Biology Monitoring Assistant – Mosaics In Science

Saguaro National Park
Published
December 1, 2020
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The Mosaics SIP intern will be part of team helping Saguaro National Park learn more about the seasonal development of cactus buds, flowers, and fruits, and how climate change may be changing their timing.  He/she/they will focus on our signature species, the saguaro, as well as the spectacular night-blooming cereus.  They will search for cacti, photograph buds and flowers using a giant “selfie stick”, and collect other data on habitat and environmental conditions.  The field work will tie in with an established monitoring program to look at the effects of climate change on cacti (see our website at https://www.nps.gov/sagu/getinvolved/saguaro-flower-power-project.htm), while allowing the intern the chance to pursue new ideas. 

Due to concerns that saguaros may be blooming earlier in the season due to rapidly increasing air temperatures at the park, the park has been monitoring saguaro flowers for several years. We are finding some evidence that flowering is occurring earlier than in the past, and that flowering is highly dependent on temperature and rainfall. Through digital photography we have also learned that the location of flowers on the saguaro’s crown changes throughout the season, probably to adapt to temperature change, and that some saguaros flower on their sides, rather than their crown, which has led to new scientific questions and study techniques. 

Night-blooming cereus is a unique cactus with a large underground tuber, an inconspicuous stem that makes it hard to find, and spectacular white flowers that bloom at night in late June or early July, often in synchronicity. Our park and other local groups celebrate these bloom nights with “Queen of the Night” public events.  An inventory of this species in 2020 revealed that they are much more abundant in the park than originally believed. In 2021 our team will build on this inventory data to create a long-term monitoring program to learn how this plant responds to changing climate variables such as temperature and rain.    

The intern will also have opportunities to learn other natural resource skill such as wildlife monitoring, and the option to spend one week assisting in wildlife camera projects in the park’s high elevation back-country at Manning Camp.

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