Livestock and Climate Change: Facts and Fiction

Dairy cows eat hay

Holstein cows eat lunch at the Dairy Cattle Facility at UC Davis. Credit: Gregory Urquiaga, UC Davis

By Frank Mitloehner

As the November 2015 Global Climate Change Conference COP21 concluded in Paris, 196 countries reached agreement on the reduction of fossil fuel use and emissions in the production and consumption of energy, even to the extent of potentially phasing out fossil fuels out entirely.

Both globally and in the U.S., energy production and use, as well as the transportation sectors, are the largest anthropogenic contributors of greenhouse gasses (GHG), which are believed to drive climate change. While there is scientific consensus regarding the relative importance of fossil fuel use, anti animal-agriculture advocates portray the idea that livestock is to blame for a lion’s share of the contributions to total GHG emissions.

Not so sweet: Why Pollinators Forage on Toxic or Bitter Nectar

Audio: Listen to this story on our podcast, Three Minute Egghead. 

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Nectar doesn’t always taste so sweet, but honeybees and other pollinators still feed on it. Now UC Davis community ecologist Rachel Vannette has discovered why pollinators continue to forage on “toxic” or bitter-tasting nectar, despite what should be a deterrent.

In newly published research in the journal Ecology, Vannette notes that floral nectar is produced by many plants to reward pollinators, but this sugary secretion often contains chemical compounds that are bitter tasting or toxic, which should deter pollinators. Plants including citrus, tobacco (Nicotiana), milkweed (Asclepias), turtlehead (Chelone), Catalpa, and others produce nectar containing bioactive or toxic compounds.

UC Davis joins UC Water effort to improve state’s water security

By Kat Kerlin

It’s hard to manage what you don’t measure.

UC Davis is playing a major role in solving California’s biggest water woes by joining forces across the UC system. The UC Water Security and Sustainability Research Initiative aims to account for all of California’s water, better understand how and where it flows, and help demonstrate how water can be managed differently to allow for greater water security.

Innovation event jumpstarts dialogue on food, agriculture and health

By Kyeema Zerbe and Jennifer Hebets

The first ever event by the Innovation Institute for Food and Health (IIFH) struck surprising consensus in the food, agriculture and health agenda. The Challenge Definition Workshop held Oct. 29 set the stage for dialogue around such issues as crop selection, soil health, nutrition education, consumer decision-making, and technology feasibility – all under the overarching themes of health, sustainability, knowledge and governance. Next week, focus groups will deliberate the research questions behind such challenges, in preparation for the tour, hackathon and conference scheduled at the Solution Summit on December 2 and 3 in the UC Davis Conference Center.

Innovation Institute kicks-off “uncommon collaboration” for food and health with workshop

By Kyeema Zerbe

The Innovation Institute for Food and Health (IIFH) at UC Davis is kicking off a uniquely open collaboration on solving critical challenges in food, agriculture and health with an open workshop Oct. 29 inviting participants from all disciplines to provide input on the institute’s strategic focus.

Food and nutrition insecurity remain serious issues for more than 50 developing countries, according to the 2015 Global Hunger Index. And even as many as 10 percent of populations in developed countries go hungry, including in the fertile lands of California’s Central Valley. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that almost 800 million people worldwide are chronically undernourished. With the global population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, society faces an uncertain future that demands a coordinated response from all sectors to improve access to adequate nutrition.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide can change how coffee trees grow

Plants use nitrogen from the atmosphere in unexpected ways. writes Kat Kerlin

Trees need nitrogen to grow, and they would prefer to get it from the soil. But in a pinch, when soils are poor, they will look to the atmosphere as sort of a nitrogen “food pantry,” grabbing it from the sky, according to a UC Davis study. However, amid rising levels of carbon dioxide, that back-up source of nitrogen is harder for the trees to access, limiting their growth.

The study, published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, helps explain why rising CO2 levels are not accompanied by a boom in tree growth, as scientists formerly expected.

Fourth wheat gene is key to flowering and climate adaptation

By Pat Bailey

In the game of wheat genetics, Jorge Dubcovsky’s laboratory at UC Davis has hit a grand slam, unveiling for the fourth time in a dozen years a gene that governs wheat vernalization, the biological process requiring cold temperatures to trigger flower formation.

Identification of the newly characterized VRN-D4 gene and its three counterpart genes is crucial for understanding the vernalization process and developing improved varieties of wheat, which provides about one-fifth of the calories and proteins that we humans consume globally.

UC Davis solution for better nitrogen climate modeling adopted by IPCC

By Kat Kerlin

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers who provide global climate models to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have publicly thanked UC Davis associate professor Ben Houlton and his colleagues for creating a new solution to more accurately forecast nitrogen’s effects on global warming.

In an opinion piece in Nature Climate Change, the authors discuss how they have modified their model equations so that they now provide realistic predictions  anchored in Houlton’s benchmarking technique, published in that journal in April.

Dairy products boost effectiveness of probiotics, new studies show

Probiotics, those living bacteria and yeasts that offer a variety of health benefits, especially for the digestive system, are now available to consumers in yogurt and a variety of other food products as well as in nonfood supplements. But little is known about how the products containing those probiotics might influence their effectiveness.

Could it really be important whether you consume a probiotic in yogurt or other fermented foods and beverages rather than in a supplement? And is there something about dairy products that makes them particularly well suited for probiotics?

Wild bees pollinate crops, but that’s not why they should be conserved

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Wild bee diversity is declining worldwide at unprecedented rates, and steps must be taken to conserve them — and not just those that are the main pollinators of agricultural crops, declare 58 bee researchers in a study published June 16 in the journal Nature Communications.

“This study provides important support for the role of wild bees to crop pollination,” said co-author and pollination ecologist Neal Williams, associate professor in the UC Davis

Wild pollinators such as bumblebees contribute to crop production. (Credit: Kathy Keatley Garvey/UC Davis).

Wild pollinators such as bumblebees contribute to crop production. (Credit: Kathy Keatley Garvey/UC Davis).