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Master of Environmental Data Science

Species Distribution Modeling of Early-season Milkweed in the Los Padres National Forest

Group Members: Amanda Herbst, Sam Muir, Anna Ramji, Melissa Widas

Faculty Advisors: Ruth Oliver

Client: Santa Barbara Botanic Garden




Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) populations are being driven into decline and will soon be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Critical to the persistence of this species of cultural and ecological importance is milkweed (Asclepias spp.), which monarchs rely on as an essential resource. Motivated by concerns over the loss of monarch habitat, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (SBBG) and local collaborators are working to restore milkweed habitat and identify potential restoration areas in the Los Padres National Forest. The capstone team will model the distribution of the four milkweed species present in the forest using Maximum Entropy (MaxEnt) species distribution modeling to identify locations of high suitability for milkweed. These maps will help guide SBBG field survey efforts to monitor milkweed populations and prioritize areas to focus restoration efforts within the Los Padres National Forest. Additionally, the capstone team will create a web dashboard to inform the public and researchers on milkweed distributions in the forest and ongoing SBBG milkweed conservation efforts. 

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