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May 2018 News Clips

Mien farmers get advice for growing strawberries in Yolo County

(Woodland Daily Democrat) ANR news release, May 31

http://www.dailydemocrat.com/business/20180531/mien-farmers-get-advice-for-growing-strawberries-in-yolo-county

Abnormal Weather Takes a Toll on California Olive Crop

(Ag Net West) Brian German, May 30

The late winter freeze caused significant issues for several different commodities throughout the state and has been especially problematic for the California olive crop.  The fluctuating temperatures have created substantial concern among the industry as bloom looks to be far below normal levels.

“Overall we're a little on the pessimistic side.  The bloom, on the whole, has been pretty poor, many orchards actually have a very light, to next to no bloom at all,” said Dani Lightle, Cooperative Extension Orchard Systems Advisor for Glenn County.  “There's an orchard here or there that looks pretty good, but on the whole, it is a little bit dismal.”

http://agnetwest.com/weather-takes-toll-california-olive-crop/


How Avocados Define LA and the Secret to Making the Best Damn Avocado Toas
t

(LA Taco) Gab Chabran, May 29

…Eric Focht who is a staff research associate in the lab of Mary Lu Arpaia at UC Riverside through UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences tells L.A. Taco that the recent avocado economy boom is “similar to what we see today with something like bitcoin.” He helps run a breeding program at UCR studying different avocados varieties, focusing mostly on Hass avocados but also looking at other less known versions of the popular fruit.

In short, he is working on breeding the perfect avocado that tastes great and is easier, faster, and less water-dependent to grow. This year is shaping out to be a good one for avocados, but this issue is always one to keep in mind.

Focht states that in the future, there will likely be more variety available in the mainstream marketplace. One varietal that Focht gets excited about is the Reed avocado which has now been popping up in places such as Whole Foods. It's known for its round, dinosaur egg shape and is about the size of a softball. It has a relatively large seed but the edible flesh is sometimes double or even triple that of a Haas that can make a lot more people happier per individual fruit.

http://www.lataco.com/how-avocados-define-l-a-and-the-secret-to-making-the-best-damn-avocado-toast/

Amazing graze

(Chico News & Review) Ashiah Scharaga, May 24

When drifting clouds dapple the sky and vibrant wildflowers—tickled pink buds, honey-hued petals and virent stems—awaken in the verdant fields of Table Mountain, explorers quicken their pace. They spot trickling streams and grazing cattle. Occasionally, they look straight down, turning anxious eyes to their mud-slicked heels—did they step in one of the fertile cow-pie mines littered across the landscape?

That may seem a nuisance, but it's a necessity. Tracy Schohr, a livestock and natural resources adviser for University of California Cooperative Extension, said the natural magic of the popular Butte County recreational spot is made possible because of a long-standing grazing program. “If cattle were not actually on Table Mountain Ecological Reserve,” she said, “essentially those invasive species would choke out those native plants, and they wouldn't be there.”

… In the past, grazing was misunderstood and primarily viewed as destructive, said Dave Daley, a fifth-generation Butte County cattleman and associate dean of Chico State's College of Agriculture. He credits changing perspectives to the development of grazing science, fueled by people such as Schohr and Kate Wilkin, a UC Cooperative Extension forestry, fire science and natural resource adviser for Butte, Yuba, Sutter and Nevada counties. (Schohr covers Butte, Plumas and Sierra counties.)

https://www.newsreview.com/chico/amazing-graze/content?oid=26315855

Sheep Shearing 101: Why Aspiring Shavers Flock to This California School

(KQED) Tiffany Camhi, May 23

…“We try to get the students shearing the first day because they make a lot of mistakes,” says John Harper, head of the UC Cooperative Extension Sheep Shearing School in Hopland.

Harper says if you can make the right moves with your feet, everything else falls into place.

“We're dancing instructors,” says Harper. “It's like 'Dancing With The Stars' on steroids, but with sheep.”

Around this time of year, hundreds of thousands of sheep in California need to have their wool shaved off. But Harper says there's a shortage of sheep shearers worldwide.

That's why he started the school in Hopland about 25 years ago.

Dan Macon of the California Wool Growers Association says the growing popularity of backyard flocks in California (usually just a handful of sheep) is adding to the demand for shearers, too.

