Jon Johnston, a Humboldt State senior, outside of the Wildlife and Fisheries Building on Feb. 16. Photo by Kyle Orr.
Jon Johnston, a Humboldt State senior, outside of the Wildlife and Fisheries Building on Feb. 16. Photo by Kyle Orr.

Johnston brothers present at Conservation Lecture Series


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“I’ve always been inspired by biodiversity and animals,” Humboldt State senior Jon Johnston said. “Though I’m inspired mostly by the local people.”

The Sequoia Park Zoo hosted brothers Phil and Jon Johnston on Feb. 14 to give a two-part presentation as part of their ongoing Conservation Lecture Series.

Jon, a wildlife major at HSU, presented his senior project “The Wildlife of Ecuador’s Disappearing Coastal Dry Forests.” His research brought him to the tropical dry forest of La Cordillera del Balsamo, Ecuador. Tropical dry forests are among the most endangered forest types – about 70 percent have been deforested.

In an effort to gain information on the animals that live in these forests, Jon deployed cameras that capture pictures automatically when movement is detected, allowing him to leave them out for an extended period of time.

“Each batch of pictures gives us a new idea of the animals that might live in tropical dry forests,” Jon said.

Some pictures already collected from the project include animals like the South American coati, the critically endangered Ecuadorian capuchin monkey, and the rufous-headed chachalaca.

Phil, the mountain lion & fisher biologist for the Hoopa Valley Tribe and HSU wildlife alumnus, presented findings from his research on Lake Earl river otters in Del Norte County. In a repeated diet study originally done by R. Modafferi and C. F. Yocom in 1964, Phil located areas called latrines that are frequently used by otters.

“In otters, latrines are used for rolling as a way to distribute oils in their coat and for sleeping sites,” Phil said.

Latrines are also used by otters as sites for repeated defecation. Once a latrine is located, any scat that was found was collected and brought back to the lab for analysis. By carefully examining the scat samples, Phil was able to determine what the otters were eating.

In the original study, otter diet consisted mainly of starry flounder and crab. In the follow-up study done by Phil, however, otter diet consisted of staghorn sculpin and three-spine stickleback. Another somewhat surprising aspect of the study was the discovery that the latrines were found in similar locations from the original study.

“Even latrines that were under water for four to five months were reformed after the water had drained,” Phil said. “It’s exciting.”

Both Johnston were recipients of the Conservation Grant given by Sequoia Park Zoo.

“Grants that are given out to projects are decided by committee,” zoo director Gretchen Ziegler said.

Projects are ranked based on certain criteria. A project ranks higher if it is located closer to Humboldt County, as well as how much funds are thought to make a difference and how feasible the project is expected to be.

Community members can help fund conservation projects by buying a Sequoia Park Zoo membership. One dollar spent for each membership goes into the Sequoia Park Zoo Conservation Fund, which is used to finance conservation projects both locally and abroad.

The next installment of the Conservation Lecture Series will be “The Zen of Deep Evolution” by Fred Allendorf at Humboldt State University on March 6.

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