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Bring the wild back into our farmlands to protect biodiversity, researchers say

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Berkeley — With a body the size of a fist and wings that span more than a foot, the big brown bat must gorge on 6,000 to 8,000 bugs a night to maintain its stature. This mighty appetite can be a boon to farmers battling crop-eating pests.

But few types of bats live on American farms. That's because the current practice of monoculture – dedicating large swathes of land to a single crop – doesn't give the bats many places to land or to nest. 

Diversifying working lands – including farmland, rangeland and forests – may be key to preserving biodiversity in the face of climate change, says a new review paper published this week in Science by conservation biologists at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Benzinger Family Winery is a diversified vineyard in Sonoma County. (Photo: Corey Luthringer)

Diversification could be as simple as adding trees or hedgerows along the edges of fields, giving animals like birds, bats and insects places to live, or as complex as incorporating a patchwork of fields, orchards, pasture and flowers into a single working farm.

These changes could extend the habitat of critters like bats, but also much larger creatures like bears, elk and other wildlife, outside the boundaries of parks and other protected areas, while creating more sustainable, and potentially more productive, working lands.

“Protected areas are extremely important, but we can't rely on those on their own to prevent the pending sixth mass extinction,” said study co-author Adina Merenlender, a UC Cooperative Extension Specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. “This is even more true in the face of climate change, because species will need to move around to adapt to shifts in temperature and climate.”

Diversified farms could include crops, pastures, orchards and woodland. (Photo: Xerces)

A win-win for wildlife and for farms

Maintaining even small pieces of the original landscape – even a single tree– can help conserve the original diversity of species, Merenlender said. Clearing oak woodlands and shrublands to establish large vineyards hits many native species hard. Animals that are well adapted to urban and agricultural areas, such as mockingbirds, house finches and free-tail bats, continue to flourish, while animals that are more sensitive to disturbance, like acorn woodpeckers, orange-crowned warblers and big brown bats, begin to drop away. “If you can leave shrubs, trees and flowering plants, the habitat suitability -- not just for sensitive birds but also for other vertebrates – goes way up,” Merenlender said. This is true not only in California's vineyards, but on working lands around the world.

Incorporating natural vegetation makes the farm more hospitable to more creatures, while reducing the use of environmentally degrading chemicals like herbicides, pesticides and man-made fertilizer.

A vineyard in California's central coast is an example of industrialized agriculture. (Photo: Steve Zmak, https://stevezmak.com/)

The ideal farming landscape includes woodland pastures and vegetable plots bumping up against orchards and small fields, said Claire Kremen, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. Integrating livestock produces manure which can fertilize the crops, while those same crops produce feed for livestock. Birds and bats provide pest control, and bees boost crop production by pollinating plants.

“It is possible for these working landscapes to support biodiversity but also be productive and profitable,” Kremen said. “And ultimately, this is where we have to go. We just can't keep mining our soils for their fertility and polluting our streams – in the end, this will diminish our capacity to continue producing the food that we need. Instead, we must pay attention to the species, from microbes to mammals, that supply us with critical services, like pollination, pest control and nutrient cycling”

“We have some amazing diversified farms, sustainably managed forests and species-rich rangelands here in California that exemplify working lands for conservation around the world,” Merenlender said. “We are calling for a scaling up of this approach around the world, and to do that we champion community-based action and more supportive polices” Kremen concludes.

RELATED INFORMATION

CONTACTS

Claire Kremen, ckremen@berkeley.edu, 510-367-2100 (cell)
Adina Merenlender, adinam@berkeley.edu, (707) 489-4362

Posted on Thursday, October 18, 2018 at 12:58 PM
  • Author: Kara Manke, kjmanke@berkeley.edu, (510) 643-7741
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Environment

Honey bee health key to wellbeing of important species

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Our friends the honey bees make it possible for us to devour an abundance of almond products. In 2016 the California almond crop totaled 2.15 billion pounds valued at $5.2 billion. Growing 80 percent of the world's almonds in California takes a lot of honey bees for pollination, roughly two hives for every acre of almond trees. It's estimated that California has 1.3 million acres of almonds, stretching 400 miles between Bakersfield and Red Bluff.

