Assignment 7

Life after dark in a Bay Area forest

Friday, August 03, 2012

Stanford researchers are using a secluded piece of land and some high-tech gadgetry to peek into the secret lives of wild animals. It's happening at a preserve called Jasper Ridge, three miles west of the Stanford campus.

Jasper Ridge is a peaceful place; 1,200 acres owned by Stanford University and protected from development for more than a hundred years. When you stroll around during the day, you might not realize this place is packed with night life.

Videos and photos taken by a network of cameras with infrared motion sensors triggered by anything that walks by catch some animals in action during the day and night vision technology captures life after dark.

"We can study animals that we might never see... and this is especially important for animals that are too dangerous for a human to be trying to go out and photograph," says Eric Abelson, a graduate student working on the project.

Animals like mountain lions. Researchers knew they were at Jasper Ridge occasionally, but humans almost never see them. Now the cameras reveal mountain lions are here a lot.

"When we started seeing basically mountain lions here on a weekly basis we were a little bit surprised," says Jasper Ridge data manager Trevor Hebert who's in charge of the camera network.

Researchers say the presence of mountain lions is good news because it shows this is a healthy intact ecosystem including the top predator nature intended to be here.

"I got a whole series with different poses and expressions," explains Hebert. "It's really quite wonderful."

The ecosystem also includes bobcats -- who sometimes play with their food -- and lots of coyotes constantly patrolling. The cameras also trigger when smaller animals are present, including foxes, a great-horned owl, and the rarely seen dusky-footed wood rat.

The cameras are linked to a wireless network paid for with a National Science Foundation grant.

"This is one of the wireless access point stations. It's powered by solar power and it has a wireless or WiFi access point on top of a 30-foot pole," explains Hebert.

In the old days, researchers had to spend many hours traveling from camera to camera to collect their photos and video. Now the wireless network allows them to watch what's happening from their desks.

"We are looking at a live feed coming in from a camera out a couple miles away," says Hebert.

This project is examining the interaction between hummingbirds, flowers and microbes in the nectar. The cameras make it much easier to gather a lot of data quickly.

A key benefit of all the research on Jasper Ridge will be to find how and when animals use various types of habitat so scientists know what areas are most critical to their survival.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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