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Scientists at the USGS Western Ecological Research Center study the many ecosystems of the Pacific Southwest. Follow our expeditions and projects through this outreach page, and learn more about your local landscape with our library of Outreach Factsheets and photos. Thanks for joining us!

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Screenshot of WERC newsletter 103 --Photographer: USGS
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WERC Biweekly Update: Feb. 16-29, 2012
WERC research roundups are now in a biweekly format, complete with PDF version. Check back every two weeks for a run down of new research and events from the USGS Western Ecological Research Center. To add your name to the email distribution list for the PDF newsletter, please contact

Download the current issue (1.03)


High-Water Hideouts for Endangered Rail
Bay Nature magazine interviewed WERC scientist Cory Overton at the Dixon Field Station, who is testing artificial floating islands in San Francisco Bay as refuges for endangered California clapper rail (Rallus longirostris obsoletus). The islands serve as roosting and nesting sites for rails during extreme high tides, which could be exacerbated under forecasted sea level rise. Remote cameras have shown the rails actively using the islands, so Overton will deploy more than 25 islands in spring 2012 in Oakland’s Arrowhead Marsh and elsewhere to further study this conservation tool.


Kéfi, S, EL Berlow, EA Wieters, SA Navarrete, OL Petchey, SA Wood, A Boit, LN Joppa, KD Lafferty, RJ Williams, ND Martinez, BA Menge, CA Blanchette, AC Iles, U Brose. 2012. More than a meal... integrating non-feeding interactions into food webs. Ecology Letters. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2011.01732.x

Lee, JS, EW Ruell, EE Boydston, LM Lyren, RS Alonso, JL Troyer, KR Crooks, S VandeWoude. 2012. Gene flow and pathogen transmission among bobcats (Lynx rufus) in a fragmented urban landscape. Molecular Ecology. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2012.05493.x

Vittecoq, M, E Elguero, KD Lafferty, B Roche, J Brodeur, M Gauthier-Clerc, D Missé, F Thomas. 2012. Brain cancer mortality rates increase with Toxoplasma gondii seroprevalence in France. Infection, Genetics and Evolution. doi: 10.1016/j.meegid.2012.01.013 (in press)

Waitman, BA, SB Vander Wall, TC Esque. 2012. Seed dispersal and seed fate in Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia). Journal of Arid Envrionments. doi: 10.1016/j.jaridenv.2011.12.012 (in press)


Reassessing Wilderness Stewardship in an Era of Rapid Climate Change
WERC ecologist Nate Stephenson and USDA paleoecologist Constance Millar discuss planning considerations when designing wilderness management actions in face of shifting baselines and species ranges under climate change.


WERC Outreach Factsheet: Long-Term Research in Forest Dynamics
USGS maintains a network of 30 long-term forest research plots in Sequoia and Yosemite national parks, where the birth, growth, health and deaths of some 30,000 trees have been tracked annually for up to 30 years. Nate Stephenson explains the network’s value.


Number of Dead California Sea Otters Recovered in 2011 a Record High
Since 1968, USGS and CDFG have documented sea otter “strandings” — the number of dead, sick or injured sea otters reported along California each year. Tim Tinker presents the 2011 figures, including an increase in mortality related to white sharks.

Cradle of Flames: New Book Explains How Wildfires Shape Southern California and other ‘Mediterranean’ Ecosystems
Exploring the impact of fire on Mediterranean-type plant communities is the focus of a new book, Fire in Mediterranean Ecosystems (Cambridge University Press). The book’s host of international authors is led by WERC fire ecologist Jon Keeley.

Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza Transmitted During Summer in Calif. Wetlands
Waterfowl can spread low pathogenic avian influenza viruses (LPAIv) during summer, even with warm wetland temperatures and low waterfowl densities. A WERC team led by Joe Fleskes sampled Yolo Bypass and Sacramento Valley wetlands for this study.


March 22, 2012 (Menlo Park, CA) Tom Suchanek will give this month’s USGS Menlo Park Public Lecture and Webcast, discussing the impacts of climate change on California and San Francisco Bay.


UCLA Undergrads Tackle Urban Wildlife Research (The Wildlife Society Urban Wildlife News) highlights research by UCLA researcher Travis Longcore, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and Erin Boydston, examining the use of a roadway underpass by humans  and wild mammals in greater L.A.

White Sharks Factor in California Sea Otter Mortality (various outlets) is a current focus of WERC scientists Brian Hatfield and Tim Tinker, who recently announced the total reported sea otter strandings in California for 2011.,0,2779949.story

Case Closed for Sea Otter Deaths (AAAS ScienceNOW) reports a California Department of Fish and Game analysis of sea otter deaths due to Microcystis, a freshwater cyanobacteria. WERC’s Tim Tinker is a coauthor on the research, which was discussed at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver.

Darwin’s Degenerates (Science Sushi on Scientific American Blogs) revisits the evolutionary uniqueness of parasites, and cites several studies by Kevin Lafferty on parasite and ecological theory.


Meet the Lauan Ground Skink of Fiji checks in on a 2011 expedition by Robert Fisher to Fiji to survey a rare species and the potential threats to its survival. (See Expedition box below)

Trick My Truck, San Francisco Bird Research Edition visits WERC scientist Stacy Moskal, who is studying shorebird use of constructed islands and tidal waters at Pond SF2 of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, near Menlo Park, CA. Moskal conducts bird behavior and count surveys from a custom mobile platform.


Lauan Ground Skink Survey in Fiji
WERC scientist Robert Fisher explored the Ono-I-Lau island complex of Fiji in July 2011 with NatureFiji and University of Kansas and the support of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and National Trust Fiji. The Lauan ground skink (Leiolopisma alazon) was discovered in 1982 but not observed again by scientists until 2011, when the team photographed live specimens for the first time. The species was found on three small islands — the largest of which is less than 1km2 in area — and face threats from nonnative rats and yellow crazy ants, and sea level rise. A report is forthcoming.

Leiolopisma alazon, the Lauan ground skink, photographed in July 2011 --Photographer: Robert Fisher/USGS

This Biweekly Update is produced as a service to USGS/WERC staff, colleagues, partners and the interested public. To add your email address to the mailing list or to report errors/suggestions, please contact Download the current issue (1.03)

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