Monday, December 15, 2008
Climate Change and San Francisco Bay Area Wildlife
San Francisco Main Library
100 Larkin St. at Grove
San Francisco, CA 94102
Civic Center near Market St
Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room
Tuesday, December 16, 6 PM
Have you ever wondered what the San Francisco Bay area would look like with rising sea levels, drought, vegetation changes, wildlife migration and other impacts of global warming? How will we and the wildlife we share this beautiful area with adapt and survive?
Climate change has emerged as one of the most pressing challenges facing the world today. Scientists predict that global warming will become a leading cause of species extinction over the next several decades. Addressing these
challenges is vital to many species' future.
Please join us for an inspiring and informational evening with leading scientists to discuss our local threatened wildlife and climate change. Find out what you can do to help save the diversity of life from climate change.
Dr. Peter Roopnarine, Curator, Dept. of Zoology, California Academy of Sciences
Tamara Williams, Physical Scientist, Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Superintendent Maria Brown, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
Zeke Grader, Executive Director, Institute for Fisheries Resources
Mike Lynes, Conservation Director, Golden Gate Audubon
Friday, December 12, 2008
Bike Tour: Ecological History (South)
Sat. Dec 13, noon, $15-50, benefitting Shaping San Francisco
This trip through San Francisco's lost sand dunes, ponds, creeks and coastline will focus on the city south of downtown and SOMA, traversing the Mission, Mission Bay, Potrero Hill, Bayview, and the southeast coastline, including several new public parks. It's a social, historical and critical 4-hour tour through the city's ecological past and present.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
It's finally raining here (well, not today, but the rainy season has started...) and that means it's time for the annual Fungus Fair hosted by the the Oakland Museum and the San Francisco Mycological Society.
___________________________________________A Celebration of Wild Mushrooms
- December 6-7 2008
- Saturday: 10 am to 6 pm — Sunday: 12 pm to 5 pm
- Oakland Museum of California, 10th and Oak Streets, Oakland
Mushroom nerds are some of the funnest nerds you will ever meet.
Friday, November 14, 2008
As I walked behind him, he said "Hey lady, check out this spider...."
"...that could really mess you up."
I didn't say this then, but I'll say it now. Thanks spider man, for sharing your spider find with me. You made my day.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
I would give a million dollars to see a giant sloth. (Did you know they found the skeleton of one when they were excavating the Berkeley BART station? I think about that sloth everytime I'm there.)
Thursday, November 6, 2008
We are an organization devoted to the creation of a public dialogue about the meaning which the salt marshes of the San Francisco Bay have to the citizens of the bay area and visions for the future of the San Francisco Bay marsh ecosystem. In doing this, we are very interested in receiving input from all segments of the region's community, including the birding community. We are asking for submissions of photos, comments, writing and other forms of expression to be sent to marshimaginationpro
The Marsh Imagination Project
Share your marsh love.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Crows are all over the city right now. Just look up and I can almost guarantee that you'll see one, maybe a whole bunch. Watching them pitch and roll and play with each other never fails to lift my heart.
I know that corvids are complicated birds to love, on one hand, they're incredibly smart (and always remember a face), on the other, their increased numbers are often correlated with declines in other birds (see Rebecca Solnit's excellent essay "A Murder of Crows: On Globalized Species" for more on this).
Thursday, October 23, 2008
For a long time now I've had "learn street trees" on my list of things to do. When I first moved to the city I was obsessed with street trees. The Mission was the densest, most urban neighborhood I had ever lived in and it freaked me out-there was way too many people and way too much concrete-so focusing on street trees was a way out, a place for me to redirect my attention to something that was beautiful and quiet and alive in a city that often bowled me over.
While street trees are what set me off on this path of trying to notice nature in the city, my progress on learning their names has been dismal. Previously, I'd toyed with the idea of making signs with their names, or just writing their names on the ground next to the tree as a way to learn some names, like when you label everything in your house to learn what it's called in spanish. That project has languished, but may be resuscitated thanks to the totally awesome San Francisco Urban Forest Mapping Project. What is this cool project you say?
From their website:
In the past, San Francisco's long-term urban forest planning was hindered because there was no way to share information, much less get the community involved. That's all changed, thanks to a significant partnership effort between Friends of the Urban Forest, the City and County of San Francisco, and Autodesk. By working together and leveraging new technology – MapGuide Open Source – the project team has created an Urban Forest Map, which digitally pinpoints the location of each tree, maintains tree data in a consistent database, and offers web access to the tree data – key for maintenance and planting efforts. The community can get involved by posting photos and stories about their own trees that they plant and map online.
Heck yeah! Look up the tree outside your house! Not there? Find out what it is and add it to the map!
This is our street tree, a flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata 'Kwanzan'). This picture isn't very impressive, but in the spring, this tree has the most incredible pink puffball flowers.
