Science Spotlight

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  • October 25, 2017

At night, two bats fly low over yellow flowers
California leaf-nosed bats. CDFW photo by retired biologist Andy Moore.

hundreds of bats fly overhead at sunset
Hundreds of bats in flight. ©Dave Feliz, all rights reserved.

a little brown bat with white fungus on nose hangs upside-down in a cave
Little brown bat with white-nose syndrome. US Fish and Wildlife Service photo.

a bat with enormous ears and teeth showing, in flight
Townsend's big-eared bat in flight. National Park Service photo.

The last seven days of October are celebrated each year as Bat Week – a time to learn about the importance of bats in our environment.

Bats are nature’s best pesticide. According to a study by the University of California, Davis, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, each of these small mammals eats between half and 100 percent of its own weight in insects every night. Some California species consume as many as 600 insects per hour. Imagine living with all the mosquitoes, flies, midges, moths and agricultural pests that are now consumed by bats!

In monetary terms, the natural pest control that bats provide is extremely valuable to the state’s $54 billion per year agriculture and $450 million timber industries. The bats’ appetite reduces the need for chemical pesticides, reduces crop losses and curtails the spread of crop diseases. According to the US Geological Survey, a recent economic analysis indicated that insect suppression services provided by bats to American agriculture is worth something between $4 billion and $50 billion per year.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Senior Environmental Scientist Scott Osborn notes the estimate’s wide range makes it hard to know exactly how much money bats save farmers. “But even the low estimate, $4 billion, is an impressive amount,” he said. “Bats are an important part of integrated pest management systems.”

As the wildlife trustee agency in California, CDFW is engaged in several activities to help us understand the conservation status of bats in the state, as well as to address threats to bat populations. At statewide, regional and local scales, our scientists have been deploying acoustic bat detectors to determine the distribution of California’s 25 bat species. When CDFW’s bat acoustic data are combined with data collected by partners at other state and federal agencies, academic researchers and non-governmental organizations, we should have more accurate knowledge of where various bat species occur, as well as their seasonal movements.

White Nose Syndrome (WNS) is now a real threat to California’s bats. WNS is a fungal disease that is estimated to have killed more than 6 million bats in eastern North America. With the discovery of WNS for the first time on the west coast (in Washington state) last year, California is bracing for potentially devastating impacts to our bat populations. CDFW is working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners to conduct surveillance for the fungus that causes the disease, as well as develop plans to manage the disease when it arrives in California. So far, all of the samples collected from bats and their roosts in California have been free of the fungus, but increased vigilance is necessary to help ensure the disease is detected immediately when it arrives. Special measures to reduce the impact of WNS on hibernating bats may include closing caves and other roosts to visitors, because people can unwittingly spread the fungus on their clothing, shoes and gear. Ultimately, it is hoped that ongoing research into the disease will provide tools to either eliminate or control the fungus, both in the environment and in infected bats.

To learn more about the exciting world of bats and how you can “Go to Bat for Bats!” check out the link opens in new tab or windowBat Week 2017 website.

Top photo: A California bat in a crevice. ©Dave Feliz, all rights reserved.

Categories: General
  • October 19, 2017

The latest issue of CDFW’s scientific journal, California Fish and Game, is now available online.

A bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) is featured on the cover of Volume 103, Issue 2. This is to honor the life of well-known wildlife biologist Dick Weaver, who passed away in February 2017 at the age of 91. Known by his friends and peers as “Mr. Bighorn,” Dick devoted much of his adult life to studying and managing bighorn sheep as well as other desert wildlife — and to inspiring and mentoring others who follow in his footsteps.

Not coincidentally, the latest issue also includes the results of a bighorn sheep study. CDFW Environmental Scientist Vernon Bleich and colleagues spent months documenting the mineral content of forage plants used by bighorn sheep at Panamint Range and Old Dad Peak. After measuring the concentrations of 11 minerals in nine plant species, the researchers discovered something surprising: although the same plant species occur in both areas, the mineral contents varied by location. The researchers attribute their findings to climatological differences between the two mountain ranges and to differences in substrate chemistry.

Other published studies in this issue focus on the California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii) and the coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch). Although both species have been extensively studied, these papers document new research methodologies that may improve the accuracy of future efforts to locate red-legged frog egg masses, and to track juvenile coho salmon.

As it has for the past 103 years, California Fish and Game continues to publish high-quality, peer-reviewed science that contributes to the understanding and conservation of California’s wildlife. We look forward to witnessing the contributions of the next installment.

Categories: California Fish and Game Journal
  • October 11, 2017

Four men place a 2,300-gallon plastic tank into a rectangular hole in the southern California desert. Volunteers from the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep install the second of three 2,300-gallon water tanks to provide water for wildlife in the Southern California desert.

Two men in orange T-shirts place water pipes into a trench in the desertSCBS volunteer Glenn Sudmeier and Steve Marschke install plumbing fixtures for the sheep drinker at the Cady Mountains guzzler project in San Bernardino County.

A metal pipe attached to a rock wall in the desert Pipes bolted into the rocks coming from a catch pond going to the original guzzler installed in the desert.

metal pipes lead to cylindrical tanks in the desert Plumbing pipes leading from the catch ponds to the storage tanks at the 40-year-old Cady # 1.

Two fake rocks and a small solar panel on a post, near real rocky terrain in the southern California desert The completed project: Drinkers are covered by fiberglass simulated rocks that shade the water to slow evaporation and to stop algae growth in the opening of the drinker.

150-foot-long catch field behind fake rocks in the desertEntire scope of the project, with the 150-foot-long catch field in the background that feeds water to the underground tanks.

