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Ecological Relationships

ECOLOGICAL RELATIONSHIPS

Food webs and other ecological relationships illustrated in ink and watercolor

Banana Slugs in the Redwoods
Banana Slugs in the Redwoods
Salmon in the San Lorenzo
Salmon in the San Lorenzo
Wrens in the Hazelnuts
Wrens in the Hazelnuts
Foxes in the Grasslands
Foxes in the Grasslands
Kestrels in the Sandhills
Kestrels in the Sandhills
Grouse in the Sagebrush Sea
Grouse in the Sagebrush Sea

Sage Grouse populations are threatened by habitat loss in the Great Basin. Wildfires, fueled by invasive grass and climate change, are changing the sagebrush habitat that grouse, sagebrush lizards, and other plants and animals depend on.

Pikas and Bristlcones
Pikas and Bristlcones
Jeffrey Pine food web - color!
Jeffrey Pine food web - color!

In the Fall of 2019, as I was preparing for Open Studios, I revisited a few of my older food web drawings and decided to add some color. This one was a natural choice as one of my favorites. I’ve been very inspired by the ecosystems of the Eastern Sierra over the past few years and this piece pays special tribute to the pure stands of Jeffrey Pine that are just south of Mono Lake.

Owen's pupfish
Owen's pupfish

Introduced species such as trout and bass have decimated pupfish populations in the Owens River. These little pupfish do not need any special conditions to survive, yet they are extirpated from their traditional home in the Owen’s River and are barely hanging on in isolated locations in the Owen’s Valley of California. Pupfish share habitat with a wide variety of other species that live here on the edge of the Great Basin: Grey Willow, Desert Spiny Lizard, and Mourning Cloak butterfly.

Wet Meadow
Wet Meadow

Inspired by my residency in the Plumas National Forest in 2018, this piece focuses on the creatures that inhabit the wet meadows of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain ranges. Coming upon a wet meadow in the dry forests of the Western U.S. is similar to finding an oasis in the desert. A unique community of plants and animals depends on the year-round water there. Leopard Lillies (Lilim pardalinum) and Shooting Stars (Primula jeffreyi) both require wet places to grow. Sierra Nevada Blue Butterfly caterpillars (Plebejus podarce) eat Shooting Stars and Hunt's Bumblebee (Bombus huntii) pollinates many different flowers. Sierran Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris sierra), Mountain Garter Snakes (Thamnophis elegans elegans), and Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are each both predator and prey in this complex ecosystem.

Ceanothus - in color!
Ceanothus - in color!

This year, I revisited some of my older food web drawings and rendered them in color. I love how adding color really brings these images to life.

Prairie falcons - in color!
Prairie falcons - in color!

This is another piece I revisited for Open Studios in 2019. It was fun to rework this piece a bit to add a pop of color with the lupine flowers.

Great Blue Herons in the wetlands
Great Blue Herons in the wetlands

Great Blue Herons use a variety of habitats and consume a wide array of prey items including fish (here, the Three-spined Stickleback), mammals (here, the Western Harvest Mouse), and frogs (here, the American Bullfrog). While herons will hunt just about anywhere there is prey, they are closely associated with wetlands. In California, wetlands often include cattails growing in shallow waters.

Condors in California
Condors in California

California Condors (Gymnogyps californianus) play an important role in cleaning up the remains of a wide variety of species across the ecosystems of the Western U.S.. Along the Pacific coast, they consume dead sea mammals that wash up on the shore, like this California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus). Inland, condors feast on the carcasses of many land animals, including Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus). And as both the birds and fish return to their historic ranges, condors may also feed on the remains of salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) after they spawn.

Plovers in the Dunes
Plovers in the Dunes

Snowy Plover populations in California are struggling in part due to loss of dune habitat along the coast. Restoration of the dunes includes reintroduction of native plants (here: lupine, buckwheat, and sand verbena). These plants also provide important resources for other species like the Smith’s Blue butterfly, California legless lizard, and Globose Dune Beetle.

Willets in the Pickleweed
Willets in the Pickleweed

This painting was inspired both by my Artist-in-Residence at Elkhorn Slough and by Younger Lagoon, which is part of the UC Santa Cruz Natural Reserve System. As I continue to learn about the unique aspects of our coastal ecosystems, I’m coming to understand the important role that saltmarsh plays in protecting our coastline. In both Elkhorn Slough and Younger Lagoon, pickleweed is a key feature of the saltmarsh. And there is a huge number of species that occupy the various habitats that saltmarsh provides. The willets, shore crabs, anchovies, waterboatmen, and jaumea featured here are just a few.

Otters and Eelgrass
Otters and Eelgrass

This design is inspired by my time as an Artist in Residence at Elkhorn Slough in March 2018. I had the great pleasure of observing Southern Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris) in the wild. I was able to spend time with researchers and scientists learning about the incredibly important role that otters play in both the Monterey Bay ecosystem and the Elkhorn Slough ecosystem.

In this piece, the focus is on the role of otters in the health of the eelgrass beds of Elkhorn Slough. Otters eat crabs, which reduces crab predation of sea slugs. Slugs feed on algae, which improves the health of the eelgrass beds. Eelgrass provides habitat for a variety of other organisms, including bat rays and English sole.

