If you think they're just uninvited guests at your picnic or something to spray or stomp, think again.
They're marvelous creatures, as any ant specialist will tell you.
You can learn about them from noted ant specialist Phil Ward, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, when he presents a program Friday, July 17, on the native ants found in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, UC Davis campus.
The event, free and open to the public, is set from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the half-acre bee garden, located on Bee Biology Road, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, west of the central campus.
Among the native ants at the haven are:
- Dorymyrmex insanus (workers small, ~3 mm long, black; conspicuous crater-shaped nests in bare soil)
- Dorymyrmex bicolor (workers small, ~3 mm long, bicolored, dull orange and black; conspicuous crater-shaped nests in bare soil)
- Prenolepis imparis (also known as the “winter ant” or “winter honey ant”; workers small (3-4 mm long), brown, with shiny gaster; inconspicuous nests in soil)
- Formica moki (sometimes called “field ants”; workers medium-sized (6 mm long), with a dark head, orange-brown mesosoma (thorax) and silvery-gray gaster; nest in soil)
Images of these species can be found on the AntWeb, a website hosted and supported by the California Academy of Sciences that provides specimen-level data, images, and natural history of ants.
Approximately six other species of native ants reside in the vicinity of the garden, including Formica aerata, Pogonomyrmex subdentatus, and Solenopsis xyloni. The introduced Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) occurs around the Bee Biology building, but it appears not to have colonized the bee garden.
Attendees will learn how to observe and identify California native ants, and learn about the differences between bees and ants, said Christine Casey, director of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, which is owned and operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. It was planted in the fall of 2009.
Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about ants, be sure to download (free!) Dr. Eleanor's Book of Common Ants, an entry-level book by entomologist/science writer Eleanor Rice; entomologist/ant specialist/photographer Alex Wild (he received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, studying with Phil Ward, and is now a curator at the University of Texas, Austin); and designer Neil McCoy.
"Of the nearly 1,000 ant species living in North America, fewer than 30 are true pests, and fewer still actually can hurt us," Rice points out in her book. "We might not notice them, but they're there, and they shape, literally shape, our world," she writes. "Look at the colossal trees in your forest, the plants around your lawn. Ants, like winnow ants, plant the forest understory, ultimately contouring plant distribution that becomes those giants of trees, animal homes, abounding green life. Other ants help turn soil (more than earthworms in some places!), break up decomposing wood and animals, and keep the canopy healthy."
Ants are also crawling in the international spotlight now. Did you know the North American release of the superhero movie, Ant-Man, is Friday, July 17?
That makes Friday, July 17, a good day for ants.
Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Formica moki (Photo by Phil Ward, www.entweb.org)
A honey bee and its cousin, an ant, a velvety tree ant, Liometopum occidentale. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An ant crater, the work of a species in the genus Dorymyrmex. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) that provides integrated pest management (IPM) information to farmers, is now available for free download for iPhones on the App Store. The current version of the app contains information on invertebrate pests and diseases of strawberries and gives agricultural professionals easy one-touch access to quick summaries of various pests, pictures to help identify symptoms, and links to additional resources.
Extending research information is an important part of UC ANR Cooperative Extension. As communication technology is advancing every day, using modern channels of communication are important for successfully reaching out to growers, pest control advisers (PCAs), and other key players of the agriculture industry. Traditional newsletters (Central Coast Agriculture Highlights), blogs (Strawberries and Vegetables and Pest News), Facebook, Twitter (@calstrawberries and @calveggies), Tumblr, and online repositories of meeting handouts and presentations are some of the tools that play a critical role in making important information about the Central Coast strawberry and vegetable extension program readily available to the agricultural industry. The popularity of smartphones has made this information even easier to access.
Smartphone applications are becoming popular in agriculture to provide information and for decisionmaking. However, because there were no such applications to help California strawberry and vegetable growers, IPMinfo was developed. The first version of the app was released in December 2014 and an updated version was released in April 2015.
Growers can find information on invertebrate pests, including as aphids, cyclamen mite, greenhouse whitefly, lygus bug, spider mite, and western flower thrips. Diseases include angular leaf spot, anthracnose, botrytis fruit rot, charcoal rot, common leaf spot, fusarium wilt, leaf blotch and petiole blight, leather rot, mucor fruit rot, phytophthora crown rot, powdery mildew, red stele, rhizopus fruit rot, verticillium wilt, and viral decline. Each pest entry has information on biology, damage symptoms, and management options with associated photos. Links provided in the management section will take the user to the UC IPM website for more detailed information, especially about various control options.
