- Author: Cameron Barrows
Biodiversity can be appreciated at multiple scales, from within a species and within populations (at a genetic level), to scales that encompass communities of a variety of species within a habitat or across landscapes of many habitats comprised of interacting communities of organisms. For most of us there is an understanding that higher biodiversity at each of these scales is a positive attribute, but why?
In part the answer is that with greater biodiversity there comes higher levels of redundancy. Communities with lower biodiversity are more fragile than those with higher biodiversity. Imagine a habitat with a single species of plant-eating insect and a single species of an insect-eating lizard. As long as there are just enough insects to sustain a healthy population of lizards, the there is a level of equilibrium. But, if a severe drought, or if a pandemic kills the insect, the lizard population starves. Or if a lizard-eating bird enters the community and reduces the lizard population, the insect population could increase to a level where the plant community is damaged by the insects and their voracious appetites. Either way the community collapses. However, if that community included multiple species of insects, and multiple species of lizards, that redundancy can buffer the community. The role of any one species can be filled by another and the dynamic equilibrium between predators, prey, and vegetation can be sustained.
James Estes studied a marine environment in the Aleutian archipelago that lacked biodiversity. There was a single predator species (sea otters), very few prey species (mostly sea urchins), and a single plant species (giant kelp). Sea otters ate the urchins, and the urchins ate the kelp. As long as the numbers of each were in balance (equilibrium) a dense kelp forest existed that acted as a nursery for a multitude of fish species. But then the local Orcas developed a taste for sea otter, decimating local otter populations. Without otters the urchin population exploded, and they ate all the kelp. There was no redundancy to compensate for the decline in otters; the community collapsed, and the critical fish nursery was lost.
Kevin Crooks studied coastal sage communities near San Diego. Coastal sage is generally a diverse community of plants, insects, lizards, songbirds, small seed and plant eating mammals (rodents), medium-sized omnivorous mammals and a few large predatory mammals (mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes). However, San Diego is a popular place for people to live, and the coastal sage community has been sacrificed for thousands of new homes to meet the needs of a burgeoning population of humans. Soon the coastal sage community was sliced and diced until there were just a few isolated natural habitat fragments left. Kevin's question was whether those habitat islands still retained the biodiversity of what once characterized this community. The first to go were the large predators; the big cats and the coyotes could not maintain populations in such small habitats. Then something curious happened. Without the larger predators around, the medium sized (meso-predators) mammal populations (skunks, raccoons, weasels, and opossums) exploded, and preyed upon the lizards, songbirds and small mammals to the point where the smaller creatures were no longer able to maintain populations. Excluding the top predators resulted in a “trophic cascade” and a loss of biodiversity.
Then there is genetic biodiversity at a species or population level. Darwin worried about this for his own family, even before there was a modern understanding of how genetics works. At that time, and for centuries before, European culture dictated that marriages occur within social classes and typically within a finite group of families with social and economic ties. Royal families throughout Europe intermarried to solidify strategic alliances. The result was an inordinate propensity of hemophilia and insanity. The Darwin and Wedgewood (famous for their fine china) families had similar ties of intermarriage. Darwin married his first cousin Emma Wedgewood. Darwin himself suffered in his middle and older ages from undiagnosed debilitating gastrointestinal distress that was shared by several of his cousins. Emma and Charles had ten children, seven of which survived to adulthood. Just three of his adult children had children of their own. Darwin and Emma had a long happy marriage full of love and respect, but he was guilt-ridden that their lack of genetic diversity had doomed their children, despite the fact that three of his sons were Knighted for their respective advancements in botany, astronomy and engineering. Had the Darwin-Wedgwood intermarriages continued Darwin's guilt would have likely been well-founded and his lineage may have had a short family tree. Perhaps because of his concerns, his children and grandchildren and great-great grandchildren found spouses outside of that close family circle, and there are now some 100 descendants of Charles Darwin. Today one of those great-great grandchildren, Sarah Darwin is a professor and botanist who has studied rare plants in the Galapagos Islands. Another, Christopher Darwin lives in Australia and works on his goal of halting the global mass extinction of species, and a third, Jos Barlow is a noted ecologist. Charles would be pleased.
I saw another example of the effects of genetic diversity on our community science climate change-effects survey yesterday. We were on the Boo Hoff trail, at the driest end of our survey gradient. What struck us all as curious was that of the ocotillo that dotted the hillsides along the trail, a few were leafing out, while most were still dormant. Ocotillo have adapted to dry desert conditions by leafing out after significant rainfall events, and if there is additional sufficient rain, flowering, fruiting and then dropping all their leaves and going dormant until the next rain happens. Under the right sequence of rain events they can repeat this sequence up to three times in a single year. While we did have a brief and scant rain shower about two weeks prior to our survey, most of the ocotillo were unconvinced that it was enough to risk putting precious resources into forming new leaves. But a few were convinced. Those were the risk takers, “betting” that more rain would come, and by getting a head start they would stand a better chance of completing their flowering and fruiting cycle before drought once again pushes all the ocotillo back into dormancy. If they are right, they will produce more seeds and have more potential to continue their genetic lineage. If they are wrong, they will have wasted those precious resources, and if the ensuing drought is particularly long, and hot they may not survive to reproduce again. Genetic diversity producing risk takers and conservative wait and see-ers. In an unpredictable desert climate one or the other, or both will win the survive and reproduce lottery.
Biodiversity at all scales is good.
- Author: Brook Gamble
A new certification course needs a course emblem fit for a beautiful pin and certificate! We're pleased to announce the new design, a lupine (Lupinus sp.). After passionate debate and multiple rounds of votes for different flora and fauna by course instructors, staff, and our Strategic Planning Committee, we finally settled on the lupine, without designating a specific species. Lupine are found throughout California and are a flower familiar to many people. Lupine are in the pea family, they are nitrogen fixers, and they help sequester carbon in the soil. Furthermore, many species are threatened by climate change. By CalFlora estimates, there are 138 species of lupine in California. Check out CalFlora to learn about the astonishing diversity across the state.
