- Author: Lilyana Elola
Fungal-Bacterial Interactions: Bridging Soil Niches in Regulating Carbon and Nitrogen Processes
Grasslands play a vital role in the nutrient cycling process of both carbon and nitrogen. The state of California is home to perennial and annual grasslands, distinguished from one another by their growth patterns. Annual grasses complete their growth cycle in a single season, whereas perennial grasses exhibit persistent growth throughout the year. Perennial grasses often develop extensive root systems that provide a more stable mechanism for long term carbon storage than their annual counterparts. Historically, three disturbances contributed to the conversion of California's former native perennial grasses to its current annual-dominated status: European colonization, fire-suppression, and drought.
Oak-woodland adjacent annual grasslands here in Hopland offer a distinctive seasonal rhythm. The growth season of this grass begins when rainfall is hearty enough to germinate grass seeds, typically during the late fall/winter. While characterized by herbaceous vegetation, the structure of these grasslands depends greatly on local weather and livestock grazing patterns. Because the life cycle of annual grass is limited to a single growing season, there is less time for it to contribute to long-term carbon storage. This means that the nutrient cycling process in an annual grassland ecosystem is primarily the job of biotic reactions between fungi and bacteria below the surface of the grass, in its soil. The Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC) and soil microbial ecologist Dr. Mengting “Maggie” Yuan from UC Berkeley's Firestone Lab have teamed up to better understand how these biotic interactions in soil are affected by reduced precipitation conditions associated with climate change.
Dr. Mengting “Maggie” Yuan in the UC Berkeley Firestone Lab
Oxford Tract, Berkeley CA
Dr. Yuan's interest in natural resources began when her family would spend time walking together outside. This time spent in nature inspired her to think about the complexities of a much smaller biotic world. What kind of systems contribute to the function of smaller microbial ecosystems? She asked herself. This curiosity eventually led her to study environmental engineering in university. In 2011, she earned her Bachelor's degree in Environmental Engineering from Tsinghua University in Beijing. After which, she moved to the United States to earn her Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Oklahoma in 2017.
In the world of ecology, specifically soil microbial ecology, there exists promising opportunities for innovation and scientific advancement. Dr. Yuan points out that there is no standardized model for measuring the Biological Fertility Index (BFI) of soil, because scientists don't understand on a fundamental level the heterogeneity of the soil. The analytical methods scientists use currently to measure soil fertility point more to a soil's habitat than its biotic function.
“A scoop of soil contains, on a more microscopic level, mineral surfaces and pore space” says Dr. Yuan. “It's important that future research considers the spatial difference instead of potential.” She admits that understanding soil on a spatial level is a challenging facet of soil microbial ecology. She calls this her “lifelong challenge.” Still, she hopes to work towards projects like these that create well defined frameworks for describing the probability of microbes to be able to interact with the environment and other microbes.
Fungal ingrowth cores, used to allow fungal hyphae into soil core samples
Oxford Tract, Berkeley CA
Spectrometer equipment, owned by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Oxford Tract, Berkeley CA
When it comes to staying up to date with advancements in microbial soil ecology, Dr. Yuan relies on her undergraduate researchers just as much as her postdoctoral colleagues. She cites collaboration as the mechanism of understanding what's going on in both her scientific community, and the greater academic community at UC Berkeley. She loves talking to undergraduates one-on-one to get a better understanding of their struggles and motivations for pursuing a career in natural resource science. Dr. Yuan says that, from her personal experience at UC Berkeley, “Students nowadays have a more developed understanding of their passion for climate action” and “bring to the table a valuable skill set missing from current climate solutions”. She is optimistic that undergraduate eagerness to participate in climate action research is indicative of a larger generational interest.
It was collaboration, flexibility, and the opportunity to connect with people on a national scale that encouraged Dr. Yuan to work on projects like these at UC Berkeley. She feels grateful that working in academia has allowed her the freedom to try and pose solutions to some of the state's most complex natural resource issues. Her work on this project holds profound implications for agriculture, environmental sustainability, and our understanding of climate change adaptation. The study's relevance extends far beyond the confines of HREC, as its findings will offer valuable insights applicable to other annual grassland areas in California, ultimately guiding land conservation and management strategies all around the state.
