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Keeping Our Environment Healthy Blog

Want to report SOD? We’ve got an app for that!

When the great outdoors is your research laboratory, gathering data can be a challenge. To get a broader perspective on the extent of damage caused by sudden oak death, a UC Berkeley Cooperative Extension geographer is using crowd sourcing to enhance her research on the disease that has killed over a million of California’s iconic oak trees since 1995.

Maggi Kelly, UC Berkeley Cooperative Extension specialist, started collecting data from community members through her OakMapper website in 2001. Now she has a mobile application for smartphones

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While out in a park or forest, iPhone users can use the new OakMapper mobile app to report sightings of trees killed by Phytophthora ramorum, the plant pathogen that causes SOD. Onsite, participants can note the symptoms they see, such as seeping, bark discoloration, crown discoloration, dead leaves, shoot die-back, fungus, beetle frass and beetle bore holes.

The OakMapper app, created by scientists in the UC Berkeley Geospatial Innovation Facility, uses the phone's built-in GPS to identify the participant’s location when the data is submitted.

They also can describe the environmental setting, such as residential landscape or natural forest.

“Many of the challenging natural resource problems that we face today – like invasive species, fire, climate change – are large in spatial scale and impact diverse public groups,” said Kelly, director of the UC Berkeley Geospatial Innovation Facility. “Addressing these challenges often requires coordinated monitoring, efficient data collection, and increased communication and cooperation between scientists and citizens.

Science can benefit from your powers of observation. We all benefit by becoming informed about problems such as sudden oak death.

If you are like me, a person who sometimes doesn’t recognize coworkers outside the office, you may choose a spectator role. You can use the app to look at the maps to see where SOD is taking down trees.

For more information about OakMapper and its app, visit oakmapper.org. The OakMapper app can be downloaded for free from the iTunes app store.

I’ve heard of two other apps developed at UC to collect natural resources-related data from other scientists and interested members of the public.

You can use UCLA’s What’s Invasive apps to report locations of top invasive plants and animals, which compete with California’s native fauna and flora. By submitting location data and setting up top invasive lists for your area, you can assist scientists monitoring the spread of the destructive invasive plants and animals. Images and brief descriptions in the app help with identification. The apps are free and available for the Android and iPhone.

Soon you will be able to report roadkill sightings on your iPhone. The UC Davis Road Ecology Center has submitted to the iTunes store an iPhone app for reporting roadkill. Until the app becomes available sometime in January, you can report your observations to the California Roadkill Observation System via the Web at http://roadecology.ucdavis.edu/CROS.html.

Another cool app has been developed by the UC Davis Soil Resource Laboratory to deliver information to scientists, growers and gardeners about the properties of their soil. While standing in the field, the user can receive location-based information on a GPS-enabled cell phone. The app is available for free for iPhone and Android OS platforms.

Which science-related apps are you using? You can share them in the comments section or e-mail me at pskanrice@ucdavis.edu.

Posted on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 at 6:33 AM
Tags: apps (2), invasive species (10), Maggi Kelly (4), roadkill (3), soil (9), sudden oak death (6)

Wireless networks could improve state water forecasting

A new wireless data collection system deployed at Duncan Peak, located near the town of Foresthill on the Middle Fork of the American River basin, is part of a new water information system for California. This extensively distributed sensor network will allow for better characterization on the amount of water stored in the snow and the soil throughout the watershed.

This wireless system is part of the research being conducted by University of California researchers as part of the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP) to investigate the impacts of fuels treatment projects on water quality and quantity and how water is routed through catchments. Information collected from these wireless systems includes measurements of snow depth, temperature, relative humidity, soil moisture, and solar radiation. The data will also be integrated into models which will extend the results to areas where no measurements are being made.


UC Professor Roger Bales and a meteorological station data collector.

Using one base station to log all the measurements and broadcast out over the landscape, it connects wirelessly to sensors up to 350 feet away, a distance that can be extended multiple times by placing “hoppers,” or signal relays, between the sensors and base station. This ‘mesh network’ insures multiple readings so no data is lost during transmission. Twenty more base stations are planned for instillation in the American River Basin.

