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UC Berkeley, Karuk Tribe awarded USDA grant for collaborative research

Wed, 07/18/2018 - 16:05
Members of the Karuk Tribe standing in front of a forest

Members of the USDA-funded Tribal Food Security Project team from the Karuk, Yurok and Klamath Tribes along with UC Berkeley researchers (Jennifer Sowerwine is second from left in front row). Photo courtesy Karuk Píkyav Field Institute.

As California and the nation grapple with the implications of persistent drought, devastating wildfires and other harbingers of climate change, researchers at UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources and the Karuk Tribe are building on a decade-long partnership to learn more about stewarding native food plants in fluctuating environmental conditions. 

UC Berkeley and the Karuk Tribe have been awarded a $1.2 million USDA grant for field research, new digital data analysis tools, and community skill-building aimed to increase resilience of the abundant cultural food and other plant resources – and the Tribal people whose food security and health depend on them.

Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley and co-founder of the Karuk-UC Berkeley Collaborative, and Lisa Hillman, program manager of the Karuk Tribe’s Píkyav Field Institute, will co-lead the research project, titled xúus nu'éethti—we are caring for it.

“We are delighted to continue our connection with UC Berkeley through this new project,” said Hillman. “Through our past collaboration on Tribal food security, we strengthened a network of Tribal folks knowledgeable in identifying, monitoring, harvesting, managing for and preparing the traditional foods that sustain us physically and culturally. With this new project, we aim to integrate variables such as climate change, plant pathogens and invasive species into our research and management equations, learning new skills and knowledge along the way and sharing those STEM skills with the next generation.”

The College of Natural Resources, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Karuk Department of Natural Resources will support the project with postdoctoral researchers, Tribal cultural practitioners, resource technicians, specialists in the fields of botany and geographic information system mapping. The San Rafael-based Center for Digital Archaeology will help develop a new data modeling system.

Project activities include expanding the Tribe’s herbarium (a research archive of preserved cultural plants launched in 2016 with UC Berkeley support), developing digital tools to collect and store agroecological field data, and helping Tribal community members and youth learn how to analyze the results.

The research team will assess the condition of cultural agroecosystems including foods and fibers to understand how land use, land management, and climate variables have affected ecosystem resilience. Through planning designed to maximize community input, they will develop new tools to inform land management choices at the federal, state, tribal and community levels.

All project activities will take place in the Karuk Tribe’s Aboriginal Territory located in the mid Klamath River Basin, but results from the project will be useful to other Tribes and entities working toward sustainable management of cultural natural resources in an era of increasing climate variability. Findings will be shared nationwide through cooperative extension outreach services and publications.

The new project’s name, xúus nu'éethti—we are caring for it, reflects the Karuk Tribe’s continuing commitment to restore and enhance the co-inhabitants of its aboriginal territory whom they know to be their relations—plants, animals, fish, water, rocks and land. At the core of Karuk identity is the principle of reciprocity: one must first care for these relations in order to receive their gifts for future generations.

This work will be supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Resilient Agroecosystems in a Changing Climate Challenge Area from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

For more information, visit the Karuk – UC Berkeley Collaborative website.

Media Contacts:

UC Berkeley/UCANR:

Jennifer Sowerwine
Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist
(510) 207-2692

Karuk Tribe:

Lisa Hillman
Program Manager
Píkyav Field Institute
(530) 627-3446

Image:  members of the USDA-funded Tribal Food Security Project team from the Karuk, Yurok and Klamath Tribes along with UC Berkeley researchers. Jennifer is second from left in front row. Photo is courtesy Karuk Píkyav Field Institute. Date:  Wednesday, July 18, 2018 - 16:00 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, July 18, 2018 - 16:00 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Research News

California’s cap-and-trade air quality benefits go mostly out of state

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 13:46
Image:  four smoke stacks against a blue sky Date:  Wednesday, July 11, 2018 - 13:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, July 11, 2018 - 13:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Research News

Preeminent toxicologist and pesticide expert John Casida dies at 88

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 17:41
Headshot of Professor John Casida sitting in a lab

Professor Emeritus John Casida made key contributions to understanding the chemistry, metabolism and toxicology of many classes of pesticides still in use today. Jane Scherr photo, 1993.

John Casida, one of the world’s leading authorities on how pesticides work and how they can potentially harm humans, died of a heart attack in his sleep on June 30 in Berkeley, California. He was 88.

A professor emeritus of environmental science, policy and management and of nutritional sciences and toxicology at the University of California, Berkeley, Casida was the founding director of the campus’s Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology Laboratory.

Casida’s interest in bug collecting as a teenager eventually led him to investigate how DDT and other synthetic pesticides introduced in the 1940s affected insects, and over the course of his 70-year career he made important discoveries in the fields of pesticide biochemistry and toxicology. His research on natural and synthetic pesticides laid the groundwork for the development of more selective and safer compounds.

When awarded the Wolf Prize in Agriculture in 1993, the Wolf Foundation lauded his “research on the mode of action of insecticides as a basis for the evaluation of the risks and benefits of pesticides and toxicants, essential to the development of safer, more effective pesticides for agricultural use. His discoveries span much of the history of organic pesticides and account for several of the fundamental breakthroughs in the fields of entomology, neurobiology, toxicology and biochemistry.”

At the time, he emphasized to a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, “The primary goal is to understand insects and the difference between insects and other organisms such that one can selectively control the insect without damage to other species.”

Casida made key contributions to understanding the chemistry, metabolism and toxicology of many classes of pesticides still in use today, including organophosphate, carbamate, pyrethroid, neonicotinoid and ryanoid compounds. Among his discoveries was that ryanoid and cyclodiene insecticides disrupt specific ion channels – the calcium and gamma amino butyric acid or GABA channels – which opened up new avenues of research to identify other compounds that interact with GABA receptors.

