Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Biological Sciences


Biological Sciences


College of Science and Mathematics


Dena Grossenbacher

Advisor Department

Biological Sciences

Advisor College

College of Science and Mathematics


At Santa Margarita Ranch, California, oak mistletoe (Phoradendron villosum) parasitizes valley oak and blue oak but cannot be found growing on coast live oak despite its abundance and ability to parasitize coast live oak in other areas. It seems as though this species of mistletoe is specializing on certain host oak trees, but the mechanisms of this specialization are unknown. In order to investigate this pattern, we utilized a type of machine learning in GIS called supervised classification as well as a reciprocal transplant study in the field. The three species of oak trees were classified with 87% accuracy using drone imagery and 95% accuracy using open source NAIP imagery. This classification technique could be applied to the whole state of California as long as ground truth points for each species were collected. This could be extremely useful for large scale forest management projects and ecological questions. Unfortunately, the classifier was unsuccessful at distinguishing mistletoe from host and so the number of mistletoe on each host could not be quantified using this technique. The reciprocal transplant study involved collecting mistletoe fruit from individuals growing on each of the three hosts and experimentally applying them back onto all three hosts. This allowed us to test whether there are host races of mistletoe that specialize at growing on certain hosts. We found that seeds from each host origin germinated equally well regardless of where they were dispersed, and seeds survived best on coast live oak, regardless of where they originated from. Based on these results, there must be some mechanism, other than host races, that explains the lack of mistletoe on coast live oaks at Santa Margarita Ranch. Future projects should investigate whether evidence for host races can be found at a later stage of seedling development and the roll of bird dispersers in creating the pattern.