Hi! I'm Taylor Woodruff, the new summer camp intern for the Sustainable You! - Adventure Science Camp! I am 21 years old, graduated from Clear Lake High School in 2015, and am currently a student at Mendocino College. At the college, I am a tutor for Statistics and Trigonometry. I am also Secretary of Gaming Club and an active member of Anime Club! I will be transferring soon with a degree in both Allied Health and Biology. I intend to pursue Marine Biology so I can study and help conserve sharks! I love all animals and plants. If there's any outdoor activity, count me in! I grew up playing soccer, volleyball, basketball, track, snowboarding, waterskiing and barefoot skiing. Fun fact: I have been classically trained to play the flute since 5th grade. I am kind, very easy to get along with, and determined to get any task done.
The UC Hopland Research and Extension Center is such a wonderful place. Everyone has been so warm and welcoming. I had little knowledge of the area before being recommended for this internship position, but I am so glad that I was selected. There is so much beautiful property out here -- 5,300 acres! Such a wonderful place for researchers to come out. Speaking of researcher, I've gotten to meet quite a few!
I stopped in and got to ask Dr. Vardo-Zalik and her team all about what they are doing with their lizard malaria research. Being a science major myself, I was super interested and wanted to bug them as much as I could. She explained a lot to me, let me hold and identify the genders of the Western Fence Lizards, observe a vector of the malaria parasite (the Sand Fly), watch them take blood samples, and I even got to look at those samples under the microscope through oil immersion. All of it was so fascinating. She also shared with me her passion for sharks and rays, and I think that was my favorite part. :)
I also got to meet some of the Brashares lab researchers. Talking to them was interesting as well, hearing about how they plan to catch a mountain lion and put a tracking collar on it. They are going to help out during our summer camp to have the kids set trail cameras, set small mammal traps, and check the traps in the morning. Hannah Bird even showed me a lot of the pictures that have been captured on different wildlife cameras scattered around the property. There are beautiful pictures of mountain lions, black bears, coyotes, raccoons and deer.
Thanks to Alison Smith letting me know when, I was able to see the two cutest baby lambs! While preparing for an insect activity down in the creek, I got distracted by all the tadpoles! There were so many and some had already developed teeny-tiny legs. Super cute. It's also pretty fun to take a moment and watch the woodpeckers. Brook Gamble was nice enough to give me California Naturalist journal as a present on my first day. Brook, Hannah and I got to use them and try out some of the journal activities we plan to do with the campers. I also got to share with Brook an awesome video I took of a spider making a web. It might get posted on the California Naturalist instagram, so be on the lookout! :)
In order to view more of the property and get away from the computer for a bit, I was able to help out our volunteer phenologists. We went around to multiple species of trees and other plants to record a lot of data including how many leaves, how many flowers, recording post-fire data, and more. They were very kind and funny. I'm glad I got to help them out.
Planning camp has been a lot of work! Staying organized and keeping on top of my tasks has prevented me from unwanted stress. This has been a lot of fun, but I am much more excited to meet the campers and run activities with them! Thank you Hannah, for everything!
The wonderful NCCC Gold Seven team have been working at HREC for the past 3 weeks, they have been so helpful - all the HREC staff will be so very sad to see them go! In this blog post we learn a little about the team members and get an overview of the work that they have been involved in, the interviews were conducted by Hannah Wood, the media lead for the team.
As the AmeriCorps NCCC team stationed at the UC ANR Hopland Research and Extension Center, we've had plenty of projects to keep us busy! In the three weeks we've been volunteering here, we've helped repair fence lines previously burnt in the River Fire, were put in charge of some daily barn chores, helped build infrastructure for upcoming research projects, assisted with K-12 educational programs, cleared brush, helped tidy up the place, and sometimes worked closely with the sheep (tagging, paint branding, raising bummer lambs, and giving vaccines).
Although the work was daunting at times, and the weather was never perfect, we were thankful to be working and living on this beautiful property right alongside the welcoming staff and their families. We learned loads of information about California seasons and climates, lambing, the important research projects going on, Northern California ecosystems, wildlife in the area, and wildfire mitigation and recovery. And the baby lambs made our days brighter… even with rainy skies!
I've asked a few of my fellow Corps members some questions about their personal experiences at the UC ANR Hopland Research and Extension Center… and here's what they said!
Q: What was your favorite part of volunteering at HREC?
I enjoyed learning a ton from the very knowledgeable HREC staff. Their welcoming attitude enabled us to get a firsthand experience of what living and working at a research extension center entails. We worked with each and every person on staff and they all showed us the details and unique experiences of their work duties, while also being very open and friendly toward us.
-Jared Gasper: 19 yrs old, from Nebraska
Q: What has made your experience at HREC?
I liked getting insight into the life of a shepherd and seeing the day to day responsibilities of working on a ranch. I also really enjoyed learning about all the research projects! Overall my time here has been extremely educational and useful for developing myself and my interests, specifically when working with the Forest Advisor for Mendocino Lake and Sonoma counties on post fire vegetation plot surveys.
