College of Natural Resources

Subscribe to College of Natural Resources feed
Updated: 1 hour 4 min ago

As biotic communities form, pollinators swap one plant for another

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 11:07

In the crops and orchards of California’s Central Valley, even the tiniest species can have a big impact. Consider wild bees: these pollinators visit a variety of native plants and agricultural fields, providing an essential role in cultivating our food crops.

A new study from UC Berkeley researchers helps create a clearer understanding of how networks of plants and pollinators form over time to create biotic communities. The results of their research, which could help scientists and conservationists rebuild communities when a species goes locally extinct, are published today in Ecology Letters. 

Close up of a bee on a yellow flower Pollinator species, like wild bees, often opportunistically change their plant partners as plant communities shift over time. Photo by Leithen M'Gonigle.

Insect pollinators such as butterflies, bees, and hoverflies are important “ecosystem service providers,” according to Lauren Ponisio, who earned her PhD  in 2016 from the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM). Many of the foods we eat—almonds, blueberries, tomatoes, and more—depend on insect pollination for reproduction.

“Human activities are degrading our ecosystems at an alarming rate, and we want to know how to restore them,” said Ponisio, who was a postdoctoral fellow in ESPM before recently joining UC Riverside as an assistant professor. “If we understand how communities of pollinators and plants form, we might be able to reassemble communities of locally extinct species in the future.”

Ponisio, along with ESPM professor Claire Kremen and UC Riverside postdoctoral fellow Marilia Gaiarsa, tracked the number of times that common Central Valley pollinators such as wild bees and hoverflies visited selected areas of native plant growth. By studying how often pollinators visited plants, they hoped to better understand how these species assemble to make up the communities of plants, insects, and animals that form the biotic communities in and around food crops.

Researchers catch pollinators in nets in a field of flowing trees More than 100 field technicians, undergraduate and graduate students, and volunteers worked alongside lab managers and postdoctoral researchers to collect the data that culminated in this study. Photo by Leithen M'Gonigle.

To track the interactions between pollinators and plants, researchers gathered eight years of data that resulted in nearly 20,000 pollinator visitation records. The study was made possible by research that began in Kremen’s lab in 2006. In cooperation with local farmers, Kremen’s team planted hedgerows of native plants in five fields that are home to intensely managed agricultural plots.

Researchers then visited the hedgerows—borders of plants that surround fields—between two and five times each year. During each visit, researchers from Kremen’s lab used nets to capture bees and hoverflies that visited the newly planted hedgerows. More than 100 field technicians, undergraduate and graduate students and volunteers worked alongside lab managers and postdoctoral researchers to collect the data that culminated in this study, as well as many other ecology papers. Kremen’s team followed the same schedule to collect samples from two control locations: a group of older established hedgerows, as well as the overgrown borders of crops that were not replanted with native species.

Over the course of the 8-year study, researchers in Kremen’s lab spent more than 500 hours catching pollinator species. Once Ponisio analyzed the data, she discovered that pollinators’ visitation patterns are different from how ecologists have previously described plant-pollinator relationships. Using a statistical model to chart changes in the type of plant species that pollinators during the eight years, Ponisio and her co-authors found that pollinators’ preferences morph as communities of plants grow. This is known as opportunistic attachment: pollinators shift their preference for a particular plant species over time as different plants become available or go locally extinct.

According to Kremen, this finding is a new development in how ecologists understand biotic community assembly. “Our study shows for the first time that the most persistent and abundant pollinator species often opportunistically change their plant partners as the plant community itself changes in response to restoration,” she said.

Bee flying towards a flower This study's findings could help scientists and conservationists address how to rebuild plant and animal habitats when a species goes locally extinct. Photo by Leithen M'Gonigle

In an effort to make her results transparent and repeatable, Ponisio has published the computer code she used to create the study’s statistical models on the development platform GitHub. “To reproduce this computationally intensive study, you need a lot of code. I want others to have access to this code so they can evaluate the results for themselves,” she said.  

These findings will continue to be valuable as scientists and conservationists address how to rebuild plant and animal habitats. “This study demonstrates that pollinators may be malleable in terms of which plants that they visit and that dynamic shifts are part of the assembling process for a community,”  said Ponisio. This could mean that scientists might find ways to maintain and rebuild community functionality even when a plant species goes locally extinct.

Image:  Bee flying towards a flower Date:  Monday, September 18, 2017 - 11:00 byline:  By Mackenzie Smith Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Monday, September 18, 2017 - 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

Reinvestment in research supports potential for increased crop yields

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 17:10
Image of researcher holding research plants

Photo by Jim Block.

A University of Illinois research project on which UC Berkeley Professor Krishna Niyogi has been a longtime collaborator announced today that it has received a $45 million, five-year reinvestment to continue research on photosynthetic improvements that could increase yields for farmers worldwide.

The funding for the Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) research project—which has already demonstrated yield increases of 20 percent—comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and the U.K. Department for International Development.

“Today's report on world hunger and nutrition from five UN agencies reinforces our mission to work doggedly to provide new means to eradicate world hunger and malnutrition by 2030 and beyond,” said RIPE Director Stephen Long, the Gutgsell Endowed Professor of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois. “This investment is timely. Annual yield gains are stagnating and means to achieve substantial improvement must be developed now if we are to provide sufficient food for a growing and increasingly urban world population when food production must also adapt sustainably to a changing climate.”

Building on half a century of photosynthesis research at Illinois, Berkeley, and other partner institutions, RIPE researchers identified seven potential objectives to improve photosynthesis—and with the support of an initial $25 million, five-year grant from the Gates Foundation—began work in 2012 to try to turn their ideas into sustainable increases in crop production.

Niyogi, chair of the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, has been involved with RIPE since its inception. He was engaged in securing original funding for RIPE from the Gates Foundation, and his research related to the project focuses on the “Relaxing Photoprotection” objective. In a study published in the journal Science last year, Niyogi, Long, and their collaborators demonstrated that one of their approaches could increase crop productivity by as much as 20 percent—a dramatic increase over typical annual yield gains of one percent or less.

Niyogi hopes this is just the beginning. “We are actively working on optimizing our approach, as well as investigating complementary approaches to improve crop productivity that should be synergistic with the increase we’ve already achieved,” he said.

Two other RIPE objectives have now led to even greater yield improvements in greenhouse and preliminary field trials.

“Our modeling predicts that several of these improvements can be combined to achieve additive yield increases, providing real hope that a 50 percent yield increase in just three decades is possible,” Long said. “With the reinvestment, a central priority will be to move these improved photosynthesis traits into commodity crops of the developed world, like soybeans, as well as crops that matter in the developing world, including cassava and cowpeas.”