His work helped to understand not only how pesticides kill insects, but also how they are metabolized by other animals, including humans, and their fate in the environment. Casida and his UC Berkeley colleagues were able to formulate new compounds that were more active and less long-lasting than chemicals used widely in farming at the time.

“I have lost an incredible mentor, and the scientific community lost the most preeminent pesticide toxicologist in the last two centuries,” said one of Casida’s former students, Sarjeet Gill, now the Distinguished Professor of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology at UC Riverside. “John changed the way we investigated mechanisms of toxicity at all levels.”

Bug collecting

John Edward Casida was born Dec. 22, 1929, in Phoenix, Arizona, one of three children of Lester Earl Casida and Ruth Barnes. At the time, his father was the sole teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, though he went on to complete his Ph.D. and become a professor of animal science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Casida attended the same university, earning a B.S. in entomology in 1951, an M.S. in biochemistry in 1952 and a Ph.D. in entomology, biochemistry and plant physiology in 1954. His education was interrupted in 1953 by service as a medical entomologist with the U.S. Air Force Atomic, Biological and Chemical Warfare program, where he pursued research on various toxic compounds.

Upon graduation, he joined his father on the University of Wisconsin faculty, though in the Department of Entomology, where he directed the Pesticide Chemistry and Toxicology Laboratory. He was promoted to full professor in 1961.

In 1964, Casida joined UC Berkeley’s entomology department, which is now part of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, and held the William Muriece Hoskins Chair in Chemical and Molecular Entomology from 1996 to 2011. In 2014, he stepped down from teaching but continued his research and mentoring as a professor in the graduate school.

Over his career, he discovered how organophosphate, methylcarbamate and pyrethroid insecticides are metabolized in insects to kill them, while mammals metabolize them differently and are unaffected. Later, however, he discovered other toxicological mechanisms through which organophosphorus pesticides and environmental contaminants can cause harm to mammals by binding to and inhibiting enzymes important in the brain. He found, for example, that the botanical insecticide ryanodine blocks an ion channel for calcium, now known as the ryanodine receptor, important in every aspect of neuron and muscle cell function.

He also pioneered chemical probes that allowed investigation of the functions of important chloride ion channels, such as the GABA-gated chloride channels, in the brain. He made key critical insights into how neonicotinoid insecticides, still widely in use today, confer selective toxicity towards insects compared to mammals. These studies yielded insights into the function of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, a receptor in the brain and muscles important in neurotransmission, memory and movement.

In a 2000 paper, he reported that a major component of absinthe, alpha-thujone, activates GABA-gated chloride channels, possibly accounting for the fits and hallucinations attributed to the liquor in the 1800s.

According to Daniel Nomura, a UC Berkeley professor of chemistry and of nutritional sciences and toxicology, Casida’s “curiosity about pesticides and how they worked was infectious. He instilled this curiosity into his students and fellows and trained them to become critical thinkers and to learn how to choose the best scientific questions to pursue.”

The co-author of more than 850 publications and 31 patents in the field of pesticide toxicology, Casida trained more than 230 scientists who now occupy leading positions in industry, government and academia across the world.

He was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1991 and to the Royal Society in 1998. He won numerous awards for his work, including the first International Award for Research in Pesticide Chemistry in 1971, the 1978 Spencer Award for Research in Agricultural and Food Chemistry by the American Chemical Society, the 1988 Distinguished Service Award for Research by the USDA, the 1989 J.E. Bussart Award and Fellow of the Entomological Society of America and the 1995 Koro-Sho Prize from the Pesticide Science Society of Japan.

“He was an inspiration and role model not just because he came in early and stayed late, but because he did science for the fun of discovery and taught for the joy of teaching,” said former student Bruce Hammock, now the Distinguished Professor of Entomology and Comprehensive Cancer Center at UC Davis.

Casida is survived by his wife, artist and sculptor Kati Casida, sons Mark and Eric Casida and two grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made in John's memory to the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources. Checks should be made out to the UC Berkeley Foundation and may be mailed to Gift Services, UDAR, 1995 University Avenue, Suite 400, Berkeley, CA 94704-1070. Donations may be made online to the Berkeley Fund for Natural Resources. Please indicate on the check or online memo that the gift is in memory of Professor John Casida. Messages for the family may be sent c/o Dean’s Office, College of Natural Resources, 101 Giannini Hall # 3100, University of California, Berkeley CA 94720-3100.

Related Information:

Read this story at its source, UC Berkeley News. 

Image:  Headshot of Professor John Casida sitting in a lab Date:  Tuesday, July 3, 2018 - 08:30 byline:  By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley Media Relations Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Monday, July 2, 2018 - 16:30 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Bree Rosenblum appointed Berkeley Connect director

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 14:24

Associate Professor Erica Bree Rosenblum is the new faculty director of Berkeley Connect.

Associate Professor Erica Bree Rosenblum has been appointed faculty director of Berkeley Connect. A university-wide program, Berkeley Connect is a 1-credit mentorship and community-building course that students may take at any point in their undergraduate studies. The class arms students with professional development skills and creates a close-knit community, helping them better navigate Berkeley's large campus.

An evolutionary ecologist and global change biologist, Rosenblum’s research focuses on the processes that generate and threaten biological diversity. She has been involved in Berkeley Connect since 2013, first as a faculty mentor and then as faculty director of the program in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management.

“As Berkeley Connect continues to flourish across campus, now serving 14 fields of study, I look forward to supporting and leading this transformative program,” Rosenblum said of her new role as faculty director. “Berkeley Connect helps students navigate the Berkeley campus, develop important professional tools, and build a meaningful community, and I am excited to continue deepening our commitment to mentoring students and faculty across campus.”

Learn more about Berkeley Connect in the College of Natural Resources:

Image:  Bree Rosenblum stands next to jars in a lab Date:  Monday, July 2, 2018 - 14:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, June 29, 2018 - 14:15 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

Human disturbance creates a more nocturnal natural world

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 11:00
two deer stand in an urban street at night under street lamps [image caption] Photo: Jamie Hall.

