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How brightly colored spiders evolved on Hawaii again and again...and again

Thu, 03/08/2018 - 11:14
Mottled Molokai spider Mottled Molokai spider. Photo by George Roderick.

About 2 to 3 million years ago, a group of spiders let out long silk threads into the wind and set sail, so to speak, across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. These spiders were parasites of other spiders, invading their webs, snipping threads to steal insects that had been caught. But there weren’t many webs to rob on Hawaii when they arrived. So they expanded their repertoire, looking for other ways to survive by trapping and eating other spiders. A new species evolved from those first spiders, after finding a way to live on rocks. And then another species evolved to live under leaves. And then another. And then 11 more species.

Charles Darwin first noted this phenomenon, called adaptive radiation, in the beaks of finches of the Galapagos Islands. His study of the finches’ diversity led to his theory of evolution by natural selection. Yet today, much remains unknown about how adaptive radiation, and thus evolution, actually work. Hawaii is even more of a hotbed for biological diversification than the Galapagos due to its isolation.

 In Hawaiian Ariamnes stick spiders, adaptive radiation has resulted in 14 species now living across Hawaii. They share a generally similar body type, but each is a separate species with distinct physical traits. Remarkably, stick spiders with similar traits — yellow and red coloring, for example — live on different Hawaiian islands but aren’t each other’s closest relatives; they are a rare instance where a physical form has evolved separately on each island, according to a new study by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley. The study shows that evolution has led to a predictable and independently evolved set of similar forms in spiders on each island.

"This very predictable repeated evolution of the same forms is fascinating because it sheds light on how evolution actually happens," said Rosemary Gillespie, a professor in the department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) and lead author of the paper. “Such outstanding predictability is rare and is only found in a few other organisms that similarly move around the vegetation.”

Gold Oahu spider Gold Oahu spider. Photo by George Roderick.

The study of Ariamnes stick spiders will be published March 7 in the journal Current Biology. It was funded by the National Science Foundation and the William M. and Esther G. Schlinger Foundation.

“This study provides insights into a fundamental question about the origins of biodiversity, but also presents a remarkable story that can call attention to the need for conserving nature in all of its forms,” said study co-author George Roderick, professor and chair of ESPM.

Hawaii is a chain of islands that formed chronologically, so the scientists were able to study the spiders' adaptive radiations over time as they moved from old to new islands. The oldest island, Kauai, was formed 5 million years ago, followed by Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui and finally the big island of Hawaii, the youngest at less than 1 million years old.

The study found that stick spiders have evolved and differentiated from a single species on the same island. So, spider types on any one island were generally more closely related to very different looking spiders on the same island than to spiders that looked the same on other islands. For instance, a white spider on Oahu is a closer relative to the brown spider on the same island than it is to a white spider on Maui.

“You can find these spiders in pretty much every habitat on each island,” Gillespie said. “This really detailed and finely tuned repetition of evolution of the same form is really quite uncommon.”

White Maui spider White Maui spider. Photo by George Roderick.

The spiders can be grouped into three distinct ecological types, called ecomorphs: A brown one that lives in rocks; a gold one that lives in under leaves, and a white one that’s a matte color and lives on lichen.

The analysis of stick spiders mirrors Gillespie’s previous discovery in Hawaiian Tetragnatha spiders, another group that shows remarkable adaptive radiation. This group of spiny-legged spiders does not spin a web and has repeatedly evolved similar ecomorphs since its ancestor arrived in Hawaii. That study was featured on the cover of the journal Science in 2004.

Rosemary Gillespie Professor Rosemary Gillespie doing fieldwork in Hawaii. Photo by George Roderick.

The varied habitat types on the Hawaiian Islands, cold and wet areas closely juxtaposed with hot and dry, have provided a rich tapestry of species diversity. The flip side of such extraordinary diversity that evolved in isolation is its vulnerability to change and to invasive species that are now flooding in as a result of human traffic, Gillespie said.

 “We need to be able to figure out this diversity and document it and describe what’s so special about it, so that people know about it,” Gillespie said. “It’s being lost and it’s a desperate situation.”

Gold Molokai spider Gold Molokai spider. Photo by George Roderick.


Rosemary Gillespie, professor, UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy, & Management,

Read the article at the source, UC Berkeley News

Image:  Mottled molokai spider from Hawaii Date:  Thursday, March 8, 2018 - 11:00 byline:  By Brett Israel, UC Berkeley Media Relations Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, March 8, 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):  Research News

Student Spotlight: Bradley Machado

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 12:12

In this month’s Student Spotlight, senior Bradley Machado tells us about his path to CNR, his interest in combining photojournalism and environmental studies, and how being in the military prepared him for college.

Bradley Machado

Bradley Machado

4th year, Society and Environment, with a minor in Journalism

You're a US Army veteran and a former community outreach chair of the Cal Veterans Group. Could you tell us about your journey from being a flight paramedic to studying at Cal?

My experiences with Cal started nearly 30 years ago as a child. My father was a post-Vietnam era veteran who transferred to Cal to study landscape architecture. At 5 years old I got a taste of the Berkeley experience—I was hooked. My memories of Berkeley all left a deep impression: exploring open spaces in San Francisco on field trips with Professor Chip Sullivan, attending The Big Game, and watching the Grateful Dead at the Greek Theater from Cheapskate Hill. Unfortunately, my life would take a different and much longer route to reach Berkeley than my peers. After dropping out of high school and working odd jobs, I decided to serve in the military as a medic while I found my path in life. Little did I know that my experiences in the service would lead me full circle back to Berkeley.