RIPE and its funders will ensure that their high-yielding food crops are globally available and affordable for smallholder farmers to help feed the world’s hungriest and reduce poverty, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

But we still have a long road ahead of us, Long said.

“It takes about fifteen years from discovery until crops with these transformative biotechnologies are available for farmers,” he said. “It will therefore be well into the 2030s before such superior crops are seen at scale in farmers’ fields.”

Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) is engineering staple food crops to more efficiently turn the sun’s energy into food to sustainably increase worldwide food productivity, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and the U.K. Department for International Development.

Niyogi’s work in partnership with Long is funded by a subaward from the University of Illinois, which works in partnership with UC Berkeley as well as the USDA/ARS, University of Essex, Lancaster University, Australian National University, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and Louisiana State University.

RELATED:

 

Image:  Image of researcher holding research plants Date:  Friday, September 15, 2017 - 17:00 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, September 15, 2017 - 17:00 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

New research: synthetic molecule targets breast cancer growth

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 14:42

Withania somnifera grows in dry pockets across India—Punjab, Gujarat, Kerala, and Rajasthan. Commonly known as Indian winter cherry, the fruiting plant has been cultivated for centuries for use in ayurvedic medicine and is known for its anti-inflammatory properties.

 Jessica Spradlin, Carl Ward, and Elizabeth Grossman.

Professor Daniel Nomura co-authored the study with graduate students from his laboratory. Pictured left to right: Jessica Spradlin, Carl Ward, Dan Nomura, and Elizabeth Grossman.

Today UC Berkeley researchers published a study that identifies and maps how a natural chemical found in Indian winter cherry suppresses breast cancer cell growth. The study adds to a growing body of research that examines the effects of natural products on cancer cells in order to develop cancer treatments.

The paper was published Cell Chemical Biology by professor Daniel Nomura and researchers from the Departments of Nutritional Sciences & Toxicology, Chemistry, and Molecular & Cell Biology. The full study is available online, ahead of print publication on September 28.

Natural products have been a source of cancer treatments for decades: the drug paclitaxel was first isolated from Pacific yew tree bark in the 1970s and continues to be a common chemotherapy treatment today. While many other natural products exhibit anticancer activity, they are difficult to synthesize and isolate from their natural sources, a crucial step toward creating reliable therapeutics from natural chemicals.

To understand how the anticancer compound in Indian winter cherry functions, Nomura's lab employed chemical proteomic technologies to identify the protein targets of withaferin A, the active natural chemical found in the leaves of the plant. “Using a chemoproteomic technology called activity-based protein profiling (ABPP) enables us to identify natural product protein targets and even the binding pocket or ‘druggable hotspot’ within the protein target,” said Nomura.

Using this protein profiling technology, Nomura and his team studied how the compound targets proteins that impair breast cancer cell growth. They determined that withaferin A targets a regulatory subunit of a tumor suppressor called protein phosphatase 2A, which inactivates the protein kinase B and prevents breast cancer cells from proliferating. After identifying this druggable hotspot, Nomura’s team developed a covalent ligand—a synthetic molecule that binds to the same site as withaferin A—called JNS 1-40 to create the same anticancer activity in breast cancer cells.

The study was co-authored by graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and research associates in the Nomura Research Group; these include co-first authors Elizabeth Grossman and Carl Ward, as well as Jessica Spradlin, Leslie Bateman, Tucker Huffman, David Miyamoto, and Jordan Kleinman.

The new research builds on a growing map of druggable hotspots that are being drawn within the field of proteomics, the study of proteins. “We use this general chemoproteomic technology to enable drug discovery against the "undruggable" proteome,” said Nomura. “Most protein targets in our cells are seemingly "undruggable" because they lack known pockets into which drug therapies can bind. This technology helps us develop cancer drugs that are much easier to make that have the same therapeutic action as their more complex natural products.”

The process of identifying protein targets of chemicals found in nature and creating a synthetic equivalent could help researchers develop drug therapies for cancer. “Isolating these natural products and understanding how to translate chemicals like withaferin A into drugs has been difficult,” said Nomura. “But the approach demonstrated in this paper will enable us to rapidly identify new cancer targets and cancer drugs.”

Image:  Nomura lab Date:  Thursday, September 14, 2017 - 14:30 byline:  By Mackenzie Smith Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, September 14, 2017 - 14:30 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

Scientists-in-training learn to tell a CLEAR story

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 14:13

This story originally appeared in the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Green Blog.

On the second Saturday of every month, Tuesday Simmons heads to the downtown Berkeley farmers market. Among the produce stalls and coffee stands, she sits behind a table with a sign that reads “Talk to a scientist!” She and other students spend the day fielding questions from strangers about topics that range from genetically modified foods to climate change and more. “We never know who we'll talk to at our public events, or what kinds of questions we'll be asked,” said Simmons, a graduate student in the UC Berkeley Department of Plant and Microbial Biology (PMB). “This makes the farmers markets fun.”

The Clear Project representatives can be found educating the public at the local farmers market with their "talk to a scientist" poster

Tim Jeffers and Tuesday Simmons are ready to answer the public’s science questions at the downtown Berkeley farmers market.

Simmons’ monthly visits to the farmers market are organized by the student group CLEAR (Communication, Literacy, and Education for Agricultural Research). The group aims to mentor the next generation of science communicators by engaging in open, transparent, and active conversations with the public about science and research. Funded through the University of California Global Food Initiative, CLEAR offers a series of scientific outreach events including activities at the farmers market, student-led lectures at libraries, and discussions with the public at local pubs.

The events are aimed at making science accessible. “For members of the public who think scientists are a group of scary, isolated individuals funded by companies with special interests, these brief exchanges can be enough to make them question that assumption,” said Simmons, who also noted that translating her microbiology research for the public has helped improve her communication skills.

Learning to create compelling and impactful science communications is also a draw for Daniel Westcott. As a PMB graduate student who studies a specialized field—photosynthetic energy conversion in algae and plants—Westcott noted that discussing his research with non-scientists felt like a challenging hurdle to overcome.

Students like Westcott practice their communications skills through writing for the CLEAR blog. In their monthly blog posts, group members have tackled the economics of the meat industry, and the science behind the Impossible Burger, and the difficulty in labeling foods as “natural,” as well as highlighting CLEAR’s ongoing outreach efforts.

Westcott understands that sharing his research with the public through the blog and other CLEAR activities is essential. “Nearly two million scientific articles are published each year,” Westcott said. “Today’s successful scientists must be media savvy in order to rise above the noise.”