To download the app on iPhones, go to the App Store and search for IPMinfo.
Author: Surendra Dara, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties
California farmers are seeing new nitrogen monitoring requirements they must implement in the years ahead. The state of California continues discussion on how growers can improve nitrogen use efficiency and how California can best respond to increasing concerns about nitrogen's movement through our environment. Nitrogen continues to be a pressing topic for California agriculture.
As part of that discussion, members of the public are invited to participate in the Stakeholder Review of the California Nitrogen Assessment (CNA), a comprehensive examination of the existing knowledge on nitrogen science, policy, and practice in California. Researchers have collected and synthesized a large body of data to analyze overall patterns and trends in nitrogen imports, exports, internal flows and storage throughout the state.
The CNA was designed to respond to stakeholder needs, and many scientists affiliated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources were involved in the writing and review of the document. The review process is an opportunity to hear from stakeholders to understand how well the assessment meets those needs and what improvements can be made to the CNA before its publication. This approach aims to move beyond academic “business as usual” to more effectively link science with action and to produce information that informs both policy and field-level practice.
The Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis, the CNA's convening institution, is hosting a chapter-by-chapter public review process to allow stakeholders an opportunity to comment on the document before its final release.
On Friday, June 12, UC SAREP hosted a webinar of Chapter 8: “Responses: Policies and Institutions.” View the webinar here. The webinar includes an introduction to the chapter by its lead author, Ken Baerenklau, associate professor of environmental economics and policy at UC Riverside, and instructions for how stakeholders can submit comments on the chapter.
Chapter 8, “Responses: Policies and Institutions,” provides an overview of available policy instruments for nonpoint source pollution control and examines outcomes from the implementation of these policies in previous cases to control nitrogen pollution in practice.
This is the fourth in a series of webinars and stakeholder review periods to discuss the California Nitrogen Assessment, which includes:
- Identification of underlying drivers (e.g., regulations, population growth) and direct drivers (e.g., fertilizer use and soil management, fuel combustion) that affect stocks and flows of nitrogen in California agriculture.
- Calculation of a mass balance to examine how nitrogen moves through California agroecosystems and the state as a whole (including agriculture, sewage, industry and transportation).
- Evaluation of the state of knowledge about nitrogen's impacts on ecosystem health and human well-being.
- A series of scenarios, or "plausible stories about the future," that provide insights about nitrogen issues that will require attention over the next 20 years.
- A suite of practices and policy options and the potential effects each would have on agriculture, the environment and human health.
Stakeholder comments for Chapter 8 will be accepted until June 26, 2015. The comment period for Chapter 7, “Responses: Technologies and Practices” is still open, with comments due by June 15, 2015. The webinars for all stakeholder presentations done to date are available on the California Nitrogen Assessment's website.
For more information about the stakeholder review process and to access the chapters currently available for review, visit the California Nitrogen Assessment's website.
The fourth winter in a row of disappointing precipitation has triggered a die off of trees in the Sierra Nevada, most of which is now in ‘exceptional drought' status. The US Forest Service conducted aerial monitoring surveys by airplane in April 2015 and observed a large increase in tree mortality in the Southern Sierra (from Sonora south). Surveyors flew over 4.1 million acres of public and private forest land and found that about 20 percent had tree mortality on it, totaling over 10 million dead trees.
The Forest Service found severe mortality in many pine species especially ponderosa pine. On private lands along the foothills of the Sierras, surveyors found extensive areas of dead pines. Large areas of blue and live oak mortality were also suspected though it was too early in the season to be sure.
The insects killing trees in the Sierra are all native insects that are multiplying because of drought conditions. Native insects are a necessary part of the forest ecosystem that speed decay of wood back into nutrients, prey on other insects, and provide food for wildlife. They are normally present at low levels and cause tree mortality only in localized areas.
