San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias
Agua Verde–Punta Mechudo Binational Expedition

Binational Expedition to Agua Verde and Punta Mechudo DAY SEVEN
Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Los Dolores, Baja California (Map location 3)
Transmitted from camp by an Apple computer hooked to a Qualcomm/GlobalstarUSA satellite phone.

Freshwater Lake Explored

The entire research team set out on a long hike to explore Lago Kakiwi; a freshwater lake located above the south rim of Arroyo Los Dolores at 1500 feet above the valley floor. Our guides, Francisco and Silvano, met us at base-camp to lead us on a two and a half hour hike to the northern shore of the lake. Our scientific team found the lake during an aerial survey of the region and hoped to sample the lake’s flora and fauna.

Two teams left camp at 8:00am and hiked over the crest of the southern hills of the valley to a small ranch above Los Burros. After an hour of hiking, the heat of the day had already started to wear down the scientists and a long line of people were spread across the trail. We were warmly greeted by the ranchers and refilled our water containers in their spring. From the small ranch house, we started the ascent of the southern canyon wall, following an old road that had long since fallen into disrepair.

Our guide Silvano made sure everyone kept to the right path, running up and down the string of hikers, despite the mid to upper ninety degree temperatures and the steep and rugged terrain. Much like a human billygoat, he seemed accustomed to running up and down the mountains. At the crest of the trail, Team Botany paused to take samples along the precipice of the mountain’s north face. From below, Dr. Rebman and his crew could be seen walking the ledges of the cliff face in search of new botanical discoveries.

Water started running short in everyone’s bottles after the climb to the crest. The lake was still another hour's hike and the heat was wearing on everyone. Patricia Beller found her own way up the south face riding a rancher’s burro to the crest. From the crest the trail cut off from the old road and followed a narrow single-track path through the desert. From the top, many of the islands in the Gulf of California could be seen, as well as base-camp below (now looking like a small spec amidst some date palms).

Lago Kakiwi ended up taking four and a half hours to reach, instead of the two and a half hours predicted. The discrepancy likely came from the estimate given by Silvano, who outpaced us all. The lake is much like an overgrown mud puddle, the size of a reservoir, and filled with milky brown water. The local rancher told us that the lake had not been filled in 15 years and predicted that it would dry within two years. The recent hurricanes filled the lakes to the point that an entire ranch had been submerged.

The researchers got to work, discovering a population of the Pacific Treefrog (Hyla regilla). Dr. Mike White, from the Conservation Biology Institute, found that there were few ions in the water. The water contained an enormous population of freshwater shrimp, as well as aquatic beetles, back-swimmers, and water boatman. Team Botany discovered what appears to be a unique annual plant community similar to the vernal pools found in San Diego County. This community may be hurricane driven, rather than the winter rains that drive the vernal pools. These lakes add an entire new habitat to Baja California’s already diverse ecosystems.

At the end of the long, grueling hike, it seems that the most prevailing discovery was that everyone was exhausted. The researchers returned to base-camp after dark and were treated to a fresh fish dinner courtesy of our cooks, Carolina Espinoza and Juan Carlos. Everyone turned in early and were asleep by 10:00pm.

Bradford Hollingsworth
Expedition Coordinator
From camp at 10:45pm

Researchers beginning their hike from base-camp
Researchers beginning their hike from base-camp.

Researchers filling their water bottles at rancher’s spring
Researchers filling their water bottles at rancher’s spring.

Patricia Beller making her way to the top
Patricia Beller making her way to the top.

View of Los Dolores coastline
View of Los Dolores coastline.

Lake Kakiwi.
Lake Kakiwi.

Team Herp at Lake Kakiwi
Team Herp at Lake Kakiwi.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Los Dolores, Baja California (Map location 3)
Transmitted from camp by an Apple computer hooked to a Qualcomm/GlobalstarUSA satellite phone.

A Day in Camp
Lawrence Glacy hammers away at a lichen sample
Lawrence Glacy hammers away at a lichen sample.


Mycology samples
Mycology samples.

View of Isla Santa Cruz. Photo by Dustin Wood
View of Isla Santa Cruz.
Photo by Dustin Wood.

Team Botany resting. Photo by Jorge Villaviencio.
Team Botany resting. Photo by Jorge Villaviencio.

Small ranch that provided water to the research teams. . Photo by
Small ranch that provided water to the research teams. Photo by Dustin Wood.

North facing wall in the Los Dolores region. Photo by Jorge
North facing wall in the Los Dolores region. Photo by Jorge Villaviencio.

Dr. José Delgadillo makes samples along cliff face. Photo by Jorge Villaviencio
Dr. José Delgadillo makes samples along cliff face. Photo by Jorge Villaviencio.

