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Connect more deeply with nature and contribute to a greater good

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Have you ever been on a walk and observed an interesting plant you couldn't identify? Encountered an unusual insect trapped in your home?  Have you noticed you used to see certain species in nature that you don't now? Or have you thought it might be neat to compile a species list for a special place, like a favorite park or your own backyard?

There's an app (and website) for all that!

The free iNaturalist app is an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature. Available for android, iPhone, and by a website, iNaturalist is a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society that allows users to upload one or more pictures, provide a location, and make relevant notes like whether the subject is captivate or wild.

In response, the artificial intelligence in the app suggests what the species might be based on visual similarity and whether the species has ever been observed nearby. Once the observer has made an ID, the observation is available on the web for the world to see and verify or dispute via crowdsourcing. The individuals that verify observations are often experts in their particular field who leave encouraging messages or identification tips about the observation to help the original observer. Members and organizations can set up projects and download data within defined taxa or locations to follow presence and absence, abundance, seasonality and change over time.

Verified observations are sent to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, an international network and research infrastructure funded by the world's governments and aimed at providing anyone, anywhere, open access to data about all types of life on Earth. Valuable open-source data is available to aid scientific research, government and conservation organizations, and the interested public. Nearly instant gratification for species ID combined with the ability of members to contribute to a greater good whenever they venture outdoors are huge motivators for much of the existing iNaturalist community which currently exceeds one million users and 14 million observations.

California Naturalists (USC Sea Grant and LA Conservation Corps Sea Lab) document a harlequin bug on iNaturalist

In a world where the term “nature deficit disorder,” coined by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, is widely understood to refer to the modern maladies that occur as a broken bond between children and nature, we need to provide culturally and contextually relevant outdoor exploration time for kids. Many children love technology, and in response iNaturalist recently developed the Seek app, which differs from iNaturalist in its safety features where no user data or location information is gathered or stored. Kids make observations in the same way, but they can collect badges and learn facts about the nearby biota.

The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources California Naturalist Program has required participants to join iNaturalist and log at least one observation during their certification coursework since the inception of the program. To understand and protect California's unique natural resources, we need all the information we can gather across many different disciplines. Community or citizen science is one crowd-sourced approach to gathering that information, and iNaturalist is one useful tool in a broad toolkit.

While some individuals don't feel that technology has a place in the observation of natural history, through the use of iNaturalist, many others have had the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of their local area, create online journal pages, keep species lists, contribute to specific iNaturalist observation projects of their favorite organizations, and participate in BioBlitzes with other community scientists across the state. Our partner organizations benefit from the concentrated focus on their land, the discovery of new species, and the long-term data sets that accrue. The UCANR Hopland Research and Extension Center's 5,500-acre iNaturalist project, initiated in 2013, boasts 1,075 observations of 498 species. 

This review of iNaturalist isn't an ad, but a testament to the power of the iNaturalist community to assist with conservation efforts globally. Used by an individual, it can be a simple social tool to learn more about nature and find others that also think certain species and places are special. Used by an organization, iNaturalist can assist with data collection, training, and naturalist recruitment. Globally, iNaturalist is a powerful way to connect humans more deeply to nature and generate scientifically valuable biodiversity data from personal observations.

The UC ANR Hopland Research and Extension Center's 5,500 acre iNaturalist project boasts 1,075 observations of of 498 species.
Posted on Wednesday, August 22, 2018 at 8:41 AM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

University researchers and organic farmers to build soil as nature intended

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A USDA grant will allow a group of California organic farmers to team up with researchers from the University of California, Chico State and Fresno State to determine whether tilling less soil on the farm will improve production of vegetable crops.

The aim is to duplicate the soil environment found in natural areas – typically concealed by plants, leaves and other organic debris – to improve agricultural soil health, increase production, reduce water use and avoid leaching nutrients out of the root zone.