Launched in 2015, CLEAR began as a project across three UC campuses—Berkeley, Davis, and San Diego. At Berkeley, co-founders Peggy Lemaux and Dawn Chiniquy, a PMB postdoctoral fellow, saw the funding as an opportunity to focus on outreach activities and mentorship opportunities, such as helping graduate students write for and talk to non-scientific audiences.

Lemaux, a PMB faculty member and ANR cooperative extension specialist who studies food crop performance and quality, emphasizes that CLEAR is a student-driven organization. All members of CLEAR are volunteers, and a mix of undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers participate in the group’s activities. Many of members are PMB students, but students from other scientific fields also participate in CLEAR’s events and monthly meetings. Student scientists from across campus are welcome.  

A clear project rep, Sonia, educating the public with a powerpoint at the library

Student Sonia Chapiro speaks about GMOs as part of the "Popping the Science Bubble" scientific seminar series at the Berkeley Public Library on June 19, 2017.

As the faculty organizer of CLEAR, Lemaux mentors students by providing feedback and guidance on their public presentations and blog posts. Recent student-led lecture topics include pesticide use and genetically modified foods, and as new members join the group, they’ll continue to add new presentations to their calendar of events.

CLEAR also hosts workshops and trainings to foster students’ science communication and writing skills. Last spring, the group invited NPR science writer Joe Palca to present a talk, “Real News or Fake Science.” More recently Brian Dunning of Skeptoid gave a presentation titled “Science Communication in a Minefield of Fiction.” This fall, Sara ElShafie, a graduate student in the Department of Integrative Biology and founder of Science Through Story, will give a science communication workshop for CLEAR students.

In recent years, Lemaux has seen a shift in students’ interest in outreach and science communication. “Today’s generation of scientists understand that they must be scientists in the lab and translate the message of their research—and research in general—for the public,” she said.

Some CLEAR students have pursued careers in public communication after leaving Berkeley. Mikel Shybut, PhD ‘15 Plant Biology, is now a fellow at the California Council on Science and Technology where he provides scientific analyses to state legislators. After arranging a day of informational meetings in Sacramento for a group of CLEAR students, Shybut commented, “It's heartening to see what CLEAR has accomplished in the last two years. The group’s outreach efforts demonstrate that scientists can be effective messengers.”

Visit CLEAR’s calendar to learn more about upcoming events. In September join CLEAR at the following events:

  • Downtown Berkeley Farmers Market: Come chat with CLEAR members and check out their science demos at the farmers market. They feature a different science theme each month and are always looking forward to listening to community members’  science questions and concerns.
  • Science Cafe with PMB professor John Taylor: Join CLEAR members for a beer, fun fungus exhibits, and Dr. John Taylor's tentatively titled, Felons, Fungi and Rats: California's Valley Fever Epidemic.”
Image:  The Clean Project Date:  Monday, September 11, 2017 - 13:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Monday, September 11, 2017 - 13:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

Student Spotlight: Megan Conner

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 14:49

In our first student spotlight of the fall semester, Megan Conner shares her passion for writing and analysis, her favorite CNR class, and her experience as the Cal Energy Corps program.

megan Conner Megan Conner 3rd Year, Environmental Economics & Policy, and English

How do you see your majors working together? Do they share any commonalities in how you approach these fields?

English and environmental economics are drastically different areas of study; one is writing-intensive while the other focuses on developing analytical skills. Initially, I didn’t see these majors as complementary. I had a desire to pursue a career with a sustainable, positive impact. At the same time, I had a knack for writing. While these majors seem to have little overlap, I’ve found that my english background supports my pursuits in the Environmental Economics & Policy realm. The english major pushed me to develop a hypersensitivity to how I communicate with others. This is incredibly helpful when I’m working a job or engaging in research, because my power in words often translates into strong collaboration and articulation in my work.

What is your favorite CNR class or professor and why?

Environmental Economics and Policy 100 with associate professor Ethan Ligon has been my favorite course so far. It was a challenging class that pushed my critical thinking skills to the point of exhaustion, but it was well worth it! I came out of that class with a fresh perspective on how economic theory can translate into practical application, as well as a renewed faith in mathematical modeling. The course definitely gave me insight into what the field of environmental economics can offer. Plus, Professor Ligon is a great teacher who really engages his students in thought-provoking ways.

We heard that you participated in the Cal Energy Corps this summer - can you tell us about your internship experience and the organization that you worked with?

Center for Carbon Removal team members pose for a photo

Megan Conner (back row, second from right) at dinner with her Center for Carbon Removal coworkers.

This summer I had the opportunity to participate in the Cal Energy Corps program through the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute. The program places students in internships at companies that pursue sustainable energy and climate solutions. At the end of the internship, participating students are featured in a research symposium in which we present projects related to our work.

Through this program I interned at the Center for Carbon Removal in Oakland. The Center works to accelerate the widespread cleanup of atmospheric carbon dioxide by collaborating with industry leaders, policymakers, and technical experts to deploy carbon removal techniques. While I was there I worked on many projects, but my main research project focused on strategies for enhancing carbon mineralization and assessing current economic barriers to large-scale implementation. The work proved to be engaging. The people I worked with had such extensive knowledge on everything from business to science to engineering. It definitely was a fruitful experience.

Best study spot on campus?

I like to change up my study spots on a regular basis, but I always find myself circling back to the Rosberg Reading Room in Doe Library and the Maps Library in McCone Hall. Both are tucked away and rather quaint—good locations to ease a stressed mind.

What advice do you have for an incoming CNR student?

There are so many opportunities at Cal—especially in CNR—so take advantage of them! Do research with a professor through SPUR (Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research), get involved in a program through the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute, or join an environmentally-focused student organization. Explore interests that spark your curiosity and stimulate your intellectual growth. In the process, you'll meet some really amazing people.

 

Image:  Student Megan Conner outside Date:  Wednesday, September 6, 2017 - 14:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Wednesday, September 6, 2017 - 14:30 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

KQED takes a "Deep Look" at daddy longlegs

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 12:21
Image:  A Daddy Long leg up close. Photo by Josh Cassidy/KQED Date:  Friday, August 25, 2017 - 12:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, August 25, 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

KQED takes a "Deep Look" at daddy longlegs

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 12:21
Image:  A Daddy Long leg up close. Photo by Josh Cassidy/KQED Date:  Friday, August 25, 2017 - 12:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, August 25, 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 welcomes new faculty

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 15:22

The College of Natural Resources is pleased to welcome four new faculty to the College in 2017. Their expertise ranges from agroecosystems to water rights to the economics of rural land titling and more, and they study a myriad of issues that include sustainable resource use, urban air pollution, and ecological responses to climate change. The College looks forward to their upcoming research projects—noted briefly below—and to the academic excellence and mentorship that they will offer students at UC Berkeley. Welcome to CNR!