California is rated in the top five honey producing states in the nation. The U.S. per capita consumption of honey is around 1.3 pounds per year. Our buzzing friends visit millions of blossoms, making pollination of plants possible and collecting nectar to bring back to the hive. Lucky for us bees make more honey than their colony needs allowing beekeepers the opportunity to remove the excess honey and bottle it for us to enjoy.

Bees are animals too

Bees are one of our planet's most important animals. They produce honey and they are the primary managed pollinators for a majority of high value specialty crops grown in the contiguous states of California and Oregon, such as nuts, stone fruits, vegetables, and berries. A problem looms for our animal friends, the bees. Colony losses are high due to a variety of environmental and biological causes including bacterial diseases. Historically, beekeepers have self-prescribed antibiotics to control these diseases.

Enter UC Davis and Oregon State University to aid beekeepers in addressing the problem of antibiotic resistance and antimicrobial use in the feed or water of food-producing animals, namely, protecting the health and safety of bees. The overall strategy leads to a safer food supply because the potential for antibiotic resistance is reduced.

The Western Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFSS), UC Cooperative Extension, and UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine are partnering with Oregon State University in a USDA funded multi-state specialty crop project to develop CE training for veterinarians on bee health and antibiotic use — a practice that is now regulated under the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD). The project will offer a comprehensive bee biology online course and train-the-trainer practical training for veterinarians and apiculture educators. The ultimate goals are to protect the specialty crop — honey — from becoming contaminated with antibiotic residues; to protect the health and safety of bees, which are essential to California agriculture; and, finally, to support veterinary oversight in the use of antibiotics, which will lead to an overall reduction of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the environment.   

The $483,278 award will address the unique needs of the beekeeping industry that have been experiencing high colony losses since 2006. It will also focus on new rules established by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration on the use of antibiotics which are used to control certain diseases affecting bee colonies.

The principal investigator is Elina L. Niño, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Project leader is Bennie Osburn, director of outreach and training at WIFSS. Collaborating in the project is Jonathan Dear, from the Department of Medicine and Epidemiology at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and the partner state collaborator is Ramesh Sagili from the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University. A team of graphic and instructional designers from WIFSS will work with Drs. Niño, Dear, and Sagili, to translate the science into user friendly information for veterinarians and beekeepers.

Educating about honey bee health

Jonathan Dear, a small animal internal medicine veterinarian and hobbyist beekeeper inspects one of his hives.

Dear who is collaborating with WIFSS to produce an online and hands-on module to train veterinarians about beekeeping and honey bee health, points out that, “Honey bees are such an important part of our economy and, like any food producing animal, they can be affected by preventable and treatable diseases.”

He is enthusiastic about the project and says, “Our hope is that by educating veterinarians about honey bee health, they can play a key role in maintaining the health and wellbeing of this important species.”

With the efforts of extension specialists, veterinarians, and graphic and instructional designers, beekeepers and veterinarians will work together to navigate the VFD regulations, and consumers will continue to enjoy nature's sugar.

UCANR-Honey-400x300
UCANR-Honey-400x300

Posted on Thursday, October 18, 2018 at 7:47 AM
Tags: Honey (8), honey bees (15)
Focus Area Tags: Food

It’s electric?! Breaking down electric pressure cookers

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You may have heard the buzz about electric pressure cookers. Even if you don't follow kitchen trends, this piece of equipment may take some of the "pressure off" of preparing meals. From personal experience, I can say that they're also quite fun!

Dry beans cook up quickly into a healthful, inexpensive meals in electric pressure cookers. (Photo: Pixabay)

Pressure cooking vs. pressure canning

Pressure cooking uses trapped steam to create a pressurized environment for cooking food. This combined with heat can greatly decrease cooking times for many items. Foods like dried beans, meat roasts and rice can have a significantly shorter cooking time when they are pressure cooked. Some people may recognize the term pressure canning which uses pressure to preserve foods. While they are similar in the process, only equipment specifically labeled for pressure canning can be used safely for food preservation.

