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Latest Cal Nat Blog

Ingredients for biodiversity: high primary productivity and isolation

“The desert tells a different story every time one ventures on it.” — Robert Edison Fulton, Jr Areas with high biodiversity, many unique species within a given geographic area, must have at least two ingredients, high primary productivity and isolation. High primary productivity requires warm temperatures and sufficient moisture to foster plant growth. Both the...

Why are we demonizing ravens?

“Ravens taught me to pay attention. The desert taught me to see. Art and artists taught me to see more … and better … and to appreciate, savor, and protect.” — Linda Durham Ravens are members of the family Corvidae, a family that includes Clark’s nutcrackers, jays, crows, magpies, choughs, jackdaws, and rooks (the last...

Rainfall niche

“The desert floras shame us with their cheerful adaptations to the seasonal limitations. Their whole duty is to flower and fruit, and they do it hardly, or with tropical luxuriance, as the rain admits. ... One hopes the land may breed like qualities in her human offspring, not tritely to 'try,' but to do.” —...

Beyond Clementsian and Gleasonian

“The natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human. To damage this community is to diminish our own existence.” Thomas Berry Bacteria, plants, fungi, animals, along with we humans, are all connected. None can live isolated...

Dino spotters

“You must have the bird in your heart before you can find it in the bush.” - John Burroughs “Sometimes I think that the point of birdwatching is not the actual seeing of the birds, but the cultivation of patience. Of course, each time we set out, there's a certain amount of expectation we'll see...

How did creosote bushes come to the desert?

“There is in all things a pattern that is part of our universe. It has symmetry, elegance, and grace - these qualities you find always in that the true artist captures. You can find it in the turning of the seasons, the way sand trails along a ridge, in the branch clusters of the creosote...

Snake expectations

"The gateways to wisdom and knowledge are always open." — Louise Hay The natural world is a gateway to knowledge. What one does with that knowledge dictates whether greater wisdom is also an outcome. The knowledge-wisdom dichotomy is important. Knowledge is the accumulation of facts, wisdom the application of that knowledge to a broader understanding...

Take a walk back in time

“A million years is a short time - the shortest worth messing with for most problems. You begin tuning your mind to a time scale that is the planet's time scale. For me, it is almost unconscious now and is a kind of companionship with the earth.” ― John McPhee, Basin and Range We often...

The value of naturalists

“Mutation is random; natural selection is the very opposite of random.” — Richard Dawkins “The environment selects those few mutations that enhance survival, resulting in a series of slow transformations of one lifeform into another, the origin of a new species.” — Carl Sagan That two naturalists, one self-educated and the other with a university...

Types of extended sleep during desert winters

“To sleep—perchance to dream ...” – Shakespeare (Hamlet) Winter is an excellent time to enjoy desert landscapes. Cool temperatures provide ideal conditions for long comfortable hikes. However, it is not my favorite time. As hot as deserts can be during the summer, the cold winter temperatures also limit who is awake and can be seen...

Desert owls and the ecological niche theory

“A species is a reproductive community of populations (reproductively isolated from others) that occupies a specific niche in nature.” — Ernst Mayr A niche in the ecological sense was derived from the Middle French word “nicher,” meaning to nest. The term ecological niche was first employed by Joseph Grinnell in 1917 in the paper he...

Why we need to protect mesquite thickets

“I would not sacrifice a single living mesquite tree for any book ever written. One square mile of living desert is worth a hundred ‘great books’ – and one brave deed is worth a thousand.” — Edward Abbey Across the grasslands of the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico and Texas, mesquite is loathed, reviled. Mesquite...

How Big Morongo Canyon's wetlands are changing

“The grass and the vines and the willow trees were all so lush and vividly green that he was slightly awed by them. Their location within an alcove of a cliff made all of it more remarkable. It was such an unexpected place for something so beautiful, like an oasis in the middle of a...

The biogeography of chuckwallas

“Perhaps I am just a hopeless rationalist, but isn’t fascination as comforting as solace? Isn’t nature immeasurably more interesting for its complexities and its lack of conformity to our hopes? Isn’t curiosity as wondrously and fundamentally human as compassion?” — Stephen Jay Gould One of the scientific disciplines primarily populated by naturalists today is “biogeography,"...

The biological significance of summer rains

“Without rain, there is no life." — Jerry Yang During these late fall and winter months, you can often look toward the mountains and see snow capping the peaks, reminding us of the winter season even when it can be 80 degrees here on the desert floor. Take a closer look and you will see...

When do wildflowers bloom?

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” — Frank Lloyd Wright One of the many mysteries of mysteries of nature, one of those riddles wrapped within an enigma for desert naturalists to ponder, is “what factors determine when annual wildflowers will bloom?” Clearly the amount and timing of desert...

What happens to translocated lizards?

“The lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry, and horny.” — Seth Godin Any attempt to infer what other species think is a mistake. Nevertheless, we can probably be safe to assume that survival is at both the forefront and backdrop of any individual’s thoughts, regardless of what species it is. Survival includes finding sustenance and...

On biophilia, an innate love of nature

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” — Carl Sagan Under the rubric of natural history, that “something incredible” might include asking, “What is it?”, identifying if a species is new to science or perhaps just new to a particular location, to “How is it connected to the larger web of life?”, or “Will...

There's more to conservation than charismatic megafauna

“All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful ...” – Cecil Frances Alexander (1848) Ms. Alexander was referring to “all god’s creatures” and at the same time making an argument that all life is precious, regardless of whether we perceive them as cute, or cuddly, as food, or...

Protecting sand dunes

“Nature is not more complicated than you think, it is more complicated than you can think.” — Frank Edwin Egler Frank Egler was a plant ecologist who, among other accomplishments, assisted Rachel Carson in her writing of her profoundly impactful book, “Silent Spring.” As Egler so correctly stated, ecological systems are exceptionally complex with myriads...