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High school students conduct field research at Joshua Tree 

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Students conducted botanical research over spring break

– After a two-year hiatus due to Covid, students from Paso Robles High School spent five days in Joshua Tree National Park conducting botanical research in partnership with the National Park Service.

The work builds upon the research begun by local high school students in 2016 to understand the impact of climate change on Joshua trees and blossoming plants within the park.

from April 15-19, during spring break, 19 students and five chaperones backpacked to remote sites and spent days collecting data on Joshua trees and other flowering plants. Students were trained by park staff, conducted botanical research at plots in the Black Rock area, and uploaded flower photos for scientists using iNaturalist.

“It was cool to learn research protocols from park staff and then use them in the field,” said senior Diego Ortega. “We know we’re helping build scientific knowledge about the impact of climate on the diverse plants of Joshua Tree.”

The Field Studies Collaborative (FSC) program allows qualified students to gain school credits for field research in the fields of science and social science. Established in 2016, the FSC includes courses in marine biology, astrometry, oral history, and botany.

The program allows students to gain course credits for field research in partnership with universities, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. Students are able to borrow backpacks, tents, stoves and other gear from the Field Studies Collaborative program at the high school. Many on the Joshua Tree trip had never been to the desert, conducted field studies, or backpacked before.

The data being collected by the high school and other citizen scientist volunteers will help determine the extent to which climate change is impacting desert ecology, and guide future management plans for the park. “It’s so exciting to be camping among the awesome rock formations while doing real science,” said Zaira Gomez. “I’m proud to be on the cutting edge of actual climate change research.”

“This program gives students new research skills and pushes them past their comfort zones in all the right ways,” said JP Ewing, Paso Robles High School Science Department chair and trip co-leader. “Students learn desert ecology, build bonds with their classmates, and gain backpacking skills they can use their whole lives.”

For more information about the Joshua Tree Program or the Field Studies Collaborative classes at the high school, visit the FSC home page.

– By Paso Robles High School teacher Geof Land 

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