Want to learn more about street trees? You can find tree descriptions and a calendar of San Francisco tree related activities (including tree tours and tree plantings) at Friends of the Urban Forest.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Lichen is awesome.
Lichen (pictured above) is actually two organisms living in a symbiotic relationship. Fungus makes the body we can see and bears the name of the lichen, while the microscopic algal partner lives in the tissue of its fungal host. Fungi can't photosynthesize (they seem plant-like but are actually in an entirely different kingdom and are more closely related to you than plants are), they're heterotrophs that decompose organic matter to eat. The alga uses its host for the capture of water and minerals. The fungus benefits from the alga's ability to photosynthesize. The algal and fungal partners of some lichen have been separated and cultured in the lab, but out in the world, both rely on each other to grow and reproduce.
Lichen can survive in some pretty harsh natural conditions (many can enter a state of cryptobiosis-a sort of suspended animation-in response to dessication) but some are incredibly sensitive to man-made pollutants, and are widely used as pollution indicators.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
Also known as "the Poor Man's Weatherglass" because the flowers only open when the sun shines (though you could probably tell when the sun was shining just by looking at the sky and not the ground). They'll close when it's getting dark, or when the barometric pressure is dropping, indicating a coming storm.
This plant is originally from Europe, but is pretty common in San Francisco. I guess it's considered a weed by lots of folks. I think it's lovely.
Monday, July 7, 2008
The diversity on your body is truly amazing-and vastly underappreciated. A recent study looking at the microbial diversity on human forearms (the part of your arm between your wrist and elbow) found 182 species, 14 of which had never been described. A normal human gut has at least at least 500 bacterial species, probably more. While your personal flora can make your armpits smelly, they are also the critters to thank for your ability to synthesize vitamin K and digest carbohydrates.
People are so freaky now about using crazy antibacterial, kill-everything soaps and sprays, which may help get rid of some of the cooties we're trying to avoid (at least in the short term, though it's also producing some gnarly super-bugs too), but we're also killing parts of the complex ecosystems that are our bodies before we have any idea what's there or what it does. Next time you eat a piece of bread, or get a little stinky after some hard work, give a little thank you to the marvelous critters of your body and the wondrous diversity that is you.
Human Microbiome Project at the NIH
Human Microbiome Project article in Nature
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Ok. The idea when I started blog this was to be informal, not so science-nerdy (since that's what I am in the rest of my life), so this post may just be a temporary departure, or may reflect a different idea of what this is for.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about science as a public service. If you pay taxes, you pay for me to do the work that I do (I'm funded by the NSF) and, as far as I'm concerned, that means that I not only have a responsibility to do good work, but I have a responsibility to communicate what I and my colleagues are learning.
One of the subjects that has come up quite a bit in my lab has been how plant and animal communities respond when their environment starts changing. Since I work in a paleontology lab most of my work focuses on how communities in the past have changed-but my greatest hope is that this work will provide us with some clues into how communities that exist today may change. One thing that seems clear from the fossil record is that not all members of a community will change in the same way at the same time.
Recently a paper came out in PLoS ONE examining what may happen to the plant communities in California as our climate changes.
Loarie, Scott R., Benjamin E. Carter, Katharine Hayhoe, Sean McMahon, Richard Moe, Charles A. Knight and David D. Ackerly (2008). Climate Change and the Future of California's Endemic Flora. PLoS ONE 3(6):e2502. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002502
The flora of California, a global biodiversity hotspot, includes 2387 endemic plant taxa. With anticipated climate change, we project that up to 66% will experience >80% reductions in range size within a century. These results are comparable with other studies of fewer species or just samples of a region's endemics. Projected reductions depend on the magnitude of future emissions and on the ability of species to disperse from their current locations. California's varied terrain could cause species to move in very different directions, breaking up present-day floras. However, our projections also identify regions where species undergoing severe range reductions may persist. Protecting these potential future refugia and facilitating species dispersal will be essential to maintain biodiversity in the face of climate change.
Endemic species are species that aren't found anywhere else. California has A LOT of endemic plant species, enough that it has been labeled a "biodiversity hotspot". The concern that biologists have about these endemic ecological communities that don't have a very big range is that, as our climate changes over the coming years these communities could disassemble, with some members moving faster, or in different directions than others. That's what these folks are talking about when they say "breaking up present-day floras". The result could be communities that look and behave very different than what we have today. The fancy phrase for these new groups of plants and animals is "non-analogous communities".
To which you might say, cool, we'll get the plants from Southern California and our plants will just move on up to Mendicino. We'll visit on weekends and holidays. Sounds good, except we've managed to put a lot of obstacles in the way of species. Roads, cities and farms are just a few of the things that may prevent species from following their optimal environment as the world around them changes. So, while at the end of the last ice age species could follow a retreating glacier, now it's not so easy, and may in fact put many more species at risk for extinction than there would be if they could move unimpeded.
