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Bring the wild back into our farmlands to protect biodiversity, researchers say

Berkeley — With a body the size of a fist and wings that span more than a foot, the big brown bat must gorge on 6,000 to 8,000 bugs a night to maintain its stature. This mighty appetite can be a boon to farmers battling crop-eating pests.

But few types of bats live on American farms. That's because the current practice of monoculture – dedicating large swathes of land to a single crop – doesn't give the bats many places to land or to nest. 

Diversifying working lands – including farmland, rangeland and forests – may be key to preserving biodiversity in the face of climate change, says a new review paper published this week in Science by conservation biologists at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Benzinger Family Winery is a diversified vineyard in Sonoma County. (Photo: Corey Luthringer)

Diversification could be as simple as adding trees or hedgerows along the edges of fields, giving animals like birds, bats and insects places to live, or as complex as incorporating a patchwork of fields, orchards, pasture and flowers into a single working farm.

These changes could extend the habitat of critters like bats, but also much larger creatures like bears, elk and other wildlife, outside the boundaries of parks and other protected areas, while creating more sustainable, and potentially more productive, working lands.

“Protected areas are extremely important, but we can't rely on those on their own to prevent the pending sixth mass extinction,” said study co-author Adina Merenlender, a UC Cooperative Extension Specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. “This is even more true in the face of climate change, because species will need to move around to adapt to shifts in temperature and climate.”

Diversified farms could include crops, pastures, orchards and woodland. (Photo: Xerces)

A win-win for wildlife and for farms

Maintaining even small pieces of the original landscape – even a single tree– can help conserve the original diversity of species, Merenlender said. Clearing oak woodlands and shrublands to establish large vineyards hits many native species hard. Animals that are well adapted to urban and agricultural areas, such as mockingbirds, house finches and free-tail bats, continue to flourish, while animals that are more sensitive to disturbance, like acorn woodpeckers, orange-crowned warblers and big brown bats, begin to drop away. “If you can leave shrubs, trees and flowering plants, the habitat suitability -- not just for sensitive birds but also for other vertebrates – goes way up,” Merenlender said. This is true not only in California's vineyards, but on working lands around the world.

Incorporating natural vegetation makes the farm more hospitable to more creatures, while reducing the use of environmentally degrading chemicals like herbicides, pesticides and man-made fertilizer.

A vineyard in California's central coast is an example of industrialized agriculture. (Photo: Steve Zmak,

The ideal farming landscape includes woodland pastures and vegetable plots bumping up against orchards and small fields, said Claire Kremen, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. Integrating livestock produces manure which can fertilize the crops, while those same crops produce feed for livestock. Birds and bats provide pest control, and bees boost crop production by pollinating plants.

“It is possible for these working landscapes to support biodiversity but also be productive and profitable,” Kremen said. “And ultimately, this is where we have to go. We just can't keep mining our soils for their fertility and polluting our streams – in the end, this will diminish our capacity to continue producing the food that we need. Instead, we must pay attention to the species, from microbes to mammals, that supply us with critical services, like pollination, pest control and nutrient cycling”

“We have some amazing diversified farms, sustainably managed forests and species-rich rangelands here in California that exemplify working lands for conservation around the world,” Merenlender said. “We are calling for a scaling up of this approach around the world, and to do that we champion community-based action and more supportive polices” Kremen concludes.



Claire Kremen,, 510-367-2100 (cell)
Adina Merenlender,, (707) 489-4362

Posted on Thursday, October 18, 2018 at 12:58 PM
  • Author: Kara Manke,, (510) 643-7741
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Environment

Winds of Change: Bridging Art and Science

Entomologist/artist Diane Ullman with her tomato sculpture.

Mark your calendars. A professor renowned for bridging art and science will address a UC Davis Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology seminar on...

Entomologist/artist Diane Ullman with her tomato sculpture.
Entomologist/artist Diane Ullman with her tomato sculpture.

Entomologist/artist Diane Ullman with her tomato sculpture.

This is Nature's Gallery, a UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program project installed in 2012 in the Ruth Storer Gardens, UC Davis Arboretum, off Garrod Drive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is Nature's Gallery, a UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program project installed in 2012 in the Ruth Storer Gardens, UC Davis Arboretum, off Garrod Drive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is Nature's Gallery, a UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program project installed in 2012 in the Ruth Storer Gardens, UC Davis Arboretum, off Garrod Drive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Co-founders and co-directors of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program are noted ceramic mosaic artist Donna Billick (left) and UC Davis entomologist/artist Diane Ullman. They are standing in front of Nature's Gallery, UC Davis Arboretum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Co-founders and co-directors of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program are noted ceramic mosaic artist Donna Billick (left) and UC Davis entomologist/artist Diane Ullman. They are standing in front of Nature's Gallery, UC Davis Arboretum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Co-founders and co-directors of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program are noted ceramic mosaic artist Donna Billick (left) and UC Davis entomologist/artist Diane Ullman. They are standing in front of Nature's Gallery, UC Davis Arboretum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Caging kids! The next generation of wildlife biologists

Mikayla McWilliams shows a tiny frog at the Sustainable You Summer Camp, UC Hopland Research and Extension Center.

