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Oak Monitoring Program on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks

PictureUCI Center for Environmental Biology members during oak survey

UCI Center for Environmental Biology oak monitoring survey helps research and preserve natural oak woodlands in Orange County
 
Oaks are an important part of the California ecosystem and are considered to be one of the state’s major types of vegetation. To most people, it might just be another tree, but oaks are considered to be a foundation species, in the sense that their presence defines and supports an entire ecological community. Oak woodlands are their own important habitat, providing crucial shelter, foraging opportunities, and watershed protection, along with enhancing the aesthetic value of the California landscape. Whether we know it or not, oak woodlands are right in our backyard. Oak woodlands in Orange County consist almost entirely of Coast Live Oak, an evergreen tree that extends up and down the California coast.

Over the years, these woodlands have been considered at-risk due largely to habitat conversion by humans, which has reduced the trees to 50% of their historical range or less. Other factors in the decline of oak woodlands in California are competition with non-native species, cattle grazing, drought, and new pathogens. One example of a new pathogen that has affected Coast Live Oaks in Orange County is the Goldspotted Oak Borer. This particular pest is native to Arizona and was first identified in California in 2004, but was not linked to extensive oak mortality until 2008. 

An ongoing partnership between Irvine Ranch Conservancy and UC Irvine is helping the cause to restore oak woodlands with an annual Oak Monitoring Program through UCI’s Center for Environmental Biology (CEB). Every fall, a group of educators, interns, and students conduct the program in an effort to assess the overall health of Coast Live Oaks in Orange County. Members of CEB collect data on size and structure of the trees, number of acorns produced, number of seedlings and saplings, and the presence of pathogens, pests, and fungi.

CEB was established in March 2010 as part of UCI’s School of Biological Sciences to facilitate research, education, and outreach in biological science to help develop innovative new solutions to environmental problems. The Center is dedicated to linking academic research with ecosystem management and stewardship of natural resources, and to educate the next generation of environmental biologists and stewards.

According to CEB, biological resources are a critical component of environmental sustainability. Land, aquatic and marine ecosystems provide many essential functions that sustain air, water, climate, food, and social systems. It is increasingly challenging to manage these resources due to multiple stresses and environmental disturbances such as climate change, pollution, land use change, and exotic species invasions. However, new advances in biological research are providing methods to better understand how organisms and ecosystems influence the environment and how they respond to environmental change.

Originally established by The Nature Conservancy and San Diego State University in 2010, the annual oak monitoring program began with the goal of gaining scientifically robust information on the health status of oak populations. The goal of the UCI program on the Landmarks is to collect data on the health and demographics of Coast Live Oak across Orange County in order to understand the status of local woodlands and promote informed land management decisions. Researchers monitor individual trees and look for symptoms of stress or signs of infestations. If a significant threat is discovered early, then management practices can be implemented earlier.
How can you help? There are many ways to support the work of the Center for Environmental Biology at UCI. To find out more information visit https://ceb.bio.uci.edu/.
 
For more details on activities offered on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, including ecological restoration and stewardship, and to learn more about how you can give back to the lands, visit www.LetsGoOutside.org.