“Infrastructure of the sheep industry is a key component,” says Macon. “Having people with that kind of skill and willingness to work hard is desperately needed.”

https://www.kqed.org/news/11669643/sheep-shearing-101-why-aspiring-shavers-flock-to-this-california-school

AUDIO: Hey, Salad Lovers: It's OK To Eat Romaine Lettuce Again

(NPR Morning Edition) Allison Aubrey, May 23

…After a big foodborne illness outbreak linked to baby spinach back in 2006, the leafy greens industry put in place a number of procedures to prevent contamination. "Prevention became the major focus after that outbreak," says Michele Jay-Russell, a food safety researcher at the University of California, Davis.

"They set up intensive testing protocols to monitor water quality," Jay-Russell says. The industry also agreed on standardized setbacks — or buffers — to separate growing fields from livestock operations, which can be a source of E.coli contamination. "You want a safe distance from where you're growing fresh produce and where you have concentrations of animals, like on a feedlot or dairy," she says.

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/05/22/613254356/cdc-gives-the-all-clear-to-start-eating-romaine-lettuce-again

Are avocados toast?

(Grist) Nathanael Johnson, May 22

…When Katherine Jarvis-Shean was a doctoral candidate researching the decline of cold winters a few years back, she thought more farmers should be freaking out. “I used to think, ‘Why aren't you guys more worried about this? It's going to be the end of the world.'”

After all, many fruit and nut trees require a good winter chill to bear fruit. But after spending a few years as an extension agent for the University of California — working directly with farmers and translating science into techniques they can apply on the land — she understands better. It comes down to this: Farmers have a ton of concerns, and the climate is just one of them.

“If you decide what to plant based on climate, but then can't make the lease payment, that's not sustainable,” Jarvis-Shean said.

https://grist.org/article/whatll-we-eat-in-2050-california-farmers-are-placing-bets/ https://www.wired.com/story/are-avocados-toast/

Lanternflies Eat Everything in Sight. The U.S. Is Looking Delicious.

(New York Times) Zach Montague, May 21

…Native to Asia, lanternflies first appeared in Pennsylvania in 2014. Despite a quarantine effort, they have also been discovered in small numbers in New York, Delaware and Virginia.

… “Most pests deposit their eggs on their host plant, or very close, so they already have food available,” said Surendra Dara, an adviser at the University of California Cooperative Extension.

“Those that have the advantage of being able to lay eggs on non-plant material obviously have a better chance of surviving and spreading,” he added.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/21/science/lanternflies-pennsylvania-crops.html

Garbanzos are catching on in Yolo County

(Woodland Daily Democrat, Ag Alert) Bob Johnson, May 19

…“The largest part of our crop goes to canning, maybe 90 percent,” said Paul Gepts, UC Davis plant sciences professor and legume breeder. “California can only compete with high quality products. We have other varieties with higher yields, but the seeds are too small. The growers get a premium for larger, high quality seeds.”

Gepts developed the two newest UC garbanzo varieties, Vega and Pegasus. Both have large, attractive seeds well suited for the canning market, and both have resistance to Ascochyta blight, a fungal disease that can devastate the crop.

… “I think growers are more interested in garbanzos because it's a winter crop, and wheat prices are low,” said Rachael Long, UC Cooperative Extension farm adviser in Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties. Long is finishing up UC's first Garbanzo Production Manual, which should be available before the end of the year.

http://www.dailydemocrat.com/article/NI/20180519/NEWS/180519787

A French Broom smack-down

(Napa Valley Register) Elaine de Man, May 18

…If we all pull together and pay attention, we can eradicate French broom and send it packing. But it's going to take many, many hands and a concerted effort. It's going to take a village.

1. U.C. Agriculture and Natural Resources, Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74147.html

https://napavalleyregister.com/lifestyles/home-and-garden/a-french-broom-smack-down/article_cac2f485-4881-563b-84c9-0a5029b1ee40.html

Kale, Not Jail: Urban Farming Nonprofit Helps Ex-Cons Re-enter Society

(New York Times) Patricia Leigh Brown, May 17

Even by the standards of the Bay Area, where sourcing local, organic chicken feed is seen as something of a political act, the spectacle of 30,000 fruit and nut trees being tended by formerly incarcerated orchardists is novel.

…Jennifer Sowerwine, an urban agriculture specialist for the University of California Cooperative Extension at Berkeley, said that Ms. Haleh and Mr. Raders have “shifted the conversation around food justice.”

