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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 69, Issue 4, 2015

Private lands habitat programs benefit native birds

Issue cover
Cover Caption: Complete contents, including news and editorial featuresSandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) on Staten Island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The birds are in a wheat field that is flooded seasonally to provide habitat. A 5-year study of California’s North Coast and Central Valley found that private wetlands and croplands enrolled in habitat conservation programs support a wide range of birds, including many species designated as threatened or endangered. Photo by Will Suckow .

Research and Review Articles

Private lands habitat programs benefit California's native birds

To address the loss of wetlands and riparian forests in California, private lands habitat programs are available through U.S. federal and state government agencies to help growers, ranchers and other private landowners create and enhance wildlife habitat. The programs provide financial and technical assistance for implementing conservation practices. To evaluate the benefits of these programs for wildlife, we examined bird use of private wetlands, postharvest flooded croplands and riparian forests enrolled in habitat programs in the Central Valley and North Coast regions of California. We found that private Central Valley wetlands supported 181 bird species during the breeding season. During fall migration, postharvest flooded croplands supported wetland-dependent species and a higher density of shorebirds than did semipermanent wetlands. At the riparian sites, bird species richness increased after restoration. These results demonstrated that the programs provided habitat for the species they were designed to protect; a variety of resident and migratory bird species used the habitats, and many special status species were recorded at the sites.

Soil sampling protocol reliably estimates preplant NO3 in SDI tomatoes

Subsurface drip irrigation (SDI), because it can precisely deliver nutrients close to plant roots, could lead to carefully determined applications of fertilizer to meet crop needs and less risk of nitrate (NO3 -) leaching to groundwater. Appropriate fertilizer applications, however, depend on an accurate assessment of the spatial distribution of the main plant macronutrients (N, P and K) in the soil profile before planting. To develop nutrient sampling guidelines, we determined the spatial distributions of preplant nitrate (NO3 -), bicarbonate extractable phosphorus (Olsen-P) and exchangeable potassium (K) in the top 20 inches (50 centimeters) of subsurface drip irrigated processing tomato fields in three of the main growing regions in the Central Valley of California. Nutrient distribution varied with depth (P and K), distance from the center of the bed (NO3 -) and growing region (NO3 - and K). No depletion of NO3 -, Olsen-P or K in the root feeding areas close to the drip tape was detected. Preplant NO3 - ranged considerably, from 45 to 438 pounds N per acre (50 to 491 kilograms/hectare), the higher levels in fields with consecutive crops of tomatoes. A sampling protocol that growers could use, developed from analysis of the distribution results, provided reliable estimates of preplant NO3 - as well as P and K in all surveyed fields.

Introducing cattle grazing to a noxious weed-dominated rangeland shifts plant communities

Invasive weed species in California's rangelands can reduce herbaceous diversity, forage quality and wildlife habitat. Small-scale studies (5 acres or fewer) have shown reductions of medusahead and yellow starthistle using prescribed grazing on rangelands, but little is published on the effects of pasture-scale (greater than 80 acres) prescribed grazing on weed control and plant community responses. We report the results of a 6-year collaborative study of manager-applied prescribed grazing implemented on rangeland that had not been grazed for 4 years. Grazing reduced medusahead but did not alter yellow starthistle cover. Medusahead reductions were only seen in years that did not have significant late spring rainfall, suggesting that it is able to recover from heavy grazing if soil moisture is present. Later season grazing appears to have the potential to suppress medusahead in all years. In practice, however, such grazing is constrained by livestock drinking water availability and forage quality, which were limited even in years with late spring rainfall. Thus, we expect that grazing treatments under real-world constraints would reduce medusahead only in years with little late spring rainfall. After 10 years of grazing exclusion, the ungrazed plant communities began to shift, replacing medusahead with species that have little value, such as ripgut and red brome.

Phytophthora ramorum can survive introduction into finished compost

Composted municipal green waste is a potential vehicle for the transmission of Phytophtora ramorum, the pathogen responsible for the disease known as sudden oak death. To assess the survival rate of the pathogen in compost, we introduced zoospores — a type of infectious propagule — into six composts of varying provenance and maturity. The compost samples represented three production facilities, two production techniques (turned windrow and forced air static pile) and two levels of maturity (fresh, defined as aged for less than 1 week; and mature, aged for more than 4 weeks). Positive re-isolations — indicating survival of the pathogen — were obtained from all composts. The re-isolation rate from the compost from one of the three production facilities was greater than that obtained from an inert substrate (filter paper) inoculated with the pathogen (P < 0.01), while re-isolation rates from the other two sources were statistically indistinguishable from those obtained from the inert substrate (P < 0.01). There was no significant difference in re-isolation rate between composts produced by the turned windrow method and composts produced by the forced air static pile technique. Re-isolation rates were greater from mature composts than from fresh composts (P < 0.01). The results show that P. ramorum may be present and infectious if introduced into finished compost, and that variations in compost characteristics appear to influence survival rates.