We're in the midst of a housing crisis, so why not build a 30-unit, high-rise condo in your yard?
No, not for people--for native bees.
We just installed a bee condo for leafcutting bees (Megachile spp.), on a five-foot high pole overlooking catmint, lavender and salvia. The "housing development" is actually a wooden board drilled with small holes to accommodate our tiny tenants. Comfy and convenient. Rooms with a view. No housing permits or EIR required. Rent-free, mortgage-free.
Leafcutting bees, aka leafcutter bees, are about the size of a honey bee but darker, with the characteristic light-banded abdomens. They are important pollinators.
Why are they called leafcutter bees? Because the females cut leaf fragments to construct their nests to raise their brood. In nature, they build their nests in soft, rotted wood or in the pithy stems of such plants as roses, raspberries, sumac and elderberry.
Unlike honey bees, which are social, the leafcutting bee is a solitary nesting bee. She provisions her leaf-lined nest with nectar and pollen, lays an egg, and seals the cell before leaving.
Commercially made bee condos are available at beekeeping supply stores or on the Internet. You can make or buy a board with different sized-holes so other native bees, such as blue orchard bees, aka mason bees, receive a "home, sweet home," too, and deliver pollinator services.
And enable you to tell your family and friends that you're a "bee landlord" or beekeeper.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation offers tips on building bee condos on its website and in its publications, including Farming for Bees: Guidelines for Providing Native Bee Habitat on Farms.
If you don't want bee boards housing your tenants, you can provide straws or hollow bamboo stems.
At the UC Davis Department of Entomology, doctoral candidate Emily Bzdyk is doing research on leafcutter bees. "Basically I'm doing a revision of the subgenus Litomegachile, part of the large genus Megachile, which includes leafcutter and resin bees," she said. "They are native to North America. My goals are to find out how many and what the species are in Litomegachile, and find out as much as I can about their biology, or how they make a living."
"I also want to identify clearly what the boundaries between the species are, or how to tell them apart from one another," said Bzdyk, whose major professor is Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology. "Litomegachile are very common and hard-to-identify to species, and I feel they deserve attention."
Bzdyk noted that some Megachile are used in commercial alfalfa production. The alfalfa leafcutter bee, native to Europe, is used for commercial pollination of alfalfa, she said. "The Litomegachile is probably very closely related."
The alfalfa growers erect giant bee condos in their fields to draw bees to their plants.
With home gardeners, the effect is the same.
If you build them, they will come.
Leafcutting bees, aka leafcutter bees (genus Megachile) head toward a bee condo built for these and other pollinators. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Home sweet home: Oblivious to ants, a leafcutter bee heads for home. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Male leafcutter bee (genus Megachile) sips nectar from a rock purslane. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
“Trees are as important as agriculture to the landscape of California and the world,” says UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences Professor David Neale, a forest geneticist and the driving force behind the new center. “Creation of the center culminates the work of many people over many years to bring a visible presence to forest biology research and education on the UC Davis campus.”
UC Davis is a prime location for forest biology research and education because of its proximity to the Sierra Nevada and coastal mountain forest ecosystems and its extensive faculty expertise in all aspects of forest biology, says UC Davis Plant Ecology Professor Mark Schwartz, director of the John Muir Institute for the Environment (JMIE) where the new center is located.
“The creation of this forest-focused center is both an affirmation of what UC Davis has been doing really well for a long time, and a big step forward in JMIE’s efforts to rally faculty expertise around the central environmental issues facing California and the world”, Schwartz says. “As California joins Europe in adopting carbon standards, developing a better understanding of the role of forests in carbon sequestration has become a priority for environmental organizations.”
The new center will also provide a framework for the cross-disciplinary work so central to forest biology.
“Forest biology draws from many of the core biological sciences such as genetics, ecology, plant pathology, entomology, plant biology, and geography,” Neale explains. “Before this framework was in place, graduate students could study genetics with me, for example, but they couldn’t really go broader into other areas of forest biology. Now when they come to UC Davis to do graduate work in, say, ecology, they will also have access to interdisciplinary work in forest biology.”
The Forest Biology Research Center is working to develop a certificate program in forest biology that can be awarded along with a degree from an existing graduate program.