As 10-year-old Dominic Vargas crouched on the ground, in a cage not much larger than himself, trying to forage for tasty treats (candy) on the woodland floor...CRASH! The cage door came falling down and he realized that he had inadvertently tripped a tiny fishing line in his efforts to reach that candy - he was now trapped. Dominic seemed to accept his fate with good humor, shrugging, smiling and getting to work on that candy. Wildlife biologist, Jessie Roughgarden, commented that Dominic will now be collared, tagged and measured before returning him to the wild ... or in this case his parents.

This seemingly terrifying experience is in fact all part of the new "Sustainable You - 4-H Summer Camp" held at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center. Sustainable You is a five-day camp allowing students to experience science and nature while learning about ways in which to conserve the land, water, air and energy.

View Dominic's experience in this 44-second video:

The camp is conducted at three of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Research and Extension Centers across the state and each center tweaks the curriculum to suit their landscape and the kinds of research conducted at their sites. At Hopland this means getting the chance to meet with wildlife biologists from the UC Berkeley "Brashares Lab," led by professor Justin Brashares. It's an amazing opportunity for these kids to meet and ask questions of scientists conducting experiments in the countryside that surrounds them. Dominic may not be collared, but more than 10 deer on the property went through the same experience last week (minus the candy) as they were carefully captured by researchers and fitted with collars to better understand their movements and population across the 5,358-acre center.

The young team of scientists enjoying summer camp were also working to understand what wildlife shares the landscape with them by setting wildlife cameras daily and improving their positioning and locations each day. Advice from Brashares and Jessie Roughgarden helped the students improve their chance of catching footage of raccoons, foxes and maybe even a mountain lion. Day one  produced fox video footage and shots of raccoons feeling around in the last pools of creek water to catch some of the tiny young frogs currently in residence.

Hear what Ahmae saw on her wildlife camera in the 59-second video below:

A raccoon captured on one of the wildlife cameras set up by campers.

Exposure for these kids not only to hands-on activities exploring sustainability, but also to wildlife biologists, young researchers and professors working on today's wildlife and land management challenges, gives them an open door to explore their own future careers and interests.

Local Americorps watershed steward Alejandara Prendergast disects a salmon with campers

As 9-year-old Ahmae Munday so sweetly put it, when asked what her favorite part of the Sustainable You Summer Camp was, "Everything! Especially the cameras."

The UC ANR network of Research and Extension Centers provide the perfect location to offer exposure to youth and communities to better understand and interact with the science going on in their own back yards and to inspire the next generation of researchers - as camp attendee and scholarship recipient Kaiden Stalnaker described in his scholarship application, "When I grow up I dream of a career in science and your camp would be a boost in the right direction."

Thanks to the researchers, camp counselors and students who have allowed the Sustainable You summer camp to inspire young people like Kaiden.

Campers enjoy a woodland hike and discover slender salamanders and a discarded lizard skin.
Posted on Monday, July 17, 2017 at 9:19 AM

Orange County mountain lion attack a reminder to keep livestock safe

A mountain lion entered an Orange County corral last week where nine pygmy goats belonging to members of the Trabuco Trailblazers 4-H Club were housed. Only one goat survived the encounter.

UC Cooperative Extension human-wildlife interactions advisor Niamh Quinn said she was heartbroken, but not surprised.

“We know that this is happening all over California,” Quinn said. “Sixty to 85 percent of depredation permits are issued to hobby farmers and ranchers who seek to kill wild animals that threaten their livestock.”

The loss of the goats is a sad reminder for Californians to be aware of wildlife predators in their areas and make sure that livestock enclosures are secure against them. The Mountain Lion Foundation has information for keeping livestock safe in mountain lion country, including plans for inexpensive lightweight enclosures that work well in Southern California. Quinn — along with UC Davis veterinarian Winston Vickers, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in youth science literacy Martin Smith, and the Mountain Lion Foundation — is developing a comprehensive 4-H curriculum focused on protecting both livestock and wildlife.

“This loss would have never happened if they had a properly constructed pen,” Quinn said. “The pen had holes and was held together in places with zip ties. 4-H members have to understand what predators are in their areas, how the animals can get into enclosures – whether they will dig, if they jump and how high.”