How has serving in the military helped prepare to you for your studies?

After about a year in the military I transferred to DUSTOFF, the Army’s aviation medical evacuation unit. Our primary mission was to fly into combat to rescue wounded soldiers and local citizens. At the end of each day I laid my head on my pillow knowing that people who had no other option were alive because of our crew’s ability to help. I was proud of what I did, but the nagging feeling that I was simply picking up the pieces created by armed conflict was impossible to shake. I decided that I needed to prevent conflict from arising in the first place, and I knew that gaining an education would be the first step toward achieving that goal. Now, I hope to reduce global instability by helping others see links between our society and our environment.

A year after getting home from Afghanistan I was in my first semester at Modesto Junior College. Two years later, I was sitting in my first class at Cal trying to remember how I had gotten here, and now, nearly two years later, I’m still in that pinch-me phase and about to graduate from UC Berkeley.

Cal football

A photo taken by Bradley during the fall 2017 semester for the course Advanced Documentary Photography and published in a collection from the class called "A Season." Photo by Bradley Machado.

As a journalism minor, you’ve focused on photojournalism. How did I become interested in photography?

Photography started out as an artistic escape from my classes, and has become an integral part of my coursework and my preferred journalistic medium. I bought my first camera at the beginning of my junior year and took several of the classes offered through the Berkeley Art Studio—they’re free for Pell Grant students, so check them out!

Why did you choose to combine studying society and environment and photojournalism?

I want to communicate environmental issues, but I don’t want to stay in an echo chamber of people or organizations who share the same views—I want to bridge ideological divides. I believe that studying journalism can be applicable to any field or major because it teaches you how to communicate effectively. The program develops both hard and soft skills such as basic coding, data analysis, writing, research, critical thinking and interview techniques, and these are also an important part of my society and environment studies.

USC Band

Another photo published in the student collection, "A Season." Photo by Bradley Machado

How do these two fields of study connect to each other?

Our planet is not in danger for lack of strong science; the planet is in danger because we’re not communicating those issues to the individuals who matter most—those who make voting decisions that support the well-being of our planet. Science communication, just like the chemical pathways in our bodies, requires us to emit a signal and another party to receive that information. If either malfunctions, we have a disconnect which can result in serious problems. For true communication to occur, we must present information in a way that the other party understands. I believe the onus is truly on me to communicate the importance of protecting our planet in a way that which is relatable to others. This is why combining my passion for understanding our society and environment with journalism has been the perfect combination as a student in CNR.

What’s next for you, post-graduation?

Reflection of a person and a mountain in water

For another photo project completed during his senior year at Berkeley, Bradley traveled to Yosemite National Park. Photo by Bradley Machado.

I have several options ahead of me after Cal. I am currently working on a documentary photography project which, if all goes according to plan, will have me back in Afghanistan by late summer. I have a publisher for the project and am currently awaiting permission from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force which controls journalistic access to Afghanistan.

I also have a permit to hike the Pacific Crest Trail for a separate project. I’m hoping to follow a female veteran hiking the 2,665-mile trail with the Warrior Expedition project. This project takes combat-deployed veterans and outfits them to go on long-term hikes as a way to “walk off the war.” The concept is that Armies used to march back home after a conflict, giving the soldier time to come to terms with their experiences. Now, for most soldiers, the difference between combat and home is measured in hours and they have no time to come to terms with the things they saw, or had to do, or what was done to them and their friends. In addition to these projects though, I’ll also be applying to  communications positions in several nonprofit organizations.

Image:  Student Bradley Machado Date:  Wednesday, March 7, 2018 - 11:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, March 7, 2018 - 08:30 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

Scientists engineer crops to conserve water, resist drought

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 19:17

Agriculture already monopolizes 90 percent of global freshwater—yet production still needs to dramatically increase to feed and fuel the earth's growing population. For the first time, scientists have improved how a crop uses water by 25 percent without compromising yield by altering the expression of one gene that is found in all plants, as reported in Nature Communications.

The research is part of the international research project, Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) that is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and the U.K. Department for International Development.

“This is a major breakthrough,” said RIPE Director Stephen Long, Ikenberry Endowed Chair of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences. “Crop yields have steadily improved over the past 60 years, but the amount of water required to produce one ton of grain remains unchanged—which led most to assume that this factor could not change. Proving that our theory works in practice should open the door to much more research and development to achieve this all-important goal for the future.”

The international team, which included Plant and Microbial Biology Professor Krishna Niyogi, increased the levels of a photosynthetic protein (PsbS) to conserve water by tricking plants into partially closing their stomata, the microscopic pores in the leaf that allow water to escape. Stomata are the gatekeepers to plants: When open, carbon dioxide enters the plant to fuel photosynthesis, but water is allowed to escape through the process of transpiration.

“These plants had more water than they needed, but that won’t always be the case,” said co-first author Katarzyna Glowacka, a postdoctoral researcher who led this research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB). “When water is limited, these modified plants will grow faster and yield more—they will pay less of a penalty than their non-modified counterparts.”

