On the tail of California's most destructive and expensive year of firefighting ever, it might seem obvious that vegetation removal would reduce the risk of such a year happening again. But Professor Scott Stephens and scientists at the University of Arizona are showing that in chaparral, California's iconic shrubland ecosystem, management can devastate wild bird populations and that fire-risk reduction is only temporary.
"We studied bird populations following two types of vegetation removal, prescribed fire and mastication (the mechanical crushing of vegetation), because both management methods have been used to try reduce wildfire risk in California chaparral," said Erica Newman, lead author of the study and a scientist in the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources and the Environment.
"We know from multiple studies that any management eventually increases fire risk as invasive grasses move in," said Newman, PhD '16 Energy Resources Group. "But to add to this, we now know that mastication in particular is extremely harmful to bird populations."
The study appears in the February issue of Journal of Applied Ecology, available online this week. Co-authors include Morgan Tingley, PhD '11 Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM), and Jen Potts, MS '09 ESPM.
Chaparral is a fire-prone ecosystem in North America that is widespread throughout California. Although it makes up only 6 percent of California by area, it contains one-quarter of the species found in the California Floristic Province, a global biodiversity hotspot. To date, no other studies have compared the effects of different fire management types on California chaparral wildlife.
Using 24 five-acre plots in northern California, researchers reduced vegetation by 95 percent with either prescribed fire or mastication in three different seasons (winter, fall and spring). They then tracked bird populations in each experimental and control plot using point-count surveys, in which researchers look and listen for birds for a set amount of time. Co-authors Potts and Charles Vaughn visited the plots hundreds of times over the course of five years. They counted 49 species and approximately 2,500 birds.
Although bird species diversity and abundances rebounded after one-time use of prescribed fires, most birds never returned to masticated sites. Mastication reduced the number of bird species by about 50 percent and reduced total numbers of birds by about 60 percent.
"The pressures on this ecosystem's biodiversity are intense," said Michael L. Mann, assistant professor of geography at George Washington University, who was not part of this study. "There are over 5 million housing units in this ecosystem that need some form of fire protection, and wildfire risk and housing demand are only expected to increase in the next 50 years."
Much of California's chaparral is burning too frequently to replace itself because of human-caused ignitions and longer wildfire seasons due to climate change. According to Stephens, the principal investigator of the experiment at UC Berkeley, too-frequent fire can cause chaparral to be replaced by invasive grasses, which can increase fire risk.
This leads to other problems. Grasses don't hold soils in place, so deadly mudslides may follow wildfires, such as those in Santa Barbara, California.
Newman emphasized that previous fire policy hasn't worked to protect people or wildlife.
"The best available science tells us that managing chaparral imperils wildlife and increases fire risk," she said. "Our study continues to build the case that we should live densely and away from chaparral."
She said that agencies such as CAL FIRE, California's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, should abandon their practice of clearing chaparral in remote areas. "Some management practices are not informed by science. We can do better," she said.
"A fire policy that would make more sense is to do a better job of land management planning and try to avoid the hazardous areas for building," Stephens said.Image: Date: Friday, February 16, 2018 - 13:45 Legacy: section header item: Date: Friday, February 16, 2018 - 13:45 headline_position: Top Left headline_color_style: Normal headline_width: Long caption_color_style: Normal caption_position: Bottom Left
New technology developed by MCB Professor and HHMI Investigator Jennifer Doudna can be used to find signs of viral infections and cancers in snippets of DNA. This new tool, called DETECTR, has already been used to accurately identify two types of human papillomavirus (HPV) in human samples. In the future, DETECTR may become a reliable way of quickly diagnosing cancers and other illnesses.
A memorial celebration for long-time visiting scholar Ian Gibbons is planned for Sunday, February18, 2018 at his home in Orinda. He was recently honored with the Shaw Prize along with Ron Vale of UCSF for their "discovery of microtubule-associated motor proteins: engines that drive nerve cell growth and chromosome inheritance essential to human development." He was one of the true giants in his field and made many contributions to our understanding of biological motion. Ian passed away on January 30th at the age of 86.
In honor of UC Berkeley's "150 Years of Light" anniversary celebration, we're recognizing MCB & Chemistry Professor Emeritus Judith Klinman, a pioneer on the Berkeley campus. A talented scientist, Klinman is internationally known for her groundbreaking work on enzyme catalysis.