A new study published in Science finds that mammals are becoming more nocturnal in response to human activity. 

By Mackenzie Smith

Human activity is causing the planet’s mammals to flee daylight for the protection of night, according to a new study from UC Berkeley.

The study, published today in the journal Science, and supported in part by the National Science Foundation, represents the first effort to quantify the global effects of human activity on the daily activity patterns of wildlife. Its results highlight the powerful and widespread process by which animals alter their behavior alongside people: human disturbance is creating a more nocturnal natural world.

“Catastrophic losses in wildlife populations and habitats as a result of human activity are well documented, but the subtler ways in which we affect animal behavior are more difficult to detect and quantify,” said Berkeley PhD candidate and study lead author Kaitlyn Gaynor.

Fox drinking water in an urban area at night, surrounded by houses. [image caption]

This study represents the first effort to quantify the global effects of human activity on the daily activity patterns of wildlife. Photo by Jamie Hall.

Gaynor, along with co-authors Justin Brashares and Cheryl Hojnowski of UC Berkeley, and Neil Carter of Boise State University, applied a meta-analysis approach, using data for 62 species across six continents to look for global shifts in the timing of daily activity of mammals in response to humans. These data were collected by various approaches, including remotely triggered cameras, GPS and radio collars, and direct observation. For each species in each study site, the authors quantified the difference in animal nocturnality under low and high human disturbance.

On average, mammals were 1.36 times more nocturnal in response to human disturbance. This means that an animal that naturally split its activity evenly between the day and night increased its nighttime activity to 68% around people. This finding was consistent across carnivore and herbivore species of all body sizes greater than 1 kg (small mammals were not included in the study). The pattern also held across different types of human disturbance, including activities such as hunting, hiking, mountain biking, and infrastructure such as roads, residential settlement, and agriculture.

“While we expected to find a trend towards increased wildlife nocturnality around people, we were surprised by the consistency of the results around the world,” said Gaynor. “Animals responded strongly to all types of human disturbance, regardless of whether people actually posed a direct threat, suggesting that our presence alone is enough to disrupt their natural patterns of behavior.”

"It’s hard to believe we can simply squeeze nature into the dark half of each day and expect it to function and thrive." Professor Justin Brashares

According to Brashares, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and the study’s senior author, the consequences of the behavioral shift in wildlife can be seen through contrasting lenses. “On the positive side, the fact that wildlife is adapting to avoid humans temporally could be viewed as a path for coexistence of humans and wild animals on an increasingly crowded planet,” said Brashares. “However, animal activity patterns reflect millions of years of adaptation—it’s hard to believe we can simply squeeze nature into the dark half of each day and expect it to function and thrive.”

The authors describe a range of potential negative consequences of the shifts they report in wildlife, including mismatches between the environment and an animal’s traits, disruption of normal foraging behavior, increased vulnerability to non-human predators, and heightened competition. They point out, however, that while many of the studies included in their analysis documented a clear increase in nocturnal activity, few examined the consequences for individual animals, populations, or ecosystems.

“We hope our findings will open up new avenues for wildlife research in human-dominated landscapes. We still have a lot to learn about the implications of altered activity patterns for the management of wildlife populations, interactions between species, and even human-induced evolution,” said Gaynor.

Media Contacts:

  • Kaitlyn Gaynor, PhD Candidate, UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, email:, phone: (914) 391-3962
  • Justin Brashares, Professor, UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, email:, phone: (510) 643-6080
Research News

Soil prospecting yields wealth of potential antibiotics

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 10:17
Image:  computer-generated image of microbes Date:  Wednesday, June 13, 2018 - 16:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, June 14, 2018 - 10:15 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Research News

CNR welcomes new dean

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 15:23
Headshot of dean David Ackerly

Professor David Ackerly. Photo: Elena Zhukova.

Chancellor Carol Christ has announced the appointment of Professor David Ackerly as the next dean of the College of Natural Resources (CNR). Ackerly joined the faculty of the Department of Integrative Biology from Stanford in 2005, held the Virginia G. and Robert E. Gill Chair in Natural History from 2010 to 2015, and has most recently been serving as associate dean of the College of Letters and Science’s Biological Sciences Division since 2016. He will assume his new role as dean of CNR on July 1, 2018.

A skilled communicator and collaborator, Ackerly is an advocate for the notion that the university must cross traditional disciplines to better understand and address society’s greatest challenges. His vision for CNR is to strengthen the links among its departments, to collaborate more closely with other academic leaders, and to partner with the campus and other deans to pursue major philanthropic funding opportunities. A devoted mentor himself, Ackerly has also expressed a strong desire to focus on enhancing the graduate and undergraduate student experience at CNR.

Trained as a plant ecologist and evolutionary biologist, Ackerly has most recently been working on programs that bring together multidisciplinary teams to explore broad research areas including the effects of climate change on biodiversity, the integration of phylogenetics and ecology, and novel approaches to conservation biology. In the past decade, as a senior fellow at the Berkeley Institute for Data Science and member of the Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology steering committee, he has been increasingly involved in data-intensive projects.

Ackerly received his BA in Biology from Yale University in 1984 and his doctorate from Harvard University in 1993. He is a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences and the Ecological Society of America, as well as a recipient of the Berkeley Graduate Division's Distinguished Faculty Mentor Award.

“I look forward to joining the community of innovative scientists, teachers, students, and staff at the College of Natural Resources,” said Ackerly. “CNR’s interdisciplinary research and mission is helping to address the environmental and societal challenges facing our world, and I look forward to working with the College in the months and years ahead.”

