This summer I am working with a team of researchers in Baja California Sur, Mexico and peers from DePaul University, on the Q. Brandegeei, or commonly known as the Mexican Arroyo Oak. This is a rare endangered species due to its geographic isolation and its inability to reproduce successfully into adulthood.
When I applied for this project in March, I was so excited to be fortunate enough to travel to the Sierra La Laguna Biosphere Reserve and meet the researchers and local ranchers that have a special connection to the Mexican Arroyo Oak. While was born in Mexico, I have lived the majority of my life in the United States. For me, the ability to work with not just an endangered oak, but an endangered oak in Mexico offered a chance for me to reconnect with my Mexican origins. Despite not being to go and visit due to COVID, it is so exiting to be able to tell my parents and abuelitos about it.
Instead of doing chemical analysis on the leaves of this rare oak, I’ve been working virtually with seedlings data collected by the team in Mexico. I’ve been working primarily with excel and R studio. I’ve had to do a lot of reading, writing, data entry and re-entry, followed up more data clean up. The rest has been using R to find the best mode of analysis and data visualization as well as a ton of zoom meetings.
Working on this project is a chance to do work that may prevent the likelihood of Q. Brandegeei from facing extinction, which is mind blowing. Conservation ecology is truly an exciting field as it allows us to understand more about how ecosystems work and respond to human impacts. It also works to communicate these findings in a way that makes it easier for more people to understand how ecosystems work and how to help in saving endangered species, such as this oak. This is done by looking at what values the species brings to an area. For example, the Mexican Arroyo Oak provides shade to other species and regulates the climate which helps the ecosystem as well as the local ranchers. In communicating what will help the Oak successfully reproduce into mature oaks will help conserve the species. I’ve come to realize that it is also our responsibility to stop human impacts from changing ecosystems for the worst.
As I chug along into my project, I’ve realized that one of the hardest things about doing ecological work is selecting just a couple of variables. A central idea of ecology can be said to be the idea of interconnectedness. Yet this makes selecting just one or two variables so difficult when you know that there is so much at play. This realization brings a lot of humility into the work and also a hint of frustration. I ended up picking observational variables such as ‘drying’ and ‘trampling’ that are most likely directly affecting the survivorship of the seedlings.
For me personally, this project is pushing me beyond my comfort zone by making me try new things and try things I thought I already knew in a new way. I’ve come to realize that everyone is coming from a different knowledge level for many different things. That itself is something to celebrate as it allows for yes, some confusion but more importantly a lot of growth. Conservation ecology requires a lot of teamwork and I am so happy to have a great team of people to work with!