Davis at ESA 2014: Sessions, Symposia and Field Trips

In addition to the many, many talks at ESA by GGE students and everyone else at Davis, quite a few Davis people are leading organized sessions, symposia, and of course field trips of the region. Here are all the events in the ESA program that have Davis people as organizers:

Organizers Session Title/Link Type
Alan Hastings ESA Early Career Fellows Symposium: New Frontiers in Ecological Research Symposium
Elise S. Gornish, Will Ryan A Toolbox for Initiating and Managing Long-Term Data Collections Symposium
Noam Ross, Richard C. Cobb Ecosystem and Community Effects of Native and Invasive Diseases Organized Oral Session
Dennis S. Ojima, Patrick Huber, Tom Tomich Sustainable Sourcing of Food Products: Social-Ecological Perspective of Constraints and Opportunities for Sustainable Food Production Strategies Symposium
Jens T. Stevens, Peter A. Stine, Salli Dymond Experimental Forests and Ranges As a Research Network Organized Oral Session
Edwin D. Grosholz, John L. Maron, Brian S. Cheng Measuring Biotic Resistance from Mountains to Oceans Symposium
Allison K. Shaw, Scott C. Burgess, Marissa L. Baskett Integrating Dispersal into Life Histories: Empirical and Theoretical Approaches in Aquatic and Terrestrial Systems Symposium
Alison R. Marklein, Benjamin Z. Houlton From Bacteria to the Biosphere: Nitrogen Isotope Applications Across Systems and Scales Organized Oral Session
Megan J. Donahue, Paul R. Armsworth, Alan Hastings, Carl Toews Pretty Darn Good Control of Noisy, Uncertain, and Dynamic Ecological Systems Symposium
Melis Akman, Andrew M. Latimer Ecological Genomics As an Emerging Field: Opportunities for Non-Model Organisms Organized Oral Session
Valerie T. Eviner, Brandon Bestelmeyer, Lori Hidinger, Daniel R. Scholes Understanding and Managing Ecological Resilience to Natural Disasters in a Changing Environment Symposium
Louie H. Yang, Volker H.W. Rudolf, Nicholas L. Rasmussen Phenology, Ontogeny and the Timing of Species Interactions: Building a Temporally-Explicit Framework Organized Oral Session
Mark W. Schwartz, Stephen T. Jackson, Debra Schlafmann Ecological Drought in California Forests: Linking Climate Science and Resource Management Organized Oral Session
Susan P. Harrison, Catherine E. Koehler, Paul A. Aigner McLaughlin Reserve Field Trip – Serpentine Ecology and Mining History Field Trip
Truman P. Young CANCELLED – A Tour of Yolo County Restoration Sites Field Trip
Emma Torbert, Louie H. Yang, Andrew Fulks, William Horwath, Jessa Guisse Biodiversity and Agriculture at the Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility and the Putah Creek Riparian Reserve Field Trip
Peter B. Moyle, Susan Ustin The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta: Exploring the Heart of California Field Trip
Leanne M. Jablonski, Colin Bailey, Charles H. Nilon, Jonathan K. London, Scott J. Peters Water, Environmental Justice and Science: Exploring Issues and Best Practices for Ecologist and Community Partnerships Field Trip
Richard V. Pouyat, Valerie T. Eviner, Joshua P. Scholl, Kika Tarsi, Dane C. Ward Exploring Diverse Career Pathways in Ecology Workshop
Valerie T. Eviner, Terence Houston, Renata Brillinger, Resource Media Linking Science and Public Policy: Strategies to Engage in Policy Change and Communicate with Policy Makers Workshop
Pamela L. Reynolds, Eric M. Lind, Cayelan C. Carey The Science of Team Science: Effectively Leveraging Ecological Research Networks Special Session
Alexander J. Felson, Neal M. Williams, Mary L. Cadenasso Ecological Planning and Design Along the American River Parkway Field Trip
Hugh Safford, Eric Winford, Gus Smith, Jan van Wagtendonk, Kent van Wagtendonk, Becky L. Estes, Susan L. Ustin The 2013 Rim Fire – Forest Management Influencing Fire Ecology Field Trip

How to get an ecology PhD in four years (a 12-step program)

Step 1: Find a great program.  One with a supportive, fun student scene and an open academic culture. UC Davis, of course, is da bomb on both these fronts, though I’m sure there are other good programs out there. Avoid places where students compete with each other, feel uncomfortable talking to faculty members, or are insecure about wearing pink.

The UC Davis Graduate Group in Ecology.

