Creekside Science

Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Creekside Science Tackles Monarch Butterfly Overwintering Habitat Across California

In Monarchs, Research, Restoration, Stewardship on August 23, 2020 at 9:49 am

The Western monarch butterfly population that overwinters in California is in a state of collapse from a panoply of causes, including pesticide use, climate change, land use-change, and deterioration of the overwintering sites along the coast.  Stu has been working with overwintering monarchs since 1990, using hemispherical (fisheye) photography to quantify canopy structure and map wind and sun exposure within the sites.  As of summer 2020, Creekside Science is assessing more than 20 monarch sites from Sonoma to Orange Counties, working with various cities, California State Parks, Resource Conservation Districts, and the Xerces Society to assess the current conditions of groves and to develop long-term management plans.  One fascinating aspect is that conserving monarchs requires thoughtful management of specific non-native eucalyptus forests, which the monarchs have occupied because eucalyptus groves provide the exacting microclimatic conditions sought by the butterflies.

Here is Stu with his venerable fisheye camera rig, while he and Chris were bushwhacking through the dense poison oak understory of a Eucalyptus grove at Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur.  Stu had worked this site in 2001, and noted densification of the forest that will be captured with the fisheye photos and a novel application of LiDAR (laser mapping from aircraft).

A LiDAR image of Andrew Molera, looking like a 19th Century Japanese woodblock print, provides 3-D structural information.  Note the peaked roof of the Cooper Cabin, built in 1861, and the large trunks of the eucalyptus trees planted around the same time that the cabin was constructed.

Here is a fisheye photo from which canopy openings in different directions can be used to estimate wind and sun penetration.  The cabin is to the upper right, and the Santa Lucia Range can be seen through the large trees surrounding the cabin. 

San Bruno Mountain Lupine Seeding Year 2

In Mission Blue Butterfly, Rare species, Research, Restoration, Stewardship on January 7, 2020 at 3:02 pm

In 2018 Creekside Science was awarded a Disney Butterfly Conservation Initiative grant for work with the federally endangered Mission blue butterfly (MBB). This grant covers work with MBB habitat, with a focus on restoration of the butterfly’s host lupine species.

In December 2019 Creekside Science staff and Kirra Swenerton (of Root Wisdom) installed 10 blocks of experimental seed plots on San Bruno Mountain using 50 Lupinus formosus and 50 Lupinus albifrons seeds each. In addition to those experimental plots, 10 operational plots were installed, each containing 50 seeds (25 of each species). Lastly, 3000 seeds (1,700 L. formosus and 1,300 L. albifrons) were set out in expansion plots elsewhere on the hill. These plots join last year’s Lupinus formosus experimental seeding trials to further our understanding of how best to establish lupines in MBB habitat. The seeds were propagated in the Creekside Science Conservation Nursery. This is all part of a regional, interagency conservation effort to support lupine diversification and habitat enhancement for the recovery of the MBB.  In cooperation with multiple agency partners, efforts to address known habitat enhancement challenges through updated host plant mapping, lupine seed amplification and experimental direct seeding strategies are underway.

Think Big, Connect More

In Climate Change, Networking, Rare species, Research, Stewardship on January 6, 2020 at 3:56 pm

In November 2019, more than 125 members of the conservation community gathered at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for the official launch of the Bay Area Conservation Lands Network 2.0 Science Expansion. CLN 2.0 inventories, synthesizes, and projects forward the impressive collective efforts that have made the Bay Area a world leader in conservation, and provides that information to the greater conservation community and public at large.

Since 2006, Chief Scientist Stu Weiss has served as Science Adviser on this visionary project, bringing to bear scientific and GIS skills and his deep knowledge and love of Bay Area biogeography to the question “Which lands should be protected and stewarded to conserve the rich and irreplaceable biodiversity of the 10 Bay Area counties in an era of rapid environmental change?”  The CLN 2.0 team led by Tom Robinson and supported by the expertise of more than 100 volunteer scientists and practitioners, pored over hundreds of data sources – biogeography of flora and fauna, physical geography of landforms, climate, and hydrology, and human geography of development, laws, and institutions.  Those data were prioritized and synthesized into a network design.

The broad answer is 2.5 million acres conserved by 2050, half of the region (Think Big).  CLN 2.0 builds off the currently protected 1.4 million acres to further encompass rare and irreplaceable ecosystems and the species they support, vast expanses of more common flora and fauna, and ensuring connectivity across the mountain ranges and valleys of the Bay Area (Connect More).

For the full report (full of beautiful photos, many taken by Stu), online access to data via the CLN 2.0 Explorer, and to download an organized GIS project, go to

The Bay Checkerspot Butterfly Returns to San Bruno Mountain!

