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South American palm weevil stars in a Hollywood horror film

One of Los Angeles' quintessential icons - palm trees - are being threatened by an invasive pest from overseas - the South American palm weevil. KQED Science produced a clever overview on the life and times of this devastating pest, punctuating it with a surprise ending that features UC Cooperative Extension specialist Mark Hoddle

The story outlines the pest's life cycle, which starts when a female lays its eggs in the crown of a palm. They hatch and larvae eat the plant from the inside out, eventually killing the palm. The larvae pupate, complete metamorphosis, then fly off to find another palm to attack.

Hoddle conducted an experiment to determine how far the weevils can fly. He glued the pest on a sort of insect treadmill and let it fly in circles. He found that they can travel up to 15 miles a day, enough to easily hopscotch from palm to palm on their own and spread widely.

The biocontrol scientist demonstrates one way to get rid of South American palm weevils. If you're not squeamish you can view the video on the KQED website.

South American palm weevil adult. (Photo: Center for Invasive Species Research)
Posted on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 at 2:41 PM

Great Plains' wildfires have tripled since 1985

Wildfires used to be rare in the Great Plains, but that is no longer the case. A new study shows the average number of large fires grew from about 33 per year in 1985 to 117 per year in 2014, reported Chris Mooney in the Washington Post.

The study's lead author, Victoria Donovan of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, said the increasing number of wildfires is consistent with climate change and an incursion of more invasive plant species that could be providing fuel.

UC Cooperative Extension specialist Max Moritz said the study's results align with his observations. However, he added that he suspects that they reflect not so much human-caused climate change, but rather, changing human behavior. Humans have been found to be overwhelmingly responsible for lighting U.S. wildfires over the past 20 years, according to research he cited. But these facts should not downplay the importance of dealing with anthropogenic climate change.

"It does highlight the importance of human ignitions and where/how we build our communities on the landscape," Moritz said. "Wildfire is not going away anytime soon. We must learn, as a society, to coexist with wildfire."

 

The Great Plains in Nebraska, where wildfire is striking more frequently. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Posted on Monday, June 19, 2017 at 1:32 PM

Salmonella infections resulting from backyard chickens

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating a surge in human Salmonella infections linked to contact with live backyard poultry, reported Macy Jenkins on CBS Sacramento News.

The story included interviews with several chicken owners. One small girl said she loves to cuddle her chickens because "They're so cute." The owner of three specialty chickens said he allows the animals to "sleep inside with me in my bed." Both of those practices run counter to guidelines set by the CDC.

Jenkins spoke to UC Cooperative Extension specialist Maurice Pitesky, who said poultry owners should never let the birds inside of the house. His reason: "Always assume that any bird is a Salmonella carrier."

To prevent Salmonella infection, the CDC recommends:

  • Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry and anything in the area where the live and roam.
  • Never allow poultry in the house, especially not in bathrooms and kitchen.
  • Do not snuggle or kiss the birds.
  • Stay outdoors when cleaning poultry equipment, such as cages, feed or water containers.

Read more on the CDC website.

The most common symptoms of Salmonella infection are diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. The illness usually last 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment. 

Posted on Monday, June 5, 2017 at 2:48 PM

UC Master Gardener program nurturing public seed libraries

Seed libraries are sprouting in California, including a new one in San Bernardino created with the support of UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners, reported Suzanne Sproul in the San Bernardino Sun. The story was picked up by the Los Angeles Daily News and the Orange County Register.

San Bernardino County Regional Seed Library was set up at the Chino Basin Water Conservation District in Montclair. Here, visitors learn how to obtain seeds for flowers, fruits, vegetables and more. A key component is returning seeds, so the process continues to expand and grow.

“We're interested in germination quality, yield and any other information that helps with categorizing the seeds,” said Dona Jenkins, UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener coordinator in San Bernardino County. “Any and all seeds are welcome, but we are focusing on edible ones and those from pollinator plants."

Jenkins said saving seeds for next year's garden and sharing them with friends and neighbors isn't new, just enjoying a revival.

"It's what people used to do and is important today because we have lost 94 percent of our diversity with seeds," she said.

Saving seeds from your garden and sharing them in a seed library works with open-pollinated plants. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

 

Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2017 at 7:57 AM

The drought may be over, but water concerns haven't been doused

Record winter rainfall during the 2016-17 winter has enabled farms to emerge from survival mode in the short term, but scientists are still working hard to be ready for the next drought, reported Tim Hearden in Capital Press.

Hearden spent a day at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier to learn how researchers at the facility and the UC West Side Research and Extension Center near Five Points are combining technology with management practices to put every drop of irrigation water to work.

Director of the UC Kearney REC, Jeff Dahlberg, said the facility is ideal for conducting drought research. (Photo: Evett Kilmartin)

“This is one of the few places in the world where you can do drought research on a field level,” said Jeff Dahlberg, director of the 330-acre Kearney facility. “What I'm planning is a world-class drought nursery.”

At the West Side REC, researchers are working with farmers to perfect micro-irrigation efficiency and test drought stress on the area's most prevalent crops.

“We'll grow a tremendous number of cultivars of a crop” and identify “what seem to be the most promising cultivars when you grow them under drought conditions,” said Bob Hutmacher, a cotton specialist and the center's director.

Overhead irrigation is one of the promising techniques being used in conservation agriculture systems.

Hearden spoke to Jeff Mitchell, UCCE cropping systems specialist and director of the Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation center (CASI). CASI is encouraging farmers to adopt farming practices that save water, reduce dust and help improve the condition of soil, such as subsurface drip irrigation, overhead irrigation, minimum tillage, cover crops and crop residues. 

“This is not done right now in California,” Mitchell said. “In the future, there may be a strong likelihood of certain agricultural sectors adopting these practices.”

UCCE irrigation specialist Khaled Bali said underground drip systems in alfalfa fields have achieved 20 to 30 percent more yields while in some cases using 20 percent less water. (Photo: Evett Kilmartin)

Other subsurface irrigation trials are showing dramatic increases in yields. Khaled Bali, an irrigation water management specialist at Kearney, said underground drip systems in alfalfa fields have achieved 20 to 30 percent more yields while in some cases using 20 percent less water.

Kevin Day, a UCCE pomology advisor in Tulare County, is trying subsurface drip in a peach and nectarine orchard after working with the USDA to use it for pomegranates. He's seen as much as a 90 percent reduction in weeds because there's no surface water to feed them.

“Fewer weeds, fewer pesticides,” he said. “We use high-frequency irrigation. We irrigate as the crop needs it. When you do that, you keep the roots deeper, which makes for better aeration.”

Posted on Thursday, May 18, 2017 at 11:00 AM

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