California wildfires kill lichen

This 2013 video from the USA says about itself:

Lichen Identification Methods

From the field to the lab, we take a brief look at how lichens are identified by sight and by chemical spot tests. This video was made for a Lichenology class at Oregon State University by Jena Fay and Sara Lynch. Lichens mentioned here include Cladonia, Lobaria, Evernia, Usnea, Ramalina, Xanthoria and Bryoria. Happy identifying!

From the University of California – Davis in the USA:

Lichen is losing to wildfire, years after flames are gone

Wildfire is reshaping forests and lichen communities

August 9, 2018

As increasingly hot and severe wildfires scorch the West, some lichen communities integral to conifer forests aren’t returning, even years after the flames have been extinguished, according to a study from scientists at the University of California, Davis.

Lichen, an often overlooked organism that forms fuzzy, leaf-like layers over tree bark and rocks, is an unsung hero in forest ecosystems. It provides food for deer, caribou, and elk and is sometimes the only food source for flying squirrels, which are key prey for threatened spotted owls. Birds and insects use it to eat and nest. An important contributor to the nutrient cycle, it also helps fix nitrogen in forest soils.

“Lichen are beautiful, ecologically important, are all around us and tell us important things about the environment”, said lead author Jesse Miller, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis. “But even if you don’t notice lichens, you would notice the consequences in ecosystems when they are lost.”


For the study, published August 9 in the journal Global Change Biology, researchers sampled lichen communities in about 100 study plots across California’s Sierra Nevada region. Five wildfires had burned, at varying levels of severity, in and around the plots between four and 16 years before the study’s sampling.

The results show that lichen communities were largely unaffected by low-severity fires. This suggests that prescribed fires and natural wildfires under moderate weather and fuels conditions are compatible with lichen diversity.

But areas that experienced higher severity wildfires had significantly lower abundance and diversity of lichen.

In severely burned areas where most of the trees died, nearly all the lichen were gone, even 16 years after the fire.


The lichens‘ recovery is likely held back by the loss of tree canopy after the fire, the researchers said. The hot, dry microclimate left in the forest post-fire is not conducive to lichen growth. This indicates that lichen communities burned in Sierra Nevada forests likely won’t recolonize until mature trees regrow and the forest canopy is restored. This may exacerbate the effects of climate change that already threaten lichens.

“If the species could keep pace with the rate of climate change, the effects of fire might not be so bad”, Miller said. “But the concern is they might not. These fires happen so quickly and in such a large area, they could cause species ranges to contract faster than they are expanding.”

The study also indicates that the trend of increasingly dry forests and hotter, bigger and more severe wildfires could cause broad impacts to lichen diversity across the landscape, which could impact nutrient cycling and multiple food-chain interactions among wildlife.

The study areas included:

Yosemite, in areas burned by the Rim (2013) and Grouse (2009) fires

– Greater Lake Tahoe Basin, in areas burned by the Showers (2002) and Long (2009) fires

– Warner Mountains, in northeastern California, in areas burned by the Blue Fire (2001).

The study’s co-authors are Hugh Safford of UC Davis and the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region; and Heather Root from Weber State University in Utah.

The research was funded by the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region.

Prisoners paid $2 a day to battle California’s deadly wildfires. US activists say the scheme is ‘inhumane’ and exploitative: here.

California, wildfires and Trump attacks

This 7 August 2018 CBS TV video from the USA says about itself:

The Mendocino Complex wildfire in Northern California is now the largest in state history. It’s burned more than 443 square miles, an area nearly as large as the city of Los Angeles. The Mendocino Complex is one of 15 large fires burning in California. John Blackstone reports.

Translated from Evita Neefs in Belgian daily De Standaard today:

Trump at war with California

Humans and climate burn forests

California is on fire. For weeks the fire brigade has been working hard to contain sixteen big fires. Without much success. The conflagration around Clear Lake, just south of Mendocino National Forest, has become the largest in the history of the Golden State.

President Donald Trump blamed the disaster – in two tweets – on the ‘bad environmental laws’ of the state. According to him, enormous amounts of water are ‘diverted to the Pacific Ocean’, so that the fire brigade suffers from a water shortage. Experts could not believe their eyes. That is not at all the cause of the forest fires. The tweets do not make sense: there is no lack of fire-fighting water at all.