Why so popular?

Pressure cookers existed first as a stove top version that required manual monitoring of pressure. Electric pressure cookers arose to help streamline and simplify the process. They have digital settings and controls so are generally easy to use. The quick cooking time and ability to electronically set time and temperature also increase their consumer appeal. In addition, the cooker is a closed system which helps retain moisture, nutrients and flavor. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of scientific research on nutrient retention in pressure cooking. One study did find that pressure cooking retained more vitamin C in broccoli than compared to boiling or steaming.

Additionally, electric pressure cookers are more energy efficient than stove top or oven cooking. They are insulated which prevents energy from being lost in the cooking process.

Becky Hutchings, a family and consumer sciences educator for University of Idaho Extension, currently offers a very popular introduction to electric pressure cookers class in her community. She feels electric pressure cookers can help people save money and time with cooking. Hutchings has said, “I think with pressure cookers, people are scared that it's going to blow up. Once they use their electric pressure cooker they will realize how easy and fast it is. They wonder how they ever lived without it.”

Safety concerns

As with any piece of equipment, there are safety concerns. Some models are considered “multi cookers” and may have a setting for slow cooking. This may be misleading as the slow cooker setting will not pressure cook. You cannot leave food in the cooker to be pressure cooked later because it will be in unsafe temperatures and will increase the risk for foodborne illness. For example, if you are planning to cook a pork roast in the electric pressure cooker, you cannot prepare it in the morning and leave it out on the counter until the evening. You will have to keep the food refrigerated until it is ready to be cooked.

Additionally, standard food safety practices should still be followed. Even if a roast looks done, check that temperature! Electric pressure cookers can be easily reset to cook for additional time if needed.

A third and significant concern is canning with electric pressure cookers. UC Cooperative Extension takes education on food preservation very seriously. We only support research-based and tested recipes for preservation. Many brands of electric pressure cookers provide recipes for canning. However, NONE of the brands have been able to supply their research or information supporting these recipes

The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a great article explaining why this is a concern. In short, electric pressure cookers have not been studied to ensure the necessary requirements for safe canning. Therefore, UC Cooperative Extension does NOT support or encourage canning in electric pressure cookers.

Hutchings explains it quite simply as “You are putting your life at risk."

(Pressure canning is a whole other wonderful field of cooking and preservation. We have many resources and articles available to learn more about it.)

A typical electric pressure cooker. (Photo: Max Pixel)

Where to go from here:

While some models may be more “instantlyrecognizable than others, there are many brands available for purchase.  Just because a brand has popularity may not mean it is right for you. There are many online resources providing reviews and recipes for all the main brands of electric pressure cookers available. Prices of models range from $50 to $100. They are a more expensive piece of equipment, but savings could be seen in reduced cooking time and energy efficiency. In addition, there is a lot of money saved when cooking at home when compared to ordering delivery or eating at restaurants. An electric pressure cooker may be tool you need to making cooking at home easy and accessible.

If you are a new electric pressure cooker owner looking for support, Hutchings has a Facebook support group: Cooking Under Pressure - An Electric Pressure Cooking Community. She shares recipes, resources and occasionally hosts Facebook Live lessons.

Resources:

Posted on Wednesday, October 17, 2018 at 11:16 AM
Focus Area Tags: Food Health

Two UC graduate students chosen to assist UC ANR Global Food Initiative efforts

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Melanie Colvin
Two University of California graduate students have been selected by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources as UC Global Food Initiative (GFI) fellows for 2018-19. Graduate students Melanie Colvin at UC Berkeley and Maci Mueller at UC Davis will work with ANR academics and staff to conduct and communicate about UC research for improved food security and agricultural sustainability.