The team improved the plant’s water-use-efficiency—the ratio of carbon dioxide entering the plant to water escaping—by 25 percent without significantly sacrificing photosynthesis or yield in real-world field trials. The carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere has increased by 25 percent in just the past 70 years, allowing the plant to amass enough carbon dioxide without fully opening its stomata.  “Evolution has not kept pace with this rapid change, so scientists have given it a helping hand,” said Long, who is also a professor of crop sciences at Lancaster University.

Four factors can trigger stomata to open and close: humidity, carbon dioxide levels in the plant, the quality of light, and the quantity of light. This study is the first report of hacking stomatal responses to the quantity of light.

PsbS is a key part of a signaling pathway in the plant that relays information about the quantity of light. By increasing PsbS, the signal says there is not enough light energy for the plant to photosynthesize, which triggers the stomata to close since carbon dioxide is not needed to fuel photosynthesis.

This research complements previous work, published in Science, which showed that increasing PsbS and two other proteins can improve photosynthesis and increase productivity by as much as 20 percent. Now the team plans to combine the gains from these two studies to improve production and water-use by balancing the expression of these three proteins.

For this study, the team tested their hypothesis using tobacco, a model crop that is easier to modify and faster to test than other crops. Now they will apply their discoveries to improve the water-use-efficiency of food crops and test their efficacy in water-limited conditions.

“Making crop plants more water-use efficient is arguably the greatest challenge for current and future plant scientists,” said co-first author Johannes Kromdijk, a postdoctoral researcher at the IGB. “Our results show that increased PsbS expression allows crop plants to be more conservative with water use, which we think will help to better distribute available water resources over the duration of the growing season and keep the crop more productive during dry spells.”

Read the article at its source, RIPE's website.

Image:  Seedling plants growing in a field Date:  Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - 08:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, March 2, 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):  Research News

Brown fat flexes its muscle to burn energy

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 12:07

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have discovered that the same kind of fat cells that help newborn babies regulate their body temperature could be a target for weight-loss drugs in adults.

Brown fat cells, which help mammals regulate their body temperature, work much like muscle cells, the researchers discovered. When the brain sends a signal to brown fat to start burning energy to generate heat, the cells stiffen, which triggers a biochemical pathway that ends with these cells burning calories for heat. The multidisciplinary research team of bioengineers and metabolic researchers teased apart the steps of this pathway and identified a potential way for drugs to switch on brown fat cells.

“We have figured out a new pathway that triggers brown fat tissue to consume calories from fat and sugars and radiate them away as heat,” said Andreas Stahl, professor and chairman of the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology at Berkeley. “This understanding of how brown fat is activated could unlock new ways to combat obesity.”

The research was published March 6 in the journal Cell Metabolism. The work was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association.

When cold, the human body shivers to produce heat in an attempt to maintain a body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Newborn babies, who can’t yet shiver, have a patch of brown fat between their shoulder blades, and its job is to take in nutrients to burn their energy to produce heat for regulating body temperature. Brown fat cells decrease in number as babies grow up, but adults still have a small number of brown fat cells that are not very active.

Here’s how brown fat works: When the body senses cold, the brain releases norepinephrine, which is detected by a receptor in brown fat cells. A cascade of biochemical signals is then triggered, leading to the production of a protein called Uncoupling Factor-1 (UCP1), which travels into the mitochondria of brown fat cells.

A normal cell uses mitochondria like a battery to perform work. Mitochondria turn nutrients from the diet into energy that is mostly stored in a molecule called ATP. But in brown fat cells, UCP1 short-circuits that battery, causing it to heat up instead of producing ATP. With UCP1 activated in the mitochondria, brown fat cells soak up fat and sugars from the diet and burn them for heat in the mitochondria.

Previous research found that brown fat shares some characteristics with muscle, particularly proteins called myosin, which are little motors that perform work. In muscle, myosin contracts the cells, but no one knew what myosin did in brown fat cells.

To find out, the researchers stimulated brown fat and measured how much the cell flexed by measuring the increase in tension in the cell. They found that the cells became roughly twice as stiff when stimulated. Then the researchers disabled the muscle-like myosin in brown fat cells and found that the cells became significantly softer, with their stiffness reduced by about a factor of two.

“Our finding that the muscle-like myosin is responsible for stiffening brown fat cells was really unexpected, no one has ever observed that,” Stahl said.

“This study offers a remarkable example of how mechanical and other physical forces can influence physiology and disease in powerful, unexpected ways,” said Sanjay Kumar, Berkeley professor of bioengineering and a co-author of the study. “We hope that our work will aid in the design of therapeutic biomaterials and other technologies geared towards enhancing brown fat function.”

The study found that UCP1’s activity is directly tied to the increase in cell tension. The scientists then relieved the tension in activated brown fat cells and found that caused a 70 percent reduction in UCP1, so the cells generate less heat. The researchers then identified molecules in the cell that respond to increased tension to trigger the activation of UCP1. In experiments in mice, they disrupted these molecules and found that the brown fat cells lost their function and physically looked more like white fat cells, where the body stores excess energy.

“We found that cell stiffening really plays a big role in the function of brown adipocytes,” Stahl said.

The researchers used a drug to trigger increased tension in brown fat cells and found that the concept of activating tension can lead to burning calories, but much more work is needed to identify the right chemical compound that could do this effectively.

