bay near a field of yellow leptosiphon flower patch
The world is closing in on coast yellow leptosiphon. The endangered plant exists in only one known location on earth — an 1,800 square foot plot on Vallemar Bluff in Moss Beach, about 20 miles south of San Francisco. The low-growing annual from the Phlox family features bright yellow flowers with fused petals and typically blooms in April and May.

Counting Mountain Lions in California’s Back Country

scientist Justin Dellinger driving in mountain lion territory
CDFW wildlife biologist Justin Dellinger has a most unusual job -- since 2015, he’s been capturing and collaring mountain lions in California’s back country. Justin aims to achieve something unique, which is the first-of-its-kind comprehensive population assessment of California’s mountain lions.

CDFW working to improve negative effects of non-consumptive recreation on conservation

sign to ecological reserve in Carlsbad
Editor’s Note: As we publish this article, California, the nation, and the whole world are gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic. To slow its spread and not overwhelm healthcare resources, distancing and stay-at-home orders have led to the delay of trout openers and other fishing events, and closure of parks, reserves and many other publicly accessible facilities. Stories are beginning to emerge of increased wildlife presence in park and reserve areas that are normally filled with people. We look forward to the end of the pandemic and its horrible devastation will be over very soon but we know it will be some time before we realize a return to “normal.” We hope to gain from this emergency more information on wildlife’s response to fewer visitors – data that may be able to help us improve our management of parks and reserves in a way that protects wildlife and their habitat while also providing reasonable recreation experiences. In the meantime, stay well, and stay home to save lives.

New Threat Facing Lahontan Cutthroat Trout at Independence Lake: Hybridization

Independent Lake with white capped waves from the wind. Lake with green mountains and a snow covered mountain in background
The news out of UC Davis last spring knocked California native fish biologists for a loop. Genetic testing of native Lahontan cutthroat trout from Independence Lake in the Tahoe National Forest near Truckee found evidence of hybridization with non-native rainbow trout. To understand the magnitude of that news you have to understand that Independence Lake is the only lake in California – and just one of two lakes in the world – to support a self-sustaining lake population of Lahontan cutthroat trout, a trout native to the eastern Sierra range and the Lahontan basin of Nevada.

CDFW’s Annual Bighorn Sheep Count

About 30 men and women who volunteered to help department conduct sheep survey
On March 1, 2020, about 160 volunteers gathered near the rugged terrain for the annual sheep count. Their goal was to use spotting scopes and binoculars to locate sheep, and determine and record their gender and approximate age.

Upper Butte Basin Wildlife Area Pioneering Wild Turkey Banding, Research Effort

A male wild turkey is released from a cardboard box after being banded, weighted and measured recently at the Upper Butte Basin Wildlife Area.
Scientists at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and volunteers from the National Wild Turkey Federation conduct annual spring trapping and banding of wild turkeys at the Upper Butte Basin Wildlife Area in order to better understand the characteristics, habitat preferences and the dynamics of the growing population of wild turkeys using the wildlife area and surrounding properties.

Roosevelt Elk Collaring Effort Seeks to Reduce Conflicts Along North Coast

A tranquilized Roosevelt elk is tagged and collared by two CDFW staffers
Despite their massive size and majestic appearance, Roosevelt elk have proved an elusive research subject because of the dense forests they inhabit. CDFW recently initiated one of the largest Roosevelt elk capture and collaring efforts in state history.

New research shows climate change may harm migratory songbirds

Hermit Thrush perched on a tree branch. Long-distance Neotropical migrants like the Hermit Thrush may be more vulnerable to climate change than other types of songbirds.
New research by CDFW Wildlife Ecologist Dr. Brett Furnas shows that Neotropical migrant songbirds are shifting their summer ranges to higher elevations in response to climate change.

DNA testing of tusk, bone, teeth

2 female forensic specialists crouch, looking at tusk
In Southern California, there are two facilities that offer fascinating looks at the types of animals that roamed the land millions of years ago. The Western Science Center in Riverside County is home to 100,000 fossils and artifacts, all unearthed during construction of a nearby reservoir. The La Brea Tar Pits in neighboring Los Angeles County serves a similar purpose, storing a staggering 35 million prehistoric specimens discovered in and around the natural pits that continue to seep asphalt in the area.