At the Forest Biology Research Center website, you can learn more about the 24 UC Davis faculty and affiliated members of the US Forest Service who founded the center. They look forward to working with others to help develop forest biology research and education at UC Davis.
In addition to Neale and Schwartz, the executive committee includes UC Davis Plant Pathology Professor Dave Rizzo, UC Davis Plant Biology Professor Alison Berry, and Research Ecologist Malcolm North with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.
Read the bill. That was the first policy lesson that Linda Adams, Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, brought to the newly minted Ph.D.’s at the Graduate Research Symposium of UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) earlier this month, where she delivered the keynote address.
The bill Adams was referring to was AB 32, the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, on which she was the lead negotiator. She told a harrowing tale of the legislative pipeline.
“When Governor Schwarzenegger appointed me in 2006… I was just vaguely aware of AB 32, which was actually very close to his desk,” Adams said. “Being a good former legislative staffer, the first thing I did was read the bill. And much to my horror, what the governor wanted — a market-based approach to reducing emissions — was not only not in the bill but actually prohibited.”
Adams’ discovery resulted in a fight for a comprehensive approach to reducing emissions that California businesses would support, including a cap-and-trade program and complementary measures such as low-emissions vehicles, renewable energy, and increased energy efficiency. The bill that ultimately passed was the nation’s first major climate-change legislation, and was what the California Air Resources Board refers to as the “first-in-the-world comprehensive program of regulatory and market mechanisms to achieve real, quantifiable, cost-effective reductions of greenhouse gases.”
Her achievements resonated with the audience; environment and climate-change related work is the one common thread among the diverse lines of scientific inquiry pursued at ESPM. Research presented by the graduating Ph.D. students included modeling the impact of climate change on a Bay Area redwood forest, studying changes bird populations in the Sierrra Nevada, analyzing the politics of chemical monitoring, and studying the growth of eco-labels and sustainability ratings—so-called “green” products and services.
Putting the science in government
This broad spectrum of inquiry meshed well with the key theme of Adam’s talk: Science matters.
“Every policy regulation we make here at Cal EPA is based on science,” Adams said. “We rely on our experts when developing policies and… we depend on the accuracy, the timeliness, the relevance, and the needed answers they can supply,” she said.
To the delight of a room filled with fresh job-seeking Ph.D.'s, Adams said that Cal EPA employs hundreds of scientists in various areas of expertise.
What do they do? As an example, Adams cited an agency-wide investigation into a spike in birth defects in the small town of Kettleman City.
“It involved scientists from each department looking into potential links to water, soil, air, and/or pesticide pollution,” she said. “The Department of Pesticide Regulation provided models of pesticide activity in the formative months of pregnancy; the Air Resources Board (ARB) monitored the air in the area; the Water Board tested the tap water and canal for arsenic and other pollutants; and the Department of Toxic Substances Control tested the soil for contamination.
The role of forests
The new world of AB 32 will generate the need for new areas of scientific expertise at Cal EPA. In additional to a full spectrum of chemical and environmental monitoring, there will be growing demand for forestry and reforestation knowledge.
That translates to forests. Of the four offset protocols adopted by the ARB, two were forestry protocols: one for urban forestry and one for U.S. forest reforestation and forest management projects.
“We already have over 100 forestation and forest management projects submitted for approval as offsets all over the United States,” Adams said. Cal EPA is also exploring the international market for carbon reduction, through cutting-edge pilot forest redevelopment programs in Chiapas, Mexico, and Acre, Brazil.
Calling to account
As the state begins to implement AB 32 and build a national and international accounting framework, Adams said science will be especially important.
“We need to ensure that all reductions achieved are real, permanent, quantifiable, verifiable, and enforceable, and we rely on the science to provide reduction and emission calculation methods, to identify procedures for project monitoring, reporting parameters, and verification,” she said. “We need the scientific backing to reinforce the policy outcomes we seek, and the research to determine if those sought-after outcomes are possible.… It’s all one continuous cycle.”
In addition to the keynote address, the May 6 Berkeley symposium, dubbed “Gradfest,” also had 15 research presentations, two poster sessions, and a career panel and to help usher ESPM graduates into the various professional arenas of academia, government, nonprofit, and the private sector.
Sponsored in part by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is a grassroots volunteer network of backyard weather observers.