The wireless system is made possible by the development of ultra-low power radios that can run on two AA batteries for up to two years and which can transmit data over long distances using the same technology as a home internet wireless network. This mesh radio network comes from DUST Networks.  Researchers Steve Glaser and Branko Kerkez from UC Berkeley, working with Prof. Roger Bales at UC Merced, have also installed a sensor network at their Critical Zone Observatory research site near Shaver Lake to monitor the same hydrologic variables as in the SNAMP sites. If the wireless system drops out due to extreme conditions, such as a snow storm or other malfunction, no problem! Each sensor also logs to a USB stick, from which the data can also be easily retrieved.


Low power computer components used in the snow depth wireless sensor network.

More precise estimates on water storage within a basin will lead to increasingly accurate predictions of water availability for use in hydropower, irrigation, habitat and household consumption.


Duncan Peak meteorological station.

Posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 6:40 AM

Bee-ing green

Going green in your backyard doesn’t mean just planting a bee-friendly garden and providing water for the bees.

Have you ever thought about becoming a backyard beekeeper? You can help boost the declining bee population while engaging in a fascinating and rewarding hobby. Your flowers, fruits and vegetables will benefit (as will your neighbors' gardens). Another reward that’s sweet: honey.

There’s another benefit, too. If you’re into photography, especially macro photography, this is a perfect opportunity to “bee” there.

The number of backyard beekeepers in the United States has increased by about 15 percent over the last three years, according to Kim Flottum (top), editor of Bee Culture magazine and author of The BackYard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden. He estimates the number at 100,000-plus and growing.

“Backyard beekeepers easily represent more than 80 percent of total beekeepers, but have only about 25 percent of the total hives,” he told us. “They contribute lots to local pollination of small gardens and orchards and plants for wildlife. And, they are responsible for most of the local honey one sees for sale, since most sell close to home in farmers’ markets and the like.”

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (left), member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, also advocates that folks do their part in the honey bees crisis. Don’t just plant bee friendly plants, but plants that bees can forage on in the late summer and fall when food is scarce, he says.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation provides regional lists of bee friendly plants. The UC Berkeley Urban Gardens website maintains a California list.

What are some of the first steps in becoming a beekeeper?

  1. Join a local beekeeping association where veterans can assist you. Bee Culture maintains contact information for beekeeping associations. The Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis maintains a list of beekeeping clubs in California. Many 4-H clubs also offer beekeeping projects where youths can learn the not-so-secret life of bees.
  2. Check your city and county ordinances and your county agriculture commissioner for bee-colony regulations.
  3. Contact your neighbors to see if they are allergic to bee stings or if they have any objections to your keeping bees.
  4. Start a library of beekeeping books. Some of the most recent books by bee experts include The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum; Honey Bee Hobbyist: the Care and Keeping of Bees by UC Davis retired emeritus professor Norman Gary (his experience spans six decades); and Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees: Honey Production, Pollination and Health by University of Florida Extension beekeeping specialist Malcolm T. Sanford, with expertise from the late Richard E. Bonney's book, Beekeeping and Hive Management.
  5. Subscribe to bee publications such as The American Bee Journal, Bee Culture and Speedy Bee.
  6. Glean information from the Internet, including YouTube, but be aware that some info is misleading and inaccurate.

Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of UC Davis and Washington State University cautions that you must take care of your bees to ward off diseases and pests. And, if you’re catching swarms, especially in southern California, be aware that some could be Africanized bees.

“The swarms are initially docile, but can become very defensive when they grow and have brood and honey—and turn to a public health issue,” she says.

Cobey advocates that would-be beekeepers find a good mentor and/or bee club that offers beginners’ classes and arranges purchase of good queens.

“Temperament alone will make a huge difference,” she says.

Good advice!

On the light side, once you’re a bonafide beekeeper, you can wear T-shirts like “Show Me the Honey,” “I Have Hives” and “I Smoke Burlap.”

The best part of rearing your very own bees, though, is making an individual statement in a world filled with millions of unanswered questions.

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is one of them.

(Editor's note: Kathy Keatley Garvey, a communication specialist in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, comes from a long line of beekeepers tracing back to "at least the 1800s.")

Posted on Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 9:22 AM

Master gardeners and UC Davis team to 'green' California backyards

A greener vision of the home landscape is taking shape throughout California with the help of volunteer master gardeners and the California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCUH).