Read the Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost’s announcement of Ackerly’s appointment

Image:  Headshot of dean David Ackerly Date:  Tuesday, June 12, 2018 - 12:15 byline:  By Michael Emerson Dirda, UC Berkeley Media Relations Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Monday, June 11, 2018 - 15:15 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 Research News

Fowlie appointed to Independent Emissions Market Advisory Committee

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 15:42
Meredith Fowlie stands in front of Giannini Hall

Associate Professor Meredith Fowlie. Photo credit: Julie Gipple

California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. announced yesterday that he has appointed Meredith Fowlie to the Independent Emissions Market Advisory Committee, which serves the California Environmental Protection Agency. Fowlie is an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and holds the Class of 1935 Endowed Chair in Energy at the University of California at Berkeley. She is also a research associate at UC Berkeley's Energy Institute at Haas.

The five-member committee is tasked with performing an annual review of California's cap-and-trade program and other environmental laws, and evaluating their effectiveness as the state moves toward a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The committee reports annually to the California Air Resources Board and the legislature on the environmental and economic performance of cap and trade and other relevant climate policies.

"It is an honor to be appointed to this Independent Emissions Market Advisory Committee," said Fowlie. "California's landmark cap-and-trade program is designed to reduce California's greenhouse gas emissions and to demonstrate policy leadership for the rest of the country and the world. There is a lot at stake, so it's critically important that this program be carefully designed, implemented, and evaluated. The committee will play an integral role in overseeing implementation and assessing the environmental and economic impacts. This is important work that I am honored to be a part of."

Fowlie has worked extensively on the economics of energy markets and the environment, including on California's cap-and-trade programs. Fowlie's appointment continues her long-standing work with the California Air Resources Board.

Image:  Meredith Fowlie stands in front of Giannini Hall Date:  Tuesday, June 5, 2018 - 15:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, June 5, 2018 - 15:30 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

Closing coal, oil power plants leads to healthier babies

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 13:44

Shuttering coal- and oil-fired power plants lowers the rate of preterm births in neighboring communities and improves fertility, according to two new University of California, Berkeley, studies.

The researchers compared preterm births and fertility before and after eight power plants in California closed between 2001 and 2011, including San Francisco’s Hunters Point plant in 2006.

Overall, the percentage of preterm births—babies born before 37 weeks of gestation—dropped from 7 percent in a year-long period before plant closure to 5.1 percent for the year after shutdown. Rates for non-Hispanic African-American and Asian women dropped even more: from 14.4 percent to 11.3 percent.

Preterm births, which can often result in babies spending time in a neonatal intensive care unit, contributes to infant mortality and can cause health problems later in life. The World Health Organization estimates that the cost of preterm births, defined as births between 32 and 37 weeks of gestation, accounts for some $2 billion in healthcare costs worldwide.

The 20-25 percent drop in preterm birthrates is larger than expected, but consistent with other studies linking birth problems to air pollution around power plants, said UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow Joan Casey, the lead author of a study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Another paper published May 2 in the journal Environmental Healthused similar data and found  that fertility—the number of live births per 1,000 women—increased around coal and oil power plants after closure.

“We were excited to do a good news story in environmental health,” Casey said. “Most people look at air pollution and adverse health outcomes, but this is the flip side: We said, let's look at what happens when we have this external shock that removes air pollution from a community and see if we can see any improvements in health.”

Retiring fossil fuel power plants

The findings, she said, could help policy makers in states like California more strategically plan the decommissioning of power plants as they build more renewable sources of energy, in order to have the biggest health impact.

We believe that these papers have important implications for understanding the potential short-term community health benefits of climate and energy policy shifts and provide some very good news on that front,” said co-author Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor of environmental science, policy and management and a leading expert on the differential effects of pollution on communities of color and the poor. “These studies indicate short-term beneficial impacts on preterm birth rates overall and particularly for women of color.”

In a commentary accompanying the AJE article, Pauline Mendola of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development said: “Casey and colleagues have shown us that retiring older coal and oil power plants can result in a significant reduction in preterm birth and that these benefits also have the potential to lower what has been one of our most intractable health disparities. Perhaps it’s time for the health of our children to be the impetus behind reducing the common sources of ambient air pollution. Their lives depend on it.”

The researchers compared preterm birth rates in the first year following the closure date of each power plant with the rate during the year starting two years before the plant’s retirement, so as to eliminate seasonal effects on preterm births. They also corrected for the mother’s age, socioeconomic status, education level and race/ethnicity.

Dividing the surrounding region into three concentric rings 5 kilometers (3 miles) wide, Casey delved into state birth records to determine the rate of preterm births in each ring. 

Those living in the closest ring, from zero to 5 kilometers from the plant, saw the largest improvement: a drop from 7 to 5.1 percent. Those living in the 5-10 kilometer zone showed less improvement. Those living in the 10-20 km zone were used as a control population.

They also considered the effects of winds on preterm birth rates, and though downwind areas seemed to exhibit greater improvements, the differences were not statistically significant.

As a control, they replicated their analysis around eight power plants that had not closed, and found no before-versus-after difference, which supported the results of their main analyses.

There did not appear to be any effect on births before 32 weeks, which Casey said may reflect the fact that very early births are a result of problems, genetic or environmental, more serious than air pollution.

Casey noted that the study did not break out the effects of individual pollutants, which can include particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, benzene, lead, mercury and other known health hazards, but took a holistic approach to assess the combined effect of a mix of pollutants.

“It would be good to look at this relationship in other states and see if we can apply a similar rationale to retirement of power plants in other places,” Casey said.

Other co-authors of the AJE paper are Deborah Karasek, Kristina Dang and Paula Braveman of UC San Francisco, Elizabeth Ogburn of the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore and Dana Goin of UC Berkeley.



Image:  a coal plant at sunset Date:  Tuesday, May 22, 2018 - 09:30 byline:  By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley Media Relations Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, May 18, 2018 - 13:30 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Research News

Hungry, Hungry Hippos

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 09:41
A herd of hippos gathers in a river.

Hippos gather near a pool during the wet season. Photo by Keenan Stears.