One of the most elusive species in California is the desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) that live in the dry, desert mountains of southeastern California. Desert bighorn are far from fragile – males are about five feet long and can weigh up to 200 pounds, while the females weigh up to about 150. Despite their size, their keen eyesight and the agility to escape predators up steep rocky slopes, they still face many threats, including disease, human development, expansion and – more recently—a changing climate. Water is critical to their survival in this extreme environment.

The Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep (SCBS), an all-volunteer organization in Southern California, has been working since 1964 for the conservation and management of the desert bighorn sheep. Over the last 40 years, SCBS and CDFW have been installing drinking systems (also called guzzlers) across the sheep’s habitat to help counteract these challenges. Now the populations rely on these water sources to survive and there is a responsibility to keep them functional and maintained.

In September 2017, SCBS rallied the volunteers to install a new drinking system to provide sheep and other animals life-supporting water in the hot summers. The project took place in the desert east of Barstow, and began with the removal and replacement of the very first guzzler ever installed in California.

The old system had two cement catch ponds, each similar to a small swimming pool lined with plastic. The catch ponds collected rain water and funneled it though pipes and valves to three tanks, where it was stored and fed to a small stainless steel drinker box. Due to its age and condition, after being exposed to the desert air and sun for more than 40 years, the system needed constant maintenance, and – more importantly – SCBS members had to haul hundreds of gallons of water across the desert each summer in order to keep the tanks full during the hottest parts of the year.

To improve efficiency and reduce the impact on the habitat, engineers and scientists devised a new approach to the design and installation of the new system. They created a 150-foot-long catch field, laying down three sections of overlapping matting, like tiles on a roof. The mats were then covered with rocks to help it blend into the surrounding area. The mats are made of non-absorbent material that funnels water down a slope where it’s collected and fed into two 2,300-gallon plastic tanks buried in the ground.

SCBS members did all the work to design and engineer the site, dig out the large holes to bury the tanks and install the plumbing and other equipment, including a solar powered satellite telemetry system that will allow scientists to monitor the water levels, ambient temperatures, water flow and other measurements at the remote site.

After four days of morning-to-night labor, the project was completed and the site returned to its near-natural state. Most of the old system was removed with one tank still operating to give the sheep time to find the new water source about 1,000 feet away. The new system is more efficient, requires very little maintenance, and has a higher storage capacity that should eliminate water hauling efforts. The tanks provide enough water for all wildlife in the area, not just the sheep, and they are less visually intrusive from both land and the air, blending well into the desert surroundings.

All this equipment comes at a cost and this construction was paid for with a grant from the CDFW Big Game Management Account (BGMA) that provides money to fund projects that benefit big-game populations and the habitats upon which they depend.

The careful planning and work done will provide a stable and reliable water source for the sheep and other wildlife in this area for decades to come.

To watch volunteers install the new drinking system, watch a video on the CDFW YouTube channel.

Photos of installation courtesy of SCBS. CDFW photos of finished project by Andrew Hughan.

Categories: General
  • October 5, 2017

a ten-inch trout with a red band on its side, held in a man's two palms
a man wearing a California Fish and Wildlife uniform gently eases a 15-inch trout into a clear stream
underwater in a clear lake, a large trout swims from a bucket to freedom
three redband trout swim close to riverbottom rocks
15 redband trout swim together, close to tan and gold-colored riverbed rocks

For more than a century, CDFW’s Trout Hatchery and Stocking Program has been providing recreational fishing opportunities to anglers throughout California. Today, the trout hatchery program is composed of 13 hatcheries, which oversee 20 distinct fish production programs to produce 17 strains, species and subspecies of trout.

McCloud River Redband Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss stonei) is the latest addition to the CDFW’s production and release efforts. McCloud River Redband Trout is a unique sub-species of rainbow trout endemic to the upper McCloud River area of Shasta and Siskiyou counties of northern California. This fish has beautiful coloration and unique adult characteristics – a pronounced crimson lateral stripe, adult parr marks, relatively large black dorsal spotting, yellow-white hues on the underbelly and white-tipped fins.

The new production and stocking program for McCloud River Redband Trout at Mt. Shasta Fish Hatchery will focus on the upper McCloud River, including McCloud Reservoir. Given that stocking will occur solely within the historic watershed of McCloud River Redband Trout, the program is distinguished by CDFW as a Heritage Trout Production Program. A Heritage Trout is defined as a species of trout native to California, in its native habitat and area. This type of fishery represents the most natural form of aquatic habitat, species and angling opportunity available. Many anglers seeking additional challenges and goals will specifically pursue heritage trout fisheries.

While modern genetics management and conservation hatchery methods are utilized in the McCloud River Redband program, the hatchery-produced fish are primarily for recreational angling and not for release to areas containing wild and genetically pure McCloud River Redband Trout in their natural habitat. This ensures that the most wild populations remain in their native habitat and can continue local adaptation without hatchery influence. CDFW expects the McCloud River Redband Trout program to reach full implementation by 2019-20. The McCloud River Redband program demonstrates CDFW’s progress and commitment to conservation efforts and fisheries management.

CDFW trout hatcheries will continue to produce and stock several strains and species of trout statewide to promote trout angling opportunities, and contribute to the conservation of California’s native species and sub-species of trout. One of the next priorities for the department’s trout hatchery program will commence in 2018, and focus on advancing the Kern River Rainbow Trout program at CDFWs’ Kern River Planting Base.

CDFW Fish and Wildlife Technician Beau Jones stocking McCloud River Redband Trout in August 2017. CDFW photos by hatchery staff.

Categories: General