However, drought weakens trees and reduces their ability to withstand insect attacks. Normally trees use pitch to expel beetles that attempt to burrow into the tree through the bark. Weakened trees cannot produce the pitch needed to repel these beetles which are able to enter under the bark and lay eggs. Larvae feed on a tree's inner bark cutting off the tree's ability to transport nutrients and eventually kill it. Attacking beetles release chemicals called pheromones that attract other beetles until a mass attack overcomes the tree. Many beetles also carry fungi that weaken the tree's defenses.
Western pine beetle is one of the main culprits killing pines in the Sierra during this drought. It is a bark beetle, one of a genus of beetles named Dendroctonus which literally means ‘tree-killer'. Adult beetles are dark brown and about a quarter-inch long. Adults bore into ponderosa pines, lay eggs which develop into larvae in the inner bark then complete development in the outer bark. When beetle populations are high, such as during drought periods, even healthy trees may not be able to produce enough pitch to ward off hundreds of beetle attacks.
Western pine beetle often attacks in conjunction with other insects. Other beetles causing tree mortality in Sierra forests include mountain pine beetle, red turpentine beetle, Jeffrey pine beetle, engraver beetles (Ips) and fir engravers. Forests with a higher diversity of tree species are typically less affected because beetles often have a preference for specific tree species. Some species may attack only one tree type. For example Jeffrey pine beetles attack only Jeffrey pine.
The best defense against bark beetles is to keep trees healthy so they are able fight off insects themselves. Widely spaced trees are typically less susceptible to successful attack by bark beetles since they face less competition for moisture, light, and nutrients compared to densely growing and overcrowded trees. Forest health can be promoted by thinning to reduce overcrowding (so each tree has access to more resources) and removing high risk trees during thinning (such as those that are suppressed or unhealthy).
For landscape trees of high value close to a home, watering may be one option to increase tree vigor against bark beetle attacks. Apply about 10 gallons of water for each inch of tree diameter (measured at chest height) around the dripline of the tree once or several times a month during dry weather.
There are some insecticides registered for bark beetle control, but all are preventative only. Carbaryl may prevent attack for up to two years, while pyrethroids can deter attack for up to a year. Spraying can be tricky because the chemical must be applied up to 50 feet up the trunk of the tree usually while standing on the ground. Since misapplication may have toxic consequences, any insecticide must be administered by a licensed pesticide applicator. All applications must follow the label. Though some systemic treatments applied to the soil or inserted into the tree may work in some cases, there is not a lot of documented evidence that they are effective against western pine beetle. No insecticide can prevent tree death once a tree has been successfully attacked.
Author: Susie Kocher, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension advisor
As a newly employed community educator at the Hopland Research and Extension Center, I believe the time is ripe to consider how our facility can provide the hands-on experience that all these programs require.
Many of these initiatives aim to represent the real world of scientific investigation and environmental issues relevant to their state. I am lucky enough to interact on a daily basis with researchers working at the sharp end of scientific discovery, in an environment chosen to represent one of California's key ecosystems. What better blend could there be to allow our local school and college students the chance to witness agriculture and natural resource management in it's complex and dynamic true state?
Of course collaboration and creating programs always takes time and effort! Projects like 4H, California Regional Environmental Education Community and Project Learning Tree make the process much more efficient. They have put together activities that can be easily taken off the shelf and used to appropriately represent the diversity of systems which can be seen through the Research and Extension Centers.
Recently, I hosted my first field trip at Hopland Research and Extension Center, which covers 5,300 acres of oak woodland and chaparral habitat. A busy group of third-graders tumbled from their vehicles clutching their tablets, phones and cameras ready to document their fieldtrip digitally at every stage. The first step to connect with nature, is of course to disconnect! Having packed away their media devices, it was time to figure out some mysteries… third grade provides a great opportunity to look at adaptation and luckily we could easily observe a species well equipped for its environment right on our doorstep!
As well as observing this particularly well-represented species, we worked on our own scientific questioning and asked, “In which habitat at HREC will we see the most species of birds?” Our volunteer bird expert Chuck Vaughn helped students identify and even showed them a great use for those stowed-away digital devices by identifying and playing bird calls from his phone as we observed and learned.
Creating the perfect program and meeting the needs of educators, students, standards, and curriculum resources might be a balancing act, but working with UC ANR at one of the REC's allows full immersion in a habitat where science can come to light. I hope to see one of those students return to the Hopland REC as a fully-fledged researcher in future years … and look forward to seeing the outcome!
Author: Hannah Bird