“Tilling the soil is common on farms, but our research shows that it often isn't necessary, and can even be detrimental,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension agronomy specialist. “In nature, organic matter on the soil surface creates a protective layer and promotes biological activity that is beneficial to plants and the environment.”

A group of organic farmers, shown above, are working with UC researchers to minimize tillage and optimize soil characteristics on their farms.

The three-year project, funded with $380,000 from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service's Conservation Innovation Grant program, involves six organic farmers who are already experimenting on their own with cover crops, compost and minimum tillage to grow high-quality organic produce.

“This is a group of outstanding farmers,” Mitchell said. “It's very encouraging to see this sort of care for the soil. They recognize that taking care of the soil biology is useful to produce crops.”

One of the participants, Scott Park of Meridian, Calif., 50 miles north of Sacramento, has been building the soil on his farm for 38 years.

“We put 10 to 15 tons of biomass on every acre every year,” Park said. “This has given me good soil structure, water percolation and water retention, and we're having some really good results.”

Park said he tweaks his farming practices each year. To date, he has tinkered with reduced tillage, but isn't sold on a no-till system.

“I'm doing minimum till now, but it can be better,” Park said.

Teasing out those improvements is a goal of the project, which includes trials on four farms and two 12-acre demonstration plots, one at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points and the other on the Chico State campus.

“Each of us will be trying to get closer to the goal of reducing tillage to promote soil health. We all want to develop strategies that might work, and not repeat mistakes,” Mitchell said.

The USDA grant funds will enable the farmers and researchers to gather accurate data about the agronomic and economic impacts of the new farming systems and use state-of-the-art equipment and technologies as they experiment with new techniques.

For example, the team is working with a Salinas company that is bringing a Spanish transplanting technology to California. The company, Tanimura & Antle Produce, will allow a demonstration of a plant tape that holds sprouts spaced ideally for a broccoli field planting in the West Side REC plot. (See video below or on YouTube at https://youtu.be/6pkmQVNjH1I .) The technology holds promise for reducing tillage, cutting back on labor, using less seed, and bringing the crop into production earlier in the season.

Planting cover crops is another way farmers and researchers will seek to improve soil health, though this process is a challenge in organic farming systems. On conventional no-till and minimum-till farms, the cover crop may be sprayed with an herbicide before planting seedlings in the cover crop residue. Possible solutions are chopping up the cover crop or using a roller-crimper machine.

“These technologies would provide considerable advantages in organic systems, but very little research has been done to quantify how these practices might influence soil function and cropping system resilience in California,” Mitchell said.  

As part of the project, a farmer network will be developed for information sharing, 18 public extension events will be held, six videos will be created and curriculum will be developed to extend the research outcomes.

For more information, contact Jeff Mitchell at jpmitchell@ucanr.edu, or (559) 303-9689.


 

In the video below, see an overview of transplanting technology developed in Spain that will be part of the soil building research.

Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2018 at 8:34 AM
Tags: CASI (5), Jeff Mitchell (14), organic (7)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Environment

Cities in California inland areas must make street tree changes to adapt to future climate

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Many common street trees now growing in the interior of California are unlikely to persist in the warmer climate expected in 2099, according to research published in the July 2018 issue of the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.

“Urban foresters in inland cities of California should begin reconsidering their palettes of common street trees to prepare for warmer conditions expected in 2099 due to climate change,” said the study's co-author, Igor Lacan, UC Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture advisor in the Bay Area.

Common trees in Coastal California cities appear to be better suited to withstand the 2099 climate.

Urban foresters in inland cities of California should begin reconsidering their palettes of common street trees to prepare for climate change.

“Our research shows that some trees now lining the streets of cities like Fresno, Stockton and Ukiah are likely to perform poorly in 2099,” Lacan said. “Those cities need to look at the conditions – and trees – now found in El Centro, Barstow and Fresno respectively.”

To reach these conclusions, Lacan and co-author, professor Joe McBride of UC Berkeley, used space-for-time substitution. They compared the most common street tree species in cities representing each of the 16 California climate zones with trees in cities that currently have climates that approximate the expected warmer conditions in the 16 cities 80 years from now.

