Power to the Plants

Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventure here on the Zoos website!

Lauren_W2_picOn Wednesday, October 14, 2015, the interns met with Emily Howe who is a Research Coordinator for the Plant Conservation division at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. Ms. Howe received her bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies at Hamilton College in New York. Ms. Howe was inspired to work with plants because growing up on a farm she was curious knowing why the animals would only eat certain plants at certain times of the year. Ms. Howe later went back to school and earned her Masters in Ecology at San Diego State University. Through a Navy contract with San Diego State University, Ms. Howe studied the plant species on San Clemente Island for seven years where she even found a grass species, dissanthelum californium, that was believed to be extinct.

Ms. Howe recently started her new job at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research in March, and her newest project is habitat restoration at Lake Hodges in Rancho Bernardo, California. This project consists of growing and transplanting native plants, which help native species become more populous and resilient. Ms. Howe finds her job very rewarding as she is going to plant over 10,000 plants at Lake Hodges. Ms. Howe and the Institute for Conservation Research are putting in 25 different plant species at Lake Hodges. One of the plants being transplanted is coyote bush, baccharis pilularis. Interns helped with the restoration process by moving coyote bush plants from cone shaped planters to larger rectangular planters called tree pots. This part of the process allows the roots to further develop. At the restoration site at Lake Hodges, she may have to remove the non-native plants by hand or by herbicides to increase the survival rate of the native species. The herbicides used by Ms. Howe and her team are carefully chosen for their efficient manner and low impact on the native soil. In addition to doing native species restoration work at Lake Hodges, Ms. Howe enjoys seeing the native animal species return to the habitats she has restored such as roadrunners, endangered cactus wrens, rattlesnakes, mule deer, and scorpions.

Some of Ms. Howe’s biggest challenges are timing and funding. Timing is a challenge because the seasons change. One season may not receive enough rain during that period. In ten years, if the climate continues to change plant biologists will have to shift their focus from helping the ecosystems look like they did before and turn their focus on helping the disturbed ecosystems work. The plant biologist will have to make a transition and accept that they will have to work with different species because the weather, fog and amount of moisture available. Ms. Howe’s work is also affected by the drought. Some native plants can tolerate the drought and can knock out non-native plants, however, this is not always the case. The drought conditions are hot and dry and can be hard on the plants. Ms. Howe’s day is never the same as she could be working outside in the Institute’s shade house planting and replanting native species or she could be in her office doing statistics and collecting data. With her day-to-day schedule being so drastically different, Ms. Howe’s routine also depends on the season. In the summer, Ms. Howe is often in the field watering and weeding. While working in the field, you need to be able to adapt to changing weather and to always remain positive. To be successful in this field, Ms. Howe believes that it is extremely important to be passionate about your work.

Lauren Patterson, Careers Team
Week Two, Fall 2015