By Stacey Vigallon, Director of Interpretation, and the Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Interns

On May 9, 2015 students participating in the Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Internship Program presented their research to the public at a symposium hosted at Dorsey High School. This year, projects covered a wide range of topics from a three-year study of noise pollution to ecological awareness about spiders to native plant seed germination to poetry as a way to help students connect with nature. The information obtained through student research projects is available to California State Parks and the Baldwin Hills Conservancy staff, is used to inform habitat restoration at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, and serves as a foundation upon which new interns can build new projects. We are extremely proud of the work that interns did during the 2014-2015 school year, and we’re looking forward to working with a new group of Greenhouse Interns and Restoration Leaders in this fall. Below we are pleased to present the 2014-2015 Greenhouse Intern project abstracts…

BHG DiandraDillon presentation Web

Intern Diandra Dillon presents her research about noise pollutions and students’ connection to nature through sound. Diandra worked on her research for three consecutive school years. [photo credit Robert Jeffers]

Diandra Dillon (Project 1 of 2)
During the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years, I examined several hypotheses about Dorsey High School (DHS) students’ connection to nature through sound as evidenced in writing samples. I found that DHS students have some connection to nature despite living in the city. DHS students were able to identify by song more common birds than I hypothesized they would be able to, as crow, gull, and pigeon songs were easily identified by students. My hypothesis that students would use similar vocabulary to describe their nature experiences was supported: 42% of the students used vocabulary that fell within the Positive Mental category, indicating that they had positive opinions about nature. My hypothesis that students would have similar experiences in nature produced mix results. Most student experiences fell within the categories of nature viewing, hiking/walking, camping, or beach activities (60.9%). However, 39.1% of the experiences described fell in the “other” category. Based on this study, I feel that if Dorsey students had more opportunities to spend time in nature, they would do so. DHS should consider reinstating the Humanities/Environmental Stewardship class to provide just such an opportunity.

Diandra Dillon (Project 2 of 2)
Noise pollution is a harmful and irritating sound that can negatively impact wildlife and human health. Over the course of three school years I measured sound levels and recorded the number of birds I heard at five different areas at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook (BHSO) and two different sites at Dorsey High School (DHS). As I predicted, the entrance of the park was the loudest of the five sites, with an average sound level each year between (63.39-73.13 dB), likely due to constant vehicle traffic. Also as I predicted, I heard more birds at less-used areas, like the site behind the parking lot where there is more established vegetation, and over the course of three years I observed an increase in the amount of birds heard at all sites of the BHSO. My hypothesis for DHS was supported: the average sound levels at DHS (74.29–75.73 dB), which was louder than the loudest site at BHSO. Even though this supports my hypothesis, there was not that much difference between the loudest site at the park and DHS. My research provides baseline information about noise level at BHSO and DHS. Future projects could focus specifically on bird nesting in high and low noise level areas of the park.

BHG ArMendia ipad webIntern Arely Mendia Perez incorporated technology into her project about cultural uses for plant species found at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook State Park. She used an iPad to photo-document plant species and to organize digital notes for a plant guide she is creating. [photo credit Stacey Vigallon]

Arely Mendia Perez
I started this project with the excitement of learning about plants and zombies and adding creative writing along with it. The zombie plant guide would awe and captivate young adults’ interests in learning about the plants within the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook area. I selected 32 species of plants from the Baldwin Hills area and researched their uses in food, medicine, weapons, and shelter; of the 32 plants, 20 were native and 12 were non-native. In order to figure out if young adults would be interested in reading a plant guide with “zombie” on the title. I surveyed 126 students at Dorsey High School in February 2015. About 90% of the students indicated that they would be more interested in reading my plant guide, if I put “zombie” in the title. This proved my hypothesis correct. Phase 2 of this project will be completing my plant guide and publish it in digital and printed format.