Ever since 1944, Smokey Bear has been encouraging Americans to be careful in the woods. In vain. 84 percent of forest fires – in California even 90 percent – are still caused by humans.

The largest surfaces are turned into ashes by fires caused by high-voltage lines. However, having these underground is too expensive, the utilities corporations say.

In a tweet, Trump instructed California to thin out its forests and remove the undergrowth. Experts admit that there is something in that. But, they add, ‘the majority of the trees are on the federal government’s land’. They are Trump’s own services that are in default. Their budget has not yet been approved.

California itself spent $ 256 million this year for forest management. The money comes from the emission allowances for CO2. ‘Climate change causes more and more devastating fires’, according to the Californian fire brigade. And climate change is not something that Trump believes in.

Where does the presidential statement come from? Trump is on collision course with the Golden State about anything and everything, from the legalization of cannabis to the questions for the next census. But immigration and the fight against climate change create the biggest tension.

The state, which feels disproportionately badly affected by the policy of the president, sued the government no less than 24 times: against Trump’s policies on immigration, health, energy, the environment, climate change, his border wall, his ban on transgender people, …

For his part, Trump retaliated by suing against the protection that Californian cities offer to undocumented migrants. …

California is about to approve a plan to protect the water level of the Sacramento, the San Joaquin and their tributaries for the benefit of fish and wildlife. …

Today, only twenty percent of San Joaquin’s water and less than half of that of the Sacramento reaches the delta northeast of San Francisco. So, things are bad for fish stocks in California. The number of surf smelts has reached an all-time low. The same applies to the chinook salmon. …

The fishermen say that the extinction of the fish stocks threatens their income and future.

Trump’s tweets therefore have nothing to do with the forest fires, but everything with an old Californian water war, in which Trump chooses radically … against the ecologists and the fishermen.

How the Trump administration is seriously politicizing California’s catastrophic wildfires.

Fresh water invertebrate animals, new study

This 2016 video from California in the USA says about itself:

Sticky. Stretchy. Waterproof. The Amazing Underwater Tape of the Caddisfly | Deep Look

What do you do if you are a tiny caddisfly larva growing up in a torrent of water and debris? Simple. You build a shelter out of carefully selected pebbles and some homespun waterproof tape.

From the University of California – Santa Barbara in the USA:

Learning from ‘little monsters’

July 19, 2018

Summary: By studying deep and shallow water zones of streams and their resident invertebrates, researcher reveals mysteries of fresh water life.

Caddisflies, crustaceans, mollusks and flatworms. Those are just a few of the curious creatures known as benthic (bottom-dwelling) invertebrates and commonly found in small streams. Fingernail clams and oligochaetes are part of the menagerie, too.

Their individual names aside, UC Santa Barbara stream ecologist David Herbst affectionately calls them all “little monsters”. Indeed, with the wide-set eyes, cavernous mouths and wily antennae on some of them, they could easily be the stuff of horror films.

For Herbst, though, the “little monsters” he observes in the open-air laboratories of the Eastern Sierra Nevada are an indicator of the health of the greater food web. And his new research, recently published in the journal Hydrobiologia, illuminates the connection between benthic invertebrates and the movement of the water in which they live.

“As water flows down from mountains it does not follow a straight path”, said Herbst, a research scientist with UCSB’s Marine Science Institute (MSI). “It both meanders side to side and undulates from shallow to deep. It picks up and puts down what is on the stream bottom, receives what comes off the land and carries downstream what it can, leaving behind what is more than it can lift. These flows and forces form characteristic habitats of shallow riffles in rocky turbulent zones and deeper pools where deposits of debris and sediments often accumulate.”

The new research, Herbst added, shows that the same processes behind those riffles and pools also sort and select for differing assemblages of stream life.

“Benthic macroinvertebrates, mainly the larval or immature stages of aquatic insects, number in the hundreds of species in the Sierra Nevada”, said Herbst, who has studied the ecology of mountain streams for some 20 years from his laboratory at UCSB’s Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory in Mammoth Lakes, part of the UC Natural Reserve System. “Our study puts a spotlight on the differences between the most basic habitat dichotomy of streams — riffles and pools — and gives us a clearer understanding of how the diverse forms of bottom-dwelling invertebrate life sort out between them and also change with stream water flow.”