Step 2: Find a great adviser. Wiser men/women than I have already said that your relationship with your major professor is the thing that will make or break your graduate school experience. It is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to be the student of the big name in the field, but if they do not have time to help you, or they make you cry, having access to their notoriety is not worth it. Because you have already completed Step 1, you are part of a wonderfully open academic culture where you can talk to any professor you like (but see steps 4 and 10 for hints on how this works). Therefore, find a major professor who will listen to you, support you, and give constructive criticism on your work. Form temporary collaborations with the big names.

My adviser is the one in the bomber hat.

My adviser is the one in the bomber hat.

Step 3: Steal other people’s ideas. Unless you have been working in your study system for years, you are a genius, or both (I was neither), chances are the research ideas you come up with during your first month at grad school in order to apply for the NSF GFRP won’t work out. You will probably spend your first year or two starting from scratch two or three times. That’s fine! It’s part of the learning process. However, if you want to get out in four years instead of seven, then you may want to start with an idea that has been partially worked out. Ask your professors, senior grad students, former grad students “What are the big questions that need to be worked out? What do you think needs to be done but you don’t have time to work on?”. Once you get started you will discover your own questions that are useful and feasible, but starting with someone else’s ideas can really help you get going.

Step 4: Be really annoying. Pester your professors constantly. Not just those on your committee or those teaching your classes, but EVERYONE who might have something you want. Talk to the seminar speakers, track down emeritus professors, send an e-mail to the researcher who wrote that really cool paper from New Zealand, and don’t take no for an answer. While you may feel like they have better things to do than help you out, remember that most people love talking about themselves and what they research. Academics live for flattery; so coming to them for their wisdom is paying them a compliment.

Step 5: Write a lot of grants. Coming in to a lab with good funding means you can theoretically spend your time working on research instead of begging for money, but the process of grant writing can be very valuable for framing your ideas, thoroughly reviewing the literature, and making valuable connections. I funded my own research partially through scholarships given out by various fly-fishing clubs, and getting the chance to present my research to them was one of the highlights of my time here.  Plus, if you’re lucky, grant writing gets you some money too!

Step 6: Find lots of great collaborators. This includes undergraduates, who will not only sit for hours sorting bugs for you, carry your gear up mountains, and come in on weekends to watch tadpoles with you, but also frequently have great ideas. This also includes other graduate students. You probably are spending happy hour griping about your research over a beer with them anyway, so going in together on a project, or at least trading field help with them, just makes good sense. More difficult but also more rewarding, is looking for collaborators outside the university. Scientists who work for state or federal agencies have a huge wealth of practical knowledge about management of local ecosystems. This is invaluable to a graduate student. (They also often have an inside track to getting scientific collecting permits and using your research in policy).


Some of my favorite colaborators.


Step 7: Go outside your comfort zone. If you are a field ecologist, it is easy to want to construct a dissertation comprised of three related field studies. However, some of the questions you want to answer may be better suited to a lab experiment or a computer model. If you approach your question from multiple angles rather than trying to takle multiple questions, the final product will be more well-rounded and rewarding. Furthermore, asking a similar question with multiple techniques can take less time than developing several questions best answered by a single technique. My dissertation involved an ecological field study, a sociological survey, a laboratory experiment, and a computer model. This not only forced me to learn multiple types of scientific techniques, more importantly it taught me how to teach myself scientific techniques quickly and effectively. It also taught me how to find collaborators (See steps 4, 6, and 10)!

Step 8: Trust your own ideas (your professors don’t know everything). While you should listen to everything the tenured Distinguished Professor in Sumthinorother says, you do not have to do what they say. It is your dissertation and if you do not think you can take care of 500 baby frogs at once, do not let them tell you that you can. Similarly, if they say no one cares about fresh water sponges and YOU care about fresh water sponges, study fresh water sponges. You are much more likely to succeed. There is also a good chance you will prove them wrong and the world will see how important fresh water sponges are.

Did you know there was such a thing as fresh water sponges? They have symbiotic algae too!


Step 9: Be insane. Seriously, if you want to enjoy your grad school experience with a stress-free lifestyle, I recommend ignoring all of these steps and prioritizing vacations, $1 pint night, Battlestar Gallactica, Burning Man, and sleeping in. You should be out in less than eight years with an intact psyche. Don’t try and get a PhD in ecology in four years.

Step 10: Be really annoying some more. No one answers their e-mails. It is a fact of life. Keep badgering them. Write e-mails with “Are you getting my e-mails?” in the subject line. That usually gets you something. Stand up for yourself. If you are on top of things, do not wait months for your last committee member to get back to you with comments on dissertation chapter 3. Just submit it to a journal. Once it’s accepted by the peer review process, your committee pretty much has to accept it.

Step 11: Have an outlet. While this may appear to contradict Step 9, mental breakdowns can interrupt field seasons, cause mistakes in lab, delay writing, and cause your collaborators to doubt your abilities. Therefore, take a weekend or two in the mountains. Take a pottery class at the craft center. Go to costume dance parties. Frequently. Just make sure to get back before midnight or you turn into a pumpkin.