“Now that we better understand how brown fat cells work, we can think about ways to stimulate muscle-like myosin in brown fat to increase thermogenesis and burn calories,” Stahl said. “Drugs to stimulate muscle-like myosin in existing brown fat would probably create more active brown fat cells in adults.”

Read this article at the source, UC Berkeley News.

Image:  Brown fat and white fat Date:  Monday, March 5, 2018 - 11:30 byline:  By Brett Israel, UC Berkeley Media Relations Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Monday, March 5, 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 Ranked First in Environmental Sciences—Again

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 15:45

There’s no change at the top of this year’s list in the QS World University Rankings for environmental sciences, with UC Berkeley ranked number one for the fourth year in a row. Congratulations to all those in the College of Natural Resources' community—and across the University—whose work has contributed to this recognition! 

The QS World University Rankings by Subject are based upon academic reputation, employer reputation, and research impact. 

Learn more and see the ranking

Image:  Logo for QS World University Rankings Date:  Thursday, March 1, 2018 - 15:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, March 1, 2018 - 15:30 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Report from Professor Sunding supports delta tunnel plan

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 14:25
Professor David Sunding. Photo by Jim Block

Photo by Jim Block.

A study by Professor David Sunding commissioned by the California the Department of Water Resources and published last week says that Governor Brown’s delta tunnels plan would pay off for both farmers and cities.

Officially known as California WaterFix (formerly the Bay Delta Conservation Plan), the plan proposed by Governor Brown and the Department of Water Resources would build two large tunnels to carry fresh water from the Sacramento River under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to other parts of the state.

The Sacramento Bee reported February 13 that, “After key San Joaquin Valley agricultural districts announced last year they couldn’t afford the project, Brown’s administration announced last week that officials were moving forward on a phased-in approach to the tunnels, starting with building a single pipe under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in the coming years.”

Sunding’s cost-benefit analysis on this first stage concludes that benefits outweigh the costs under every scenario he analyzed.

Sunding is the Thomas J. Graff Chair in Environmental and Resource Economics at UC Berkeley. He has served as chair of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics since 2013.

Image:  Professor David Sunding. Photo by Jim Block Date:  Wednesday, February 21, 2018 - 14:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, February 21, 2018 - 14:15 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Berkeley Connect Environment fosters community, mentorship at CNR

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 11:47
Image:  Two men stand to shake hands in a classroom Date:  Wednesday, February 21, 2018 - 11:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, February 21, 2018 - 11:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Study reveals that chaparral fire management can devastate California’s wild birds

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 13:53

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:  Wildfire and firefighter in foreground 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

Forestry club gets hands-on to remake famous Tightwad Hill

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 10:43
Image:  A man digs in soil with trees in the background Date:  Friday, February 16, 2018 - 10:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, February 16, 2018 - 10:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Dean Gilless recognized for Faculty Senate service

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 11:32
J. Keith Gilless

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.”

Read more about the Berkeley Faculty Service Award.

Image:  J. Keith Gilless Date:  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

Student Spotlight: Kevin Bai

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 11:10
Kevin Bai

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 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. 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:  Kevin Bai 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

100 million dead trees in the Sierra are a massive risk for unpredictable wildfires

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 11:53

To drive through parts of the Sierra Nevada these days is to witness a morbid reminder of California’s extreme drought: Vast landscapes of standing dead trees, a brown tide sweeping across the green landscape. It’s more than eerie; it’s a dangerously combustible situation, argues a new publication from Berkeley fire scientists.

dead sierra trees

A swath of dead trees in the Sierra Nevada mountains (Photo by Scott Stephens).

The problem is so severe in the central and southern Sierra Nevada that some areas have experienced greater than 90 percent tree mortality. The study authors caution that these dead trees have created unprecedented levels of fuel, which could create dangerous wildfires in the near future that are beyond the predictive capacity of current fire models, making fire behavior and its impact on structures and public safety difficult to manage and predict.

Forest managers have already been struggling to determine whether the massive number of dead trees will increase wildfire intensity and/or severity, what the near- and long-term effects on forest communities will be and how land management agencies should respond. The new study argues for more prescribed fires, mechanically thinning forests and physically removing dead trees to combat the near-term fire threat. For long-term adaptation to climate change, the study highlights the importance of moving beyond triage of dead and dying trees to making live forests more resilient.

“If our society doesn’t like the outcomes from recent fires and extensive drought-induced tree mortality in Sierra forests, then we collectively need to move beyond the status quo,” said study co-author Scott Stephens, professor of fire science at Berkeley. “Working to increase the pace and scale of beneficial fire and mechanical treatments rather than focusing on continued fire suppression would be an important step forward.”

The study was published January 17 in the journal BioScience.

Most western U.S. ecosystems like the Sierra Nevada are fire dependent, meaning that for millennia, the flora and fauna depended upon periodic low- to moderate-intensity fires to maintain ecosystem integrity. Following Euro-American settlement, aggressive fire suppression in the early 1900s created denser forests. These denser forests, in turn, have created greater competition among trees for water and other resources, making them prone to mortality from things like bark beetles during multi-year droughts, which is what happened in the Sierra. According to recent estimates, more than 100 million trees have died in California primarily in the southern and central Sierra Nevada, prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency.