-Dariel Echanis: 18 yrs old, from Vermont
Q: What's it like living at the HREC?
I think we all can say it's been extremely comfortable living and working on the HREC campus. We were very cozy in the dorm house, and enjoyed going for hikes and doing physical training on our off time.. which included beautiful views of course! Hannah Bird made us feel right at home with her caring and immediate attention, giving us fresh lamb meat, welcoming us into her home for dinner, and making sure we were always having new and exciting experiences:)
-Hannah Wood: 22 yrs old, from New York State
Q: What was it like as the Team Leader coordinating daily projects with the staff?
The staff at HREC are all incredibly helpful and organized so I had a really great experience working with them. I never had trouble getting into contact with anyone and every member of the staff was happy to answer questions. The team got to work with a number of staff members who all had diverse bodies of knowledge and we learned a lot from them! Working at HREC has been a wonderful experience for me and for the team.
-Jessi Hagelshaw: 22 yrs old, from California
Q: What was it like volunteering on the weekends with the Ukiah Animal Shelter?
It was really rewarding! It was good to see that none of the animals we worked with before Christmas break were still there when we returned in January. I'm glad we got a chance to help out and I would love to do more work with animal shelters in the places we'll work at in the future.
-Alex Faeth: 22 yrs old, from New Jersey
Q: How was it working with the K-12th graders that came to HREC to learn about sheep?
Working with the school children was a great experience. The weather was cold and wet a lot of the days we did field trips but the teachers and students were enthusiastic to hike the property, which in turn, energized the staff and volunteers!
-Danny Zoborowski: 24 yrs old, from New York State
Q: Anything you'd like to say to the HREC and Hopland/Ukiah communities?
HREC's hospitality was great. The entire staff was welcoming and helpful, the dorms are nice and cozy, the land is beautiful, and it is a great place to hike... or just roam. Thank you HREC staff!
-Amir Corbett: 20 yrs old, from Pennsylvania
Amir and Alex show the "bummer" or adopted lambs to the K-12 students.
Hard work on the hill!
All the Americorps Gold Seven team worked so hard rain, snow or shine!
Clearing brush, to be prepared for future fire was one of the key tasks that the team helped HREC with.
Fire has a vitally important role in the California landscape and many fire-related studies have been conducted at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC) since 1951. The majority of these fires have been prescribed burns, well controlled to manage invasive species and reduce fuel load, but on July 27 the staff had to deal with a very different kind of fire, as the River Fire swept across the site.
Below I share my experiences of both prescribed fire and wildfire at HREC:
Just a few short months ago, I enjoyed an afternoon with staff on site watching as CalFire conducted a prescribed burn to reduce invasive grass species and fuel load. The sight of the flames racing through the grasses was exciting and the skill of the CalFire team in controlling the fire inspired both respect and a feeling of safety – we were in good hands! The crews worked hard to protect some of the great oak trees we have on the site and to respect areas of cultural significance, including a rock inscribed with ancient petroglyphs. Tankers flew over sprinkling us with red fire retardant as they passed, allowing a new pilot some practice while keeping this burn well controlled. This burn inspired hope and in the space of just a month we were already seeing green shoots replacing the black of the burned areas, a new chance for the native grass species adapted to fire.
How different an experience last week as a wildfire, the River Fire, began to burn close to our site on the afternoon of July 27. This fire was not under control, its power and size increasing so rapidly that by the afternoon it had spread to HREC and was quickly moving through oak woodland, grassland and chaparral. I'm very lucky to be able to live and work on this beautiful site, but suddenly the oak woodlands that once held much joy for me all just looked like fuel. It was clear that the homes that we lived in were at significant risk and difficult decisions were made about what items should be loaded into the car and what we must drive away from – not knowing if we would return to find them intact.
While residents on site prepared to evacuate, other HREC staff were making decisions about the many lives that depended on them for their wellbeing, the flock of 500 sheep and their accompanying 6 guardian dogs and 1 sheepdog. Shepherd Jim Lewers was quick to consider the safest space for the flock and they were herded swiftly downhill to the flat irrigated pasture at our lowest elevations. Our wonderful neighbors on the Poor Ranch were working hard to protect their homes and to consider how they might also link with efforts to save HREC homes. As the sun set, the fire looked more daunting to all, HREC residents had left the site, but a few staff stayed on to do what they could as they waited for CalFire – who were stretched thin with numerous fires to attend to.
