Thanks to the amazing collaborative efforts between UC Merced officials and AP Environmental Science Teachers Laura Hollister, Brian Hofsteen and Kevin Testo, nearly 130 PHS and THS students were able to contribute to authentic, cutting-edge biodiversity science at the UC Merced Vernal Pools & Grasslands Reserve. The students worked shoulder-to-shoulder with UC Merced professors Dr. Jason Sexton and Dr. Dannise Ruiz and Reserve Manager Mo Kolster to collect soil and sediment samples from vernal pools while soaking-in the sweeping views of the distant Sierra Nevada.
Vernal pools are small depressions in the valley and foothills that fill with water to become temporary wetlands in the winter and spring before evaporating completely during the hot summer months. Vernal Pools are known habitat for endangered amphibians, fairy shrimp and native plant species that are found nowhere else in the world!
The samples collected by the students will be taken to a new multi-million dollar lab at UCLA where remnant biological material such as fur, cells, urine & feces found in the soil will have its DNA extracted and sequenced. The DNA found in the environment (eDNA) will let researchers know EXCATLY which microbes, fungi, plants and animals call the Vernal Pools home during the spring!
Many students developed a newfound appreciation for the Great Central Valley by experiencing it beauty and discovering its biological value. The results of the student-collected samples will be freely available to the public within the next several months on the Cal eDNA interactive map at https://data.ucedna.com/.
Ryan J Hollister - Geoscience & EnviroSci Educator, Avid hiker, Landscape photographer, WildLink Club Advisor, Central Valley Advocate.