In many wildfires burning today in forests that historically had frequent fires, tree mortality patches are an order of magnitude or two larger than those that occurred in the past. The study points to many other implications from the recent tree mortality for the future of these forests and the ecological goods and services they provide to society.

Future wildfire hazard following this mortality can be generally characterized by increased surface fire intensity in the short- to intermediate-term. That’s because many of the trees killed by bark beetles are the largest trees and not the trees that would be preferentially killed by low-moderate-severity wildfires or targeted for removal in restoration projects. Also, bark beetle-killed trees are often not removed, as is commonly the case in restoration projects involving mechanical thinning or in forests subject to centuries of frequent fires. So tree biomass remains on site as potential fuel for fires.

Dense forests of dead trees increase the amount and continuity of dry, combustible, large, woody material. Unless some of this dead biomass is removed, either mechanically or by fire, recent and current bark beetle-caused tree mortality in the Sierra Nevada could add 10s to 100s of megagrams per hectare of dry woody fuel to the wildland fuel complex.

The massive amounts of large-sized woody fuels in future decades may contribute to dangerous fires beyond the predictive capacity of current fire models. These fires can generate their own wind and weather conditions and create fire-producing sparks or embers that are carried by the wind and which start new fires, making fire behavior and its impact on structures and public safety difficult to manage and predict. In addition, such intense fires could prevent forests from becoming re-established.

“Tree mortality at the levels we’ve observed in the central and southern Sierra Nevada sets the stage for potential fire activity that is well beyond what we can predict with our current operational fire-behavior models,” said Brandon Collins, a research scientist at the Berkeley Center for Fire Research and Outreach, and a co-author of the study. “This heightened fire potential is even more daunting when you consider how much total area has already experienced high levels of tree mortality.”

Read the article at the source.

Image:  dead sierra trees Date:  Thursday, January 18, 2018 - 11:30 byline:  By Brett Israel, UC Berkeley Media relations Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, January 18, 2018 - 11:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Deforestation ‘tip of the iceberg’ for environmentalists’ concerns about oil palm

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 11:49

Increased demand for palm oil has caused widespread deforestation and biodiversity loss in Southeast Asia. However, a new study by CNR researchers demonstrates that the impacts of oil palm expansion on forests is much worse than previously thought. Wildlife feeding on oil palm fruit can become over-abundant and subsequently cause chronic degradation to remaining nearby forests.

oil palm fruits at harvest

Animals like monkeys and pigs, which feed on the oil-rich fruit produced by oil palm, can become overabundant and cause increased degradation in nearby forests. Image Courtesy of Matthew Luskin.

In a study lasting lasting more than two decades, an international team of scientists working in tropical forests in Peninsular Malaysia observed immense shifts in the tree community. “We knew that forest understory was dying, but we didn’t understand why,” said Matthew Luskin, lead author of the study and an alumnus of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM). “Once we started looking outside the forest to the surrounding oil palm, the story became clear.”

Oil palm produces oil-rich fruit which can be found in a wide range of food and cosmetic products. However, forest animals like monkeys and pigs feed on these same fruits, allowing these animals to rapidly increase in number. The study focused on wild boars because they are well-known to farmers as crop-raiding pests.

The researchers found that the presence of oil palm fruit led to a 100-fold increase in the number of wild boar living in the adjacent forests. In addition to eating tree seeds, wild boar have destructive behaviors such as rooting up soil for food and building nests, which can disrupt tree sapling density. By comparing forest areas that were fenced to exclude wild boar, Luskin and his collaborators found that wild boar reduced the number of small trees by over 50%, raising concerns about the future health of the forests.

“What is most concerning about these findings is that the negative impacts of palm oil plantations are occuring deep within what otherwise looks like pristine forest–miles from the nearest plantation,” said Professor Matthew D. Potts, who, along with Professor Justin Brashares, is a co-author of the study, which was published today in the journal Nature Communications.

Oil palm growers, and the countries and regulatory bodies that govern them, must now seriously think about the conservation implications of their actions off-farm in the surrounding landscape. Mitigating these longer-term larger-scale impacts will be imperative to conservation in the region.

A research forest right next to an oil palm field

The border of the Pasoh Forest Reserve, adjacent to an oil palm plantation. Image courtesy of Matthew Luskin.

“Even protected areas are not safe from oil palm,” said Luskin.

One option, he noted, is for the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to work with ecologists to co-develop oil palm and conservation plans. To limit negative impacts, the researchers also suggest forest reserves may need to be larger and surrounded by “buffer” areas to limit wildlife access to palm fruits. An undesirable alternative is lethal management of wild boars, but the scientists warn that this could lead to endangered species also being killed. Hunting is also labour intensive and undesirable for the majority of the local population which religion discourages interaction with pigs.

The researchers lastly cautioned that if action is not taken, oil palm may disrupt the ecology and compromise forests throughout much of Southeast Asia’s remaining forested lowlands since most of these are near to oil palm plantations. More broadly, the study is a warning call that even well-protected forest reserves may be insufficient to conserve tropical biodiversity in the face of ongoing agricultural expansion without proper management.