“It's not just about food security, but the security of providing living wages,” she said. That's no mean feat in a foodie monoculture.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/17/business/urban-farming-exconvicts-recidivism.html 

Tough winter weather devastates local cherry, blueberry crops

(Bakersfield Californian) John Cox, May 16

It's hard to say at this point just how much damage blueberry fields and cherry orchards sustained during the winter, said Ashraf El-kereamy, viticulture and small fruits advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension in Kern County.

http://www.bakersfield.com/news/tough-winter-weather-devastates-local-cherry-blueberry-crops/article_3f65d3ce-5957-11e8-9fb4-6779205d0a66.html

Machines take over for people at Napa vineyard

(Capital Press) Tim Hearden, May 14

In the heart of the Napa Valley, a vineyard produces fine Cabernet Sauvignon with virtually no help from laborers.

The 40-acre “touchless vineyard” was established by Kaan Kurtural, a University of California Cooperative Extension specialist who has devoted much of his career to improving production efficiency in vineyards as labor shortages have worsened.

…When Kurtural started experimenting with vineyard automation 10 years ago, his primary goal was to save growers money in labor costs, he said. But since then, research has shown that grape quality is superior, largely because the tall canopy protects grapes from sun damage, he said. The system also uses less water than others, he said.

http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Orchard/20180514/machines-take-over-for-people-at-napa-vineyard

Dozens of strawberry growers gather in Santa Maria to learn latest industry advancements

(KSBY Staff) May 9

More than 100 farmers and growers took park in a meeting teaching them on the best way to grow a healthy strawberry.

The University of California put on the annual event which was free to the public.

Growers discussed improvements handling weeds, disease, and insects.

The Santa Maria Valley is the second largest strawberry growing area in California after the Salinas Valley.

The crop means a lot to people in Santa Maria.

"We've got a number of challenges to the California strawberry industry and we're doing are best to work together," said Steven Fennimore of University of California Cooperative Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources. "I'm optimistic that we'll find some satisfactory solutions."

Growers talked about all kinds of different ways to boost their crop including ways of using images from aircraft to detect stress in plants.

http://www.ksby.com/story/38155207/dozens-of-strawberry-growers-gather-in-santa-maria-to-learn-latest-industry-advancements

Pesticide Use on California Farms at Near-Record Levels

(Fair Warning) Paul Feldman, May 9

…Some experts say long-term changes in the mix of items farmers produce in California, including increases in almonds and other high value crops, give the agriculture industry the incentive to use more pesticides. Such crops present “a larger economic risk if pests are not controlled,”said Brad Hanson, a weed specialist at the University of California, Davis, plant science department.

Jim Farrar, director of the University of California's statewide integrated pest management program, added that more pesticides are needed when “you move from something like alfalfa and sorghum for dairies, where cosmetic injury isn't a problem … to something like oranges where if there's a blemish on the rind you get downgraded even if the orange is perfectly healthy.”

https://www.fairwarning.org/2018/05/pesticides/

Cherry growers expect lighter crop yields

(Ag Alert) Ching Lee, May 9,

…Kari Arnold, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Stanislaus County, said she's careful not to paint the 2018 cherry season as a disaster year "because it's really not." The crop may not be as robust, she said, but this was somewhat expected, because last year's crop was so big.

What wasn't expected, she said, was the freeze in the spring, which "did cause some damage to flowers." But the damage varied depending on the location of the orchard and whether growers were able to apply frost protection, she added.

"It's still going to be a good crop," she said. "It may not be the same as last year, but they're going to be good cherries. They're probably going to sell at a higher price because there'll be less of them."

She said she's concerned that word of it being a light crop may scare away field help, adding that "it's hard enough to get field labor in the first place anymore, because labor is becoming more and more difficult to come by and more difficult to keep."

http://www.agalert.com/story/?id=11854

Peak Avocado Is Yet to Come

(The Atlantic) Cynthia Graber, Nicola Twilley, May 9

…Its partners in evolution—the giant, elephant-like gomphotheres and three-ton ground sloths that dined on its fruit in return for transporting and then pooping out its giant seed—went extinct soon after the first bipedal apes arrived in the region. Rodents, jaguars, and eventually humans stepped in as dispersal mechanisms, albeit significantly less effective ones. The flourishing avocado forests that carpeted much of Mesoamerica dwindled and died out. And, as Mary Lu Arpaia, who runs the avocado breeding program at the University of California at Riverside, explained, the avocado became a backyard fruit, enjoyed by first the indigenous peoples and later the conquistadors, but rarely cultivated intensively—until recent decades.

