With only five remaining locations of the Monterey pine tree in its native range, this species is on the endangered species list.
You would think when a species is endangered, there would be greater efforts put into researching and preserving it.
This was not the case for the Monterey pine. At least not until recently.
Two Cal Poly senior forestry and natural resources (FNR) students, Matt Terzes and Kevin Hurt, began trailblazing research on this species for their senior project at the beginning of winter quarter.
“It’s been a great experience and I’ve learned a tremendous amount just from working on that,” Hurt said. “(I) can kind of pull all the classes together that I’ve taken into a whole and then apply it into this project.”
The Monterey pine is an endemic species and only appears in five locations in its native range: two in an island off the coast of Baja California and three in coastal California. So the stand on this reserve is one of the three that occur in coastal California, assistant professor of silviculture and forest ecology Sarah Bisbing said.
The research is being conducted using data from the Kenneth S. Norris Rancho Marino Reserve in Cambria. Reserve director Don Canestro had four permanent transects set up in 2002, where data has been gathered ever since, Hurt said.
As their advisor, Bisbing gave the students access to this “long-term” data set, Terzes said.
“Basically, we’re just using the data that’s been taken over the last 13 years, along with some new data we’re collecting, and we’re trying to look for patterns and trends to really study and get more information regarding the species,” Terzes said.
Bisbing offered the project, data collection and ranch to Terzes and Hurt, who then came up with their own set of ecological questions and interests to pursue within the project, she said.
“We’re lucky enough that it’s been monitored for a while, so they have all this data but they haven’t done anything with it,” Terzes said. “Our main objective is just to find out what’s going on, and that’s only for a small part of it. If anything, the information could essentially be used later on by someone, but we don’t have a set goal of what we want to tell someone with the data.”
Monterey pines are slowly working their way out due in part to accelerated climate change, or at least that’s what “people are supposing,” Hurt said. He saw the project as an opportunity to jump on board and work with the tree species to understand what is really happening.
The species is also susceptible to native and nonnative disturbance agents and is currently being attacked by a combination of the two, she said.
“It’s a drought year, so there’s a lot of mortality,” Terzes said. “And we’re kind of looking at mortality this year and going to compare it to historical meteorological data and see if there’s any connection or find the drivers leading to the mortality in the stand.”
Land managers, researchers and ecologists would like to see the forest and this species persist. To do so, they need a better understanding of its survival, its mortality and the potential for it to survive despite changing conditions due to disturbances, Bisbing said.
In order to conduct the research, they used past data and also helped collect this year’s data in the field. The four transects are set up to continue data collection in the future, and Terzes hopes to set up more.
“When we sampled in December, I spent three days out there, and I believe Matt spent two or three days out there,” Hurt said. “And since then, we’ve gone out there I’d say five or six times — just going out and observing. It seems like every time you go out there and do observations you kind of see more patterns.”
Their major classes tremendously helped prepare them for the project, Hurt said.
Some of the software learned in class can be applied to the project, such as Microsoft Excel and GIS, Hurt said.
Using these various types of software and the data collected since 2002, they just “walk through the data” and let it come up with something they can work with, Terzes said.
In order to further research, Bisbing plans to bring on more students to the project once Terzes and Hurt graduate, she said.
“Matt and Kevin have done and probably will do enough work for it to be a significant portion of a Master’s thesis,” Bisbing said. “But I will also hire undergraduates going forward to continue to collect data on these plots. There are a number of other opportunities with the plots in the data set and on the ranch in general.”
According to Terzes, there is a possibility they will carry this into their Master’s thesis, though it would have to be much more specific and analytic based than this “broad” senior project, he said.
“I’m kind of more geared toward the professional forester side, where I would be doing timber harvest plans,” Hurt said. “So it’s a little bit different from what we’re doing up there.”
Bisbing considers Terzes and Hurt as two of her strongest forestry students. They are both experienced in fieldwork and are a good match for the project because of their high intellect and ability to complete intensive work, she said.
“I think Matt and Kevin are a great example of successful Cal Poly students and how the Natural Resources department and Cal Poly can train students to actually go out and do science and advance understanding for management and conservation,” Bisbing said. “They’re both very good examples of that, and I’m very proud of them.”