The average hippo weighs more than 3,000 pounds and consumes about 100 pounds of vegetation daily. This naturally results in large quantities of dung being deposited into the rivers and lakes where hippos spend their days.

In general, the nutrients delivered via hippo dung to such aquatic ecosystems are perceived to be beneficial. For millennia, they provided a natural source of fertilizer that appears to fuel life in aquatic food webs. That may be changing.

In sub-Saharan Africa, deforestation, water-intensive agriculture and now climate change are significantly altering water cycles and causing many rivers to begin to dry. A new study from Justin Brashares and Todd Dawson, and integrative biology professor Mary Power, with colleagues at UC Santa Barbara and Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, examines how these forces of global change are redefining the way hippos—and their dung—shape the ecology of freshwater ecosystems. The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This work explores how hippo dung shapes freshwater chemistry and links these changes to associated patterns of aquatic biodiversity change,” said Keenan Stears, a postdoctoral researcher in UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology (EEMB). “It also illustrates that the net impact of hippos on river ecosystems is dynamically controlled by river hydrology and reveals the capacity of human disturbances on river flow to drastically alter the role of ecosystem-linking species.”

The researcher team studied river flow and hippo density in the Great Ruaha River in Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park, which protects an area about the size of Connecticut and is home to large populations of some of Africa’s most iconic species. The Great Ruaha River is the backbone of life in this dry region. Since 1993, however, the once constantly flowing river has ceased to flow during the dry season. The researchers tested nearly a dozen attributes of water quality and measured the diversity and abundance of aquatic life in hippo pools over multiple years, both when river flow was high and during dry periods when the river stopped flowing.

“During the dry season when there was no flow, the pools were completely separated,” Stears explained. “We found a huge buildup of hippo dung, and therefore nutrient concentrations within high-density hippo pools. The high influx of nutrients caused the dissolved oxygen concentration to decline to sublethal levels for most fish species.”

EEMB assistant professor Douglas McCauley, a senior researcher on the project, called these results an alarm bell for African wildlife. “Hippos are to Africa what polar bears are to the Arctic,” he said. “Everything we thought we knew about how African ecosystems worked appears to be changing. Global change has turned productive hippo pools, once teeming with fish and life, into fetid black cesspools.”

Only a few species of fish and insects are able to survive in the hippo pools when the river dries, because of extreme losses of dissolved oxygen in these pools. Stears and his colleagues noted large reductions in fish diversity and abundance inside the pools that were over fueled by dung when river flow ceased.

When the rains returned and the river resumed its flow, the researchers saw a reset in many impacts of hippo dung on water quality and biodiversity detected during the dry season. “This suggests some kind of resilience within the system that allows it to recover after the hydrological disturbance every dry season,” Stears said. “This resilience signifies that there is hope for this system, but without intervention soon, the chronic stress caused by river drying and over-fertilizing of hippo dung may cause long-term species loss in this river system.”

According to Stears, the findings from this study highlight the value of accelerating more efficient water-management policies and land-management practices not only for the conservation of hippos but also to ensure the sustained health and functioning of African watersheds in a changing environment.

“A lot of our results directly assess how changing river flow alters the hippos' influence on the ecological diversity and functioning of watersheds,” Stears said. “However, these findings also call attention to the profound ways in which the dry-season impacts of hippos may influence local communities that rely on rivers as a food source. Tilapia are a commonly consumed fish throughout Africa and, during the dry season, we found that the presence of hippos reduced tilapia abundance by 41 percent across the watershed. That’s not only bound to have ecological consequences but will also impact the human populations that rely on these rivers.”

Read the story at its source, UC Santa Barbara.

Image:  A herd of hippos gathers in a river. Date:  Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - 09:30 byline:  Julie Cohen Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, May 18, 2018 - 09:30 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Research News

testing mapping visuals

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 14:14

Professor Daniel Kammen combines science with environmental policy in the quest for sustainable power

By Tom Levy Photos by Mackenzie Smith

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Student Spotlight: Sabrina Jones

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 13:03
Sabrina Jones 2nd year, Molecular Environmental Biology

In our last Student Spotlight of the 2017-2018 academic year, Sabrina Jones shares her experiences as a Golden Bear Orientation mentor and a CNR Peer Advising Leader, and offers advice for incoming CNR students.

Sabrina Jones Sabrina Jones at Sonic Runway, an art installation in San Jose.

Now in its second year, Golden Bear Orientation (GBO) is UC Berkeley’s new campus-wide program for incoming first-year and transfer students. What can students expect when they arrive on campus for orientation?

A week of 18-hour days full of activities. A silent disco party. Diversity and inclusion discussions. Walking miles walking around Berkeley.

What’s it like to be an orientation leader at GBO?

Being a GBO leader and mentor was an incredible amount of work—and an incredible experience. Before orientation started, all GBO leaders attended several 3-hour training sessions. GBO itself was a week of waking up at 7:00 am for GBO leader meetings before leading incoming first-year students around campus, traveling as far as San Francisco on field trips, and coordinating activities late into the night—sometimes as late as 1:00 am!

Our week was packed with challenging discussions about diversity, inclusion, safety, sexual violence, identity, mental health, and many other topics. This was overwhelming for some students who had never engaged deeply with these issues. However, I did find this exposure beneficial and important as UC Berkeley cares deeply about improving the campus and community in these areas.

Sabrina Jones Kayaking on the Medina River in Texas. Kayaking on the Medina River in Texas.

Despite the tiring hours, we also had a lot of fun playing card games, learning the embarrassing “Common Bond Dance,” going on hikes, singing off-key karaoke, dancing at the silent disco, and breaking a Guinness World Record—the list goes on and on. I truly enjoyed welcoming first-year students to campus and becoming friends with many of them.

