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.

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.

Honey Bee Genetics Sheds Light on Bee Origins

Where do honey bees come from? A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis and UC Berkeley clears some of the fog around honey bee origins. The work could be useful in breeding bees resistant to disease or pesticides.

A foraging honeybee. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.

A foraging honeybee. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.

UC Davis postdoctoral researcher Julie Cridland is working with Santiago Ramirez, assistant professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, and Neil Tsutsui, professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley, to understand the population structure of honey bees (Apis mellifera) in California. Pollination by honey bees is essential to major California crops, such as almonds. Across the U.S., the value of “pollination services” from bees has been estimated as high as $14 billion.

UC Davis Wildlife Museum Team In Papua New Guinea

By Andrew Engilis

On October 5th, two scientists from the UC Davis Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology joined a multi-national team of researchers to conduct biodiversity surveys on the island of New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

Irene Engilis, UC Davis Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, extracts a bat from a mist net.

Irene Engilis, UC Davis Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, extracts a bat from a mist net.

The expedition is coordinated by Allen Allison, senior zoologist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii. Allison obtained his B.S and Ph.D. from UC Davis and has organized and led numerous research expeditions over the past 40 years in Papua New Guinea.

Scientists Explore the Foggy Link Between Redwoods, Climate Change

By Lorena Anderson, UC Merced

California’s coastal redwoods are one of the state’s most prominent icons, drawing more than 2 million visitors a year. Another prominent icon? Fog, winding its way across the coast and through the trees. Climate change may be impacting both of them.

Climate change may affect the fog that waters California's iconic coastal redwoods.

Climate change may affect the fog that waters California’s iconic coastal redwoods.

While coastal redwoods typically get plenty of water during the winter, fog helps them get through the summer. But fog is on the decline. What that means for the coastal redwoods in currently unclear.

A Better Way to Stop Pests at the Border

By Kat Kerlin

Plants imported into the United States sometimes hold more than leaves and stems. They also can transport hidden, non-native pests and pathogens that can cause substantial ecological and economic damage if they establish in the environment.

Pests, such as this citrus long horned beetle, can be accidentally imported in cross-border shipments of live plants. (Wikipedia)

Pests, such as this citrus long horned beetle, can be accidentally imported in cross-border shipments of live plants. (Wikipedia)

In the United States, that pathway is growing. Over the past four decades, the dollar value of imported plants has grown at 68 percent per decade. One means of reducing their entry is to inspect live plant imports at the U.S. border.

Climate Change Spurs Forest Growth in Tibet

Under certain conditions, forests can grow in response to climate change

By Kat Kerlin

After a tip-off from nomadic herders, a team of scientists has confirmed reports of a forest expansion in eastern Tibet, a region dominated by ancient grasslands. The forest growth, unprecedented since 1760, is due to a combination of climatic changes: rising atmospheric carbon dioxide, increased water related to warming, and greater nutrient availability released by thawing permafrost.

Tibet grasslands

New forests are encroaching on the alpine grasslands of Tibet. (Photo: Lucas Silva)

How humans affect coral reef recovery from natural disasters

The world’s coral reefs are both stunningly beautiful and vital to ocean health, hosting a huge diversity of fish and marine life. And they are, as they always have been, under pressure from periodic natural disasters. However, a coral reef’s ability to recover from unavoidable and often unpredictable natural disasters, like hurricanes and tsunamis, may depend on human activities including fishing and pollution. UC Davis marine biologist Mike Gil is one of the scientists working to understand how reefs recover from natural disturbances in the presence of unnatural, man-made stressors.

Biological invasions threaten global economies and biodiversity

Developing nations particularly at risk

By Kat Kerlin

With the increasing pace of globalization comes the movement of invasive non-native species around the planet. Although often seen as a “first-world problem,” a new study shows these invasions threaten the economies and livelihoods of residents in some of the world’s poorest nations.

The harlequin ladybird was introduced to North America from Asia in 1916 to control aphids. It has spread to Europe and though beloved by many, is considered a pest in some regions. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The harlequin ladybird was introduced to North America from Asia in 1916 to control aphids. It has spread to Europe and though beloved by many, is considered a pest in some regions. Credit: Wikimedia Commons