Melanie Colvin, a graduate student at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, focuses on addressing nutrition-related diseases through preventative measures. As a GFI fellow, Colvin will work with Nutrition Policy Institute researchers to conduct a secondary analysis of the Healthy Communities Study, a six-year observational study that included more than 5,000 children and their families from 130 communities in the United States. The native of Chapel Hill, NC, will analyze the relationship between household food insecurity and physical activity. Colvin plans to pursue a Ph.D. with a goal of a career in public health research.

"The GFI fellowship allows me to experience many facets of developing meaningful research questions that I will address on my own one day as a principal investigator," Colvin said.

Maci Mueller
Maci Mueller, a doctoral student in animal biology at UC Davis, is interested in a career at the interface of agricultural science and policy, particularly related to the problems that might be solved using innovative breeding tools, such as gene editing. Using a variety of communication tools, the Princeton, Neb., native will work with UC ANR's Strategic Communications team to inform the public about UC ANR's contributions to agricultural, food and nutrition research and related policies.

“I am excited to learn from the UC ANR's Strategic Communications team and for the opportunity as a GFI fellow to gain hands-on agricultural research communication experience,” Mueller said.

In addition to their individual projects, the 2018-19 GFI fellows are invited to participate in systemwide activities designed to enhance their leadership skills and enrich their understanding of the food system in California.

The UC Global Food Initiative was launched by UC President Janet Napolitano in 2014 with the aim of putting UC, California and the world on a pathway to sustainability. The GFI fellows are part of a group of approximately 50 UC graduate and undergraduate students working on food-related projects at all 10 UC campuses, UC Office of the President, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC ANR. Each participant receives a $4,000 award to help fund student-generated research, projects or internships that support the initiative's efforts to address the issue of how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach 8 billion by 2025.

 

 

Melanie Colvin, left, and Maci Mueller.
Melanie Colvin, left, and Maci Mueller.

Posted on Thursday, October 11, 2018 at 3:43 PM
Focus Area Tags: Food

Dry conditions keep sudden oak death in check, yet significant outbreaks continue

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Google map shows results of the SOD blitzes available online at sodblitz.organd SODMAP.org. Green icons identify trees sampled that tested negative for SOD. Red icons were SOD-infected trees.
Sudden oak death, which has killed millions of trees in California over the past 20 years, is spreading more slowly, according to California's most recent citizen-science sudden oak death survey. The 2018 SOD Blitz results indicate Phytophthora ramorum (the pathogen known to cause SOD) infection is currently less prevalent in many wildland urban interface areas, though significant outbreaks are still occurring in some locations.

Overall, 3.5 percent of the trees (based on those areas sampled during the blitzes) were found to be P. ramorum positive, a threefold drop from 2017. Yet, in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, infection levels were estimated to be as high as 19 percent, followed by 12.7 percent in the East Bay.

"SOD blitzes detected the highest levels of foliar infections by SOD in 2017,” said SOD Blitz founder Matteo Garbelotto, UC Berkeley forest pathology and mycology Cooperative Extension specialist and adjunct professor. “As predicted, those high levels of foliar infections were responsible for a high increase of infection of oaks and tanoaks by SOD.

"Oaks and tanoaks were infected last year and will be showing symptoms such as bleeding in the stem and canopy drying this year and in the next two years to follow. Hence, despite a reduction of SOD infection on leaves of California bay laurels and leaves of tanoaks in 2018, we can expect a sharp increase in oak and tanoak mortality in 2018, 2019 and 2020."

Notable outbreaks were detected in Alameda (El Cerrito and Oakland urban parks, San Leandro, Orinda, Moraga), Marin (Novato, Day Island, Woodacre, Sleepy Hollow, McNears Beach, China Camp State Park, north San Rafael, Tiburon Peninsula, east and west peak of Mt. Tamalpais, Marin City), Mendocino (south of Yorkville), Monterey (Carmel Valley Village, Salmon Creek Trail in southern Big Sur), Napa (east Napa city), San Mateo (Burlingame Hills, west of Emerald Hills and south of Edgewood Rd, Woodside ), Santa Clara (Los Altos Hills, Saratoga, Los Gatos, along Santa Cruz Co border), Santa Cruz (along the Santa Clara Co border, Boulder Creek), and Sonoma (near Cloverdale, east and west of Healdsburg, west of Windsor, east of Santa Rosa, west of Petaluma) counties.

