Edward Bobich, associate professor of biological sciences, has received a $120,000 grant to study water availability for trees near Desert Center, Calif.
The study will look at multiple factors to determine the effects of the construction of a nearby well on desert trees, which depend on underground water tables for survival. The trees are an important part of a fragile desert ecosystem that supports endangered animals such as the desert tortoise.
Bobich and three students with field research experience are monitoring two types of desert trees in the area — blue palo verde (Cercidium floridum) and Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota). Graduate students Ryan Stanfield and Jena Portanova and biology undergraduate student Marissa Caringella will take measurements six times a year, and each round will require two full days.
“You don’t really anticipate how long it’s going to take,” Stanfield says. “You get out there and things wind up taking way longer than you’d expect.”
A day for the team starts at 2 a.m. and doesn’t end until late at night. Bobich says they are lucky to get four hours of sleep between taking measurements. But he’s not complaining.
“If science were easy everyone would do it, right?” he says.
The grant, which comes from business and environmental concerns, provides up to three years of funding. Bobich will use the data collected to conclude whether or not the trees appear to be effected by the drilling of the well.
The study provides an opportunity for students to improve their field research skills while working on an important project. Bobich says that research opportunities like this don’t come around every day.
“The environment is being altered and we get the opportunity to see how the organisms are being affected right away. We’re getting a front row seat to this, which is so rare. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”
(Photo: Biology Professor Ed Bobich examines a blue palo verde tree at the Ethnobotany Lab at BioTrek.)