Somehow my study system kept creeping into my art.

Step 12: Find a job. At the end of my PhD I applied for a bevy of government agency and non-profit jobs because I wanted to have the most constructive impact on conservation in California that I could, and I landed a job with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.  You may want to try the academic route and apply for post-docs and professorships, but the application process is often longer, harder, and more competitive. Since I am just beginning the “what comes next phase” I can offer less advice on step 12 than the steps leading up to the four-year PhD, but when in doubt, follow your dreams. It’s cliché, but if you can get a PhD in four years you can probably tackle just about anything.

Natural Gas – A Bridge Fuel to Faster Climate Change?

Just a decade ago, clean energy champions talked almost exclusively of the familiar wind, solar, and biomass energy generation options. Since the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) boom just a few years ago, the clean energy debate has become a bit muddied. Beyond arguing that domestic natural gas production is good for energy and natural security, proponents of fracking and natural gas have been appealing to those concerned about climate change, arguing that natural gas is a “bridge fuel” to a lower carbon society.

But skeptics of this line of reasoning are numerous. A new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that fugitive (uncaptured or accidental) natural gas emissions from fuel extraction and processing are much higher than previously thought, bolstering natural gas skepticism.

For a bit of background, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions consist primarily (84% as of 2011) of carbon dioxide (CO2). Methane and Nitrous Oxide (yes, laughing gas) make up the majority of the remainder contributing 9% and 5% to total emissions respectively. Used as a substitute for gasoline and diesel, compressed natural gas primarily consisting of methane has lower greenhouse gas emissions and much lower CO2 emissions in particular. Moreover, electricity generation from natural gas can be run either to cover base load demand or with variable output, a key characteristic to be compatible with intermittent electricity sources like wind, solar, and other renewable energy generation methods.

As a result, even MIT’s Energy Initiative center and our now Secretary of Energy advocated the natural gas was a low-carbon alternative that should be pursued to bridge the country toward renewable energy and to slow global warming.

But low-carbon energy is misleading. When it comes to climate change, a gas’s warming potential is of key importance. Using a relative scale, CO2 has a global warming potential of 1 and all other gasses are compared to CO2’s ability to trap heat and warm the planet. Methane – the primary component of natural gas – has 25 times the warming potential of CO2. In other words, not fully combusted, natural gas is worse for climate change.

The new report, demonstrating that methane emissions are actually higher than previously thought, calls to question where the “bridge” built by natural gas is actually leading us. Though the EPA recently decided to cut its estimates of these fugitive emissions, the report argues that these emissions are actually 2-8 times higher than the EPA originally estimated. Many of these emissions come from fuel extraction, including natural gas drilling and fracking.

Moreover, other articles have argued that an increase in natural gas use hasn’t really been seen as connected to more renewable energy. Renewables only account for around 8% of total energy consumption in recent years, most of which comes from large hydropower which is not new nor considered renewable by many environmental organizations.

As a nation, we need to find alternatives to fossil fuels. In the West, this means focusing less on natural gas plant development; elsewhere, it means less coal. The debate over clean energy shouldn’t be muddied with half-truths about natural gas. It’s still a fossil fuel, it’s still non-renewable, and under current regulations and practices, it could be much worse for climate change even if it can claim to be low carbon. Instead, the U.S.  should start focusing on investing more in renewable technologies and giving nuclear options a closer look.

**This blog is abridged from its original, posted on Minnesota 2020 (http://mn2020hindsight.org/view/natural-gas-a-bridge-fuel-to-faster-climate-change)

Evaluating the Impact of Agricultural Pesticide Use on the Environment and Human Health in California — Pesticide Use Risk Evaluation (PURE) Indicator: Development, Sensitivity Analysis, and Application

Here’s another in our series of “exit seminar posts”, where our graduating Ph.D. students summarize their dissertation work. Congrats to Yu Zhan for finishing up! -ed

California has 2-3% of the nation’s croplands, yet accounts for 25% of the nation’s pesticide use (Brady et al. 2006). To achieve the goal of sustainable pest management, various stakeholders seek tools to assess pesticide risk and then to choose lower-risk pest management practices. My research goal is to reduce the impact of agricultural pesticide use on the environment and human health in California. This study developed, evaluated, and applied a new pesticide risk indicator, called the Pesticide Use Risk Evaluation (PURE) for California agriculture.