As a recovering introvert, it definitely took me out of my comfort zone having to speak loudly and authoritatively while managing the concerns of 30-plus students at a time. It was new for me to be the one striking up conversations and encouraging others to also interact with people who they might not normally see as potential friends. I believe this was worth it as my efforts, along with those of my partner GBO leader, strongly promoted inclusivity, and the friendliness of our orientation group created a genuinely welcoming environment that has held many of these freshmen together as close friends throughout their first year. The entire GBO experience helped me grow both as a leader and as a person.

What is the Peer Advising Leaders (PAL) program and why did you want to become a PAL?

 Peer Advising Leaders are students who serve as a front line for the advising office. We answer students’ questions about classes, scheduling, majors, CNR organizations, research opportunities, career options, and many other areas. In general, we strive to help in any way we can. We also work with advisors to come up with fun programming and event ideas for CNR students.

I wanted to become a PAL for many reasons. I hoped to improve my communication skills by helping students navigate CNR’s resources and opportunities. I knew I would also benefit from working closely with advisors as well as gaining a deeper knowledge and understanding of CNR’s policies. Finally, I was excited to foster friendships with my fellow PALs.

CNR Pals Sabrina (far right) with her fellow CNR Peer Advising Leaders.

What's your favorite part of being a PAL?

For many CNR students, 260 Mulford Hall—the home of the advising office—is one of the most welcoming places on campus. The couches are perfect for napping without shame, and the “positivity wall” fills you with good vibes. Every time I look at the wall, I find a new interesting quote or phrase that gives me a chuckle and brightens my day. I feel very lucky that I spend so much time in 260 Mulford as a PAL.

My favorite part of being a PAL is becoming friends with the people who come up to the PAL desk while I’m working. One of my goals every semester is to make at least one friend in each lecture, discussion, and lab that I take, and I have been successful in that endeavor partially because of all the CNR students I interact with as a PAL.

Why does studying molecular environmental biology interest you?

With the molecular environmental biology major, I have the opportunity to explore diverse but connected areas of the natural world in an in-depth and thoughtful way. In genetics, it’s fascinating to learn that everything—even something as seemingly insignificant as the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster—is composed of a complex and precise genetic structure and is valuable for understanding how it fits into our world and its ecosystem. Widening the scope to the environment and looking through many different lenses from ecological and policy perspectives has helped me become more conscious of the consequences of my actions and more appreciative of nature. Growing up, I spent a lot of time indoors studying. Taking classes at UC Berkeley has helped me realize the tiny joy that can be found in simply being outside, appreciating all the unique creations of life. Being able to identify plant species is so exciting to me!

 Sabrina on a hike to Mission Peak with two friends Sabrina (left) on a hike to Mission Peak with two friends.

As a PAL and GBO leader, what advice to you have for newly admitted CNR students?

My advice is to try new things, take risks, and embrace failure. When you think about the worst that could happen if you truly fail, you start to realize that it indeed might be not be so bad—you can usually pick yourself up and try again next time.

Studying at Cal is unbelievably challenging. It is impossible to avoid adversity on this campus, and it exists in different forms for each individual. However, it is important to remember we are all incredibly privileged to be here. Berkeley is the dream school for so many bright students worldwide, and we are the few lucky enough to attend.

On a large campus with so many talented individuals, it’s hard not to compare yourself to other students and think that they’re getting better grades, participating in more impressive activities, maintaining a more active social life, accomplishing bigger achievements—and more. But you are here to be you. You are here to strive to become the best version of yourself. So practice joy, peace, and love in all its forms, especially self-love.

You are about to become a Golden Bear. Gold can get dings and scratches, but it never loses its ability to shine. You will shine!

Image:  Sabrina Jones Date:  Wednesday, May 2, 2018 - 13:00 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, April 26, 2018 - 13:00 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

Drought treatment restructures plants’ microbiomes

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 11:45
A field of sorghum plants

Sorghum plants growing at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

New research from the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology (PMB) demonstrates that exposing sorghum plants to drought conditions can shift the balance between specific types of microorganisms found within their root systems. The study, published today in PNAS, suggests that drought plays a role in restructuring the development of the early root microbiome, a finding that could help scientists develop crops that are more resistant to climate change. 

PMB faculty members Devin Coleman-Derr, Peggy Lemaux, and John Taylor conducted the research at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center on sorghum, a cereal crop known for its drought tolerance. The following PMB graduate students and researchers also contributed to the study: Zhaobin Dong, Cheng Gao, Mary Madera, Daniel Naylor, Grady Pierroz, Tuesday Simmons, Yi Wang, and Ling Xu.

To understand the relationship between drought and sorghum’s microbiome, the research team studied a full 17-week growth cycle of the plant, taking samples weekly on the same day of the week and time. On each collection visit, samples were gathered from soil near the plants’ roots and rhizosphere—a microbe-rich soil region surrounding the root that is full of root secretions. A plant’s rhizosphere is home to a host of bacteria and other microorganisms, including fungi, which consume sugars and proteins sloughed off by root cells. Some of these compounds appear to provide a communication channel between the plant and bacteria, indicating the drought status of the plant.

After studying these samples, researchers learned that under drought conditions, the development of a plant’s microbial community is delayed and the diversity of microorganisms in the rhizosphere decreases. But once a plant’s access to water is restored, its microbiome regains its diversity of bacteria.

The discovery of this drought-induced microbiome enrichment of specific bacteria could offer a potential pathway for manipulating plant microbiomes in crops that are less drought-tolerant than sorghum. “This research represents an important step forward in our understanding of how and when plants recruit their microbial partners from the surrounding environment,” said Coleman-Derr.