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/05/peak-avocado-is-yet-to-come/559883/ 

Climate change ruining California's environment, report warns
(SF Chronicle) Peter Fimrite, May 8, 2018 
“If I were going to look across North America, ground zero for climate change is the Arctic. It is just changing really, really rapidly,” said Steven Beissinger, professor of conservation biology at UC Berkeley. “But California is an important laboratory to understand the effects of climate change on biodiversity.”

https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Climate-change-ruining-California-s-12899272.php

More illnesses with later onset dates linked to romaine outbreak

(The Packer) Ashley Nickle, May 8, 2018

Richard Smith, a University of California Cooperative Extension advisor based in Salinas, also said the outbreak is hurting sales.

“It's having an effect,” Smith said May 7. “This is the problem — lettuce is pretty expensive to grow, and you've got to cover your costs. You can lose money, at this point the bigger growers can afford to lose for a period of time, but then they've got to make it up, and it just makes it hard. We're not sure how the year's going to go.

“I guess the good news is that the consumers are being sophisticated enough to be focusing on the romaine (versus all lettuce) ... The reality is I guess the FDA doesn't want to clear romaine yet because they think that the lettuce from Yuma might have a 21-day shelf life, so until the FDA clears it and then that news gets clearly articulated, I think it's going to be a damper.

https://www.thepacker.com/article/more-illnesses-later-onset-dates-linked-romaine-outbreak

AEI economists say farmers have ‘beef' with Trump

(Hagstrom Report) May 7, 2018

…Daniel Sumner of the University of California at Davis also told The Hagstrom Report that farmers hurt by the administration's trade policies have "a beef" with Trump.

Sumner said that even though the tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum have not yet gone into effect, California farmers including wine and almond producers are already worried. "Even if the tariffs don't happen, the rhetoric has effects," he said.

Sumner also said that Mexican buyers of U.S. dairy products — "reasonable business people in Mexico" — began months ago to contact New Zealand dairy producers about becoming a supplier because the Mexicans are worried about the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation.

https://www.thefencepost.com/news/aei-economists-say-farmers-have-beef-with-trump/

City Visions: Tech and the future of smart, sustainable farming

KALW, May 7, 2018

Host Ethan Elkind and guests explore the impact of new technologies on our agricultural industry.

What are the biggest challenges to our current food production system?  And, how are Bay Area innovators meeting these challenges while promoting sustainability, efficiency and profitability?

Guests:

- Charles Baron, co-founder and vice-president of product at Farmer's Business Network.

- Jaleh Daie, Ph.D., founder and chair of AgriFood Tech and partner at Aurora Equity.

- Glenda Humiston, Ph.D., vice president of University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

http://kalw.org/post/city-visions-tech-and-future-smart-sustainable-farming#stream/0

Workshop planned on Napa fire prevention and best practices

(Napa Valley Register), May 7, 2018

A one-day seminar is planned for May 30 to look at the Napa ecosystem's recovery after the October wildfires and what policies are needed to reduce future fire impacts.

The workshop will be Wednesday, May 30, from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. at Napa Valley College's Performing Arts Center, 2277 Napa Vallejo Highway.

Cost is $15 per person, with registration required at http://ucanr.edu/napafireworkshop2018. For more information, call 530-666-8143. 

The program is sponsored by UC Cooperative Extension, Napa County Farm Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

https://napavalleyregister.com/news/local/workshop-planned-on-napa-fire-prevention-and-best-practices/article_571e3754-8904-580e-b620-4fe3fd0e4e91.html

Egg prices plunge as supplies rebound

(Capital Press) Tim Hearden, May 4

 Commercial egg prices in California are plummeting, and a slow global economy combined with a rebounding chicken flock after last year's devastating avian flu outbreak are among the contributing factors.

…At first, Midwestern egg producers that didn't want to retrofit their barns simply avoided California. Those that did want to market to California found confusion in what actually constituted a Proposition 2-compliant cage, said Joy Mench, a University of California-Davis animal science professor.

“(T)he wording of Prop. 2 does not allow it to be regulated, so there is no official definition of what it means,” Mench said in an email. “That will have to be decided in the courts, either because there is a lawsuit or because someone is prosecuted.”