For example, Eureka can expect a climate like Berkeley's today; Fresno's climate will resemble the climate of El Centro today. (Find the complete list of cities below.) The corresponding cities were determined with climate predictions from Cal-Adapt, which synthesizes California climate change scenarios to reach a consensus view of the magnitude of climatic warming.

Igor Lancan, UC Cooperative Extension urban horticulture advisor. (Photo: Evett Kilmartin)

“We used the mid-range models,” Lacan said. “It's very reasonable to say the warming predicted by the model we used is already ‘baked in,' regardless of any mitigation efforts. While we should take measures to prevent even greater warming – mostly by reducing the use of fossil fuels – this study aims to help adapt California urban forests to the warming that can be reasonably expected to occur.”

Lacan said he and McBride were surprised to find that coastal cities and their warm equivalents contain most of the same common urban tree species, while the warm equivalents of inland cities seemed to lack most and, in some cases, all of the common trees there today.

“It's really a sharp distinction,” Lacan said. “Perhaps they were lucky, but coastal cities are better positioned for the climate of 2099 than the inland cities.”

Climate zone

City

Corresponding city
(approximates climate
in 2099)

1

Eureka

Berkeley

2

Ukiah

Fresno

3

Berkeley

Santa Ana

4

King City

Stockton

5

Santa Maria

Santa Ana

6

Santa Monica

King City

7

San Diego

Santa Ana

8

Santa Ana

Burbank

9

Burbank

Fresno

10

Riverside

Barstow

11

Yuba City

El Centro

12

Stockton

Barstow

13

Fresno

El Centro

14

Barstow

El Centro

15

El Centro

Furnace Creek

16

Susanville

Barstow

For a copy of the complete research report email Igor Lacan, ilacan@ucanr.edu.

Posted on Friday, August 3, 2018 at 8:38 AM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Hot weather tips for the summer garden

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Most Californians don't have a desert landscape designed to withstand the limited water and high temps like the desert garden display at the UC Santa Cruz botanical garden. (Photo: Lauren Snowden)

This week much of California is under a heat advisory or excessive heat warning, with high temperatures estimated to range from 90 to 108 degrees. Many home gardeners are wondering how they can help their plants, trees or shrubs survive the intense summer heat.

“We are getting a lot of inquiries around the state from people worried about how the extreme temperatures are going to affect the plants or trees in their yards,” said Missy Gable, director of the UC Master Gardener Program. “With a little extra planning, you can help your garden beat the heat and survive the hot summer weather.”

UC Master Gardener volunteers are available to help answer gardening questions and provide advice on gardening during the hot summer months. Here are four quick and easy ways to help make sure your plants and trees not only survive, but thrive.

  1. Don't fertilize plants or trees during hot summer months 
    Fertilizers aim to increase the growth of plants and trees. When a fertilizer is applied, especially one that is high in nitrogen, a plant is triggered to produce more green growth. An increase in growth means an increase in water and nutrient needs. During hot spells, it is especially hard to keep up with plant water and nutrient needs as soils dry out quickly and water may not be readily available. Save your plants (and yourself!) from stress by stopping fertilizer application before hot weather hits.

  2. Water trees deeply and less frequently
    It sounds counter intuitive to water trees less frequently, but this is exactly what UC environmental horticulture experts recommend. “When watering trees you want to consider the roots below the tree and you want to encourage a network of deep roots. If you are only watering for short periods at a higher frequency, the roots will remain shallow since that is where the tree finds its water supply,” said Janet Hartin, UC ANR environmental horticulture advisor. “Deep roots mean a healthier tree that is less susceptible to disease.”