The paper is the first research published from a $12.3 million Department of Energy Biological and Environmental Research-funded project, which aims to develop an in-depth understanding of drought tolerance in field-grown sorghum. The project is a collaboration between PMB scientists Coleman-Derr, Lemaux, Taylor, and John Vogel, as well as Elizabeth Purdom from UC Berkeley’s Department of Statistics, Axel Visel and Ronan O’Malley from the Joint Genome Institute, ANR Research Station directors Jeff Dahlberg and Robert Hutmacher, and Christer Jansson, a researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

“We hope our work will provide similar strategies in other less drought-tolerant crops that can be used to increase our capacity to provide food and animal feed in the face of challenges from climate change,” said Lemaux. “In the end, this treatment strategy might give plants one more tool to help them survive drought.”

Image:  A field of sorghum plants Date:  Monday, April 16, 2018 - 14:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Monday, April 16, 2018 - 11:30 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Research News

Berkeley ecologist selected as a lead author for IPCC report

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 11:04
Patrick Gonzalez

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has selected Patrick Gonzalez  as a lead author for its next major climate change assessment.

Gonzalez is an associate adjunct professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. Gonzalez will be a lead author for a chapter about ecosystems.

IPCC is the scientific panel that produces the authoritative reports on human-caused climate change, which are then used as the standard references for scientists and policymakers. For this work, IPCC was awarded a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Gonzalez will serve as a lead author on the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, Volume 2, to be published in 2021. The report will be titled “Climate Change 2021: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.” He will be the lead author for chapter two, “Terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and their services.” 

Gonzalez is an affiliate of the UC Berkeley Institute for Parks, People, and Biodiversity and a Ph.D. alumnus of the UC Berkeley Energy and Resources Group. He is a forest ecologist and conducts applied research on climate change impacts and solutions and works with national parks, policymakers, and local people to integrate climate change science into natural resource management. 

UC Berkeley professor of earth and planetary sciences William Collins, an expert in climate modeling, will also be a co-author on the report. 

More on the IPCC authors can be found on the IPCC website. 

Image:  Patrick Gonzalez Date:  Thursday, April 12, 2018 - 11:00 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, April 13, 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

Some species of endangered frogs may be making a comeback

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 19:20

A new study coauthored by associate professor Bree Rosenblum and graduate student Alison Byrne has found that populations of several Panamian frog species are slowly making a comeback against a deadly pathogen that can lead to extinction. Published last week in Science, the research provides evidence suggesting that the frogs have gained potent defenses in their skin against the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which causes a disease called chytridiomycosis and has devastated amphibian populations around the world.

Read more:

Image:  Date:  Tuesday, April 10, 2018 - 19:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, April 10, 2018 - 19:15 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Research News

Study links eating out to increased phthalates exposure

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 11:24

A study published by Rachel Morello-Frosch and co-authors in the journal Environment International links eating out in restaurants with higher body levels of phthalates, a group of chemicals associated with a host of health issues, including cancer and diabetes.

The team of researchers, which included scientists from UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, and George Washington University, analyzed urine sample data for more than 10,000 Americans taken between 2005 and 2014 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationwide health survey conducted biannually. Their study concluded that dining out may increase cumulative phthalates exposure and that certain types of foods prepared in restaurants and cafeterias, such as sandwiches, are associated with higher phthalate levels.

The the results of the study were widely covered in international news media including:

Read more about the study on George Washington University's website

Image:  A plate with a burger and fries Date:  Tuesday, April 3, 2018 - 11:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, April 3, 2018 - 11:15 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Research News

Student Spotlight: Rebeka Ramangamihanta

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 08:16
Rebeka Ramangamihanta Photo by Natalea Schager. Rebeka Ramangamihanta Master of Development Practice student

In this month’s Student Spotlight, graduate student Rebeka Ramangamihanta tells us about an internship experience in Ghana, how Malagasy poets influenced her love of literature, and how she plans to use her Berkeley education to help kids in her hometown in Madagascar.

What led to your interest in the development field?

I started to become aware of poverty and development issues in Madagascar at a very young age. I grew up in rural Madagascar, in a town called Fenoarivobe, which is about 75 miles away from the capital Antananarivo. Due to a lack of infrastructure in the country, it takes about eight hours to travel from Antananarivo to Fenoarivobe during the dry season and nearly 24 hours during the rainy season. Many people in Madagascar live in poverty, and that is often exacerbated by food scarcity during the dry season. Growing up, I was in a class of 85 students with only one teacher. As I grew older, I promised myself that if I had the opportunity to help others I would, and so I eventually decided to apply to the Master of Development Practice (MDP) program.

MDP students gathered for a group photo Rebeka (second from the left) with fellow graduate students at an event for the incoming class of 2019 MDP students.

What's been the most interesting class you've taken during your MDP studies?

In my first year of MDP, I took a course called Management of Technology Innovation, which focused on entrepreneurship and managing startup companies. We were mentored by a group of venture capitalists who work in Silicon Valley, which gave us a glimpse into the Bay Area startup world. This class allowed me stretch my skills and go out of comfort zone. It was also a chance for me to work on my elevator pitch and gain more storytelling skills.

Can you tell us more about your summer internship with the nonprofit Securing Water for Food in Ghana?

Securing Water for Food is an organization that is supported by USAID and the governments of Sweden, Norway, South Africa, with the goal of helping farmers increase their food production capacities while reducing water use. As an intern, I was assigned to one of Securing Water for Food’s grantee organizations, Ignitia, a Swedish company operating in West Africa. Ignitia sends weather updates via text message to Ghanaian farmers in an effort to optimize crop yields. Ghana’s tropical conditions include many microclimates, and weather information broadcasted through TV or radio isn’t always reliable or accurate. This is why location-specific text messages can offer a simple solution.

On a day-to-day basis, I interviewed farmers in order to learn more about their needs and how they could use mobile technology to improve crop production. My translator and I travelled to eight out of the ten regions in Ghana. After I collected the data, I analyzed the interviews and reported my findings. The report concluded that using texts and mobile technology increases earning potential, optimizes farmers’ time, and reduces the amount of fertilizer needed to maintain crops.

Rebeka Ramangamihanta in Ethiopia During a recent trip to Ethiopia, Rebeka visited the Simien Mountains.