Chapter I – Pesticide Use Risk Evaluation (PURE) Indicator Development (Zhan and Zhang 2012)

The PURE indicator evaluates site-specific pesticide risks to surface water (RW), groundwater (RG), soil (RS), and air (RA) on the basis of pesticide properties and surrounding environmental conditions (Figure 1). The risk score is determined by the ratio of the predicted environmental concentrations (PEC) to the toxicity value for selected endpoint organism(s); except that the risk score for the air is calculated using the emission potential (EP), which is a pesticide product property for estimating potential volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by California Environmental Protection Agency (CEPA). Figure 1 Figure 1. Data sources of the PURE indicator. PUR: Pesticide Use Reporting database; CDPR: California Department Pesticide Regulation; FPPD: Footprint Pesticide Properties Database; CIMIS: California Irrigation Management Information System; SSURGO: Soil Survey Geographic database; STATSGO: NRCS State Soil Geographic database.

Chapter II – Sensitivity Analysis of the PURE indicator (Zhan

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and Zhang 2013) Sensitivity Analysis

  • Sensitivity analysis serves to characterize factors (i.e., model input variables) accounting for the amount of uncertainty in model output.
  • USEPA and European Commission recommend sensitivity analysis for environmental model development and impact/risk assessment.
  • Sensitivity analysis results are valuable to model diagnosis, interpretation, and parameterization; and prioritizing data collection.

A combined sensitivity analysis approach of Sobol’ (Sobol’ 2001) and Importance Measurement (McKay 1995) was carried out to gain a better understanding of the PURE indicator. These methods can address the main, interaction, and correlation effects (i.e., the effects of factor correlations on sensitivity indices). The results of main effect (Si) estimations show that the RA, RS, RG, and RW are most sensitive to the application rate of pesticide product (RATE), the application rate of pesticide active ingredient (RATEAI), the organic carbon sorption constant (KOC), and the monthly maximum daily water input (RM), respectively (Figure 2). KOC and DTSA (the anaerobic half life in soil) have an interaction effect on RG, while RM and HG (the hydrological group) have an interaction effect on RW. The correlation between NOECW (the chronic no-observed-effect concentration to earthworms) and LCW (the acute 50%-lethal concentration to earthworms) largely increases the sensitivity of LCW, while the correlation among KOC, DTSA, KH (the Henry’s law constant), and ADI (the acceptable daily intake) make KH and ADI (both are insensitive in noncorrelated-factor setting) sensitive. Figure 2 Figure 2. Evolution of first-order sensitivity indices (Si) by the Sobol’ and the importance measurement (IM) methods in noncorrelated-factor setting for (a) air, (b) soil, (c) groundwater, and (d) surface water.

Chapter III – Application of the PURE Indicator on California Almonds (Zhan and Zhang 2014)

The PURE indicator was applied to California almonds to comprehensive evaluate their past performance, aiming to demonstrate the spatial and temporal patterns of the pesticide uses and associated environmental risks in detail. The pesticide use data from 1996 to 2010 were obtained from the PUR database, which contains detailed information of each pesticide application. The regional risk intensity of surface water, soil, and air all ascended from north to south, while the groundwater regional risk intensity descended from north to south. Decreasing was the main trend for the surface water, groundwater, and soil risks, while the air risk intensities didn’t show trend in any region. The temporal trends of the pesticide uses and risks indicate that the California almonds was making considerable progress towards sustainable pest management in general but require more efforts to deal with the fast increase of herbicide and fumigant uses.


While the PURE indicator has been well established, more efforts are required to improve the indicator performance and to integrate knowledge of Best Management Practice (BMP) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Through the collaboration of various stakeholders, the pest management practices would become more sustainable. The PURE indicator is available at http://pure.ucdavis.edu.


Brady, J. A., W. W. Wallender, I. Werner, B. M. Fard, F. G. Zalom, M. N. Oliver, B. W. Wilson, M. M. Mata, J. D. Henderson, L. A. Deanovic, and S. Upadhaya. 2006. Pesticide runoff from orchard floors in Davis, California, USA: A comparative analysis of diazinon and esfenvalerate. Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment 115:56-68.

McKay, M. D. 1995. Evaluating prediction uncertainty. Report NUREG/CR-6311, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Los Alamos National Laboratory. Sobol’, I. M. 2001. Global sensitivity indices for nonlinear mathematical models and their Monte Carlo estimates. Mathematics and Computers in Simulation 55:271-280.

Zhan, Y., and M. Zhang. 2012. PURE: A web-based decision support system to evaluate pesticide environmental risk for sustainable pest management practices in California. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 82:104-113.

Zhan, Y., and M. Zhang. 2013. Application of a combined sensitivity analysis approach on a pesticide environmental risk indicator. Environmental Modelling & Software 49:129-140.

Zhan, Y., and M. Zhang. 2014. Spatial and temporal patterns of pesticide use on California almonds and associated risks to the surrounding environment. Science of the Total Environment 472:517-529.