The center, a statewide program begun at UC Davis in 2007, is holding educational workshops in various locations that will help master gardeners and other gardening enthusiasts learn more earth-friendly gardening techniques.

The first five “Your Sustainable Backyard” workshops were held in 2009 and 2010 and focused on roses, fruit trees, and edible landscaping. More than 800 people attended those events.

Five more workshops are in development for 2011. Two have been confirmed:

  • “Your Sustainable Backyard:  Landscaping for California” — April 9, 2011, the ARC ballroom at UC Davis. Speakers include landscape architect and author Bob Perry and author/garden photojournalist Deborah Baldwin.
  • “Your Sustainable Backyard:  Roses” — April 30, 2011, Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis. This event will also include a rose sale.

The idea for the workshops grew out of the “Global Climate Change in your Backyard” conference held at UC Davis in 2008. “The feedback we got indicated a strong desire for hands-on demonstrations of specific gardening tasks,” said CCUH program manager Missy Borel. “So we brainstormed and came up with these cost-effective, high-quality educational workshops for gardeners to learn usable skills they could take home and share with other people.”

Master gardeners are public educators trained by university experts in horticulture, pest management, and related home gardening topics. California Master Gardener programs, currently serving 45 counties, are experiencing phenomenal growth. UC’s Statewide Master Gardener coordinator Pamela Geisel says they’re seeing a 28 to 30 percent annual increase in the number of master gardeners, totaling about 4,700 individuals as of early 2010.

“We’re seeing greater attendance at all our workshops,” Geisel says. “In the past, you might have had six people show up to learn about vegetable gardening. Now, they’re filling up right away, with long waiting lists.”

A survey by the National Gardening Association found that  seven million more households planned to grow their own fruits, vegetables, herbs, or berries in 2009 than in 2008—a 19 percent increase. More people simply want to grow their own produce for improved quality, taste, and cost savings.

Geisel says it’s not just about locally produced food. “More people than ever are interested in learning how to reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides, to conserve and protect water resources, and to eliminate landfill waste through green waste composting,” she said.

“Gardening practices are going to change because of climate change, water shortages, and other factors,” Borel adds. “Our workshops empower people to do that correctly. We’re setting them up for success.”

To learn more, visit program websites at http://ccuh.ucdavis.edu and http://camastergardeners.ucdavis.edu/.

Posted on Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 7:50 AM

GIS identifies best farmland for conservation

Geographic information system (GIS) models developed at UC Davis are being used to pinpoint the best farmland for conservation in the Central Valley. A new landscape-scale method, described in a recent issue of California Agriculture journal, was applied in Fresno County, and the approach is being extended regionally in the San Joaquin Valley.

“Policy programs and local planning agencies must assess farmland before implementing policies and programs aimed at farmland conservation,” lead author Evan Schmidt wrote in California Agriculture. “The application of GIS to existing land-assessment practices can update and reinvigorate [currently used] techniques.”

The method involves integrating environmental and human factors into a GIS to develop maps of strategic farmlands to be targeted for conservation. These five factors are:

  • Soil productivity, based on maps developed by the California Department of Conservation’s Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program (FMMP).

  • Water cost and reliability, based on maps developed by California agricultural commissioner’s offices.

  • Microclimate, to identify areas with optimal growing conditions.

  • Environmental sensitivity, to incorporate state and federal designations of vernal pools and wetlands.

  • Urban growth pressure, to identify areas within and adjacent to existing cities that are expected to be developed in coming years.

With extensive input from the public, agency officials and land-use professionals, the method expands upon farmland assessment frameworks developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and FMMP soil classification maps.

The Fresno County GIS-based assessment identified 343,321 acres of “very-high-value” farmland, mostly in the eastern and southern county and located in areas without existing or projected urban development. “High-value” farmland, totaling 491,613 acres, was similarly situated but included more acreage in the western county.

“In Fresno County, we found that the majority of growth to 2050 could fit into existing spheres of influence,” Schmidt and co-authors wrote. “This important information challenges decision-makers to set and maintain policies that encourage compact growth and infill development in order to preserve Fresno County’s highest-value farmland.”

Posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 7:55 AM
  • Author: Janet Byron

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