A properly constructed livestock enclosure can thwart mountain lion attacks. (Stock photo: Pixabay)

The killing of eight goats and injuries to the ninth goat by a single mountain lion may seem overly vicious, but the animal was acting according to instinct. Once inside a pen or paddock, a mountain lion will often kill until all movement stops, according to the Mountain Lion Foundation. Lions are most vulnerable to injury when taking down natural prey like deer that have lethal antlers and hooves. In a natural setting, a deer herd will run away, leaving a lion with just one catch to be concerned about. Not so for penned or fenced-in livestock.

The 4-H curriculum now being developed will empower 4-H youth to protect both predators and livestock by understanding wildlife behavior and proper animal husbandry practices. The curriculum will be available to all 4-H clubs in California – which include 27,444 youth enrolled in livestock projects – and to 4-H clubs nationwide.

In the video, a mountain lion returns to the goat pen the evening after
killing eight goats, but cannot re-enter. (Video: Winston Vickers)

The night after the Trabuco Canyon pygmy goat attack, the same mountain lion was caught on camera returning to the pen, but he was unable to enter the shored up enclosure. Vickers said the lion shouldn't cause any more problems.

“It is likely that the lion may come by the area as part of his normal territorial circulation periodically, but I would not expect further losses given the additional pen improvements that are planned, and I would not expect any greater risk to people at the location versus any other in the Santa Anas (canyons of Orange County),” Vickers said.

Vickers said he hopes that the 4-H members will not choose to kill the mountain lion responsible for the late March attack.

“The lions in their area are in serious trouble, and the loss of a single lion could affect their genetic viability for years to come,” Vickers said.

Posted on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 at 8:23 AM
Tags: 4-H (65), mountain lion (3), wildlife (31)

Recreation on private land offers potential for conservation

Opening the door for recreational activities - such as wildlife watching - on private land is an incentive for conservation. (Photo: Robin Eliason, USDA)
Successfully integrating human activities with ecosystem conservation forms the foundation of sustainability and is key to maintaining biological diversity. A new study has found that recreational use of private land in the U.S. could have significant benefits for both conservation efforts and economic return, especially when coupled with certain policy mechanisms.

The study, published Aug. 5, 2016, in the journal Land Use Policy, found that approximately 440 million acres of private land — roughly 22 percent of the contiguous land area of the U.S. — are either leased or owned for wildlife-associated recreation, which is defined as fishing, hunting and wildlife-watching. Hunting was the most widespread recreational use, accounting for 81 percent of the total acreage (356 million acres).

Luke Macaulay, an UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley, authored the study, which used 18 national surveys over 14 years for a comprehensive analysis. Drawing upon multiple years and multiple sources of surveys, this study provides the most detailed and precise estimates available of private land recreation in the U.S.

The study estimated the annual spending for wildlife-associated recreation on private land to be $814 million in day-use fees, $1.48 billion for long-term leases, and $14.8 billion for ownership of land primarily for recreation.

It also found that on crop and grazing land, landowners who earn income from recreation are more likely to participate in government conservation programs and are more likely to pay for private conservation practices, such as creating buffers around sensitive streams or controlling invasive weeds on rangelands.

Macaulay suggests that this data provides support for the idea that recreation incentivizes conservation at higher rates than agricultural activities alone.

“Wildlife habitat on private land is vulnerable to degradation and loss, but this study highlights recreation as an incentive for conservation," he said. "That's because many landowners are receiving either personal enjoyment or financial benefit from the wildlife that live on their land.”

The study showed that hunters own or lease much larger properties than anglers or wildlife-watchers, which indicates that hunting may provide a greater economic incentive for maintaining large, unfragmented properties that provide a variety of conservation benefits.

“Large properties are beneficial for a variety of reasons; for example, some species require large expanses of unbroken habitat to thrive, while others are particularly sensitive to the impacts of roads, fences, and invasive plant and animal species that oftentimes accompany more fragmented landscapes," Macaulay said.

Macaulay believes that the role of recreation in private land conservation has largely been overlooked due to the relatively low participation rate of landowners earning income from recreation. For example, only 7.3 percent of forest landowners earn income from recreation, but this study found that those individuals own much larger properties that account for 33.5 percent of all private forestland.

Macaulay stressed that the conservation benefits of hunting depended on a system of scientifically-developed game laws and effective enforcement, which is generally the case across the U.S.  These mechanisms are important to curtail problems of over-harvesting and poaching.

The study also emphasized the importance of encouraging conservation practices in conjunction with recreation in order to yield benefits for both conservation and landowner economic return. Macaulay suggested several policy measures to achieve this, including tying habitat improvement practices to property tax breaks that rural landowners receive — an approach that some states have already taken — as well as evaluating, enhancing, and expanding state programs that give regulatory flexibility for hunting in exchange for conservation practices.

Read the research article on the Land Use Policy website.

Posted on Tuesday, August 9, 2016 at 8:57 AM
Tags: Luke Macaulay (2), wildlife (31)

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