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Posts Tagged: Plant

Canyon Classroom: Exploring the Grand Canyon's plants along the Colorado River

While some people were spending spring break at the beach or catching up on their Netflix queue, students from the EcoGeoMorphology class at UC Davis were rafting down the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

[Join the journey: UC Davis Grand Canyon interactive website, http://grandcanyon.ucdavis.edu.]

The class split in two groups for the 225-mile river journey. On March 10, the group embarked from Lee's Ferry, rafting 90 miles before hiking to the rim on March 19 along Bright Angel Trail. They passed the second group on their way down the same day. They traveled the remaining 135 miles to the next road access at Diamond Creek. 

The class is conducted during winter quarter by the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the Center for Watershed Sciences, in partnership with Campus Recreation's Outdoor Adventures. While its first trip to the Grand Canyon was in 2003, students have taken this optional trip for each of the past five years.

Truman Young, Sarah Yarnell and Sasha Leidman begin another day on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Credit: Joe Proudman/UC Davis

Among the class' instructors this year was UC Davis plant sciences professor and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources affiliate Truman Young.

‘There's nothing quite like this'

The trip is the physical and visible representation of what the class is all about: Geologists, hydrologists and ecologists learning to communicate with each other and the public. It's a skill necessary in real-world careers, where working on environmental problems requires a variety of expertise that isn't always taught in siloed classrooms.

“I'm not a geologist myself, but you only have to look left to right at any moment, and there's nothing quite like this,” said Young while floating down the river, taking in the cliffs rising around him.

The classrooms are pretty spectacular: red walled caverns, ancient Puebloan ruins, rock formations and fossils, the river itself. It's the students' textbooks brought vividly and tangibly to life.

Along the way, Young described the life cycle of Century plants; explored the plants sprouting around Vasey's Paradise, a natural spring; and rubbed scale insects off prickly pear plants to expose the crimson dye they produce. At each step, he casually prodded the students to consider what it means to have a river running through a desert.

Truman Young points out a Century plant in the Grand Canyon to UC Davis students. Credit: Kat Kerlin/UC Davis

Time travelers

The group was unplugged, off-grid, and literally immersed in the river, rocks and landscape.

Geologists, ecologists, and hydrologists helped teach each other about rocks, plants, fish and flow rates—usually informally as they scrambled up a trail or gazed up at the vertical cliffs slowly floating past.

Truman Young talks to UC Davis students in the Grand Canyon. Credit: Joe Proudman/UC Davis

They slept each night under a sky bright with forgotten stars, to the sounds of softly strumming guitar and the nearby rushing river. 

Over the course of eight days on the river, they traveled through about a billion years of geologic time.

Young had been on the trip once before, two years ago. He said it was just as impressive the second go-around.

“It's actually more spectacular on the second pass, which surprised me,” he said. “Just the magnitude and the grandeur of it, all that stuff. It's just more.”

Posted on Wednesday, August 3, 2016 at 8:44 AM
Tags: Canyon (1), Colorado (1), Davis (13), Desert (4), Ecogeomorphology (1), Grand (1), Plant (2), River (1), Sciences (1), Truman (1), UC (3), Water (98), Young (1)

Sustainable food systems depend on healthy plants

Discolored leaves. Decaying roots. Dead wood. Mother Nature offers a fascinating and colorful backdrop of clues to track microscopic killers. Much like any medical mystery, experts are called in to diagnose or identify a disease from its symptoms and recommend management strategies to prevent further damage or loss of healthy plants.

In the world of crop science mysteries, plant pathology solves the crime. The usual suspects include bacteria, fungi and viruses.

An example of fire blight bacterium on an apple.

Humans and animals depend on plants for their food supply and ultimately for their survival. When diseases threaten crops, a high-quality, affordable food supply is placed at risk. For growers, plant diseases can reduce crop yields. For consumers, reduced crop yields can drive higher food prices. Plant pathology research holds enormous implications for a sustainable food supply.

Florent Trouillas, who was named UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis and the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center last year, explains the bottom line of most concern to growers.

"Once we identify a disease causal agent, a main question remains from growers. What growers really want to know is how to control the disease and prevent its spread to new healthy plants; they look to the University of California for solutions," Trouillas said.

A crisis in the food production system can impact other areas of society as well. In fact, history is filled with examples of how plant diseases influenced economies, environments and human societies.

Irish potato farmers faced starvation after a fungus attacked their crops.
Trouillas cites one of the most well-known examples in plant pathology: the Great Famine. Millions of Irish immigrants relocated to the United States in the mid-1800s after a terrible potato blight led to widespread starvation in Ireland. Experiments conducted in 1861 by Anton deBary, considered to be one of the founding fathers of plant pathology, proved the blight was caused by a fungus, which we now know is an oomycete. This plant disease had a direct impact on the Irish society with a subsequent Irish immigration wave into America.

Another historical illustration of plant pathology research occurred in the 1920s. The most common trees in the forests of the United States at the turn of the century were the majestic American chestnuts. The trees generated income for humans and the timber industry, served as a food source for people and animals, and provided habitat for wildlife. Then the trees started dying, until by the late 1920s, they had become the first tree in modern times on the brink of extinction. Plant pathologists were particularly adept at identifying plant diseases by this time and diagnosed the Cryphonectria parasitica fungus as the cause of the chestnut blight. By preventing the extinction of the pivotal species, plant pathology had a direct impact on the economy and the environment.

More recent major plant disease outbreaks in the United States involving plant pathology research have included Sudden Oak Death with devastating effects in California and Oregon forests, pitch canker killing California native pine species, and citrus canker in Florida, which has had a huge economic impact on the industry.

Veterinarians treat diseases in animals, physicians in humans. Trouillas describes the role of plant pathologists in similar terms. “We study the pathology of plant systems. Plant pathologists treat plants," he said.

Healthy plants ensure a sustainable food source and habitat for so many other organisms, including the human species.

Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 9:25 AM
  • Author: Roberta Barton
Tags: bacteria (7), disease (3), food (59), fungi (1), pathology (1), plant (2), potato (3), viruses (1)
 
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