In enforcing the initiative, the CDFA uses the federal Shell Egg Food Safety rule, whose space requirement is larger than the United Egg Producer guidelines that most of the other states use, noted Maurice Pitesky, a poultry specialist at the UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

http://www.capitalpress.com/Business/20160504/egg-prices-plunge-as-supplies-rebound  

Farming takes center stage at Yolo County Fairgrounds

Woodland Daily Democrat) Cutter Hicks, May 4

Field trips to the fairgrounds led to a farming experience for students as the Yolo County 4-H and Farm Bureau hosted its 10th annual Farm Connection Day to kick off the Spring Show this weekend.

The four-hour event Friday featured more than 100 agricultural displays and hands-on activities for kids of all ages as nearly 2,500 visitors walked through the gates.

Farm Connection Day was open to the public and more than 200 4-H students teamed up to host the event — with a little help from adult volunteers. Their focus was to teach students of Yolo County the aspects of the organization before judging shows later that day.

DeAnn Tenhunfeld, a Farm Connection Day organizer, said that the attendance was the largest seen since she founded it in 2008.

http://www.dailydemocrat.com/business/20180504/farming-takes-center-stage-at-yolo-county-fairgrounds

Frost damage varied for California nut trees

(Farm Press) Robyn Rominger, May 2, 2018
Some almond growers experienced frost damage from recent freezing conditions, say University of California experts.

“There's really a lot of damage,” says Katherine Jarvis-Shean, UC Cooperative Extension orchard systems advisor for Sacramento, Solano, and Yolo counties. “The earlier varieties really took a hit. Some trees even dropped their nuts due to frost damage. It's pretty bad in some orchards.”

… Bruce Lampinen, UCCE almond and walnut specialist, measured temperatures in an almond trial at Davis, and notes that “Feb. 20 and 24 were the coldest days. It was very problematic because that's when the trees were in full bloom.” At full bloom, temperatures below 28 degrees F. can cause crop loss.

…Phoebe Gordon, UCCE orchard systems advisor for Madera and Merced counties, says, “From what I've seen and heard, the damage has been variable. Some orchards weren't hit that hard, and others were hit very hard. I think it depended a lot on micro-climate and what stage the trees were in. They become more susceptible to frost damage as they transition from dormant to full bloom, and to nut set. I don't think we'll really know until ‘June drop' is finished what the final load is.” 

Dani Lightle, UCCE orchard systems advisor in Glenn and Butte counties, says, “Almonds were right in the middle of full bloom when the frost happened. Most of the orchards in my area seem to have escaped. We didn't seem to cross the threshold to where there was heavy damage. Of course, there are exceptions, but by and large we came out better in the end than we thought we would.”

http://www.westernfarmpress.com/tree-nuts/frost-damage-varied-california-nut-trees

New weapon in fight against walnut blight

(Farm Press) Robyn Rominger, May 2, 2018
Walnut growers have a new tool to help manage blight disease in their orchards — Kasumin 2L, manufactured by Arysta LifeScience, is the trade name for kasugamycin, and is available as part of a strategy to control the disease.

The new bactericide was discussed at a recent University of California Cooperative Extension breakfast meeting at Yuba City. “It's great to have another chemistry in the rotational loop for blight management in walnuts,” says Emily Symmes, UCCE integrated pest management advisor.

http://www.westernfarmpress.com/tree-nuts/new-weapon-fight-against-walnut-blight

Studies shed light on why species stay or go in response to climate change

Researchers found a sharp decrease in range for the Belding’s ground squirrel, but noted some surprising areas where the species found refuge. (Toni Lyn Morelli photo)
Two new studies by scientists at UC Berkeley provide a clearer picture of why some species move in response to climate change, and where they go.

One study, published online Monday, Aug. 6, in the journal Global Change  Biology, finds that changes in precipitation have been underappreciated as a factor in driving bird species out of their normal range. In the other study, published today (Wednesday, Aug. 15) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal  Society B, researchers found a sharp decrease in range for the Belding's ground squirrel, but noted some surprising areas where the species found refuge.

The two studies exemplify the type of research being explored through the Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology <http://ib.berkeley.edu/labs/globalchange>, or BiGCB, an ambitious effort to better understand and predict how plants and animals will respond to changing environmental conditions by studying how they have responded to earlier periods of climate change.  

The first study’s findings challenge the conventional reliance on temperature as the only climate-related force impacting where species live. The authors noted that as many as 25 percent of species have shifted in directions that were not predicted in response to temperature changes, yet few attempts have been made to investigate this.