Media contacts:

Image:  An oil palm field in Malaysia Date:  Wednesday, December 20, 2017 - 11:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, December 20, 2017 - 11:45 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

Dean Gilless honored with Excellence in Advising Award

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 00:00
Dean J. Keith Gilless holds his award and stands with CNR advisors Dean J. Keith Gilless (forth from left) with Office of Instruction and Student Affairs advisors.

In a ceremony on December 18th, Dean J. Keith Gilless was honored with a 2017 Excellence in Advising Award from UC Berkeley’s Advising Council. Each year, the Council recognizes the positive impact that faculty, staff, and university leadership have on student learning, performance, and engagement.

In a letter nominating Gilless for the award, the College of Natural Resources (CNR) Office of Instruction and Student Affairs cited his unparalleled and unwavering support for undergraduate education at the College, a population that has increased by nearly 1,000 students during his tenure as dean. By funding undergraduate research that supports faculty engagement with students, Gilless has expanded opportunities for CNR students. He has consistently supported a number of undergraduate programs including  Honors Research, the Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research, travel grants for undergraduates, and biannual undergraduate poster sessions. 60 percent of CNR students now participate in research by the time they graduate.

The nomination letter also highlighted Gilless’s work to address the learning needs of a diverse student population. To provide more educational access, he initiated CNR-specific chemistry courses, and he was the first dean to grant credit for an introductory chemistry course that consistently includes 80 percent female students and 40 percent underrepresented student populations.

As Gilless completes his final academic year as dean of CNR, Rebecca Sablo, Assistant Dean of Instruction and Student Affairs, reflected on his legacy as a leader and advisor. “The innovations Keith has introduced are often the result of his problem-solving approach which takes into consideration the diverse needs and expectations of students, faculty, and staff,” said Sablo. “His accomplishments and dedication to the student experience are remarkable, and he leaves behind a student population that is larger, more diverse, and happier than ever before.”

Image:  Dean J. Keith Gilless and advisors Date:  Tuesday, December 19, 2017 - 13:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, December 22, 2017 - 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):  Honors and Awards

Researchers discover how cells remember infections decades later

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 12:20

A perplexing question in immunology has been, how do immune cells remember an infection or a vaccination so that they can spring into action decades later? Research led by scientists at UC Berkeley, in collaboration with investigators at Emory University, has found an answer: A small pool of the same immune cells that responded to the original invasion remain alive for years, developing unique features that keep them primed and waiting for the same microbe to re-invade the body.

Before this study, scientists were not sure how cells can remember an infection from up to 30 years earlier. To tease apart this mystery, the research team tracked a specific kind of immune cell through the human body in the weeks, months and years following a vaccination that gives long-term protection.

Marc Hellerstein

March Hellerstein, professor of nutritional science and toxicology, applied a technique that he developed for his HIV/AIDS research in the 1990s to answer fundamental questions about how the immune system remembers infections decades after the first exposure.

The researchers tracked T cells inside people’s bodies after they were given the long-lasting yellow fever virus vaccine, using a technology developed at Berkeley for monitoring the birth and death of cells in humans over long periods of time. The researchers found that CD8+ T cells, responsible for long-term immunity against yellow fever, proliferate rapidly on exposure to the vaccine but then evolve, beginning about four weeks after the vaccination, into a “memory pool” of cells that live more than 10 times longer than the average T cell.

“This work addressed fundamental questions about the origin and longevity of human memory CD8+ T cells generated after an acute infection,” said Marc Hellerstein, senior coauthor and professor of nutritional science and toxicology at UC Berkeley. “Understanding the basis of effective long-term immune memory may help scientists develop better vaccines, understand differences among diseases and diagnose the quality of an individual person’s immune responses.”

The study was published December 13 in the journal Nature. The work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

When someone gets a vaccine or is exposed to a new infectious agent, cells that recognize the invader but had never have been called into action before – called naive cells – respond by dividing like crazy and developing infection-fighting functions. This creates a large pool of so-called memory cells, named for their ability to remember the specific infectious agent and respond effectively to repeat threats later. Over time, the large pool shrinks to a small number of long-term memory cells, which are primed to provide late protection. But scientists have debated how these memory cells are maintained and ready to strike for so long after the initial exposure.

This study found that one way the pool is maintained for years after vaccination is through the development of several unique features. On the surface and through the actions of their genes, they look like cells that have never been exposed to an infection, but on their DNA the researchers found a fingerprint, called a methylation pattern, that identifies them as having been through battle as an infection-fighting cell, which are called effector cells.

“These cells are like veteran soldiers, camped in the blood and tissues where they fight their battles, waiting for yellow fever to show up,” said Hellerstein. “They are resting quietly and they wear the clothes of untested new recruits, but they are deeply experienced, ready to spring into action and primed to expand wildly and attack aggressively if invaders return.”

For the study, Hellerstein applied a technique that he developed for his HIV/AIDS research in the 1990s and has used widely since to track the birth and death of cells in the human body. The research team had subjects drink small amounts of water that had deuterium instead of hydrogen. Deuterium is non-toxic, but it is slightly heavier than hydrogen, so scientists can track it by mass spectrometry when it gets incorporated into newly replicated DNA in the body’s cells, which occurs only during cell division. Using this method, scientists can learn if a pool of cells is new or old, because newly born cells will have deuterium in their DNA. Scientists or clinicians monitoring the cells over time will see that the deuterium levels in short-lived cells will be diluted after the patients return to drinking regular water, while the deuterium levels in long-lived cells will remain high. In the new study, people drank the deuterium water at different times after receiving the live yellow fever virus vaccine and researchers isolated T cells from the patients, then analyzed their deuterium content.