Headshot of Timothy Bowels Timothy Bowles

Environmental Science, Policy, and Management

Timothy Bowles is an agroecologist dedicated to making the world’s agricultural systems resilient by increasing reliance on biodiversity and ecological processes. His research—at the intersection of agroecology, soil ecology, and biogeochemistry—centers on how plant-soil-microbe interactions underpin sustainable resource use in agriculture. He obtained a PhD in ecology from UC Davis, where he used a participatory approach in working with local organic farmers to demonstrate how their management enhances soil organic matter and microbial activity to support both high yields and low potential for harmful nitrogen losses. As a USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative postdoctoral fellow at the University of New Hampshire's Department of Natural Resources and Environment before joining ESPM, Bowles worked to identify strategies that could reduce vulnerabilities of agricultural systems to changing precipitation patterns. He will continue this work at UC Berkeley and begin new projects focused on barriers to and benefits of improving soil health.

Headshot of Marco Gonzalez Marco Gonzalez-Navarro

Agricultural & Resource Economics

As a development and urban economist, Marco Gonzalez-Navarro has published studies on retail globalization in emerging markets, rural land titling, road infrastructure, crime, and political economy. His research has appeared in journals such as American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Review of Economics and Statistics, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, and Journal of Development Economics. He holds a BA in economics from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, and a PhD  in economics from Princeton University. Gonzalez-Navarro was a Robert Wood Johnson postdoctoral scholar at UC Berkeley before spending six years as an assistant professor at University of Toronto. In addition to his appointment in the Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, Gonzalez-Navarro is an affiliate of the Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and the Center for Effective Global Action. Currently, he is studying the effects of subway transportation systems on urban air pollution, and on how improved water access reduces clientelistic behavior among citizens in rural Brazil, thereby improving local democratic functioning.

Headshot of Lara Kueppers Lara Kueppers

Energy and Resources Group

Lara Kueppers is an interdisciplinary environmental scientist whose research focuses on ecological responses and feedbacks to climate change. Kueppers uses field experiments and observations, as well as models, to understand climate-ecosystem interactions in forests and agroecosystems. She has conducted fieldwork in the high-elevation forests and alpine areas of the Rocky Mountains, recently studying factors that constrain upslope shifts of subalpine trees with climate warming. She has also investigated the effects of crop growth and management on local and regional climate. Kueppers is currently deputy director of Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments—Tropics, a multi-institution project funded by the Department of Energy to better understand and project tropical forest feedbacks to climate change. Previously, she was a research scientist in the Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division at Berkeley Lab and an assistant professor at UC Merced. She holds BS and MS degrees from Stanford University and a PhD from UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management; she also completed postdoctoral training in regional climate modeling at UC Santa Cruz.

Headshot of Michael Mascarenhas Michael Mascarenhas

Environmental Science, Policy, and Management

Michael Mascarenhas is an environmental sociologist who focuses on postcolonial and development studies, environmental justice and racism, and science and technology. His first book, Where the Waters Divide (Lexington Books, 2015), examines the market-based policies that produce inequitable water resource access for Canada’s First Nations. His second book, New Humanitarianism and the Crisis of Charity: Good Intentions on the Road to Help (Indiana University Press, 2017), applies a similar methodological approach to investigate the privatization of humanitarian aid following disasters. Mascarenhas holds an MS in forestry from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and a PhD in sociology from Michigan State University. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Applied Ethics at UBC and has held teaching appointments at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His current research and book project examines water access in the cities of Flint and Detroit. Mascarenhas was an expert witness at the Michigan Civil Rights Commission on the Flint Water Crisis, and an invited speaker to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Designing Citizen Science to Support Science Learning.

 

 

Image:  Aerial view of Hilgard, Wellman and Giannini Halls Date:  Thursday, August 24, 2017 - 14:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, August 24, 2017 - 14:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

CNR welcomes new faculty

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 15:22

The College of Natural Resources is pleased to welcome four new faculty to the College in 2017. Their expertise ranges from agroecosystems to water rights to the economics of rural land titling and more, and they study a myriad of issues that include sustainable resource use, urban air pollution, ecological responses to climate change. The College looks forward to their upcoming research projects—noted briefly below—and to the academic excellence and mentorship that they will offer students at UC Berkeley. Welcome to CNR!

Headshot of Timothy Bowels Timothy Bowles

Environmental Science, Policy, and Management

Timothy Bowles is an agroecologist dedicated to making the world’s agricultural systems resilient by increasing reliance on biodiversity and ecological processes. His research—at the intersection of agroecology, soil ecology, and biogeochemistry—centers on how plant-soil-microbe interactions underpin sustainable resource use in agriculture. He obtained a PhD in ecology from UC Davis, where he used a participatory approach in working with local organic farmers to demonstrate how their management enhances soil organic matter and microbial activity to support both high yields and low potential for harmful nitrogen losses. As a USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative postdoctoral fellow at the University of New Hampshire's Department of Natural Resources and Environment before joining ESPM, Bowles worked to identify strategies that could reduce vulnerabilities of agricultural systems to changing precipitation patterns. He will continue this work at UC Berkeley and begin new projects focused on barriers to and benefits of improving soil health.

Headshot of Marco Gonzalez Marco Gonzalez-Navarro

Agricultural & Resource Economics

As a development and urban economist, Marco Gonzalez-Navarro has published studies on subway infrastructure, retail globalization in emerging markets, rural land titling, road infrastructure, crime, and political economy. His research has appeared in journals such as American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Review of Economics and Statistics, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, and Journal of Development Economics. He holds a BA in economics from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, and a PhD  in economics from Princeton University. Gonzalez-Navarro was a postdoctoral scholar at the Robert Wood Johnson at UC Berkeley before spending six years as an assistant professor at University of Toronto. In addition to his appointment in the Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, Gonzalez-Navarro is an affiliate of the Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and the Center for Effective Global Action. Currently, he is studying the effects of subway transportation systems on urban air pollution, and on how improved water access reduces clientelistic behavior among citizens in rural Brazil, thereby improving local democratic functioning.

