Field Study Sites and Specimen Collections

We offer modern facilities and equipment and are surrounded by a wealth of marine and land field study sites.  Scroll down to browse them all, or use these links to skip straight to the information you want:

Field Study Sites  |  Living Collections  |  Preserved Specimen Collections     

Field Study Sites

Cal Poly Pier

Cal Poly Pier in Avila Beach

(Pier not open to the public.)

The Cal Poly Pier is the primary research and lab facility for the Cal Poly Center for Coastal Marine Sciences. Since its donation to the university by Unocal, now Chevron Corporation, in 2001, the pier has been used by some 1,500 students a year for classes or research activities. 

The pier is a little more than a half-mile in length, with labs, equipment, and boats housed on its ocean point. It's home to faculty-led research projects dealing with sustaining local fisheries, mapping ocean currents along the shore, the effects of ultraviolet light on marine organisms, the Morro Bay ecosystem, the dangers and control of invasive species, and monitoring a wide variety of intertidal life forms.

Above: The Cal Poly Pier

Contact: Tom Moylan, Cal Poly Pier Manager

Cal Poly Center for Coastal Marine Sciences website ›

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El Chorro Biological Reserve

El Chorro Biological Reserve is located adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest near the headwaters of Pennington Creek near campus. The reserve provides another opportunity close to campus for vegetation and wildlife studies.


Photo by Professor John Perrine

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View from Hi Mountain Lookout

Hi Mountain Lookout

(This area is not open to the public.)

Hi Mountain is home to the California Condor Lookout. The Hi Mountain Condor Lookout Project is a joint venture between the Morro Coast Audubon Society, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Ventana Wildlife Society, and Cal Poly Biological Sciences.

The agencies partner to monitor movements of the endangered California condor population from the strategically-placed Hi Mountain Lookout.

The lookout is also a functional field-research station and interpretive center staffed by volunteers, students interns, and condor biologists. Students conduct endangered species conservation and field ecology research using the Lookout as a rustic but comfortable home base.

Above: The view from Hi Mountain Lookout

Contact:  Professor Francis Villablanca

Hi Mountain Condor Lookout Project website ›

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Ragged Point

(This area is not open to the public.)

Biological Sciences students and faculty have access to 22 acres just off Highway One in the Ragged Point area of San Luis Obispo County's North Coast. The land was donated by James Keefe and Lorna Lee and provides field botany and plant ecology opportunities to biological sciences students.

Contact: Department Chair Ken Hillers

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Chimineas Ranch habitat

Chimineas Ranch

(This area is not open to the public.)

The Chimineas Ranch at the Carrizo Plains is a 31,000-acre property in eastern San Luis Obispo County managed by the California Department of Fish and Game.

The oak and juniper-studded grasslands serve as an important wildlife corridor between Carrizo Plain National Monument and Los Padres National Forest. The ranch harbors a diverse array of native animal and plant life, including blue oak, saltbush scrub, annual grasslands and juniper woodlands.

Almost all of the mammals found on the Central Coast can be found on the property, including endangered species such as the San Joaquin kit fox and giant kangaroo rat. In addition, the ranch is home to deer, pronghorn, black bears, mountain lions and more than 200 tule elk.

The department's Physiological Ecology of Reptiles Laboratory (PERL) conducts studies on Western Fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) and Northern Pacific rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus) on the Ranch.

Above: Chimineas Ranch

Contact: Professor Emily Taylor 

Read more about PERL

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 Grad student in Morro Bay

Morro Bay

Just 17 miles from campus, the town of Morro Bay sits at the heart of Estero Bay. At the entrance to the bay itself, and familiar to many tourists, is Morro Rock, the last in a chain of long-extinct volcanoes. It covers over 50 acres and towers 576 feet high.

The waters that make up the bay are contained within a three-mile sandspit and the shores of Morro Bay and Los Osos. The Morro Bay National Estuary Program protects and restores the physical, biological, economic, and recreational values of the Morro Bay Estuary.


Above: A graduate student heading out on Morro Bay 


Morro Bay National Estuary Program website › 

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Living Collections

Professor Ritter in Cal Poly Plant Conservatory

Cal Poly Plant Conservatory

Building 72

The primary mission of the Cal Poly Plant Conservatory is to maintain a diverse, well-documented, and accurately-labeled living plant collection supporting and enhancing teaching and research for the faculty and students of Cal Poly. A secondary goal of the Conservatory is to help foster education about plant biology and conservation of rare species through support of community outreach programs.

Above: Professor Matt Ritter in the conservatory 

Contact: Professor Matt Ritter, Director

Conservatory website ›

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Reptile and Amphibian Collection

Fisher Science Hall (33) Room 285A
(Access is by appointment only)

The collection contains many live specimens of species found in San Luis Obispo County and representative live specimens from other parts of the country and the world.

Contact: Professor Emily Taylor, Curator

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Preserved Collections

Students looking at wolf skins and animal skeletons

Aryan Roest Mammal Collection

Fisher Science Hall (33) Room 252
Open by appointment only

The collection includes over 3,500 skins, skulls, mounted specimens and frozen tissues of mammals. The collection is used for teaching, public outreach, reference and research.

Searchable database: Consortium of Small Vertebrate Collections

Above: Open House visitors tour the Roest Collection 


Heather Liwanag, Associate Curator

MIchele Roest, Associate Curator

John Perrine, Senior Curator

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Cal Poly Natural History Museum Bird Collection

Fisher Science Hall (33) Room 252

(Access is by appointment only)

The collection includes nearly 2,500 specimens. It is used for teaching, pubic outreach, reference and research.


Heather Liwanag, Associate Curator

MIchele Roest, Associate Curator

John Perrine, Senior Curator

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Professor Vredevoe and butterflies

Entomology Collection

Fisher Science Hall (33) room 255
(Access is by appointment only)

The collection includes over 80,000 mounted insects, which range from local species to exotic tropical species. It is currently used as a teaching and reference collection for species collected along California's Central coast.

Above: Professor Vredevoe with butterfly specimens

Contact: Professor Larisa Vredevoe, Curator

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Robert F. Hoover Herbarium

Fisher Science Hall (33) Rooms 352 and 359

Schedule changes each quarter – Visit by appointment

The Hoover Herbarium contains over 100,000 mounted dry vascular plant specimens and 2,500 algal specimens representing the diverse flora of western North America and other regions. It serves as the largest repository of botanical specimens of central coastal California. In addition, the herbarium contains several thousand more unmounted specimens that are a part of ongoing research projects plus collections of photographic specimens. The herbarium is a resource for Cal Poly student and faculty research in plant systematics, floristics, and California vegetation and is available for use by the scientific community. The collection is used in teaching lower division biology courses, Vascular Plant Taxonomy, Field Botany, Ethnobotany, and Phycology classes. The herbarium's library of several hundred bound volumes, botanical journals, and numerous reprints and photocopies of botanical literature support the research and teaching missions of the herbarium.

The Hoover Herbarium leads state-wide efforts to manage our biodiversity data. We manage the CCH2 data portal where herbaria from across the state aggregate their data into one central repository that is searchable by the public.

Each quarter we support students via a curation course, The V.L. Holland Student Curator Fellowship, and grant funding.



Professor Jenn Yost, Director


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Reptile and Amphibian Collection

Fisher Science Hall
Access is by appointment only

The department has a modest collection of preserved amphibians and reptiles from the California's Central Coast. The preserved specimens are available for research upon request. 

Contact: Professor Emily Taylor, Curator


Poly Canyon

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