Yellow fever virus is not a threat in the United States, which means that all the subjects had not been previously exposed and would not get exposed after the tagging period, making the vaccine ideal for studying what happens to newly generated cells over a long period of time, when there is no longer any infectious agent to fight.

After a first acute exposure to an infectious agent or vaccine, the body has an initial phase with lots of short-lived infection fighting soldiers, called effector-memory cells. Then after the threat is cleared, effector cells go away and small numbers of long-term memory cells are present. One of the central questions in immunology was whether the long-term memory cells went through an effector stage or went on a separate pathway of their own. The research team found that that a subset of the effector-memory pool that had divided extensively during the first two weeks after vaccination stayed alive as long-term memory cells, dividing less frequently than once every year.

The extremely long life-span of the surviving memory cells allows them to specialize over time into a unique, previously unrecognized type of T cell. The long-term memory cells have some molecular markers that make them look like naive cells that have never activated, including a gene expression profile that looks like that in naive cells, yet have other molecular markers on their DNA of having gone through battle as effector cells.

“These results make it clear that true long-term memory cells were once effector cells that have become quiescent,” Hellerstein said. “This apparently keeps them poised to respond rapidly as new effector cells upon re-exposure to the pathogen.”

The research team calculated that the half-life of these long-term memory cells is 450 days, compared to a half-life of about 30 days for the average memory T cell in the body, during which they are in general repeatedly exposed to common antigens in the environment. So when the memory pool goes quiet, these unique cells retain a fingerprint stemming back to the original exposure, and remain primed to respond rapidly if there is re-exposure to the pathogen.

“The combination of molecular evidence of a unique life history with direct measurement of their long life span is what gives this study such power,” Hellerstein said. “The technology to measure the dynamics of the birth and death of cells and advances allowing it to be applied to very small numbers of cells let this study happen.”

Read the article at its source, UC Berkeley News.

Image:  Medical professional giving a patient a shot Date:  Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 12:15 byline:  By Brett Israel, UC Berkeley Media Relations Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 12:15 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 Dean Search: Call for Nominations

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 11:26

The University of California, Berkeley invites nominations and applications for the position of Dean of the College of Natural Resources. The appointee is expected to join the faculty beginning July 1, 2018. This is an internal system-wide UC campus search restricted to those who have attained the rank of Professor at any UC campus or research field station.

The College comprises four Departments:  Agricultural and Resource EconomicsEnvironmental Science, Policy, and ManagementNutritional Sciences and Toxicology, and Plant and Microbial Biology. It also has an interdisciplinary graduate program that functions as a department, the Energy & Resources Group. Additionally, it has several centers of expertise. These programs enroll approximately 1900 undergraduate students and 460 graduate students, and are supported by 140 faculty and 16 environmental and agricultural Cooperative Extension Specialists. The College is part of the Land Grant System, and its faculty have appointments in the Agricultural Experiment Station of the State of California.

Top candidates for this position will present records of academic distinction in fields constituting or related to the environment and use of natural resources from a biological, ecological, economic, or social science perspective. The ideal candidate will have an appreciation of the breadth of the College’s research and education. S/he will have a strong sense of the role of the College with respect to the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources(link is external). S/he must be able to work with faculty, students, staff, administrators, and external constituencies to develop a vision and a strategy for the future, with a focus on fundraising, and possess a record of strong administrative skills. S/he will have a record of supporting diversity and a commitment to promoting equity and inclusion for faculty, students, and staff.

Nominations are also sought: these should include the name of the nominee, and a brief statement of the nominee's qualifications. Nominations must be received by December 15, 2017. Applications must be received by February 1, 2018.  Applications should include a curriculum vitae, and a statement of interest.  Please send these materials to:

Chair, College of Natural Resources Dean Search Committee
Office of the Vice Provost for the Faculty
Electronic submissions should be sent to:

The University of California is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. This position is a sensitive position and is subject to a criminal background check. Questions may be referred to Carolyn Capps at (510) 642-6474 or

College of Natural Resources Dean Search Committee Roster 2017-18
  • Jennifer Wolch, Dean (Committee Chair), College of Environmental Design
  • Kathryn Baldwin, Development Officer, College of Natural Resources
  • Carrie Maser, Alumni and Advisory Board, College of Natural Resources
  • Whendee Silver, Professor, Environmental Science, Policy & Management
  • John Coates, Professor, Plant & Microbial Biology
  • Sofia Villas-Boas, Professor, Agriculture & Resource Economics
  • Hei Sook Sul, Professor, Nutritional Sciences & Toxicology
  • Dan Farber, Professor, Energy & Resources Group
  • Hector Rodriguez, Professor, School of Public Health
  • Nipam Patel, Professor, Integrative Biology
  • Sheila Barry, Graduate Student, Range Management, CNR
Image:  Giannini Hall Date:  Thursday, December 7, 2017 - 11:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, December 7, 2017 - 11:15 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Student Spotlight: Scott Silva

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 09:53
Scott Silva in front of rocks

Scott Silva at Bryce Canyon National Park.