Headshot of Lara Kueppers Lara Kueppers

Energy and Resources Group

Lara Kueppers is an interdisciplinary environmental scientist whose research focuses on ecological responses and feedbacks to climate change. Kueppers uses field experiments and observations, as well as models, to understand climate-ecosystem interactions in forests and agroecosystems. She has conducted fieldwork in the high-elevation forests and alpine areas of the Rocky Mountains, recently studying factors that constrain upslope shifts of subalpine trees with climate warming. She has also investigated the effects of crop growth and management on local and regional climate. Kueppers is currently deputy director of Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments—Tropics, a multi-institution project funded by the Department of Energy to better understand and project tropical forest feedbacks to climate change. Previously, she was a research scientist in the Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division at Berkeley Lab and an assistant professor at UC Merced. She holds BS and MS degrees from Stanford University and a PhD from UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management; she also completed postdoctoral training in regional climate modeling at UC Santa Cruz.

Headshot of Michael Mascarenhas Michael Mascarenhas

Environmental Science, Policy, and Management

Michael Mascarenhas is an environmental sociologist who focuses on postcolonial and development studies, environmental justice and racism, and science and technology. His first book, Where the Waters Divide (Lexington Books, 2015), examines the market-based policies that produce inequitable water resource access for Canada’s First Nations. His second book, New Humanitarianism and the Crisis of Charity: Good Intentions on the Road to Help (Indiana University Press, 2017), applies a similar methodological approach to investigate the privatization of humanitarian aid following disasters. Mascarenhas holds an MS in forestry from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and a PhD in sociology from Michigan State University. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Applied Ethics at UBC and has held teaching appointments at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His current research and book project examines water access in the cities of Flint and Detroit. Mascarenhas was an expert witness at the Michigan Civil Rights Commission on the Flint Water Crisis, and an invited speaker to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Designing Citizen Science to Support Science Learning.

 

 

Image:  Aerial view of Hilgard, Wellman and Giannini Halls Date:  Thursday, August 24, 2017 - 14:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, August 24, 2017 - 14:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

J. Keith Gilless Commences Final Year as CNR Dean

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 11:47
Dean Keith Gilless

After 11 years leading the College of Natural Resources, Dean J. Keith Gilless will step down from his post in June 2018.

As Dean, Gilless has been dedicated to supporting CNR’s diverse research, teaching, and outreach activities. He has led the College through major growth, overseen the launch of a number of interdisciplinary initiatives, completed infrastructure renewal projects, and skillfully steered the College through difficult cost-saving measures.

Known for his ability to foster collaboration, Gilless was instrumental in many significant partnerships with other campus units, including the launch of the Energy Biosciences Institute, the Innovative Genomics Institute, the Berkeley Initiative for Global Change Biology, and the Berkeley Food Institute. He was involved in welcoming the Energy & Resources Group as a CNR unit in 2011, and his efforts have resulted in a major expansion of UC research forest lands.

Under his leadership the College has been recognized internationally for excellence. In recent years, UC Berkeley has consistently ranked at the top of many fields in which CNR plays a major role, including environmental sciences, ecology, agricultural and resource economics, nutrition, plant biology, and microbiology.

"Dean Gilless has provided great leadership at the College of Natural Resources through his successful efforts to streamline its operations and to maintain its intellectual greatness,” said Henry Brady, Dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy. “He has been a leader among deans in his work on the Berkeley Food Institute and on many other university initiatives, and he has constantly reminded all of us that Berkeley must continue to live up to its reputation for teaching and research excellence, for service, and for access."  

Keith Gilless in discussion with students from around the world.

Dean Gilless in discussion with students of the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program.

From expansion of the popular Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research program and improvements to the Student Resource Center to involvement in STEM outreach and support programs, Dean Gilless will also be remembered for his ongoing support of the undergraduate experience in the College and across campus. During his tenure, undergraduate enrollment in CNR majors has more than doubled, and Gilless oversaw the centralization of undergraduate advising in 2009. Today, CNR is known for its small college feel and boasts consistently high undergraduate satisfaction ratings.

Gilless has also championed international and professional education. He was involved in the creation of the Berkeley Master of Development Practice program and he expanded upon the long-running Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program to establish CNR’s International & Executive Programs.

“The College has been extremely fortunate to have Keith as dean, and we truly appreciate his many accomplishments that have supported students, increased philanthropic giving, and—through the creation of the CNR Alumni Association and many other efforts—strengthened alumni engagement,” said Steve Hurst ‘78, current chairman of the CNR Advisory Board and founder, president, and CEO of Savant HWP, Inc. “Keith leaves all of us with words to live by, words that reflect not only CNR’s mission but also his personal values and integrity: ‘See the Bigger Picture. Make a Better World.’”

Dean Gilless earned his B.S. in Forestry from Michigan State University and a joint Ph.D. in Forestry and Agricultural Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A professor of forest economics and management at Berkeley since 1983, he holds appointments in both the departments of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and of Agricultural and Resource Economics. He received the UC Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award in 1989 and held the S.J. Hall Chair in Forest Economics from 1996-2006. After serving as interim dean in CNR from 2007-2008, Gilless was formally appointed to his first term by the UC Board of Regents in July 2008. 

VIDEO: Dean Gilless reflects on his years teaching at the UC Berkeley forestry field camp.

“Keith has that fantastic combination of depth of knowledge on many topics plus the people skills to really influence opinion and create impactful change,” said Lisa Alvarez-Cohen, Vice Chair of the Academic Senate and Professor of Environmental Engineering. “He’s a true devotee of Berkeley, and as Dean of CNR, he’s been a force of nature. He has shown true leadership during difficult times for the campus.”

Dean Gilless and members of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection

Dean Gilless (third from right) and members of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection with Cal Fire Leadership at the Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base.

An ambassador for the campus in many capacities, Gilless has held multiple administrative and leadership roles with the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and he is currently serving as the chair of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection. He is a member of the California Forest Carbon Action Team and a senior advisor to Wildfire Breakthrough, a nonprofit working to encourage the government to commit to intensive research and development to find a scientific solution to wildfires. He served twice as a member of the USDA’s Forest Research Advisory Council, and has been a member of the steering committees of several international forestry organizations.

"I have known Keith as both student and colleague; he has been a mentor and a friend,” said Glenda Humiston, Vice President of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  “I've watched him reinvigorate CNR, lead the California Board of Forestry, handle a dozen emergencies, and still find time to take care of family and friends—and all with a smile.”