As an undergraduate student, you worked in your university’s library. Where did your love of reading come from?

My love of literature started in middle school when I began learning about the 20th century Malagasy poets who wrote about Madagascar’s colonization. These poets used literature to challenge the colonial government, bring Malagasy people together, and to launch social movements.

I didn’t read much growing up because the Malagasy culture is rooted in an oral tradition. I enjoyed listening to stories from adults about the ways of the ny ntaolo—the ancestors. In an effort to improve my English, I began reading more frequently as I worked on applications to American universities for my undergraduate degree. I couldn’t afford to pay for English lessons so I borrowed books from the U.S. embassy’s library to practice. Since then, I have grown to love reading, both for pleasure and as a student. A love of literature is important for development practitioners; in our ever-evolving field, it is important to keep up with new practices and theories.

You published a blog post calling for an investment in education in Madagascar. How do you hope your role as a development professional might help shape the country's education policies and practices?

I believe in the potential of Madagascar's broken public education system because I am a product of this system, even if I’m an outlier. I recently spoke with a former government official who oversaw an educational research reform group in Madagascar in the early 2000s. She shared her frustration about the difficulties of reform but similarly to me, she is hopeful for the future. Policy is one of the spaces that I would like to see myself in a few decades as I gain more experience and as Madagascar becomes more politically stable.

For now, I want to work where I believe I can see a more measurable impact. I am hoping that within five years, I can launch and manage a career development and scholarship program to support disadvantaged youth in Antananarivo. Before that, I am looking to gain more business and organizational experience, as well as more professional connections and management experience before returning to Madagascar.

Rebeka was on a Case Challenge Consulting project St. Aloysius Gonzaga Institute team members, participating in a case challenge consulting project as part of the MDP curriculum.

Looking ahead, how do you hope to use the skills and experiences you've gained at Berkeley in your career?

Berkeley has played an important role in my personal and professional growth. I have taken data analysis classes, and I’m learning to program in Python and SQL. I have been well supported and have the most amazing network of MDP students and alumni. I have also gained a lot of leadership skills through the Mastercard Scholars Program, and working and living at the International House. Being an MDP student has made me more confident in myself and my skills. At this point of my life I am interested in working for a nonprofit organization, or social enterprise, or for a corporation that is invested in being a socially responsible business. I am really interested in how businesses can create social good and promote sustainable development, and I want to bring those ideals back to Madagascar.

Image:  Rebeka Ramangamihanta Date:  Tuesday, April 3, 2018 - 08:00 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Monday, April 2, 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):  Student Spotlights

Automated electric taxis could deliver environmental benefits

Mon, 04/02/2018 - 15:15

It may be only a matter of time before urban dwellers can hail a self-driving taxi, so UC Berkeley researchers decided to analyze the cost, energy, and environmental implications of a fleet of self-driving electric vehicles operating in Manhattan.

Using models they built and data from more than 10 million taxi trips in New York City, they found that shared automated electric vehicles, or SAEVs, could get the job done at a lower cost—by an order of magnitude—than present-day taxis while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption. What’s more, they found that “range anxiety” is moot because smaller cars with a smaller battery range were sufficient to complete the trips, although more charging stations would be needed.

Their study, “Cost, Energy, and Environmental Impact of Automated Electric Taxi Fleets in Manhattan,”  was published recently in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The study’s authors included Gordon Bauer, a graduate student in the Energy and Resources Group, and Jeffery Greenblatt and Brian Gerke of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab.

“The EV industry is focusing on the personal car market, trying to make the range as large as possible,” said Greenblatt. “The standard now is 200 miles. We suspected you wouldn’t need as much for taxis. We found plenty of times during the day when a portion of taxis could slip off to recharge, even if just for a few minutes. This greatly reduces the need to have a big battery and therefore drives down cost. It is dependent on having a fairly dense charging network.”

The researchers developed an agent-based model to simulate the movement of 7,000 taxis around Manhattan throughout the day. They also built models to analyze the cost of service and optimal placement of vehicle chargers. They found that costs would be lowest with a battery range of 50 to 90 miles, and with either 66 slower Level 2 chargers per square mile or 44 faster Level 2 chargers per square mile.

“Manhattan currently has about 500 chargers for public use, which include Tesla chargers,” Bauer said. “We found that we would need to at least triple that capacity.”

The study also estimated that a fleet of SAEV taxis drawing power from the current New York City power grid would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 73 percent and energy consumption by 58 percent compared to a fleet of automated conventional gas-powered vehicles.

Greenblatt points out that there are still many barriers to the wider penetration of personal EV ownership, including high cost and limited range. “By switching to a shared fleet that’s automated, you can provide electric service to people essentially now,” he said.

He notes that shared vehicles are best suited for dense, urban environments: “We’re not saying these shared vehicles will be the right thing for road trips, but for the vast majority of urban trips, people drive short distances,” Greenblatt said.

The researchers said they were motivated to study this topic because they think it will be “the next big thing” in transportation, Greenblatt said.

“For a long time, personal transportation seemed like the hardest problem to solve,” Gerke said. “Now suddenly it seems like there’s an obvious path to achieving it, which is the electrification of vehicles coupled with changing the way we get around from private vehicle ownership to shared approaches. Shared approaches are starting to work in urban areas.”

Gerke previously researched lighting efficiency, and was surprised by how quickly the market switched from incandescent to LED bulbs. “It was a better product and it was cheaper overall,” he said. “When you have those together, people adopt it really fast. I suspect there will be a similar transformation that will occur in the transportation sector in the next decade—it will occur faster than people think.”

Read the full story on the Lawrence Berkeley Lab website.

Image:  Street view of New York City with taxi cabs in background Date:  Monday, April 2, 2018 - 15:00 byline:  By Julie Chao Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Monday, April 2, 2018 - 15:00 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left News/Story tag(s):  Research News