Margaret Ramirez
Using a design from San Diego Audubon, I built a solar powered birdbath in November 2013 and monitored it November 2013 - April 2014 and November 2014 - February 2015. Birdbaths provide an essential resource for birds in an urban setting during drought years and can be a way for people to connect with nature. My data showed that the birdbath was more effective at attracting birds when the water was running. Fewer birds used the birdbath during observation sessions than I predicted: an average of 2.72 bird visits when the water was running vs. 0.67 bird visits when water wasn’t running. As predicted, at least three different species visited the birdbath during the course of my experiment. My experiment shows that birds are attracted to a birdbath with running water. During 2014-2015 school year, camera footage showed that birds used the bath more often when it was behind the greenhouse versus the hillside adjacent to the greenhouse, likely a factor of differences in vegetation cover between the two sites. For future research, it might be useful to compare running water and non-running water birdbath models side-by-side to see if birds have a more specific preference.

BHG AngelaMendia illustration web

Intern Angela Mendia produced a series of science illustrations to use in her project, aiming to raise awareness about the ecological importance of spiders. [photo credit Stacey Vigallon]

Angela Mendia
I want people to overcome the fear of spiders by learning that spiders have an important role in our environment. I created a spider awareness presentation that included 13 original science illustrations I developed to help students be more focused and interested in my presentation. I gave my presentation to 50 high school students and 25 elementary students, having them take pre- and post-assessments to measure changes in their attitudes and knowledge about spiders as a result of my presentation.

As I predicted, elementary students showed a more positive attitude towards spiders than did high school students, but positive attitudes also increased among high school students. Students in both groups showed an increase in knowledge after my presentation as well. My research shows that it is possible for students to learn the importance of spiders in our environment, and that learning about them changes their attitudes about environmental stewardship towards spiders.


BHG MagalyLopez dye web

Intern Magaly Lopez prepares a dye made from native California black walnuts, which she then used on five different types of clothing fibers. [photo credit Stacey Vigallon]

Magaly Lopez (Project 1 of 2)
I studied germination of California black walnuts (Junglans californica) to learn under which conditions they germinate better to restore the natural environment the Baldwin Hills once had. I planted 98 walnuts that had been refrigerated for 4 months and 98 non-refrigerated walnuts in small pots, labeled individually. I hypothesized that the non-refrigerated walnuts would germinate at a faster rate and have greater success than the refrigerated walnut seeds. After planting the walnut seeds, I wrote any change observed. I recorded a germination event when a green stem or roots were visible. When the germinated walnuts grew roots I transplanted them into bigger pots. Of the transplanted walnuts, 39 were between 8 to 35cm tall by the end of my experiment. The 63rd day of my experiment, 20.4% of the refrigerated walnuts had germinated while only 18.4% of the non-refrigerated walnuts germinated. Day 119 was the last day of data collection, and by then 56% of the refrigerated walnuts germinated and 29% of the non-refrigerated walnuts had germinated. My project showed that walnut seeds exposed to colder temperatures are more likely to germinate.

Magaly Lopez (Project 2 of 2)
I researched cultural uses of California black walnut (Junglans californica) to engage and intrigue people about native species of southern California. I created a game for elementary students using empty walnut hemispheric shell halves as dice, inspired by a traditional Chumash game. I also used the husk of California black walnuts to dye artificial and natural fibers, from both animals and plants. Bamboo viscose, an unbleached cotton bag, grey wool yarn, and silk were the natural fibers; the polyester ribbon was the artificial fiber. I hypothesized that the dye would fuse better to natural fiber than to artificial fiber. The husk was boiled with water, left to soak, and strained the next day. All fibers were soaked in water, placed in the dye bucket, and swirled within the bucket to evenly distribute the dye. Fibers were dyed on November 21, 2014 and removed and rinsed the next day. Another set of the same type of fibers were also placed in a hot dye bath. My results showed that the polyester ribbon, an artificial fiber, absorbed the dye the least, while silk and wool absorbed the dye best.

