January 26, 2017

Full Moon Helps Illuminate Science on the Sevilleta!

Posted by larryohanlon

By Keara Bixby, University of New Mexico senior and BEMP Crawford Intern

Carter, Bosque School ’23, Dayle ’23, Elena ’23, and Elijah ’23 imitating black-tailed jackrabbits on the Sevilleta.

On Friday, January 13th, BEMP staff and students spent the night out at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge (New Mexico). A full moon helped these intrepid researchers conduct the winter jackrabbit survey of 2017. Four of our Bosque School seventh graders, BEMP Educator Kelly Steinberg, and BEMP’s Crawford Intern Keara Bixby drove a 21.5 mile loop around the Sevilleta’s long term ecological research station. Surveying for jackrabbits is done by shining spot lights outside the BEMP bus in order to see these important (and cute!) grassland herbivores.

One aspect of BEMP that is so incredible is that these BEMPers actually took part in real scientific research. The students not only learned about why we do ecological studies, but they actually conducted them! This is something that most students do not get to experience until they are undergraduate college students. And these BEMPers were EXPERTS during this survey! They had to work as a team and each member took on a unique role: one BEMPer held the spotlight, one recorded data, one took weather data, and one distributed snacks. Everyone had to keep their eyes wide open for the Sevilleta’s cottontails and black tailed jackrabbits – not an easy task at 2am!

Black-tailed jackrabbit, Lepus californicus

BEMP research is wonderful because the kids were excited to survey in the field and learn about the grassland ecology and scientific methodology. BEMP students have been monitoring jackrabbits since 2003 because these species, which reproduce, well like rabbits, are good indicators of ecosystem health and can help us understand how drought conditions in the southwest impact native wildlife. Students learned that jackrabbit data illustrates population dynamics as rabbits are as prey to many carnivores like coyotes and raptors. Everyone concluded that it was a wonderful way to spend a Friday night, BEMP’in it up under the full moon and studying these furry, big-eared residents of the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge.

Across 350 kilometers of the The Middle Rio Grande River students and their teachers from kindergarten through college serve as field scientists for the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (BEMP). Bosque means ‘forest’ in Spanish, and refers to the vast cottonwood forest that straddles the Rio Grande. Currently there are 32 study sites, and over 1 million data points are collected each year by many local students who would otherwise have limited access to environmental education. This Albuquerque-based program shows how local science initiatives can connect people to their landscapes while helping inform resource management decisions.

This and other BEMP posts can be found at the BEMPin’ It Up blog.