    How much water a plant needs depends on the specific plant, how long it has been in the ground, and the type of soil where it is planted. In general, young plants or newly planted plants require more water than older more established plants. Clay soils absorb water slowly so watering can take longer but is typically done less frequently. This is in contrast to sandy soils that moisten and drain quickly. Typically, watering sandy soils take less time but has to be done more frequently. A Landscape Irrigation Scheduling Worksheet from the California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCUH) can be used to help calculate and determine an annual irrigation schedule for one irrigation zone.

    Mulch is a beautiful compliment to your landscape – not only is it aesthetic but it provides a valuable service to your soil.


  3. Mulch, mulch, and more mulch
    When temperatures get extreme, having a good layer of mulch prevents soil from heating up excessively and loosing water to evaporation. Apply 4 inches of a medium shred bark mulch to insulate the soil. This protects the fine roots that plants use to feed from the surrounding soil. Mulch also helps maintain healthy soil ecology with earthworms and other de-composers that promote nutrients and oxygen in soil. Finally, mulch will pay for itself by maintaining a more consistent soil moisture so you can water less and have better success with your plants. Be sure to maintain the depth of your mulch to ensure you can benefit from all the services it provides.

    An important part of gardening is planning for activities in the garden for future months. When the temperatures are too hot to spend outdoors, you can always start to develop a garden or planting plan. (Photo: Melissa Womack)



     
  4. Wait to introduce new plants or trees until the fall
    In gardening, timing is everything. New plants, whether grown in ground from seed or planted in your landscape from a container, have smaller root systems than more mature plants or plants that have been growing in your landscape for some time. Because root systems on new plants are smaller and need time to develop, these plants require more water more frequently. New plants introduced into a landscape during hot summer months have a significantly higher rate of failure. In California, it is best to introduce new plants in fall when the weather gets cooler. Winter rains can help keep new plants watered so they can establish and thrive in the future when temperatures are high and rainfall is scarce.

Always remember that you should take precautions for yourself while gardening in the summer months, especially during a heat wave. Remember to drink plenty of water and always have at least one quart of water per hour of outdoor activity. Limit time spent outdoors during peak temperatures and schedule any active time during cooler portions of the day. Always wear light loose clothing, a brimmed hat, and sunscreen as protection.  

Thankfully we're not trying to garden on the surface of the sun. Unfortunately, sometimes it can feel like it for us and for our plants.  Stay cool with these tips and consider planning for the fall to be an important part of your summer gardening activity.   

Posted on Monday, July 30, 2018 at 9:05 AM
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

UC research facility brings state-of-the-art conferencing to Tulelake

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UC Agriculture and Natural Resources marked the opening of a new conference and laboratory building at its Intermountain Research and Extension Center in Tulelake July 26, bringing to the region a state-of-the-art facility for business meetings, job fairs, trainings, conferences and community events.

"The facility is the first in the Tulelake area to offer modern audio-visual infrastructure and high-speed internet connectivity capable of supporting remote presentations to stay in touch with groups from around the world," said Rob Wilson, IREC director. "We hope this facility will greatly increase the visibility and accessibility of local events and help draw more regional attention to the area."

Left to right, UC ANR vice provost Mark Lagrimini, associate vice president Wendy Powers, and IREC director Rob Wilson took part in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new IREC Multi-purpose Conference and Laboratory Building.

UC ANR funded construction of the $2 million building. IREC is working with the community to complete the project with furnishings and equipment. 

The conference room is named after John Staunton, a local farmer and supporter of IREC whose family donated $25,000 in his memory to the project. Another conference room bears the name of Winema Elevators/Western Milling for its gift of $15,000. Donations to the facility have also been made by Sensient Natural Ingredients, Macy's Flying Service and Basin Fertilizer

The Staunton farming family attended the building opening, where a conference room has been named for family patriarch John Staunton.

The conference building opening followed the 2018 IREC field day, an annual event that showcases the research underway at the 140-acre facility.