BHG plasterofparis tracks web

In addition to studying park wildlife with infrared cameras, Intern Robert Morales also collected mammal track in the park using plaster of Paris casts. [photo credit Stacey Vigallon] 

Robert Morales
From December 2014 to April 2015 I studied light pollution and wildlife at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook (BHSO). Light pollution is an excessive and inappropriate artificial light, and damaging to human health and wildlife (International Dark-Sky Association 2014). I used infrared cameras to capture wildlife at night, and I surveyed for animal tracks in the park. I had technical difficulties with cameras and light level meters, but I still gathered useful information. We captured several species in different camera locations, including skunk, raccoon, possum, cat, White-Crowned Sparrow, Western Scrub Jay, and various insects. Using plaster of Paris to make casts, I collected dog, raccoon, cat, and skunk tracks. The camera also revealed human activity in areas we did not expect and showed the time that lights were on at the Culver City Park baseball field. On the evening of March 6th, 2015, we confirmed that there is light pollution at BHSO. As we expected, buildings in the park did have lights at night, such as the front of the visitor center and the maintenance building. However, the light from the Culver City Park baseball field was bright enough to affect areas of the BHSO that were far from lighted buildings.

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Intern Jose Rivera studied the effect that time spent in nature might have on student stress levels. [photo credit Stacey Vigallon]

Jose Rivera
Being outside in nature has shown to improve concentration and reduce stress. During the school year of 2014-2015, I collected stress data from two 10th grade English classes at Dorsey High School. Both classes had to take a pop quiz; one class took the test right after entering class, and the second class went for a walk outside then began the test. My first experiment had mixed results: the group taking the nature walk reported lower stress scores than the group that did not take a walk, but in both the walk and non-walk groups, there were large portions of the students who reported no change in stress level. My second hypothesis was proven correct with the data I collected. The interns reported to be less stressed at the Greenhouse than at home or at school. Next year, I suggest that whoever continues working on this project attempt to find a tool that will measure student stress without relying on students’ own opinions of their stress levels.

Sarai Panameno
In 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years I studied seed germination and seedling survival between greenhouses at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook (BHSO) and Kenneth Hahn (KH) and the BHSO hillside. I recorded the germination and seedling survival for six native species (Toyon, Bush Sunflower, California buckwheat, White sage, Black sage, Isocoma menziessi). My data supported my native seeds hypothesis: those germinated in a greenhouse germinated and survived better than those on the hillside. Low germination of Salvia species across all treatments was consistent with interns Young’s and Gonzales’s previous projects and had high survival on the hillside in 2014-2015. Hillside seed germination and survival of Encelia and Eriogonum in 2013-2014 and Salvia species in 2014-2015 coincided with end of my experiment rain. Toyon had strong germination and survival rate in the BSHO greenhouse with potting soil but no germination using hillside soil. Lastly, I hypothesized that 2014-2015 germination would be higher because with new seeds as opposed to the 4-year old seeds used in 2013-2014. No notable increase in germination was recorded this year. I recommend Toyon be germinated in the BHSO greenhouse using potting soil, and species’ like Encelia be grown directly on a hillside with regular water.

BHG ChiantiWarrior ConsArtShow webIntern Chianti Warrior presents nature poems written by elementary school students at the Conservation Art Show. These poems were produced as a part of her project exploring students’ connection to nature through poetry. [photo credit Stacey Vigallon]

Chianti Warrior
My project is about Nature Writing, specifically Haiku poems. What drew my attention to pursuing such a project was the poetry component, and I was intrigued by how this project incorporated nature. In the beginning, I learned about the history and background of Haiku poetry because soon I would be teaching the content to two groups, elementary and high school students. First, I gave the students a summary of where Haiku poems originated and how to write one. Second, the students wrote their own Haiku poems and I answered any questions if needed, with the help of Restoration Leaders. I collected 94 poems and I studied student word choice to determine whether the poems expressed positive, negative, or neutral feelings. Forty-eight percent of high school students expressed neutral feelings, which proved incorrect my hypothesis that high school students would express mainly negative feelings. My hypothesis that elementary students would express positive feelings was supported by my data – 50% of elementary school poems expressed positive feelings. In the future, I recommend adding a nature walk before students write their poems so that they will be able to gain a fresh experience or new view of engaging in their environment.

Published Western Tanager Vol. 82 No. 1 Sep/Oct 2015