November 2015 eNewsletter: Environmental Science Class Visits Mission Trails Regional Park

We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to take a field trip—to a literal field. The AP Environmental Science class recently visited Mission Trails Regional Park to explore the effects of primary and secondary ecological succession, which are the processes of how wildlife adapts to a new environment after a disaster. We met with Ranger Miller, who guided us through the stages of succession and how it affects the natural landscape. He pointed out different native and nonnative California plants and explained how they appeared after a catastrophe and spread throughout the area without human interference. It was incredible to observe how a charred landscape can come back to life so quickly after a disturbance. The most amazing observation of the whole experience was seeing how life has adapted and prospered despite setbacks such as drought, fire, and human interference. The San Diego River Dam, multiple trails, paved roads, and even housing developments are right next to the park, but the wildlife still thrives.

Since all of us were field experts for the day, Ranger Miller allowed us to explore an area in the process of rehabilitation after a recent fire. With an ominous warning about rattlesnakes, we stepped into the area that had been undisturbed by humans for a significant period of time. We observed native scrub brush and chaparral species, as well as nonnative invasive species while completing our fieldwork. In groups, we collected data for our labs and observed the density and ground coverage of the wildlife in the secondary succession stage.

The end of the day came just soon enough, as everyone was dragging in the heat. Still, with our data collected and samples taken, we returned to school (and air conditioning) with a better understanding of the power of life on Earth. The theme of our Environmental Science class is sustainability. We observe the restorative processes (like succession) that help Earth recover from natural and manmade disasters. We use our scientific knowledge to study how the Earth’s energy, biodiversity, and natural cycles sustain all life, and from that we understand how to use resources more efficiently. Our experience at Mission Trails put what we have been learning in the classroom, into real world perspective and showed us how incredibly resilient nature can be.