My last phone conversation that evening with our interim director John Bailey was worrying.“I'm not feeling confident, the fire is headed downhill towards headquarters, is there anything else you need from your house?” he asked.
Although I know of the huge benefits of fire to our lands, this fire was now encroaching on our homes and it was hard to consider any positive role it might have. At around 9 p.m., CalFire moved their incident command to HREC alongside a team of at least 3 bulldozers, a water tanker and 6 engines. It's hard to express the gratitude you feel to these men and women who will put themselves at such risk to save the homes of strangers. This was certainly a turning point for HREC, all buildings and animals were kept safe although around two-thirds of the site did burn above headquarters and spread east towards Lake County. Although the fear for headquarters could dissipate – it was with grim understanding that now others were at risk and this fire was still burning strong.
As I write this, a few days on, we are now assessing the damage to the site. Our water supply is severely affected, pipes that carried water from springs on site simply burst as the water inside them boiled due to the heat. Our team is out checking for dangerous trees, which still smoke ominously along the road. The many research projects that used our site as their “living laboratory” are impacted to various extents. And yet – we know how lucky we are. On our minds are all the people facing evacuation and the potential loss of their homes or worse. The role of HREC in sharing advice on fire safe measures alongside the Mendocino Fire Safe Council becomes stronger and clearer.
Now that the immediate fear has subsided, I can think again about the healing power that this fire will have on parts of our landscape. Many of our oaks did survive and prescribed burns over the years have aided in ensuring some parts of the site suffered only quick moving grass fires. Although the important wildlife research conducted by the UC Berkeley Brashares lab will be significantly impacted, we will now be able to see the movements of the many GPS collared deer that live on our site in relation to fire. This fire will offer many more opportunities for researchers from different fields to study post fire impacts with access to long-term pre-fire data to support their work.
Our site is here to provide answers to scientific questions associated with a Northern California working landscape – and this fire has allowed us to gain knowledge, the opportunity to learn more and the impetus to share that knowledge to help where we can.
This picture was taken on Friday night, July 27 as the fire started to move downhill towards the headquarters area.
Research projects have been affected, for example this weather station was completely destroyed by the fire. On the positive side - there are now many opportunities to see the regenerative aspects of fire and the research associated with those.
Looking across to Cow Mountain from the higher points on the site through the chaparral.
Many of our oaks have survived, past prescribed fires and grazing decreased the fuel load beneath the trees reducing the temperature and allowing fire to move through quickly. However in this are a mid story of madrone led to higher temperatures and prolonged burning which may have killed some of the black oaks to be found in the area.
For those who don't know me, my name is Rachel Wingler and I am the summer intern at Hopland REC. Through my internship I have had the opportunity to work on and help plan the Sustainable You Summer Camp. This summer camp is a week-long science and sustainability camp for children ages 9-12. This year we even offered an overnight option on one of the nights which involved a night drive around HREC to find animals and smores. This years' camp had 18 campers. That is a lot for two camp coordinators and our lovely volunteers. Nevertheless, we had an incredible week. From interesting speakers, bioblitz dancing, drone presentations, farmer visits, and wildlife biologists to garden box making, solar car racing, smoothie bike making and trail camera placing we had such an exciting week. We really want to thank all of our scholarship donors who contributed to our camp and allowed some campers to come who otherwise might not have been able to. These donors include, Dan Baxter, Deanna Goff, Richard and Lisa Black, Sonoma Clean Power, South Ukiah Rotary, Trish Wingler, and Ukiah Rotary. Without you all this camp would have been short a few kids and we are so thankful to have had them all as a part of our camp.
When I first applied for this job I really didn't know fully what I was getting myself into. After this spectacular experience I couldn't be more thankful to Hopland REC for giving me the opportunity to work with this organization. I specifically want to thank Hannah Bird for being so hard working and so interested in the well being of the youth in the community. Working on the planning and then getting to see the execution of all the hard work during the week of camp was more than I could have ever imagined. For anyone who has considered putting time in whether paid or volunteer at HREC, DO IT! You will not be disappointed by your experience. I mean just look at these faces...
Needless to say, this whole experience has been one of my greatest memories and I hope it will be for the campers as well. Sustainable You Summer Camp is such a positive thing for the youngsters in this community and in surrounding communities. If you ever send your child to Sustainable You Summer Camp, you can rest assured that a lot of hard work and heart was put into it. The photo above was taken on Friday, during the camper's last trip to the creek bed. The trail cameras were placed in the creek bed all week by the campers. For now I will keep it semi-short and sweet. Goodbye for now!
-Rachel Wingler (Summer Intern)