Published online 29 October 2007 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2007.200

News

Californian fires scorch zoo's edge

Researchers deal with burned habitats and landscapes.

San Diego Zoo's curator of birds sifts through what is left of one of the two condor breeding facilities.Ken Bohn, Zoolog. Soc. San Diego

Most of the wildfires in southern California have now been contained and the weather has turned damp, leaving fire fighters optimistic and turning residents' thoughts to the clean-up operation.

But the blaze has left its mark on the local ecology and some research facilities.

San Diego Zoo’s Conservation and Research for Endangered Species programme, for example, suffered some losses, including damage to a California condor breeding facility (the birds themselves were safe, having been evacuated), and the destruction of a planned habitat for endangered mountain yellow-legged frogs. Ironically, this habitat had been designated after the frogs’ original home was burned in similar Californian wildfires in 2003. The amphibians may now have to be moved to yet another zoo, says spokesperson Yadira Galindo.

One of only two known habitats of the endangered Pacific pocket mouse was also burned by the fire, at Camp Pendleton. It is as yet unknown how these mice fared, Galindo adds.

Researchers with the zoo are now planning to study the effect of the fires on plants, amphibians, reptiles and small mammals in the surrounding park area, where such animals have been monitored for the past decade. Some instrumentation in this area — such as temperature sensors within rattlesnake dens — is also expected to provide insights into fire ecology.

Since 21 October, the fires have caused the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed some 2,000 homes. Similarly devastating fires hit California in 2003 and 1991, with each incident taking more than 3,000 homes. 

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