My research at Tejon Ranch was recently featured in the Tejon Ranch Conservancy Newsletter:
Saltbush Research Led by California State University Bakersfield Student Mitchell Coleman
By Conservancy Senior Ecologist Ellery Mayence
Saltbush (Atriplex spp.) shrublands, once widespread throughout much of the southern San Joaquin Valley, have been significantly reduced in the last 200 years because of intensive agricultural and industrial land uses among other anthropogenic activities. Complicating the scene and subsequent saltbush restoration activities has been the widespread invasion of the region by ultra-competitive, ecosystem transforming non-native grasses. At the core of the issue for saltbush and other native plant community restoration are: (1) residual dry matter (RDM): the senesced shoots of the non-native grasses which forms in the dry season. This greatly subdues light, moisture penetration, and temperature at the soil surface, which adversely affects seed germination, and (2) when germination and emergence do occur, intense competition with non-native grasses for what in most years is scantly available soil moisture. Importantly, both these concepts have ecological ramifications beyond saltbush ecology and, in part, underpin the radical transformation in plant community composition that has occurred. Mitchell’s research portfolio directly assesses the before mentioned ecological processes using a combination of controlled setting and in-situ field experimentation.
With much of the necessary controlled setting research complete, this year’s efforts are heavily focused on field research with germination and seedling transplant studies currently underway. The goals of Mitchell’s field research are to: (1) empirically demonstrate the deleterious effect of non-native grasses on native plant ecology and recruitment, and (2) inform native plant conservation and restoration, and on more of a regional scale, land management activities in the southern San Joaquin Valley and associated landscapes. From the Conservancy’s perspective, Mitchell’s research will provide valuable insight that benefits ongoing grazing management activities, as well as enhance efforts to pursue, when possible, active rather than passive native plant community restoration. Mitchell started this work as an intern in the Conservancy/CSUB EPIC program partnership which helps CSUB Environmental Studies students better understand career and research pathways funded through the generosity of Bakersfield philanthropists Ben and Gayle Batey. The Conservancy is very appreciative of Mitchell’s enthusiasm and willingness to conduct quality academic research with well-defined practical implications here on the Ranch. Thank you Mitchell!