Otters in the kelp beds
Otters in the kelp beds

Another piece inspired by my time as an Artist in Residence at Elkhorn Slough! Out in the Monterey Bay, otters feed on a wide variety of organisms, helping to keep the kelp beds healthy and the ecosystem in balance. This piece includes a favorite otter food - Pacific Purple Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) - as well as the endangered Black Abalone (Haliotis cracherodii), Northern Kelp Crab (Pugettia producta), Blue Rockfish (Sebastes mystinus), California Sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher), and Bat Star (Aserina miniata). All of these creatures (and many, many more!) share the beds of undulating Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) that line the edges of the Monterey Bay.

Desert Willow and moth
Desert Willow and moth

This moth, Eucaterva variaria, has unique color variation. It's appearance can range anywhere from almost completely black to almost completely white. The adult moth drinks nectar from a number of plants in the American Southwest. The caterpillar feeds on Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) as it grows.

the White-lined Sphinx Moth and associated plants
the White-lined Sphinx Moth and associated plants

The White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata) uses Elegant Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) as a host plant in the larval stage. It then transforms into a pupa and lives underground until it emerges as an adult moth. The adult moth uses a variety of plants for nectar, including Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium). 

Barn Owl and rodents
Barn Owl and rodents

A single Barn Owl (Tyto alba) can consume hundreds of rodents in a single year. Some of their favorite prey items are the deer mouse (here - Peromyscus maniculatus) and pocket gopher (Thomomys sp.). These species are known to humans as disease vectors (particularly hantavirus) and garden or landscape pests. Instead of poisoning rodents, we can make sure that owls and other predators have ample space to live, breed, and eat - providing important rodent-control service! The use of rodenticides often travels up the food chain and kills owls, hawks, foxes, coyotes, and other animals that prey on rodents. It is our responsibility to look out for these creatures. www.raptorsarethesolution.org

Ceanothus
Ceanothus

California's foothills are blanketed with vast swaths of shrubbery, also known as chaparral. This dense growth provides habitat for a number of animals. Buck brush (Ceanothus cuneatus) is one of our dominant chaparral shrubs. It is eaten by caterpillars of the Ceanothus Silk Moth (Hyalophora euryalus). California Thrashers (Toxostoma redivivum) use their long, curved bills to dig for food in the leaf litter beneath shrubs and perch atop them to sing.

Prairie Falcons in the ecosystem
Prairie Falcons in the ecosystem

Although California Ground Squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) are often considered pests, they play an important role in the ecosystem. They disperse the seeds of native plants such as lupines (here - Lupinus nanus) and the acorns of Blue Oaks (Quercus douglasii). They also consume invasive plants like Erodium cicutarium. The ground squirrel is a major source of food for many predators, including Prairie Falcons (Falco mexicanus), a species of special concern in California. One of the threats to Prairie Falcons is the presence of rodenticides in the food web. 

Jeffrey pines in the ecosystem
Jeffrey pines in the ecosystem

Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreyi) needles are eaten by caterpillars of the Pandora Moth (Coloradia pandora). In turn, the caterpillars are food for the White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis tenuissima). The moth pupae ("piagi") are a traditional food for the Mono people of the Eastern Sierra. Many indigenous people also eat Jeffrey Pine nuts. 

Myotis bats and insects
Myotis bats and insects

If humans could hear in the ultrasonic range and see in near darkness, we would have a deeper appreciation of just how many bats are out flying around us. A single Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) eats hundreds of insects every night. Some of the species a bat eats include mosquitos (here - Aedes sp.), the Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana), owl midges (Psychodidae sp.), and mayflies (Ephemeroptera sp.). 

Anchovies and their predators
Anchovies and their predators
California condors in the ecosystem
California condors in the ecosystem

California Condors (Gymnogyps californianus) once ranged over much of the Western United States, but by the 1980s they were at the brink of extinction. With our help, their numbers are now rebounding. Condors feed on the carcasses of marine mammals, such as California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus). Research also shows that condors historically fed on carcasses of Tule Elk (Cervus elaphus nannodes) and salmon (here - Oncorynchus tshawytscha) and many other animals. To ensure that condors continue to survive and thrive, we must protect both their habitat and their sources of food. That means restoring elk herds, salmon runs, and other wildlife populations throughout their range. It also means preventing their exposure to toxins such as lead and rodenticides in the environment.

Joshua Trees in the ecosystem
Joshua Trees in the ecosystem

Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia brevifolia) are an iconic plant of the Mojave Desert. Their existence is threatened by climate change and while the plants themselves may be able to move northward in their range, the whole host of creatures that depend on them may not be so resilient. Some organisms that are closely tied to Joshua Trees are: the Yucca Moth (Tegeticula synthetica) which only pollinates this species of Joshua Tree; the Desert Night Lizard (Xantusia vigilis) which uses fallen branches as shelter; the Yucca Weevil (Scyphophorus yuccae) whose feeding behavior gives the Joshua Tree its branched shape; the Yucca Giant Skipper (Megathymus yuccae) whose caterpillars feed on Joshua Trees; and Scott's Oriole (Icterus parisorum) which builds its nest in Joshua Trees.