Dean Gilless’ contributions to fundraising efforts have resulted in significant support for the College. He was deeply involved in what was at the time the largest single estate gift in the history of the campus, which resulted in an $18 million general fund for the college, the John H. Gross endowment. He secured funds for a number of infrastructure projects, including renovations in Morgan Hall in 2010—the first lab renovation on the Berkeley campus to receive LEED Gold certification. He also led a fundraising effort to support Berkeley’s 100-year-old forestry program and to increase philanthropic giving for students in forestry. During the Campaign for Berkeley, the College exceeded its goal by $10 million. Additionally, under Gilless' direction over the past decade, CNR has grown its endowment—which supports research, instructional programs, and financial aid—from nearly $38 million to almost $93 million. 

Keith Gilless speaking at a podium

Dean Gilless addressing the audience at a Berkeley Food Institute workshop on policy engagement. Photo by Jonathan Fong.

As he looks ahead to the last year of his second term, Dean Gilless isn’t losing any steam. He plans to focus on two new ambitious projects for the College: a renovation to CNR’s kitchen—the only teaching kitchen on campus—and a major building campaign in collaboration with the College of Chemistry and the College of Engineering, which capitalizes on the research synergies between the three colleges. He’s also excited to be working on a brand new campuswide energy, environment, and climate initiative.

“I feel deeply honored to have been able to serve the college and the campus as CNR’s dean, and stepping down from this position is just a transition in my relationship to Berkeley,” said Gilless. In addition to resuming his faculty position, Gilless expects to continue his engagement in the expansion of the College’s professional programs.

“I can’t think of any institution in the country whose mission aligned so well with my own values, or that could have had a more positive influence on informing and shaping them,” he added. “Berkeley has given me opportunities and experiences I could not have dreamed of as a young environmentalist deciding to pursue a career in forestry. I’ve done my best to return the favor, and will continue to do so in support of those stepping up to lead the college and the campus.” 

Image:  Dean Keith Gilless Date:  Monday, August 21, 2017 - 11:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, August 11, 2017 - 11:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

J. Keith Gilless Commences Final Year as CNR Dean

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 11:47
Dean Keith Gilless

After 11 years leading the College of Natural Resources, Dean J. Keith Gilless will step down from his post in June 2018.

As Dean, Gilless has been dedicated to supporting CNR’s diverse research, teaching, and outreach activities. He has led the College through major growth, overseen the launch of a number of interdisciplinary initiatives, completed infrastructure renewal projects, and skillfully steered the College through difficult cost-saving measures.

Known for his ability to foster collaboration, Gilless was instrumental in many significant partnerships with other campus units, including the launch of the Energy Biosciences Institute, the Innovative Genomics Institute, the Berkeley Initiative for Global Change Biology, and the Berkeley Food Institute. He was involved in welcoming the Energy & Resources Group as a CNR unit in 2011, and his efforts have resulted in a major expansion of UC research forest lands.

Under his leadership the College has been recognized internationally for excellence. In recent years, UC Berkeley has consistently ranked at the top of many fields in which CNR plays a major role, including environmental sciences, ecology, agricultural and resource economics, nutrition, plant biology, and microbiology.

"Dean Gilless has provided great leadership at the College of Natural Resources through his successful efforts to streamline its operations and to maintain its intellectual greatness,” said Henry Brady, Dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy. “He has been a leader among deans in his work on the Berkeley Food Institute and on many other university initiatives, and he has constantly reminded all of us that Berkeley must continue to live up to its reputation for teaching and research excellence, for service, and for access."  

Keith Gilless in discussion with students from around the world.

Dean Gilless in discussion with students of the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program.

From expansion of the popular Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research program and improvements to the Student Resource Center to involvement in STEM outreach and support programs, Dean Gilless will also be remembered for his ongoing support of the undergraduate experience in the College and across campus. During his tenure, undergraduate enrollment in CNR majors has more than doubled, and Gilless oversaw the centralization of undergraduate advising in 2009. Today, CNR is known for its small college feel and boasts consistently high undergraduate satisfaction ratings.

Gilless has also championed international and professional education. He was involved in the creation of the Berkeley Master of Development Practice program and he expanded upon the long-running Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program to establish CNR’s International & Executive Programs.

“The College has been extremely fortunate to have Keith as dean, and we truly appreciate his many accomplishments that have supported students, increased philanthropic giving, and—through the creation of the CNR Alumni Association and many other efforts—strengthened alumni engagement,” said Steve Hurst ‘78, current chairman of the CNR Advisory Board and founder, president, and CEO of Savant HWP, Inc. “Keith leaves all of us with words to live by, words that reflect not only CNR’s mission but also his personal values and integrity: ‘See the Bigger Picture. Make a Better World.’”

Dean Gilless earned his B.S. in Forestry from Michigan State University and a joint Ph.D. in Forestry and Agricultural Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A professor of forest economics and management at Berkeley since 1983, he holds appointments in both the departments of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and of Agricultural and Resource Economics. He received the UC Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award in 1989 and held the S.J. Hall Chair in Forest Economics from 1996-2006. After serving as interim dean in CNR from 2007-2008, Gilless was formally appointed to his first term by the UC Board of Regents in July 2008. 

VIDEO: Dean Gilless reflects on his years teaching at the UC Berkeley forestry field camp.

“Keith has that fantastic combination of depth of knowledge on many topics plus the people skills to really influence opinion and create impactful change,” said Lisa Alvarez-Cohen, Vice Chair of the Academic Senate and Professor of Environmental Engineering. “He’s a true devotee of Berkeley, and as Dean of CNR, he’s been a force of nature. He has shown true leadership during difficult times for the campus.”

Dean Gilless and members of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection

Dean Gilless (third from right) and members of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection with Cal Fire Leadership at the Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base.

An ambassador for the campus in many capacities, Gilless has held multiple administrative and leadership roles with the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and he is currently serving as the chair of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection. He is a member of the California Forest Carbon Action Team and a senior advisor to Wildfire Breakthrough, a nonprofit working to encourage the government to commit to intensive research and development to find a scientific solution to wildfires. He served twice as a member of the USDA’s Forest Research Advisory Council, and has been a member of the steering committees of several international forestry organizations.

"I have known Keith as both student and colleague; he has been a mentor and a friend,” said Glenda Humiston, Vice President of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  “I've watched him reinvigorate CNR, lead the California Board of Forestry, handle a dozen emergencies, and still find time to take care of family and friends—and all with a smile.”

Dean Gilless’ contributions to fundraising efforts have resulted in significant support for the College. He was deeply involved in what was at the time the largest single estate gift in the history of the campus, which resulted in an $18 million general fund for the college, the John H. Gross endowment. He secured funds for a number of infrastructure projects, including renovations in Morgan Hall in 2010—the first lab renovation on the Berkeley campus to receive LEED Gold certification. He also led a fundraising effort to support Berkeley’s 100-year-old forestry program and to increase philanthropic giving for students in forestry. During the Campaign for Berkeley, the College exceeded its goal by $10 million. Additionally, under Gilless' direction over the past decade, CNR has grown its endowment—which supports research, instructional programs, and financial aid—from nearly $38 million to almost $93 million. 