In addition, Klinman was the first female faculty member in the physical sciences at Berkeley. She is also the only woman to have served as Chair of the Department of Chemistry. Among her many other accolades, Klinman was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama in 2012 for her contributions to the field of biochemistry.
Judith Klinman is a pioneer both on and off the Berkeley campus, and has helped carve a path for many future female scientists to follow.
Anyone who’s tried to kill a cockroach knows that the ancient pests have some world-class evasive maneuvers. Or at least they appear to.
“Paleontologists have come up with various kill scenarios for mass extinctions, but plant life may not be affected by dying suddenly as much as through interrupting one part of the life cycle, such as reproduction, over a long period of time, causing the population to dwindle and potentially disappear,” said co-author Cindy Looy, a UC Berkeley associate professor of Integrative Biology.
MCB Professor Daniel Rokhsar and other researchers have mapped the genomes for over 50 varieties of the genus Citrus to trace its origins and evolution over millions of years. Natural diversification and human breeding have played a large part in giving us the sweet and tangy fruit we enjoy at our tables today. Their work will allow breeders to create even more varieties. The paper was published online today in Nature.
Dean J. Keith Gilless has been honored with a 2018 Berkeley Faculty Service Award. The award is given annually to a member of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate for their outstanding and dedicated service to the campus. The award recognizes Senate service—an essential to element of shared governance—and contributions that have had a lasting and significant impact on the Berkeley campus.
In their announcement of the award, the Faculty Senate commended Gilless for being a “colleague of uncommon energy, commitment, and skill,” whose work “demonstrates exceptional devotion to the life and mission of the campus as a whole.” Gilless has been a professor of forest economics at Berkeley since 1983, and has served on a number of Senate committees including Academic Planning and Resource Allocation (1996-99), Educational Policy (2001-06), and Undergraduate Scholarships and Honors (1991-93, 1999). His deep involvement in the work of the Berkeley Division of the Faculty Senate demonstrates his commitment across a wide range of issues.
In addition to his service at Berkeley, Gilless has been a leader in committees across the UC system, including serving in the systemwide Academic Senate, the University Committee on Committees, and four years on the University Committee on Educational Policy.
In recognition of Gilless’s accomplishments, former chair of the Berkeley Faculty Senate Division, Elizabeth Deakin, said, “Keith belongs to a group of faculty who are energetically engaged, seek to represent the welfare of the faculty as a whole, work hard to obtain and assess data on the issues, investigate the pros and cons of various viewpoints, develop expertise in the subject matter, find positive ways forward, and provide the leadership needed to see their ideas implemented in many cases. Keith has been a campus treasure.”Wednesday, February 7, 2018 - 11:00 Legacy: section header item: Date: Wednesday, February 7, 2018 - 11:00 headline_position: Top Left headline_color_style: Normal headline_width: Long caption_color_style: Normal caption_position: Bottom Left News/Story tag(s): Honors and Awards
Barbara J. Meyer, HHMI Investigator and GGD Professor, was awarded the Genetics Society of America's (GSA) 2018 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal. It recognizes Dr. Meyer's lifetime achievement in the field of genetics and her groundbreaking work on chromosome behaviors that govern gene expression, development and heredity.
How does a busy student learn seven languages before senior year? In our first Student Spotlight of 2018, Kevin Bai tells us how he tackled learning all of the official UN languages, why travel is an essential part of learning about the world, and how studying history helped him develop his passion for environmental science.Kevin Bai 4th year, Environmental Economics and Policy
How did you become interested in environmental economics and policy and what led to you choosing to study this subject?
One of my grandfathers is a historian, and the other is an engineer. Ironically, it was the engineer who gave me my lifelong love of history. History is the story of humanity. And to me, there could be nothing more interesting than the stories of how humans overcame challenge after challenge to get to where we are today. But in high school, I discovered something more interesting to me than history: environmental science. I realized that much like history, environmental science also tells a story of overcoming challenges. But unlike history, the challenges of environmental science are challenges we face today. I became passionate about understanding global problems, and even more passionate about finding solutions. Environmental Economics and Policy was unmatched in its coverage of both the most pressing issues of today and the most prominent solutions. I came to the University of California, Berkeley for the College of Natural Resources, and I came to the College of Natural Resources for its Environmental Economics and Policy major.
You speak seven languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Italian, Russian, and Spanish. Where did your passion for learning new languages come from?
