Posts Tagged: UC Davis
“When first-generation ranchers succeed, we all succeed,” says Kate Munden-Dixon, a Ph.D. student working with Leslie Roche, Cooperative Extension rangeland specialist with the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.
Munden-Dixon and Roche recently discovered that many new livestock managers aren't plugged into information networks such as UC Cooperative Extension and rancher coalitions that provide science and strategies for making sustainable rangeland management decisions. This lack of connection can make first-generation ranchers more vulnerable when dealing with challenges like drought and climate variability, according to their study, which was recently published in Rangeland Journal.
To help bridge the gap, Munden-Dixon landed a $25,000 Graduate Student Grant from Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a USDA program, to reach out to new ranchers and rangeland managers.
Why rangelands matter
More than one half of California — 38 million acres — is rangeland that provides open space, healthy watersheds, carbon storage, food, fiber and habitat for diverse plants and wildlife. UC Davis research indicates grasslands and rangeland have become more resilient at sequestering or consuming carbon dioxide pollution than forests in California, making them especially important in a warming world.
But rangeland and livestock production are at risk because more rangeland is being converted to housing and crop production. The average age of ranchers in California is 62, and fewer children are taking over the family ranch.
Enter a new wave of rangeland managers. Many of these young ranchers don't yet have access to the capital required to purchase land and large head of cattle and other livestock. Instead, they often contract with public and private landowners to graze goats, sheep and cattle to restore landscapes and reduce fire vegetation.
“What we really need is support in connecting land and contract opportunities,” says Brittany Cole Bush, an “urban shepherdess” and former contract sheep and goat grazer. She now consults with land owners and public agencies from her home base in Southern California. “We need market research that shows the value that grazing brings to fire abatement, soil conservation and so much more. Market research would increase our value and help us become viable players.”
Munden-Dixon is interviewing 40 new rangeland managers from across California to explore how decision-making by different demographics influences adaptation to climate change and quality of life. Munden-Dixon and her team are also hosting workshops to make sure Cooperative Extension specialists understand and can respond to all ranchers' needs.
“There is both a need and opportunity for a new generation of livestock managers that is able to adapt to California's changing climate,” Munden-Dixon says. “This next generation may not look like your typical rancher, so we want to ensure organizations are helping all ranchers succeed, regardless of their demographics or land tenure.”
The power of connection
Munden-Dixon would like to become a Cooperative Extension specialist herself one day. Working with first-generation ranchers reminds her that collaboration and public engagement are critical to addressing issues in sustainable agriculture.
“There is no one answer or single expert when it comes to building healthy food systems,” Munden-Dixon says. “We find solutions when we work together.”
The team, led by Samantha Ying, an assistant professor of environmental sciences at UC Riverside, received the grant from the University of California Office of the President.
The funding will allow for the establishment of the University of California Consortium for Drought and Carbon Management (UC DroCaM), which will design management strategies based on understanding soil carbon, the soil microbiome and their impact on water dynamics in soil.
The researchers will conduct field and lab research on microbiological, biophysical, and geochemical mechanisms controlling soil formation and stability under different row crops (tomatoes, alfalfa, wheat), farming practices (carbon inputs and rotations) and irrigation methods (furrow and flood, microirrigation).
Field research will initially be conducted at three UC Research and Extension Centers (Kearney, West Side and Desert) the Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility near UC Davis.
Recommendations will then be made for broader monitoring and field experiments throughout the state based on input gained from local growers and citizens at workshops at the agricultural research stations. Ultimately, the hope is to expand and involve all nine research and extension centers from the Oregon border to the Mexican border.
“Having agricultural research stations throughout the state is a huge part of this project,” Ying said. “It is going to help us create one of the best research centers in the country focused on soil and drought.”
There is also a public engagement component. Citizens will be recruited to participate in workshops to learn how to monitor and sample their local soils. Information will then be imputed into an online soils database that will help create a map of the biodiversity of agricultural soils in California.
Ying's collaborators are: Kate Scow and Sanjai Parihk (UC Davis); Eoin Brodie and Margaret Torn (UC Berkeley); Asmeret Berhe and Teamrat Ghezzehei (UC Merced); and Peter Nico and William Riley (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory).
The grant is one of four awards totaling more than $4.8 million from University of California President Janet Napolitano's President's Research Catalyst Awards.
The study, covered in TIME, LA Times, and elsewhere, was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It's based on 15 years of monitoring about 80 sampling plots at McLaughlin Reserve, part of UC Davis' Natural Reserve System.
"Our study shows that 15 years of warmer and drier winters are creating a direct loss of native wildflowers in some of California's grasslands,” said lead author Susan Harrison, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy and a member of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Conservation Biology workgroup. “Such diversity losses may foreshadow larger-scale extinctions, especially in regions that are becoming increasingly dry.”
The researchers confirmed that drought-intolerant species suffered the worst declines.
Similar trends have been found in other Mediterranean environments, such as those of southern Europe, bolstering the case for increased climate change awareness in the world's semi-arid regions.
Taken together with climate change predictions, the future grassland communities of California are expected to be less productive, provide less nutrition to herbivores, and become more vulnerable to invasion by exotic species, the study said.
The researchers expect these negative to cascade up through the food web—affecting insects, seed-eating rodents, birds, deer and domesticated species like cattle, all of which rely on grasslands for food.