- Author: Sarah-Mae Nelson
On July 7, 2020, we launched the first UC Climate Stewards Instructor Training with 17 instructors from 11 pilot partner organizations across the state. Due to COVID-19 restrictions on meeting in person, we turned our planned 3-day, in-person training into a virtual venture. We chose to spread our 24 hours of training out over 8 days to best accommodate our trainers' schedules and offer the breaks and timing needed in the virtual environment.
Our first day of training focused on the key principles that make UC Climate Stewards unique from other climate change courses currently being offered. These core concepts include exploring cognitive, psychological, and social science of communication; the social-emotional labor of climate change and environmental education; how trauma-aware practices in education and communication support community resilience; and the importance of building relationships in the formation of community. Our second meeting was a full-day workshop on the evidence-based, climate change communication training from the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI). Subsequent sessions were each two-hours long and covered topics ranging from course administration to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Environmental Justice in the Climate Context.
It is wonderful to finally be setting off on this journey that has been more than three years in the planning. Our instructors are engaged, excited, and enthusiastic about our pilot course offerings that begin at the end of August and extend into early next year. We couldn't have accomplished this milestone without these program partners and the help of our Strategic Planning Committee, Climate Science Reviewers, and Core Team. Special thanks to California Naturalist Kate Greswold who has spent countless hours helping us achieve our vision and improve the course, and Adina Merenlender who spearheaded, researched, and co-authored our text (Merenlender, A. & Buhler, B. (2020). Climate Stewardship: Collective Action Across California. Manuscript submitted for publication).
We are working diligently to produce more materials about UC Climate Stewards to help spread the word. If you or your organization is interested in finding out more about UC Climate Stewards courses, check out our webpage.
- Author: Sarah-Mae Nelson
We've been working hard behind the scenes this year to launch the new UC Climate Stewards course in fall 2020. The 40-hour certification course from UC ANR's UC California Naturalist Program, empowers individuals to become leaders within their communities on climate solutions. Courses are delivered throughout California by trained partner organizations with expertise in science education. Many UC Climate Stewards partners will already be familiar to certified California Naturalists! Our fall partners include Pasadena City College, Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, Community Environmental Council, and UC Riverside Palm Dessert Center.
The UC Climate Stewards course addresses the growing demand for training on the skills needed to effectively communicate and advance community and ecosystem resilience. Instructors combine in-person, online, and field experiences to achieve this goal. The course's five units are designed to help participants connect with each other through their personal experiences with climate change; communicate with a wide range of audiences and leverage their community connections; understand the science behind climate and earth systems along with observed and expected climate changes; develop the skills to engage in community and ecosystem resilience efforts; and demonstrate their own ability through a service oriented capstone project. A focus on the importance of social and emotional support for climate educators and learners, using systems thinking to address root causes, emphasizing community-level solutions, and the role of community and citizen science help set the course apart from other climate change education efforts.
Building on the success of the UC California Naturalist network, UC Climate Stewards will establish and support inclusive communities of practice that develop and share knowledge, as well as build statewide support and capacity to advance local and state climate goals. Our vision is for a California with engaged communities and functioning ecosystems that are resilient in a changing climate.
- Author: Eliot Freutel
September marks a pivotal moment in climate change conversation and action and this week, September 20-27, is Climate Week - a time where people around the world are raising their voices to talk about what climate change means to them.
The UN Global Climate Action Summit will be held in New York Sept. 23rd for international climate negotiators to discuss their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in a way that will help make the fight against climate change a reality. A recent article from the UC Newsroom by Carolyn McMillan details how the “University of California has joined forces with more than 7,000 colleges and universities around the globe to declare a climate emergency and commit to urgent action to address the crisis.” This agreement prioritizes climate related research within the UC system as well as expanded education and outreach regarding climate resilience and sustainability. This announcement is tailed by student protests to bring awareness to climate change and the University of California divestment of all funds from fossil fuels, setting an example for tackling climate change head-on and aligning your money with your values.
With every new piece of scientific evidence, the ability to remain hopeful, feel positive about our ability to address the situation, and have confidence in our capacity to engage constructively becomes a growing challenge. But there is power within all of us to tackle some of the immediate effects of climate change. The Climate Stewards Initiative (CSI) is a new certification program that will be offered through the UC California Naturalist program that “prepares individuals to communicate and engage in local solutions to advance community and ecosystem resilience.”By learning together about the causes of climate change, and actionable measures we can take to curb it, we can collectively reduce our impact and minimize the impact of changes already taking place. For people already doing these things themselves, they will learn methods and skills to communicate and work with others as to how climate change will affect them and, in the process, help them discover their own roles in the fight against climate change.
The Climate Stewards Initiative will be the first certification program of its kind in California and will provide participants with the tools they need to have an impact in their homes, communities, across the state and beyond. More than just a one-time course about climate change, Climate Stewards, is an ongoing social learning community that provides a transition from a sense of helplessness to a sense of empowerment. As community members, our efforts are multiplied when we work together toward share goals. As we band together to identify our strongest impact and act on it, we dive deep into a study on what climate resilience means to us on a personal level and help others discover answers to the same question; “what makes us resilient?” We become empowered to make changes at home, have a meaningful conversation with friends, families and neighbors, participate in local planning efforts, and advocate for environmental justice. Climate Stewards builds on the success of the UC California Naturalist program which a collective impact network designed to promote stewardship of California's natural resources through education and service. Check out the Climate Stewards webpage for more information.