Scott Silva

3rd year,  Environmental Sciences and Ecosystem Management & Forestry with a minor in Geographic Information Science and Technology

Junior Scott Silva wants to make Cal’s trash one of its reusable treasures. He tells us about his efforts at the Zero Waste Research Center, attending Forestry Camp, and how geocaching led him to study environmental science.

How did you decide to study environmental science and forestry?

I became interested in forestry and environmental sciences when I was young, and enjoying the outdoors was one of the only things I enjoyed doing. In addition to being known for wine tourism, my hometown of Napa has a big hiking culture, and my dad took me for hikes often. I started going geocaching, which is an outdoor scavenger hunt that sometimes involves solving puzzles in order to find hidden "caches" that contain a logbook and small knick knates for trading. I learned a lot about the natural landscape while talking with my father and being outdoors, which made me wonder more about how and why nature does what it does.

In high school, my love of hiking grew when I joined the hiking club. I eventually became president of the club, and loved taking my friends out to places to do trail work, hike, or do clean-ups, which helped me gain outdoor leadership experience. I then got to meet a lot of people in working in the field of environmental science and was amazed at the fact that you could get paid for helping the environment. I made it my goal to be involved with environmental sciences, as I wanted to be a manager of natural resources and have a say in land management decisions. All the while, climate change and other anthropogenic impacts were unfolding around the world, fueling my political drive to fight for something I believed in.

Scott Silva in a tree

As a student here at UC Berkeley, you attended Forestry Field camp. Could you tell us about your experience in the program?

At Forestry Field Camp, we learn about current forestry industry and how it impacts the world’s natural resources. The summer I spent in the program began by taking Sierra Nevada Ecology with Scott Stephens, in which we studied the ecology and natural systems that exist within the Sierra Nevada. This class was super fun because we got to learn the taxonomy and functions of many of the plants found in the Sierras, which involved hiking and be in the field for class. We were even “poisoned” by professor Joe McBride after he fed us blue elderberry. Then, we took Forest Measurements with Rob York, which focused on how foresters measure and select trees for harvest. We also took part in a class called Silviculture with Kevin O'hara, which took us to multiple industrial and state-owned forests to examine about how the timber industry and forest ecosystems operate hand-in-hand. Finally, we had our Forest Management and Assessment class with Frieder Schurr and Rick Standiford, where we were assigned a 160-acre parcel and were asked to write a management plan about it. This class was a good example of what a professional forester does, and we were given many opportunities to create a project that was something craft on our own and take pride in. After this camp, I feel that I know how a professional forester manages a forest, as well as the ecology and cultural experiences that go along with management.

In addition to school, we had many weekend and extracurricular adventures. Every day after class, all of the people at camp would meet for dinner at the dining hall, where we would just joke and laugh about the day, or hang out with local environmental officials and professors. We would also go camping nearly every weekend, whether it be climbing Mount Lassen, floating at Butt Lake, or just fishing in the Feather River. Finally, nights were filled with recreational activities such as dance parties, "forest" ball (a volleyball variant), and night hikes. Participating in these activities helped us form great and lasting friendships. It’s been great to meet people in my major and get to know my classmates on a personal level.

You're involved in the Student Environmental Resource Center (SERC)—what are your primary responsibilities at the Center?

I work in the Zero Waste Research Center at SERC, which looks for upstream and downstream solutions to waste problems on our campus. I am in charge of researching and implementing zero waste programs on campus that are economically viable, as well as sustainable. I look at social, economic, and political impacts of waste projects, and I try to help combine people and programs in order to maximize the efficacy of the zero waste movement. Since launching in 2012, the Zero Waste Research Center has been awarded a grant from The Green Initiative Fund and started recycling and composing projects across campus. With composting, we are attempting to implement a vermi-composting program with aquaponics on campus. Our current recycling projects involve attempting to create 3D printer filament out of plastic waste, as well as other ways to reuse UC Berkeley’s waste in an effort to transform trash into potential resources. With resources like transforming plastic waste into 3D printer filament, we have the opportunity to create an economic advantage of our waste to benefit the Berkeley community’s sustainability efforts.

Scott Silva doing a CHAOS hike

Scott Silva on a CHAOS Hike at the annual Gourmet Trip in Henry Coe State Park.

In addition to your work with SERC, you’re the president of the Cal Hiking and Outdoor Society (CHAOS). What are some benefits of being involved in a student organization like CHAOS?

CHAOS is a great club because it is full of diverse people who have one goal: hiking. This brings together unique crowds and creates a very inclusive atmosphere. Our club gives our members a lot of perks such as coupons from various brands, access to outdoor recreational spaces and stores, and free gear rentals from our gear shed. Being involved in a student organization helps students find community, helping them establish a “home away from home” on campus. Being part of a student organization can make campus feel smaller, which helps many people feel less lost.

What advice would you offer to students looking to get involved in the outdoors at Cal?

JUST GO OUTSIDE! Between studying for midterms, school groups, and plain old procrastinating, many of us don’t have the time or energy to go outside. But with proper planning and oversight, it’s easy to find time to go on a hike to relax and enjoy the outdoors. This way, students can foster a deeper connection with their environment, which makes being involved with the outdoors much more meaningful.

Image:  Scott Silva Date:  Tuesday, December 5, 2017 - 09:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, December 1, 2017 - 09:45 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