Keith Gilless speaking at a podium

Dean Gilless addressing the audience at a Berkeley Food Institute workshop on policy engagement. Photo by Jonathan Fong.

As he looks ahead to the last year of his second term, Dean Gilless isn’t losing any steam. He plans to focus on two new ambitious projects for the College: a renovation to CNR’s kitchen—the only teaching kitchen on campus—and a major building campaign in collaboration with the College of Chemistry and the College of Engineering, which capitalizes on the research synergies between the three colleges. He’s also excited to be working on a brand new campuswide energy, environment, and climate initiative.

“I feel deeply honored to have been able to serve the college and the campus as CNR’s dean, and stepping down from this position is just a transition in my relationship to Berkeley,” said Gilless. In addition to resuming his faculty position, Gilless expects to continue his engagement in the expansion of the College’s professional programs.

“I can’t think of any institution in the country whose mission aligned so well with my own values, or that could have had a more positive influence on informing and shaping them,” he added. “Berkeley has given me opportunities and experiences I could not have dreamed of as a young environmentalist deciding to pursue a career in forestry. I’ve done my best to return the favor, and will continue to do so in support of those stepping up to lead the college and the campus.” 

Image:  Dean Keith Gilless Date:  Monday, August 21, 2017 - 11:45 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, August 11, 2017 - 11:45 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left

ERG student Valeri Vasquez receives computational and data science fellowship

Fri, 08/11/2017 - 12:13
Image:  Date:  Friday, August 11, 2017 - 12:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, August 11, 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):  Honors and Awards

ERG student Valeri Vasquez receives computational and data science fellowship

Fri, 08/11/2017 - 12:13
Image:  Date:  Friday, August 11, 2017 - 12:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Friday, August 11, 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):  Honors and Awards

New collaboration between metabolic biology graduate program, UCSF

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 12:13
Image:  View of the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge Date:  Thursday, August 3, 2017 - 12:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, August 3, 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

New collaboration between metabolic biology graduate program, UCSF

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 12:13
Image:  View of the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge Date:  Thursday, August 3, 2017 - 12:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Thursday, August 3, 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

India's rising suicide rate linked to failing crops, poverty

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 14:19

Climate change has already caused more than 59,000 suicides in India over the last 30 years, according to estimates in a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that suggests failing harvests that push farmers into poverty are likely the key culprits.

Map of India showing areas with highest rates of suicide from 1980 to 2013

Tamma Carleton, a PhD. candidate in the department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, discovered that warming a single day by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) during India’s agricultural growing season leads to roughly 65 suicides across the country, whenever that day’s temperature is above 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). Warming a day by 5 degrees Celsius has five times that effect.

Carleton projects that today’s suicide rate will only rise as temperatures continue to warm.

While high temperatures and low rainfall during the growing season substantially impact annual suicide rates, similar events have no effect on suicide rates during the off-season, when few crops are grown, implicating agriculture as the critical link.

This study helps explain India’s evolving suicide epidemic, where suicide rates have nearly doubled since 1980 and claim more than 130,000 lives each year. Carleton’s results indicate that 7 percent of this upward trend can be attributed to warming that has been linked to human activity.

Soaring temperatures, despair

More than 75 percent of the world’s suicides are believed to occur in developing countries, with one-fifth of those in India alone. But there has been little hard evidence to help explain why poor populations are so at risk.

“It was both shocking and heartbreaking to see that thousands of people face such bleak conditions that they are driven to harm themselves,” Carleton says. “But learning that the desperation is economic means that we can do something about this. The right policies could save thousands.”

The study demonstrates that warming — forecast to reach 3 degrees Celsius by 2050 — is already taking a toll on Indian society. Using methods that she developed in a previous paper published in the journal Science, Carleton projects that today’s suicide rate will only rise as temperatures continue to warm.

Optimists often suggest that society will adapt to warming. But Carleton searched for evidence that communities acclimatize to high temperatures, or become more resilient as they get richer, and found none in the data.

“Without interventions that help families adapt to a warmer climate, it’s likely we will see a rising number of lives lost to suicide as climate change worsens in India,” Carleton says.

Carleton says she hopes her work will help people better understand the human cost of climate change, as well as inform suicide prevention policy in India and other developing countries.

“The tragedy is unfolding today. This is not a problem for future generations. This is our problem, right now,” she says.

Which policies will help prevent suicide?

Debate about solutions to the country’s high and rising suicide rate is contentious and has centered around lowering economic risks for farmers. In response, the Indian government established a $1.3 billion crop insurance plan aimed at reducing the suicide rate but it is unknown if that will be sufficient or effective.

“Public dialogue has focused on a narrative in which crop failures increase farmer debt, and cause some farmers to commit suicide. Until now, there was no data to support this claim,” says Carleton.

More than half of India’s working population is employed in rain-dependent agriculture, long known to be sensitive to climate fluctuations such as unpredictable monsoon rains, scorching heat waves, and drought. A third of India’s workers already earn below the international poverty line.

This study’s findings indicate that protecting these workers from major economic shortfalls during these events, through policies like crop insurance or improvements in rural credit markets, may help to rein in a rising suicide rate.

Impacts beyond agriculture

Heat drives crop loss, Carleton contends, which can cause ripple effects throughout the Indian economy as poor harvests drive up food prices, shrink agricultural jobs and draw on household savings. During these times, it appears that a staggering number of people, often male heads of household, turn to suicide.

The Indian government established a $1.3 billion crop insurance plan aimed at reducing the suicide rate, but it is unknown if that will be sufficient or effective.

Carleton tested the links between climate change, crop yields and suicide by pairing the numbers for India’s reported suicides in each of its 32 states between 1967 and 2013, using a dataset prepared by the Indian National Crime Records Bureau, along with statistics on India’s crop yields, and high-resolution climate data.

To isolate the types of climate shocks that damage crops, Carleton focused on temperature and rainfall during June through September, a critical period for crop productivity that is based on the average arrival and departure dates of India’s summer monsoon.

She cautions that her estimates of temperature-linked suicides are probably too low, because deaths in general are underreported in India and because until 2014, national law held that attempted suicide was a criminal offense, further discouraging reporting.

Carleton was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and is a recipient of the Science to Achieve Results Fellowship awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Read the story at its source, UC Berkeley News. 