After a few days of long hours and constant work, the majority of the research crews stayed in camp to prepare specimens, take photographs, and write fieldnotes. It has also given me the chance to catch up with my own chores. Unfortunately, the satellites have not been good to me tonight and I’ve been having technical difficulties sending today’s daily logs off. I have to keep reminding myself that this is Baja and things will eventually work themselves out.

I’ve asked many of the biologists to give me reports and I’ve included them in my daily logs. While at base-camp, I’ve asked the researchers to type up some updates on their activities. One of our specialists is Lawrence Glacy, a mycologist from Sonoma State University, who has been sampling the region’s lichens, algae, and fungi. Lawrence has been hammering away at lichen-covered rocks for the last few days and his activities have been over-shadowed by some of the large research teams. Yet, it is the little things that often drive the processes of the ecosystem.

Mycology Update
The lichens collected over the past two days were principally crustose. A few specimens collected from the bark and twigs of the local flora, including the Ironwood tree, were easily removed. However, most of the specimens have been attached to rocks and many of those were so adhered to the rock that only by removing the rock could we collect the sample.

At the end of the first day, with hammer and chisel, I returned late in the evening with approximately 35 pounds of crustose and squamulose lichen specimens. While the determination of species will require additional laboratory examination with chemical and microscopic examination, a preliminary examination suggests that we have specimens which may be included in the genus Aspiclia, Toninia, Synalissa, Rocella, Rimelia, Xanthoria, Direna, Pseudopeltula from the first and second days efforts.

On the third day we were able to reach a wall of conglamorate rock material, after a four hour climb to the La Piedro Solo at 1470 meters, where additional and numerous new specimens were collected. With the north facing slopes providing shade, and the altitude offering increased moisture, a great diversity of lichen were found. They likely include some in the genus Megaspora, Melanelia, Ochrolechia, Panneria, Pertusaria, Phaeophysia and perhaps a foliose Physia.

Lichens offer us a means to biomonitor the health the environment. Surveying the total diversity of lichen in the Sierra de La Giganta region is key to the success of the region’s conservation. The potential for future applications of the work we are doing is significant and the knowledge gained can potentially contribute to our understanding of global warming, ecology of ecosystems, and for assessing environmental quality by using lichen species. All of these are due to the ease of sequestration of minerals unique to the lichen.

Update From Team Botany
On 10 November 2003 the botany team made 42 different collections in San Clemente Canyon which is a side canyon just to the south of Misión Dolores. The most significant discoveries were of large populations of the locally endemic species Eucnide tenella, which was found on the previous day, but only in one small population on one boulder. We also encountered a rather unique plant community growing at the base of a very large cliff face which was made up of several plant species endemic only to Baja California Sur that included Drymaria debilis, Lopezia clavata, Eucnide tenella, Marsdenia carterae (only recently described for science), Machaeranthera pinnatifida ssp. scabrella, Stachys coccinea, Perityle lobata, Phacelia scariosa, and Agave gigantensis. The best natural history observation of the day was for the rare and endemic Perityle lobata in the Sunflower family (Asteraceae) that grows directly on the vertical rock faces in this area. It appears that this cliff species also “plants itself” back into the rock walls like Eucnide tenella (discussed on the previous day) by recurving its pedicels back toward the substrate after pollination thus allowing its seeds to fall closer to the cliff and into its preferred habitat. This means that two different locally endemic plant species in two different plant families (Asteraceae and Loasaceae) have evolved similar reproductive strategies in this region in order to facilitate life on a cliff face.

On 11 November 2003 the botany team made the long and arduous hike to the lakes in Valle de Kakiwi. We collected 36 different plants along the way and discovered an annual plant community at the edge of the lake similar to the vernal pool vegetation of California, but different in being composed of regional endemics like Euphorbia pumicicola, Conobea polystachya, Chloris brandegeei, and Marina vetula. The presence of water in this lake is very different than that of the vernal pools of California which normally hold water each year after the winter rains because the only times this lake holds significant water is when hurricanes pass over the area. This hurricane driven system does not occur on a regular basis so the plants and animals of the region have adapted to life strategies that apparently allow for long term dormancy between major rainfalls. In fact, the local guide who led us to the lake told us that the last time he saw significant water in this lake was 15 years earlier. It is possible that many of the annual plant species that we encountered around the lake’s edge may have been dormant since that time. The discovery of Euphorbia pumicicola (described for the first time in the 1980’s) in this community is very important because it was previously only known from two populations much further north in the state of Baja California Sur. It may be present on other remote mesa tops in this region but due to their inaccessibility and this species’ irregular response to rains from hurricane events it might be a long time before we can accurately assess the distribution of this plant species.

To date, we have now made 123 different plant collections from this area in the last three days bringing the total number of plants documented from the Agua Verde/Cerro Mechudo Corridor to 421 taxa. However, we are still expecting to find many more new plant records in the upcoming days of the expedition.

Bradford Hollingsworth
Expedition Coordinator
From camp at 12:15am

Photos by Bradford Hollingsworth

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