With a presence in every state in the country, volunteers from all backgrounds work together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow) in their local communities. The data is used to help scientists across the country measure and track this very important and highly variable part of the climate system. By having thousands of volunteers nationwide providing precipitation data, scientists can track each storm system as it passes across the country and see how precipitation systems vary geographically, seasonally and inter-annually.
Many additional volunteers are needed to provide data for this long-term effort. CoCoRaHS provides training, education and an interactive website to which data is uploaded. It takes about five minutes a day to observe and upload data.
Volunteers can participate as much or as little as they wish. Individuals, groups and schools are welcome to participate. Currently volunteers range from kindergarteners to people in their 90s.
In addition to data collection, CoCoRaHS has many other opportunities for volunteers to become involved in this exciting project – locally, statewide and nationally.
To learn more or to sign up, please visit the CoCoRaHS website.
For additional questions, contact Nolan Doesken at the State Climatologist Colorado Climate Center, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University Fort Collins, CO 80523. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 970.491.3690.
Most people planning home improvement projects take into account how improvements will affect the home’s ability to withstand rain and weathering. We should also consider the threat of wildfire when planning home improvement projects this spring.
Most homes that burn during wildfires are ignited by flying embers landing on combustible material on or near homes. A wildfire passes by a home quickly, usually in a few minutes, while the exposure to flying embers can last for an hour or more. Therefore, activities homeowners undertake to make their home less ignitable from embers do the most to ensure its survival.
The most important home upgrade homeowners can do to reduce wildfire risk is to replace wood shake roofs with Class A roofs. Single-paned windows should also be replaced with dual-pane windows (with at least one pane being tempered). Combustible siding can also be vulnerable, but replacing it with non-combustible siding is less important if you have done a good job of locating and maintaining vegetation near your home. Replacing combustible decks with noncombustible decking products will also reduce risk.
Even though these upgrades are expensive, they reduce the likelihood that you will experience the cost and trauma of losing a home in a wildfire. If you cannot afford to undertake these projects this year, there are less expensive projects you can take on to reduce wildfire risk. These center on maintaining your home in good condition by replacing worn boards , sealing cracks in locations where embers can enter the home, and protecting vulnerable areas with non-combustible materials and coverings.
Even if you have already upgraded your home to resist fire by installing a new roof, windows, or deck, it is important to maintain those home components in their proper condition so embers cannot gain entrance to the home. Creating defensible space by clearning flammable vegetation and debris is also crucial to reducing your wildfire risk. For more information on the performance of building materials in a wildfire, please see http://firecenter.berkeley.edu/ or www.extension.org/surviving_wildfire. For more on creation of defensible space, contact your local fire agency and see www.livingwithfire.info/tahoe.
Suggested home maintenance projects to reduce wildfire risk
- Plug roof openings: Install end-stops (bird-stops) at the edge of your roof if it has a gap between the roof and the sheathing (as with a clay barrel tile roof).
- Protect roof edges: Install metal angle flashing at the roof edge to protect the roof sheathing and fascia board, especially if there are gutters attached that can hold combustible pine needles. Even a Class A roof cannot protect the wood sheathing under it if the roof edge is unprotected.
- Protect roof eaves: “Box in” your open eaves with sheathing, such as a fiber cement soffit or higher grade plywood.
- Skylights: Particularly on steep or flat roofs, replace plastic skylights with skylights that use tempered glass in the outer pane.
- Maintain siding: Fill gaps in siding and trim materials with a qood quality caulk help keep out embers. Replace warped or degraded siding.
- Protect vents: Inspect the vents into your attic and crawl space. Make sure the screens are in good condition. Replace ¼ inch mesh screen with 1/8 inch mesh screening.
- Maintain decks: Replace deck boards that are less than an inch thick with two inch thick boards. Remove combustible materials from under the deck.
- Protect combustible siding: Install metal flashing between a deck and combustible siding to protect it from accumulated debris that can ignite during ember attack.
- Remove flammable material from under decks: If your deck is made from wood or wood-plastic lumber decking, remove combustibles (firewood, lumber, etc.) from under the deck.
- Replace gates: Replace combustible gates and sections of wooden fences within five feet of the house with noncombustible materials and components.
- Adjust garage doors: Your garage door can be very “leaky” to embers. Since most people store combustibles in their garage, make sure your garage door is well sealed at the edges.