Several popular destinations where P. ramorum was found positive during the 2017 Blitz were negative for the pathogen in 2018, including Golden Gate Park and the Presidio of San Francisco, the UC Berkeley campus, and Mount Diablo State Park. Samples from San Luis Obispo and Siskiyou counties were also pathogen-free as were those from the southern portion of Alameda County.

"We encourage everyone in affected counties to look at the Blitz results online and to attend one of the fall workshops to learn how to protect their oaks from SOD,” Matteo Garbelotto.

“It is encouraging that SOD has yet to be found in the forests of California's northern-most counties, San Luis Obispo County and southern Alameda County,” said Garbelotto.

“It is also encouraging to see that despite its continued presence in the state for more than 20 years, SOD infection rates drop during drier years,” he said. “However, in 2018, we identified a number of communities across several counties where significant outbreaks were detected for the first time, and the Salmon Creek find in Monterey County is the southernmost positive WUI (wildland-urban interface) tree detection ever. Until the 2018 Blitz, only stream water had been found positive in the Salmon Creek area. We encourage everyone in affected counties to look at the Blitz results online and to attend one of the fall workshops to learn how to protect their oaks from SOD.”

Citizen-science SOD Blitz workshops

SOD Blitz Workshops are being held this fall in Santa Rosa (Oct. 10), Portola Valley (Oct. 16) and Berkeley (Oct. 17). The trainings will discuss Blitz results and recommendations for protecting oaks in the WUI. Workshops are intended for the general public, tree care professionals and land managers (see www.sodblitz.org for details). Two International Society of Arboriculture continuing education units will be offered at each training. Data collected from the Blitz (both positive and negative samples) have been uploaded to the SOD Blitz map (www.sodblitz.org ) as well as to SODmap (www.SODmap.org) and to the free SODmap mobile app, which can serve as an informative management tool for people in impacted communities.

SOD Blitz volunteers collect leaf samples and record the location using the SODmap mobile app.

Twenty-five SOD Blitz surveys were held in 2018 in the WUI of 14 coastal California counties from the Oregon border to San Luis Obispo County and included three tribal land surveys. The 304 volunteers surveyed approximately 13,500 trees and submitted leaf samples from over 2,000 symptomatic trees to the Garbelotto lab for pathogen testing.

SOD Blitzes are a citizen science program, which train participants each spring to identify symptomatic tanoak and California bay laurel trees in the WUI and to properly collect samples in the interest of generating an informative map of P. ramorum disease symptoms over time. Samples are tested for the presence of the pathogen at UC Berkeley and results are posted electronically each fall. Now in its eleventh year, the SOD Blitz program is one of the first in the world to join researchers and volunteers in a survey for a tree disease.

SOD Blitz surveys were made possible thanks to funding from the US Forest Service State and Private Forestry, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, and the PG&E Foundation. The Blitzes were organized by the UC Berkeley Garbelotto lab in collaboration with the National Park Service, Presidio Trust, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, Save Mount Diablo, Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, East Bay Regional Park District, Santa Lucia Conservancy, Sonoma State University, UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, Los Padres National Forest, City and County of San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks, UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, and California Native Plant Society.

For information on the status of P. ramorum/SOD tree mortality in California wildlands, see the US Forest Service 2018 Aerial Detection Survey results at https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r5/forest-grasslandhealth/?cid=fseprd592767.

For more information on the SOD Blitzes, visit www.sodblitz.org or contact Katie Harrell at (510) 847-5482 or kmharrell@ucdavis.edu. For more information on Sudden Oak Death and P. ramorum, visit the California Oak Mortality Task Force website at www.suddenoakdeath.org or contact Harrell.

Posted on Tuesday, October 9, 2018 at 12:27 PM
  • Author: Katie Harrell
Focus Area Tags: Environment Natural Resources

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