Research presentations included updates about work on biological control of cereal leaf beetle, influence of fall harvest management of irrigated grass hays, onion white rot, managing alfalfa weevil and clover root cucurlio, pulse crop options for the Klamath Basin, cover crops and amendments, cutting schedule effects on low lignin alfalfa and germplasm evaluation of alfalfa and tall fescue.

Charlie Pickett, CDFA environmental scientist, is studying the biological control of cereal leaf beetle, a pest from Europe that arrived in the Tulelake area in 2013. The field insectary at IREC grows parsitic wasps that he has been sampling for five years. 'If we didn't have that parasitoid, I can guarantee you, everybody would be spraying pesticides,' he said.

 

UC Cooperative Extension advisor Dave Lile is conducting research to determine the end-of-season stubble height of three hay crops - timothy hay, tall fescue and orchard grass - for ideal growth the following season.
 
IREC director and farm advisor Rob Wilson describes efforts being made to suppress the onion disease white root rot. 'White root rot is a soil-borne disease that is long-lived in the soil,' he said. 'This has limited onion acreage in the area.'
 
UCCE advisor Rachael Long demonstrates using a sweep net to monitor for alfalfa weevils. 'This weevil is a tough insect to control,' she said.
 
Pig weed grows though garbanzo bean plants in a weed control trial at IREC. There is increasing interest in garbanzo beans as a possible rotation crop in the region. The nutritious legume is used in making hummus, a healthful snack that is growing in popularity.
 
 
The wheat in the foreground - which followed a cover crop of woolypod vetch and then potatoes - is visibly more robust than wheat behind it that followed pelleted chicken manure and the potato crop. 'We were surprised by the memory we get from legume crops,' Wilson said.
 
UC alfalfa specialist Dan Putnam said selecting the best alfalfa variety can result in up to $700 per acre increase in profit over five years. 'That can be pretty important economically,' Putnam said.
 
UC Davis plant breeder Charlie Brummer is conducting pre-breeding experiments at IREC to tease out the plants most likely to parent high-yielding alfalfa.
 
Attached Files
Building
Left to right, UC ANR vice provost Mark Lagrimini, associate vice president Wendy Powers, and IREC director Rob Wilson took part in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new IREC Multi-purpose Conference and Laboratory Building.
The Staunton farming family attended the building opening, where a conference room has been named for family patriarch John Staunton.
Charlie Pickett, CDFA environmental scientist, is studying the biological control of cereal leaf beetle, a pest from Europe that arrived in the Tulelake area in 2013. The field insectary at IREC grows parsitic wasps that he has been sampling for five years. 'If we didn't have that parasitoid, I can guarantee you, everybody would be spraying pesticides,' he said.
UC Cooperative Extension advisor Dave Lile is conducting research to determine the end-of-season stubble height of three hay crops - timothy hay, tall fescue and orchard grass - for ideal growth the following season.
UCCE advisor Rachael Long demonstrates using a sweep net to monitor for alfalfa weevils. 'This weevil is a tough insect to control,' she said.
Pig weed grows though garbanzo bean plants in a weed control trial at IREC. There is increasing interest in garbanzo beans as a possible rotation crop in the region. The nutritious legume is used in making hummus, a healthful snack that is growing in popularity.
The wheat in the foreground - which followed a cover crop of woolypod vetch and then potatoes - is visibly more robust than wheat behind it that followed pelleted chicken manure and the potato crop. 'We were surprised by the memory we get from legume crops,' Wilson said.
UC alfalfa specialist Dan Putnam said selecting the best alfalfa variety can result in up to $700 per acre increase in profit over five years. 'That can be pretty important economically,' Putnam said.
UC Davis plant breeder Charlie Brummer is conducting pre-breeding experiments at IREC to tease out the plants most likely to parent high-yielding alfalfa.
IREC director and farm advisor Rob Wilson describes efforts being made to suppress the onion disease white root rot. 'White root rot is a soil-borne disease that is long-lived in the soil,' he said. 'This has limited onion acreage in the area.'
Posted on Friday, July 27, 2018 at 2:15 PM

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