It came from a need to understand others, literally. I immigrated from China to the United States with my parents at the age of eight and was directly enrolled in third grade. Having never studied English, I realized very quickly that I had two choices: master English or be left out of an education. I worked with my teacher, Ms. Garcia, every day on spelling, grammar, and vocabulary and I spent my evenings studying or watching American TV. Within six months, I was speaking English as well as any other student in my class. I did not study another language until I had to choose a foreign language in high school. Given my school's limited offerings, I chose Spanish and immediately became enchanted by the language. Thanks to Ms. Sorenson and Ms. Buccola, I was able to master Spanish in the span of four years.Kevin Bai in Moscow with Dr. Lassina Zerbo, the current secretary of the CTBTO.
After graduating high school, I found an opportunity to work in Panama and Mexico for an American import-export automotive company. Although I had no qualifications to work at the largest automotive trade show in Latin America, I had one key advantage—my language abilities. I could speak Chinese with the manufacturers, Spanish with the distributors, and English with the firm I worked for. After realizing how much of an advantage knowing three languages gave me, I became confident in my passion for languages. I combined that with my passion for understanding the world and decided to make speaking the six official languages of the United Nations my goal. French only took me six months to study, given that I already understood all the grammar from Spanish. Arabic has taken me a year, but living and working in the Middle East made it much easier to digest. Today, I am proud to say that I am learning Russian, which is my sixth and final UN language, and my seventh overall. And I see no reason to stop here.
Why is language learning a valuable skill in today's world?
Our world is becoming smaller and smaller, which some call globalization; I call it progress. And as we progress to a world where foreign countries will no longer seem so distant, global cooperation will be critical to success in any field and language is the greatest bridge between cultures. Language allows you to understand the world from a different perspective, communicate with people in a new way, and expand your horizons both mentally and literally.
You're a youth representative of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). Why did you want to join this organization? What does your role involve?
A thermonuclear conflict could reset human progress to zero. When I discovered that this was a distinct possibility, I looked for every and any way to contribute to solving this challenge. I was selected by the CTBTO as a Youth Representative and given an opportunity to make a difference at the UN Science and Technology Conference in Vienna 2017. I was invited as a speaker and helped to pilot the UN Newsroom program. While there, I had the opportunity to interview Ambassador Wolfgang Hoffman, the man who negotiated the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. I was also invited as a panelist to a subsequent conference on global nuclear disarmament in Moscow in 2017, where I spoke about the importance of including young people when solving problems which require international advocacy.Kevin in Vienna with Wolfgang Hoffman, the founder and first Secretary of the CTBTO and the negotiator of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
What advice would you offer to students looking to get involved in international development and international issues?
I would say to begin by speaking about your interests with your professors. You need strong relationships with your professors to be considered for any opportunity that requires a letter of reference. If your professors are unable to explain why or how you are passionate about a given topic, they will be unable to help you no matter how well you did in their class.
I would also say to go abroad. It is unrealistic to think you can change the world without first understanding it, and you cannot understand the world until you have seen it for yourself. If you do not know what to do, where to go, or how to get there, know that the UC Berkeley Office of Study Abroad is the first place you should look. And costs should not be a barrier to going abroad; there are so many scholarships available for students passionate about understanding the world. I would begin your search with the Berkeley Study Abroad scholarships page.
Lastly, I would say to remember your community, especially because many goals in life will go differently from how you might have planned for them to turn out. Any ambitious goal is a marathon, and you need to make sure you don't neglect your friends, your family, and yourself along the way.Image: Date: Thursday, February 1, 2018 - 08:45 Legacy: section header item: Date: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 - 10:45 headline_position: Top Left headline_color_style: Normal headline_width: Long caption_color_style: Normal caption_position: Bottom Left News/Story tag(s): Student Spotlights
MCB Assistant Professors Helen Bateup and Elcin Unal are each recipients of American Association of Anatomists (AAA) Young Investigator Awards. Dr. Bateup received the C.J Herrick Award in Neuroanatomy and Dr. Unal the R.R. Bensley Award in Cell Biology for their important contributions to their respective fields.
HHMI Investigator and Professor of Genetics, Genomics and Development Barbara J. Meyer was awarded the 2017 Francis Amory Prize in Medicine and Physiology by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. "She is being recognized for her breakthrough solutions to long standing mysteries about chromosomal expression and sex determination." Barbara will accept the prize and deliver remarks in Cambridge, MA on April 12, 2018.