This article made the front page of the website of our local newspaper and I was aghast at some of the comments that were left. Granted, there are always the same folks who pipe up and make some inane comment about Al Gore's weight or warming on Mars every time there's an article about climate change, but there were also people who seemed genuinely confused about the science of climate change and extinction. Part of the problem is that these are two really complicated issues that are interacting in complex ways. Even if our climate was not changing, we would still be losing species. We're losing species from overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and on and on. Yes, species have always gone extinct, but we are disassembling ecological communities at an alarming rate-and the consequences of our actions could be severe. Regardless of how you feel about the inherent right of other species to exist on this planet (and I strongly believe that), the risks to humans alone are enormous. I'm not the first person to say this, but I think it's true, so I'll repeat it here. Human destruction of ecosystems is a huge, uncontrolled experiment, the consequences of which we are not yet able to predict, but which, by the time some of the effects become apparent, may to too late for us to change some of our choices. I'm not hopeless about the situation we are in, but I think we need to do some serious considering of what kind of world we want, and what kinds of choices we need to make right now in order to make that world a reality.
Read the entire article here.
(yay to the Public Library of Science!)
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Monday, June 2, 2008
Until then, do you have any good stories about animals in San Francisco? The folks at SFMOMA are looking for some to include in a booklet for Fritz Haeg's ANIMAL ESTATES project coming there this summer. The deadline is, um.......today, so write quickly. Last time I looked they only had one submission.
Entries can be posted on the SFMOMA blog.
I'll write more soon.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
From their website:
The Tenderloin National Forest was created to address the lack of green space in this neighborhood.
The Forest is intended to be an inspiration and model for others to attempt gardening in the inner city. People are welcome to come by the Forest to look, and if the gate is open (when the gardeners are there), to see the plants and exchange ideas about forests and flora in the city.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
The May 7, 2008 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B has a paper by Alberto Velando et al. addressing this very issue in Eisenia andrei, a close relative of the red wiggler in your compost bin. Check it out:
Brainless but not clueless: earthworms boost their ejaculates when they detect fecund non-virgin partners.
From their abstract:
we performed a double-mating experiment to determine whether earthworms (Eisenia andrei) detect the mating status of their partners and whether they respond by adjusting their ejaculate. We found that earthworms triplicated the donated sperm when mating with a non-virgin mate. Moreover, such increases were greater when the worms were mated with larger (more fecund) partners, indicating that earthworms perform a fine tune control of ejaculate volume.
Way to go guys! Brainless but not clueless indeed.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Lately there's been a flurry of stories about the removal of the Northern Rockies grey wolf from the endangered species list. A recent article from the BBC discussed plans to reintroduce beavers, wildcats and wolves to Britain. It's a really well-written (though short) article that summarizes a lot of the unease that people have about rewilding urban or suburban areas. Beavers have moved in to both downtown Martinez and the Bronx river in recent years. So, they can live in cities. But what happens when they do? Beavers are, by their nature, ecosystem engineers. Unfortunately, so are we and our plans may be at odds with theirs.
What does it mean to bring animals back? Especially when they haven't just wandered back on their own, but came back specifically because we brought them or explicitly laid out the welcome mat? What is our responsibility to them once they have returned? If we bring back beavers do we need to move our homes to accommodate the wetlands that their dams create? If we bring back salamanders do we need to commit to stopping the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides? Can we welcome raptors back to our cities while simultaneously poisoning their food? What if the nature that we welcome back doesn't play by our rules? What if it nests on the beaches where we like to walk our dogs or spawns near the pumps where we get our drinking water?
There's an artist named Fritz Haeg who's doing what sounds like a fascinating project called Animal Estates addressing this very issue. He just set up his first public estate in New York as part of the Whitney Biennial and will be setting up some creature homes in San Francisco this summer. I'll be interested to see what kinds of conversations his installations provoke.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Yay! While the season may wreak havoc on your sinuses it's a good chance to head outside and learn some local plants, and maybe help some science nerds in the process.
Project BudBurst is a national field campaign designed to engage the public in the collection of important data on the timing of leafing and flowering of trees and other plants. BudBurst participants collect and submit observations of events such as the first bud burst, first leafing, first flower, and seed or fruit dispersal of trees and other plants, including weeds and ornamentals. The idea is that scientists can then use this data to learn about the responses of plant species to climatic variation locally, regionally, and nationally, and to detect longer-term impacts of climate change by comparing with historical data.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
There's a total lunar eclipse tonight! The awesome folks from the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers are going to be hanging out at the Randall Museum tonight to watch the event and chat about all things lunar.
From their website:
Partial eclipse begins at sundown - telescopes available to public.
