02 Dec Cactus Conservation Biologist
The goal of this project is to collect baseline data on reproduction in Saguaro National Park’s signature species, the saguaro, as well as the spectacular night-blooming cereus. The LHIP intern will be part of a team that will search for these unusual cacti, photograph their buds and flowers, and collect other data on habitat and environmental conditions. The field work will both tie in with an established climate change monitoring program, and allow for the opportunity to test new ideas.
The saguaro is central to the culture of southern Arizona. The local Tohono O’odham people harvest the fruit in the park each summer, as they have for thousands of years. The park is monitoring the timing of saguaro cactus flowering and the success of fruit. We are finding evidence that flowering is occurring earlier than in the past and is highly dependent on temperature and rainfall. The LHIP intern will work as part of a team, 2-3 days/week, to photograph flowers and fruit of these very tall cacti using a digital camera connected to a very long, telescoping “selfie stick.” They will download, analyze, and interpret the photo data.
The intern will also study the night-blooming cereus. The cereus is a unique cactus with a large underground tuber, an inconspicuous stem that makes it hard to find, and a large, spectacular white flower. The plants bloom at night in early July, often in synchronicity. Saguaro National 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 that previously believed. The intern team will create a long-term monitoring program for this plant. They will search for plants in the field; collect data on plant size, buds, flowers, and fruit; analyze data; and help the park stage the 2021 Queen of the Night festival if it is safe to do so.
The intern will also be responsible, with other interns on the team, for creating social media content about these amazing plants, including where our visitors can see them, and steps they can take to help in their conservation.