"Our results redefine the fundamental model of how species should respond to future climate change," said study lead author Morgan Tingley, who began the research as a graduate student in UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. "We find that precipitation changes can have a major, opposing influence to temperature in a species' range shift. Climate change may actually be tearing communities of organisms apart."

The findings are based upon data gathered from the Grinnell Resurvey Project, which retraces the steps of Joseph Grinnell, founder of the UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, in his surveys of Sierra Nevada wildlife from the  early 1900s. The resurvey project, which began in 2003, was  led by Craig Moritz, former UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology, and his colleagues at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

For the bird study, the researchers included 99 species in 77 historic survey sites in Lassen Volcanic, Yosemite and  Sequoia national parks, as well as in several national  forests. In the century that has passed since the original Grinnell survey, summer and winter temperatures have increased  an average of 1-2 degrees Celsius in the Sierra Nevada. Yosemite experienced the most warming — with average temperatures increasing by 3 degrees Celsius — while parts of Lassen actually got cooler and much wetter.

Among the bird species that moved upslope are the Savannah Sparrow, which shifted upward by 2,503 meters, and other meadow species such as the Red-winged Blackbird and Western Meadowlark. The ones that shifted their range downslope include both low-elevation species like the Ash-throated Flycatcher and Western Scrub-Jay, and high-elevation species like the Cassin’s Finch and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

"Temperature did not explain the majority of these shifts," said Tingley, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at  Princeton University's Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy. ''Only when we included precipitation as  an explanatory variable did our models adequately explain the movement patterns we observed."

The researchers found that while rising temperatures tended to push birds to cooler regions upslope, increased  precipitation, which is more common at higher elevations, pulled them downslope.

"We believe many species may feel this divergent pressure from temperature and precipitation, and in the end, only one wins," said Tingley.

Notably, more than half of the bird species in each of the three study regions did not shift their range despite pressures from climate change. "Moving is a sign of  adaptation, which is good from a conservation standpoint,"  said Tingley. "More worrisome are the species that have not  shifted. How are they adapting? Are they moving, but we just can’t detect it? Or are they slowly declining as environmental conditions gradually become less ideal where they live?"

The answers are complex, as illustrated by the second UC Berkeley paper about range changes for a species of squirrel found in the mountains of the western United States.  

In that paper, researchers again used information obtained from the Grinnell Resurvey Project. Through visual observations and trapping surveys conducted throughout the mountains of California, they discovered that the Belding's ground squirrel had disappeared from 42 percent of the sites where they were recorded in the early 1900s. Extinctions were particularly common at sites with high average winter temperatures and large increases in precipitation over the last century.

"We were surprised to see such a dramatic decline in this species, which is well-known to Sierran hikers and was thought to be fairly common," said study lead author Toni Lyn Morelli, a former National Science Foundation postdoctoral  researcher who was based at UC Berkeley. "In fact, the rate of decline is much greater than that seen in the same region for the pika, a small mountain-dwelling  cousin of the rabbit that has become the poster child for the effects of climate warming in the contiguous United States."

Morelli added that the squirrels are thriving in areas that have been modified by humans. For example, irrigated Mono Lake County Park serves as an artificial oasis that sustains squirrel populations despite otherwise hot and dry conditions in eastern California.

"As predictions indicate that the range of the Belding’s ground squirrel could disappear out of California by the end of the century, these areas might be particularly  important for this and other climate-impacted species," said Morelli, who is now a technical advisor for the U.S. Forest Service's International Programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Although the Belding's ground squirrel is widespread, the rapid decline in its distribution is of concern because it is an important source of food for raptors and carnivores.  However, the paper suggests that even when climate change causes large range declines, some species can persist in human-modified areas.

"Taken together, these two studies indicate that many species have been responding to recent climate change, yet the complexities of a species' ecological needs and their responses to habitat modification by humans can result in  unanticipated responses," said Steven Beissinger, professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and  Management at UC Berkeley and the senior author on both studies. "This makes it very challenging for scientists to project how species will respond to future climate change."

Funding from the National Science Foundation, National Park Service, and California Landscape Conservation Cooperative helped support this research.

RELATED INFORMATION

Posted on Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 11:34 AM
  • Author: Sarah Yang | Media Relations scyang@berkeley.edu, (510) 643-7741
 
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