Total eclipse begins at 7:00 pm
Total eclipse ends at 7:51 pm
Public lecture on "Moonology" at 8:00 pm
Partial eclipse ends at 9:09 pm
Bad weather cancels the viewing, but the lecture (inside) will go on regardless of conditions outside.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Starlings in Winter
Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine
how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.
(That's all for me today.)
Friday, February 8, 2008
A few years ago, the California Academy of Sciences started the Bay Area Ant Survey to try to figure out the diversity of ants in the San Francisco bay area. They enlisted the public, asking folks to collect ants and send them in to be identified. If you go to their website, you can look up your part of the bay and see what's there. So far, the project has identified more than 100 ant species. Wow!
The ants in my kitchen are most likely Argentine ants (Linepithema humile). These ants are native to northern Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and southern Brazil, and have probably been introduced to the United States multiple times. These ants come inside when it's hot looking for water and when it's wet to get out of the rain. Argentine ants live in colonies, like honeybees and termites, with non-reproductive female workers serving reproductive queens. Unlike honeybees, Argentine ant colonies have multiple queens at the same time (which also makes the colonies hard to get rid of once they've moved in).
There is an ongoing debate among ant researchers about the existence on Argentine ant supercolonies. In 2000, the Tsutsui lab at University of California-San Diego published a paper suggesting that California Argentine ants are less genetically diverse than populations in their native Argentina, and used this evidence to explain the lack of aggression between California populations. The Gordon lab at Stanford has refuted the supercolony idea, suggesting that there are indeed breaks in this colony and that these breaks are evident in the genes of different populations if you look at the right genes. As an aside, I saw Deborah Gordon speak at an Ask the Scientist event a few years ago and she was fantastic. She's a super-engaging speaker who's honestly thrilled by her organism and wants to teach other people about it. If you get a chance to hear her talk I'd highly recommend going.
Gordon Lab at Stanford
Tsutsui Lab at Berkeley
Thursday, January 31, 2008
If you want to see an Anna's hummingbird for yourself, now's a good time. They're the only hummingbird that's common in Northern California in the winter, and are comfortable nesting in cities and gardens. The males are incredibly distinctive, with both their head and neck covered in rosy-red feathers. Keep an eye out. They're cool little creatures.
Monday, January 28, 2008
There are more than 70 events from February 1st to the 10th, from guided walks to kids art workshops. The schedule (and all kinds of other information) is here.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Tuesday's fun project was making my first batch of sauerkraut in 2008. WooHoo!
This is one of the two heads of cabbage that are now fermenting away on the top of our fridge. (Check the lovely crock in the background. Blair found it for me Christmas. No more big plastic tub for me!) Cabbage and salt go in and then the wild bacteria do their thing to make it into sour goodness. I have to say, I understand bacteria and culturing and all of that business, but fermented food still seem a bit magical to me. I love the idea that eating wild fermented food really is taking the flora of a place into your body. Folks have said since the time of the gold miners that there is something special about the wild bacterial and yeast fauna in San Francisco that makes the sourdough so good, and unlike the sourdough that you get France or Minnesota.
I also have a wild sourdough starter (named Roger), but have had mixed results with the bread from it. I don't know if it's the flour (I use mostly whole wheat), the fluctuating temperatures in our kitchen, my un-honed kneading skills, or something I haven't even thought of, but the bread I've made so far certainly leaves something to be desired. One of my goals this year is to make (more than once, so I know it's not just a fluke) some bread from Roger that I feel good about serving to other people. I'll keep you posted on my progress.
For a good, comprehensive book on bacteria I highly recommend Betsey Dexter Dyer's Field Guide to Bacteria. I seriously love this book. Before I had my very own copy I checked it out from library so many times that I maxed out my check-out allowance. Buy one for your bookshelf (or the bookshelf of someone you love who will let you borrow it).
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
When I opened my calendar to the new year, I found the words "Be Lucky" written across the top of this month. It's my handwriting, so I must have written it, but I can't for the life of me remember when or why. Did someone say it to me? Did I read it somewhere? I have no idea. Regardless of where it came from I've decided it's a good new year's resolution. I get so caught up sometime in the stuff that's going wrong-I spend most of my working hours thinking about ecological collapse, and living in the city really beats me down sometimes-it's helpful for me to have those moments of psychic shakedown that get me out of myself, out of my head, even just for a moment.
I live in a beautiful place with some amazing creatures in it (humans included). I just need to let myself be surprised by it, to be moved by it, to notice how lucky I am.
On a related note, this month marks the beginning of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area's Big Year, a campaign to get folks out into the GGNRA to learn about natural habitats in San Francisco. The Big Year is an educational outreach project disguised as a contest. The challenge? To see if anyone can find (alive, within the boundaries of the GGNRA) all 33 endangered and threatened species that live there. Their website has all of the details if you want to participate. Let me know if you do. I'll keep you posted on my sightings. Be lucky.