Image:  Indian farmer in a field Date:  Tuesday, August 1, 2017 - 13:45 byline:  By Kathleen Maclay, UC Berkeley Media relations Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, August 1, 2017 - 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

India's rising suicide rate linked to failing crops, poverty

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 14:19

Climate change has already caused more than 59,000 suicides in India over the last 30 years, according to estimates in a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that suggests failing harvests that push farmers into poverty are likely the key culprits.

Map of India showing areas with highest rates of suicide from 1980 to 2013

Tamma Carleton, a PhD. candidate in the department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, discovered that warming a single day by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) during India’s agricultural growing season leads to roughly 65 suicides across the country, whenever that day’s temperature is above 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). Warming a day by 5 degrees Celsius has five times that effect.

Carleton projects that today’s suicide rate will only rise as temperatures continue to warm.

While high temperatures and low rainfall during the growing season substantially impact annual suicide rates, similar events have no effect on suicide rates during the off-season, when few crops are grown, implicating agriculture as the critical link.

This study helps explain India’s evolving suicide epidemic, where suicide rates have nearly doubled since 1980 and claim more than 130,000 lives each year. Carleton’s results indicate that 7 percent of this upward trend can be attributed to warming that has been linked to human activity.

Soaring temperatures, despair

More than 75 percent of the world’s suicides are believed to occur in developing countries, with one-fifth of those in India alone. But there has been little hard evidence to help explain why poor populations are so at risk.

“It was both shocking and heartbreaking to see that thousands of people face such bleak conditions that they are driven to harm themselves,” Carleton says. “But learning that the desperation is economic means that we can do something about this. The right policies could save thousands.”

The study demonstrates that warming — forecast to reach 3 degrees Celsius by 2050 — is already taking a toll on Indian society. Using methods that she developed in a previous paper published in the journal Science, Carleton projects that today’s suicide rate will only rise as temperatures continue to warm.

Optimists often suggest that society will adapt to warming. But Carleton searched for evidence that communities acclimatize to high temperatures, or become more resilient as they get richer, and found none in the data.

“Without interventions that help families adapt to a warmer climate, it’s likely we will see a rising number of lives lost to suicide as climate change worsens in India,” Carleton says.

Carleton says she hopes her work will help people better understand the human cost of climate change, as well as inform suicide prevention policy in India and other developing countries.

“The tragedy is unfolding today. This is not a problem for future generations. This is our problem, right now,” she says.

Which policies will help prevent suicide?

Debate about solutions to the country’s high and rising suicide rate is contentious and has centered around lowering economic risks for farmers. In response, the Indian government established a $1.3 billion crop insurance plan aimed at reducing the suicide rate but it is unknown if that will be sufficient or effective.

“Public dialogue has focused on a narrative in which crop failures increase farmer debt, and cause some farmers to commit suicide. Until now, there was no data to support this claim,” says Carleton.

More than half of India’s working population is employed in rain-dependent agriculture, long known to be sensitive to climate fluctuations such as unpredictable monsoon rains, scorching heat waves, and drought. A third of India’s workers already earn below the international poverty line.

This study’s findings indicate that protecting these workers from major economic shortfalls during these events, through policies like crop insurance or improvements in rural credit markets, may help to rein in a rising suicide rate.

Impacts beyond agriculture

Heat drives crop loss, Carleton contends, which can cause ripple effects throughout the Indian economy as poor harvests drive up food prices, shrink agricultural jobs and draw on household savings. During these times, it appears that a staggering number of people, often male heads of household, turn to suicide.

The Indian government established a $1.3 billion crop insurance plan aimed at reducing the suicide rate, but it is unknown if that will be sufficient or effective.

Carleton tested the links between climate change, crop yields and suicide by pairing the numbers for India’s reported suicides in each of its 32 states between 1967 and 2013, using a dataset prepared by the Indian National Crime Records Bureau, along with statistics on India’s crop yields, and high-resolution climate data.

To isolate the types of climate shocks that damage crops, Carleton focused on temperature and rainfall during June through September, a critical period for crop productivity that is based on the average arrival and departure dates of India’s summer monsoon.

She cautions that her estimates of temperature-linked suicides are probably too low, because deaths in general are underreported in India and because until 2014, national law held that attempted suicide was a criminal offense, further discouraging reporting.

Carleton was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and is a recipient of the Science to Achieve Results Fellowship awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Read the story at its source, UC Berkeley News. 

Image:  Indian farmer in a field Date:  Tuesday, August 1, 2017 - 13:45 byline:  By Kathleen Maclay, UC Berkeley Media relations Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, August 1, 2017 - 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

Gordon Rausser and co-authors receive communication award

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 09:33
Image:  Date:  Tuesday, August 1, 2017 - 14:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, August 1, 2017 - 14:30 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

Gordon Rausser and co-authors receive communication award

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 09:33
Image:  Date:  Tuesday, August 1, 2017 - 14:30 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, August 1, 2017 - 14:30 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

Study analyzes innovations in lithium-​​ion bat­tery costs

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 00:00

Stor­age prices are falling faster than solar PV or wind tech­nolo­gies, accord­ing to a new study by pub­lished in Nature Energy  by Energy & Resources Group graduate student Noah Kittner and professor Dan Kammen. The fall in prices is allow­ing new com­bi­na­tions of solar, wind, and energy stor­age to out­com­pete coal and nat­ural gas plants on cost alone.

The study found that R&D invest­ments for energy stor­age projects have been remark­ably effec­tive in bring­ing the cost per kWh of a lithium-​​ion bat­tery down from $10,000/kWh in the early 1990’s to a tra­jec­tory that could reach $100/​kWh next year. The pace of inno­va­tion is staggering.

Ordi­nar­ily, pub­lic research invest­ment and pri­vate ven­ture cap­i­tal money undergo tough scrutiny before money can be spent on research and the results from years of work are not imme­di­ately vis­i­ble. How­ever, this study shows that long-​​term R&D spend­ing played a crit­i­cal fac­tor in achiev­ing cost reduc­tions, and a recent lack of invest­ment for basic and applied research may miss the $100/​kWh tar­get for cost effec­tive renew­able energy projects. Mod­est future research invest­ment from pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors could go a long way to unlock extremely low-​​cost, and low-​​carbon elec­tric­ity from solar, wind, and storage.

Read the full story at its source, the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory.

Image:  Solar panels Date:  Monday, July 31, 2017 - 14:15 Legacy:  section header item:  Date:  Tuesday, August 1, 2017 - 14:15 headline_position:  Top Left headline_color_style:  Normal headline_width:  Long caption_color_style:  Normal caption_position:  Bottom Left