Fieldwork-wildlife conflicts

Unloading data from environmental sensors in the field.

Recently I completed my last fieldwork trip for my dissertation! Let’s take a moment to celebrate that fact before moving on to the topic of this post.

Great. So, this last field trip was actually pretty low-key. I was just going to collect some environmental sensors/data loggers from the sites where I had my UV-reducing windows. I had 6 sensors out there, set up in two sets of 3. The first three were in place and all was well with them. The second set, however, had only 2 sensors in place and the third one was missing. I thought maybe it got blown away in a big wind storm! These sensors are pretty large and heavy so even if it did get really windy, I couldn’t imagine it would go very far. So I thought maybe there was a big summer monsoon that washed it farther away. However, when i followed the slope to the little wash down below I couldn’t find the data logger anywhere. It certainly would have gotten stuck on a nearby shrub and it was simply nowhere to be found. I gave up for the day and began my hike back to the lodge. As I was walking back, I kept running over the scene in my mind’s eye. Just a few feet from where the the sensor was I could see an odd collection of spiny buckhorn cholla seeds. There were definitely way more on this little ledge between boulders than would be there naturally… was that a woodrat midden? They’re also known as pack rats, right? Could they have taken my sensor? I ran my new hypothesis by the reserve directors and they returned with about a hundred stories of wood rat thievery out in the Mojave. It was definitely them and there’s no way I’m getting it out of their chambers. Well, imagine my surprise when I went back out and saw my sensor right on the front porch of the woodrat midden next to my site! It looked like the sensor got stuck on the massive hoard of cholla seeds as it was trying to take it to its lair. I was pleased to get the sensor back (see photo for proof of giddiness) but actually much more pleased about having solved the mystery.

Jenna Ekwealor
Jenna Ekwealor
PhD Candidate

I am a UC Berkeley PhD Candidate studying evolution & ecology of desiccation-tolerant desert mosses.