In Bay Checkerspot, Climate Change, Nitrogen Deposition, Recognition and Media, Research, Restoration, Stewardship, Topoclimatic Studies on March 6, 2017 at 3:55 pm

The federally threatened Bay checkerspot butterfly was extirpated from San Bruno BCB_Larva_lanceolata_munch_SBM 3-1-2017 4-51-20 PM (1)Mountain in the mid 1980s.  On March 2 and 3 2017, Creekside Science biologists collected 3630 caterpillars from Coyote Ridge in San Jose and released them on the main ridge of San Bruno Mountain.  The larvae immediately started munching English plantain, a  non-native used by other closely related checkerspot populations.  The cool coastal environment, robust perennial hostplant, and extensive habitat are encouraging aspects of this project.  This project may show that we can reintroduce extirpated species without the technical challenges and expense of restoring all historical conditions.

BCB_Larva_SBM_SF 3-2-2017 5-23-37 PM

Find the very hungry caterpillar!

Many thanks to the Disney Butterfly Conservation Initiative, US Fish and Wildlife Service, San Mateo County Parks and Recreation, and SF Bay Wildlife Society for financial and professional support.

Kirra_SBM_SFO_larva 3-2-2017 4-46-55 PM

Reintroduction high above San Francisco International Airport. Bay checkerspot flight #1 will depart in late March!

Creekside Science Quino checkerspot work

In Research, Restoration, Stewardship on February 10, 2017 at 1:34 pm

Creekside Science is working in collaboration with numerous agencies and institutions, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, San Diego Zoo, San Diego State University and Earth Discovery Institute, on reversing the decline of the critically endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha quino) in San Diego County.  Dr. Weiss has gone down to San Diego County a few times for field work, and he will be going again soon when the Quino checkerspot butterflies start flying. Please click here for more information.

Fine-scale modeling of bristlecone pine treeline position in the Great Basin, USA

In Climate Change, Research, Topoclimatic Studies on January 10, 2017 at 11:01 am

A multi-year collaboration between Western Washington University (Andrew Bunn, Jamis Bruening, Tyler Tran), The Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at University of Arizona (Matthew Salzer) and Creekside Science (Stu Weiss, Jimmy Quenelle) culminates with the publication of this paper!


It was an honor to work with this dedicated team over time and over diverse terrain, from various lab locations to the AGU conference in San Francisco to the peaks, ridges and canyons of the Sierra, White Mountains and Snake Range.

Congratulations to Jamis and Tyler for recently earning their Master’s Degrees


from Western Washington University for their work on this project! Enjoy the paper!

LAG Grant Award for Monitoring Nitrogen Deposition in Santa Clara County

In Nitrogen Deposition, Research on September 16, 2016 at 2:35 pm

Creekside Science, in collaboration with the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency, has been awarded a Natural Community Conservation Planning (NCCP) Local Assistant Grant for researching nitrogen deposition trends in the HCP area of Santa Clara County.

Added nitrogen drives annual grass invasions on serpentine soils and threatens many of the covered species, especially the Bay checkerspot butterfly (Weiss 1999). Indirect impacts of continued N-deposition on natural communities are anticipated to result from the development covered under the NCCP and serpentine habitat types are the focus of preservation and management/enhancement actions to offset the effects of nitrogen deposition. All other land cover types in the permit area have also been identified as sensitive or potentially sensitive to N-deposition (Weiss 2006, Fenn et al. 2010), including northern mixed and serpentine chaparral, mixed oak woodland, foothill pine-oak woodland, mixed evergreen forest, redwood forest, California annual grassland, valley oak woodland, blue oak woodland, coast live oak forest and woodland, freshwater marsh, seasonal wetland, and ponds. Understanding and monitoring this primary driver of ecological change is the primary goal of this project.


Consistent elevated nitrate in shallow groundwater is a prime symptom of terrestrial nitrogen saturation (Fenn and Poth 1999, Fenn et al. 2008). Excess N leaches below the root zone as nitrate. Low-productivity serpentine soils have very limited capacity to retain N (Fenn et al 2010). There are dozens of springs fed by serpentine grassland catchments within the Plan Area and beyond, and spatial gradients and trends in N-deposition can be monitored efficiently through sampling of selected springs for nitrate.

This grant will fund work on this project into 2019.

Hunting the Tiburon Paintbrush

In Research on July 14, 2013 at 9:18 am

Laney - Castilleja study in Marin-3327Creekside staff has teamed up with researchers in order to help us learn more about the endangered Tiburon Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis ssp. neglecta). Laney Widener of the Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden has been traveling through California collecting samples and updating the distribution of this plant (and a number of Castilleja species). Read the rest of this entry »

Where the wind blows

In Research on August 14, 2012 at 11:22 am

Creekside Science has been working with the Presidio Trust on a number of projects over the years.  One current project will provide initial calibration of a local wind model, tied to existing wind readings on the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.  The model will estimate winds at particular sites in the Presidio based on velocity (speed and direction) data from the anemometer on the bridge.  The key part of the model is a calibration of wind attenuation with directional canopy cover from hemispherical photographs. The effect of wind funneling topography will also be investigated in open areas facing the ocean.

The model will inform the impacts of tree removal in dune areas (will tree removal alter sand movement?) and on remaining forest edges (will there be increased risk of blowdown?).  Furthermore, the model will help determine where and how wind may affect potential monarch overwintering sites.