Posts tagged Natural History Museum of LA

Photo: Natural History Museum, Los Angeles

Photo: Natural History Museum, Los Angeles

A little over a month ago my wife traveled down to the Natural History Museum to learn how to participate in the world’s largest urban biodiversity study. The BioSCAN ProjectRASCals (Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California), SLIME (Snails and slugs Living in Metropolitan Environments), and the Southern California Squirrel Survey, in partnership with the Urban Nature Research Center at Los Angeles Natural History Museum, have all coordinated to invite regular people to become scientists…citizen scientists.

Photo: Gregory Han

Photo: Gregory Han

Because of the expansion of urban development, many animal species have had to adapt – or perish – affecting biodiversity in ways that aren’t always apparent. The NHM’s Citizen Science Program is turning to Angelenos to aid in investigating distribution and behavior of various species.

For example, we all see squirrels happily doing there thing here across Los Angeles. On the surface the population seems to be thriving. But did you know our native grey squirrels have been pushed out of their traditional range due to the disappearance of their native habitat of local oaks and black walnut trees? What you’ve been seeing are non-native eastern fox squirrels.

We have a half-dozen of these cute transplants living in our backyard, even though we live in the last section of Greater Los Angeles with a viable population of native Californian black walnut trees to feed local squirrels. The eastern fox squirrels are just more adaptable to urban life than their Californian country counterparts.

A map from the Southern California Squirrel Survey.

A map from the Southern California Squirrel Survey.

Jim Dines, a mammalogist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is now leading the charge in surveying the distribution of squirrels in Southern California. My wife signed herself up to observe and report back how these adaptive eastern transplants are doing, especially in these times when the stress of the drought is affecting both flora and fauna in innumerable ways. The responsibilities of a Citizen Scientist are modest: Surveying your yard for 15 minutes, twice a month, for one year, in search of squirrels, reptiles, amphibians, and snails and recording your observations (including submitting photos  based on your backyard surveys). It’s something my wife and I already do while enjoying the microcosm of life happening in our very own backyard up here in Mt. Washington.

To learn more about becoming a Citizen Scientist yourself, check out the various programs over at the NHM’s Citizen Science Program site.

A California native, the Buckeye butterfly is amongst the pollinators found at the Natural History Museum's native garden. Photo: NHMLA

A California native, the Buckeye butterfly is amongst the pollinators found at the Natural History Museum’s native garden. Photo: NHMLA

On a field trip to the Nature Gardens of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Carol Bornstein, the gardens’ Director and also co-author of, California Native Plants for the Garden, and Dr. Brian Brown, the museum’s Entomology Curator, served as our guides. Our visit was an inquiry into native gardens within urban settings, a subject of ongoing interest to us as designers of urban spaces.

My strongest impression of the day was the different perspectives of the gardens we heard and experienced. We listened to Carol Bornstein, who is a horticulturalist, describe how her staff is maintaining an aesthetic and cultural balance with the plants of each garden and talk about the plants’ life cycles and care. I smiled in appreciation when she said, “brown is a color too,” a familiar statement to most designers of California native gardens.

Back in 2011 the NHMLA's Curator of Entomology, Dr. Brian Brown brought in an extra piece of redwood from his yard, and with the help of the museum's exhibit technicians drilled over 200 quarter inch holes to turn the wood into bee hotels.

Back in 2011 the NHMLA’s Curator of Entomology, Dr. Brian Brown brought in an extra piece of redwood from his yard, and with the help of the museum’s exhibit technicians drilled over 200 quarter inch holes to turn the wood into bee hotels.

With Dr. Brown, we adjusted our viewing lens as we shifted our listening from a discussion of shrubs and trees to bees and flies. He talked about pollinators and directed our attention to the gardens’ native flies, butterflies, bees and other insects. We learned from him that there are over 500 species of native bees in Los Angeles (wow!), and that Argentine Ants, an introduced species, have displaced many of our native ants.

AHBE_NHM-Field-Trip_2015-03-30_living-wall-2

I was then drawn to the gardens’ other visitors, the people for whom these gardens were created. I watched as school children navigated the landscape and discovered the things that we discussed with Carol and Brian and which make these gardens special. They entered the woven willow playhouse and followed paths leading to bee hotels, insect traps, a pond and other finds. They curiously investigated the gardens’ Living Wall – and perhaps, I wondered, contemplating a climb.

We started our visit thinking about the performance of native gardens within urban settings. We wondered about how urbanization affects plant culture, pollinators, and wildlife habitats. We observed, asked questions and listened. The day was not about answers.