Rescue effect may be too late
Grasses and wildflowers may be able to withstand the current drying period through their extensive seed banks, which can lie dormant for decades waiting for the right conditions to germinate.
However, California's drought is expected to intensify in the coming decades, so this rescue effect may end up being too late for some species.
Author: Kat Kerlin
Efforts to eradicate invasive species increasingly occur side by side with programs focused on recovery of endangered ones. But what should resource managers do when the eradication of an invasive species threatens an endangered species?
In a recent study published in the journal Science, researchers at the UC Davis examine that conundrum now taking place in the San Francisco Bay. The California clapper rail — a bird found only in the bay — has come to depend on an invasive salt marsh cordgrass, hybridSpartina, for nesting habitat. Its native habitat has slowly vanished over the decades, largely due to urban development and invasion by Spartina.
Their results, picked up by TIME magazine, showed that, rather than moving as fast as possible with eradication and restoration, the best approach is to slow down the eradication of the invasive species until restoration or natural recovery of the system provides appropriate habitat for the endangered species.
“Just thinking from a single-species standpoint doesn't work,” said co-author and UC Davis environmental science and policy professor Alan Hastings. “The whole management system needs to take longer, and you need to have much more flexibility in the timing of budgetary expenditures over a longer time frame.”
The scientists combined biological and economic data for Spartina and the clapper rail to develop a modeling framework to balance conflicting management goals, including endangered species recovery and invasive species removal, given budgetary constraints.
While more threatened and endangered species are becoming dependent on invasive species for habitat and food, examples of the study's specific conflict are rare. The only other known case where the eradication of an invasive species threatened to compromise the recovery of an endangered one is in the southwestern United States, where a program to eradicate tamarisk was canceled in areas where the invasive tree provides nesting habitat for the endangered southwestern willow fly-catcher.
“As eradication programs increase in number, we expect this will be a more common conflict in the future,” said co-author and UC Davis professor Ted Grosholz.
The scientists used data from Grosholz's lab as well as from the Invasive Spartina Project of the California Coastal Conservancy in their analysis.
Spartina alterniflora was introduced to the San Francisco Bay in the mid-1970s by the Army Corps of Engineers as a method to reclaim marshland. It hybridized with native Spartina and invaded roughly 800 acres. Eradication of hybrid Spartina began in 2005, and about 92 percent of it has been removed from the bay. The cordgrass has also invaded areas of Willapa Bay in Washington state, where efforts to eradicate it are nearly complete, and invasive Spartina has been spotted and removed from Tomales Bay, Point Reyes and Bolinas Lagoon in California.
The study, led by UC Davis postdoctoral fellow Adam Lampert, was funded by the National Science Foundation Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program.
Co-authors include UC Davis environmental science and policy professor James Sanchirico and Sunny Jardine, a Ph.D. student at UC Davis during the study and currently assistant professor at University of Delaware.
“This work is significant in advancing a general, analytical framework for cost-effective management solutions to the common conflict between removing invasive species and conserving biodiversity,” said Alan Tessier, program director in the National Science Foundation Division of Environmental Biology.
Last week, on Earth Day, the university and Sacramento-based technology partner CleanWorld unveiled the UC Davis Renewable Energy Anaerobic Digester (READ) at the campus' former landfill. Here, the anaerobic digestion technology Zhang invented is being used inside large, white, oxygen-deprived tanks. Bacterial microbes in the tanks feast on campus and community food and yard waste, converting it into clean energy that feeds the campus electrical grid.
“This technology can change the way we manage our solid waste,” Zhang said. “It will allow us to be more economically and environmentally sustainable."
It is the third commercial biodigester CleanWorld has opened using Zhang's technology within the past two years and is the nation's largest anaerobic biodigester on a college campus.
The system is designed to convert 50 tons of organic waste to 12,000 kWh of renewable electricity each day using state-of-the-art generators, diverting 20,000 tons of waste from local landfills each year. It is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 13,500 tons per year.
The READ BioDigester encompasses several of the university's goals: reducing campus waste in a way that makes both economic and environmental sense, generating renewable energy, and transferring technology developed at UC Davis to the commercial marketplace.
The biodigester will enable the more than 100 million tons of organic waste each year that is currently being landfilled in the U.S. to be converted to clean energy and soil products. The READ BioDigester is a closed loop system, moving from farm to fork to fuel and back to farm. Whatever is not turned into biogas to generate renewable electricity can be used as fertilizer and soil amendments — 4 million gallons of it per year, which could provide natural fertilizers for an estimated 145 acres of farmlands each day.
Nearly half of the organic waste, or feedstock, needed to operate the biodigester to full benefit will come from UC Davis dining halls, animal facilities and grounds. CleanWorld is working with area food processing and distribution centers to supply the remaining amount. Meanwhile, UC Davis will earn 100 percent of the project's green energy and carbon credits and receive all of the electricity generated.
Anaerobic digestion is an age-old process. However, Zhang's patented technology made it more efficient — capable of eating a broader variety and bigger quantity of waste, turning it into clean energy faster and more consistently than other commercial anaerobic biodigesters.
View a video about the UC David biodigester here:
(This blog post is condensed from a UC Davis news release about the biodigester.)
- Read the full press release
- Download biodigester photos
- Vine video: From lunch to lights
- Visit http://www.cleanworld.com/