Surprise Result: Increasing Dispersal Increases Ecological Diversity

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

A study of microbes that live in the nectar of flowers has turned up an unexpected result that challenges a common assumption in ecology.

It’s been widely assumed that the more easily organisms can disperse between habitats, the more similar the mix of species in those habitats will be.

Sticky Monkeyflower

The flowers of Sticky Monkeyflower contain a mix of microbes that live on nectar. A new study shows how microbial diversity changes between flowers. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Paris Soil Carbon Goals Not Feasible, Because of Nitrogen

By Ann Filmer

Goals for carbon reduction from sequestration in soils set in the 2015 Paris Agreement are not feasible, according to an international team of climate scientists. Regardless of whether the U.S. remains part of the Paris climate accord, scientists at the University of California, Davis, are developing additional agricultural methods to offset increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases, thereby reducing the potential for global warming.

Subsurface drip irrigation

Subsurface drip irrigation in a tomato field at UC Davis. This irrigation method saves water, reduces fertilizer use and reduces emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. Photo by Martin Burger, UC Davis.

Podcast: Synestia, a New Type of Planetary Object

In this month’s Three-Minute Egghead, Sarah Stewart and Simon Lock talk about synestias. A synestia is a new type of planetary object, they proposed, formed when a giant collision between planet-size objects creates a mass of hot, vaporized rock spinning with high angular momentum. Synestias could be an important stage in planet formation, and we might be able to find them in other solar systems.

https://soundcloud.com/user-570302262/three-minute-egghead-synestia-a-new-planetary-object?in=user-570302262/sets/three-minute-egghead-a-podcast

More information

News release: Synestia, A New Type of Planetary Object

New Theory Explains How the Moon Got There

Simon Lock’s Synestia Page

New Technique Provides Earthquake Risk for Major Cities Worldwide

By Larry O’Hanlon

Scientists have developed snapshots of the likelihood of major earthquakes occurring in megacities around the world using a new statistical approach for estimating earthquake risk. The work will be presented today, May 22 at the joint meeting of the Japan Geoscience Union and the American Geophysical Union in Chiba, Japan.

A “nowcast” for Tokyo. The red thermometer at right shows how far along the Tokyo region is in its cycle of smaller quakes between quakes of at least 6.5 magnitude. (John Rundle, UC Davis)

Refining the Ocean’s Thermometer

By Becky Oskin

Chronicling Earth’s past temperature swings is a basic part of understanding climate change. One of the best records of past ocean temperatures can be found in the shells of marine creatures called foraminifera.

The foraminiferan Neogloboquadrina dutertrei forms a record of ocean conditions as it builds its shell. Photo by J. Fehrenbacher

Known as “forams” for short, these single-celled plankton build microscopic calcite shells. When forams die, their shells fall to the ocean floor and accumulate in sediments that provide a record of past climate. The surface-feeding plankton are natural thermometers because the chemical makeup of foram shells is linked to the environmental conditions they grow in. For example, the levels of magnesium in foram shells reflect the seawater temperature in which they lived.

Banker Plants Control Rice Pests

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Rice farmers seeking to protect their crops from pests without high dependency on pesticides may want to consider the sustainable pest management practice known as the “banker plant system.”

Planting a mix of sesame and Leersia sayanuka grass at the edge of rice fields encourages insects that parasitize a rice pest, the Brown plant hopper. (Photo courtesy of Zhongxian Lu)

Planting a mix of sesame and Leersia sayanuka grass at the edge of rice fields encourages insects that parasitize a rice pest, the Brown plant hopper. (Photo courtesy of Zhongxian Lu)

First-of-its-kind research, published in Scientific Reports by a nine-member team including UC Davis agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen, indicated that attracting alternative hosts for parasitoids of rice insect pests can help protect a rice crop. The players: a grass species, a planthopper, and an egg parasitoid.

Clues to Life on Mars in a Polluted California Mine

By Becky Oskin

To find evidence of life on Mars, scientists from UC Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey are chasing clues in Mars-like environments on Earth.

Pollution at the disused Iron Mountain mine near Redding, Calif. turns the soil red and makes the environment Mars-like. Amy Williams, Towson University

The environment at the Iron Mountain mine near Redding, Calif. is similar to Mars. Amy Williams, Towson University

The researchers hope to find rock patterns and textures that are uniquely linked to microscopic life such as bacteria and algae. “It’s challenging to prove that a mineral was made by a living organism,” said lead study author Amy Williams, an assistant professor at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. Williams led the research as a graduate student at UC Davis. Finding similar textures in Mars rocks could bolster confidence that microscopic shapes in Red Planet rocks were formed by living creatures.

Pattern Discovery over Pattern Recognition: A New Way for Computers to See

Jim Crutchfield wants to teach a machine to “see” in a new way, discovering patterns that evolve over time instead of recognizing patterns based on a stored template.

It sounds like an easy task – after all, any animal with basic vision can see a moving object, decide whether it is food or a threat and react accordingly, but what comes easily to a scallop is a challenge for the world’s biggest supercomputers.

Supercomputer

CORI at Lawrence Berkeley Lab is one of the world’s fastest computers. It is named after Gerty Theresa Cori, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. (NERSC/LBL photo)

Bring On The Bats (And Birds And Raptors)

By Katherine Ingram

Spring is in the air in California’s Central Valley. Birds are bathing in puddles that dot the landscape, and bats are swooping in and out of streetlights at dusk. Both groups of wildlife are feasting on bugs emerging after this winter’s epic rains.

Bat

Bats are voracious predators of insects. Photo of Pallid bat by merlintuttle.org

The sight is a pleasant reminder of the abundance of wildlife that lives alongside us, performing tasks that inadvertently aid humans, such as natural pest control, pollination, and seed dispersal.

Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Soil Microbiome

By Lisa Howard

Soil Actually Has a Microbiome

Gut bacteria have been getting a lot of attention lately (yogurt, anyone?) but it turns out the soil in your own back yard is teeming with microbial life. According to Kate Scow, a professor of soil science and microbial ecology at UC Davis, a quarter teaspoon of soil can easily contain a billion bacterial cells. And she estimates there can be 10,000 to 50,000 different taxa of microbes in a single teaspoon. Soil is one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems on the planet, and it is one that is essential for human life through all the functions it provides: the breakdown of organic materials, food production, water purification, greenhouse gas reduction, and pollution cleanup, just to name a few.