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Sycamore Creek, Arizona
On Tuesday June 22, 2009, we conducted a field study at Sycamore Creek, Arizona. Located in the Sonoran Desert, Sycamore Creek is an ideal place to conduct research on a desert stream ecosystem. Watershed.jpgWe surveyed approximately 8km of the southern part of the creek. To the left is a picture of the Sycamore Creek watershed. Dr. Nancy Grimm is the head researcher for this project. We arrived at the Dos S Ranch just off the Beeline Highway at 6:00am. Dr. Grimm gave us background information and instructions for what we would be surveying during our time at Sycamore Creek. The section that Dr. Grimm studies has been observed over the past thirty years. In 2001, the U.S. Forest Service eliminated grazing from this area, since then the amount of herbaceous vegetation has increased dramatically. The main focus of our day was to record the area and presence of wetland species. There were seven different types of plant species that we recorded along with three types of cyanobacteria. Below is a list of the known plant species that we recorded during our field study.
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Southern Cattail

Scientific Names
Common Names
Paspalum distichum
Knotgrass
Typha domingensis
Southern Cattail
Equisetum laevigatum
Horsetail
Schoenoplectus americanus
Chairmaker's Bulrush

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Knotgrass
Dr. Grimm divided us up into three groups: one group was instructed to measure the area of the wetlands and the other groups surveyed the creek every 50m and recorded the presence or absence of the species named above. Each group had a GPS unit in order to record the exact location of the data collected. This was also used when the data was entered into a computer back at ASU. Dr. Grimm headed the group that measured the area of wetland. The data that was recorded was the length, width, and height of the vegetation along with the specific plant and cyanobacteria species found in the area. Dr. Grimm laso collected and took pictures of unknown plant species and brought it back to the lab to be identified. This group recorded approximately 150 different wetland areas in the souther section of Sycamore Creek. We spent seven hours trekking through the creek and recording a large amount of data. As any good scientist knows, in order to get good results a lot of data needs to be collected.

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Roger, Nancy, and Fe walking down the creek.
During our trip down the streen we noticed a variety of different species of plants, birds, lizards, javelinas, fish, and invertebrates. In the stream we saw small fish, most likely the longfin dace and the Gila mountain sucker, and an abundant amount of crayfish. One group actually ran into a Gila Monster along the shore lines. In many of the trees we saw several tent caterpillars, check out the picture below. These caterpillars will eventually change into a moth. Although the day was long and exhausting we truly enjoyed the experience of being a part of field work.


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Tent Caterpillars, notice the silk webs in the tree.
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Marisaa, Melissa, and Kendall on the shores of the creek.


Algae Identification (Sycamore Creek Samples)


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A rock sample from Sycamore Creek.

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Roger and Fe scraping algae from the rocks.
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Kendall using high tech equipment: an algae shaker..
One of Dr. Grimm’s main focus for Sycamore Creek is the impact and availability of the nitrogen in the ecosystem. Throughout the field study, she collected various rock samples that contained algae. These rock samples contains an entire microscopic community, this allows you to get a snap shot of the community that can easily be brought back to the lab. We had an opportunity to examine these samples and attempt to identify the different types of algae found in Sycamore Creek. In the lab we used various types of high tech equipment such as a toothbrush to scrape the algae off the rock and small container that was shaken to mix the algae solutions.


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Algae in solution.
Once we removed the algae off the rocks and put them into solution with distilled water, we looked at the organisms under a microscope. We then attempted to identify the different types algae found on our slides. In general we found diatoms, blue green algae, and cyanobacteria. It was difficult to identify the individual species using a flow chart, but we had fun trying. Below are some pictures of the algae slides we looked at.

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Dr. Grimm and her research team will analyze the samples of algae that were collected at Sycamore creek and get a great deal of data about a desert stream ecosystem and its communities. We preserved a small amount of algae form each rock so that population of organisms can be recorded. In order to do this each species must be counted and the surface area from each rock must be calculated. With these two numbers, the entire population of algea can be identified. We traced each rock on a piece of paper in order to calculate the surface area. With this information and the types of algae that will be identified, Dr. Grimm will gather the data needed to for her nitrogen research.
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Tracing the rock to calculate surface area.