In essence, according to Herbst, the research conducted on the U.S. Forest Service’s Kings River Experimental Watershed found that stream systems are far more dynamic in nature, and change more frequently with time and flow, than once thought.

“It also shows us that we had a lot to learn about such a fundamental aspect of the stream environment because almost half of the species we studied did not live where we had previously supposed they did”, he said.

Herbst collaborated on the research with UCSB’s Scott D. Cooper, of both MSI and the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology (EEMB), R. Bruce Medhurst of MSI and Sheila W. Wiseman of EEMB, as well as U.S. Forest Service ecologist Carolyn T. Hunsaker. Together the scientists hope their observations and findings will serve to deepen human understanding of how streams and the lifeforms that live within those waterways function.

In particular, Herbst said, knowing more about where the invertebrates establish habitats and how they flourish (or not) in those areas of a given stream will lend key insights to the true impact of water pollution.

Currently, most water quality monitoring programs sample benthic invertebrates in an approach that combines both riffle and pool habitats, according to Herbst, who said his team’s research makes possible a more precise, informative process for scientists and water quality regulators alike.

“Although this approach gives an appraisal of the entire stream, we now know that the proportions of these habitats can change over time and certainly between sites”, Herbst said. “Assessments intended to evaluate pollutant impacts or status of ecological health of water bodies may instead simply be a reflection of differences in the relative cover of these two major habitat types.”

Helping California gnatcatchers survive

This 11 March 2014 video from the USA says about itself:

This episode of Nikon’s BATV features the birdlife of the San Diego area. In particular, James searches for some of the southern California specialties. In addition to the birds, he kayaks the La Jolla area to experience the Harbor Seals and California Sea Lions and dives the kelp forests in search of Garibaldi fish and Sevengill Sharks. The Golden Bird for this episode is the California Gnatcatcher.

From the American Ornithological Society Publications Office:

If you build it, the birds will come — if it meets their criteria

July 11, 2018

A study published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications presents a case study on how bird surveys can better inform conservation and vegetation restoration efforts. Previous conservation methods have emphasized plants as the key to recreating habitat preferred by a sensitive animal. However, this study shows that there’s more to the coastal sagebrush habitat of California Gnatcatchers than just having the right plants present. Abiotic components such as topography and soil are important drivers of the biotic components, including plants, which pair together to make the complete ecosystem these birds need. Given this more complete perspective, future conservation efforts would be wise to consider all of the variables that make up an animal’s habitat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Clark Winchell and Colorado State University’s Paul F. Doherty, Jr., set out to find a way to improve the traditional “single-species -oriented” conservation plan. They used bird survey data to more accurately identify favorable habitat for California Gnatcatcher occupancy and discovered that as the ratio of coastal sagebrush increased from 10% to 40%, the probability of colonization and presence of these birds tripled. The amount of openness in the sagebrush habitat also correlated with the birds’ occupancy probability (30-40% openness was ideal for the birds). Elevation and soil texture also influenced suitable habitat, with lower elevations and loam or sandy loam soils most preferred. Winchell and Doherty also found that the gnatcatchers preferred southern aspects, shallow slopes, and inland areas over other options. Being so detailed and using such a fine scale allowed more specific areas to be identified as suitable for gnatcatchers. Thorough research such as this will better aid conservation efforts, both by informing where restoration might be most successful and by providing restoration targets.

Winchell comments, “Restoration ecologists are generally not gnatcatcher biologists, and vice versa. Sometimes we tend to place restoration projects where land becomes available after political negotiations. We may want to consider what is that parcel of land trying to tell us — what does the land want to be, so to speak — versus assuming we can dictate the final outcome for a location. Considering the entire functionality of the surrounding ecosystem, including the physical components, the biological community, and understanding the dynamism of the ecosystem will lead to improved restoration and wildlife management outcomes and our study is one small step in that direction.”

These results correlating soil, vegetation, and gnatcatcher occupancy harken back to lessons that Aldo Leopold taught us — namely, to start with the land and work with the land when managing wildlife. Leopold’s holistic approach to conservation included the soils, waters, plants, and animals and is still relevant today.

California wildfires, how birds respond

This 2013 video from the USA says about itself:

Southern California Bird Identification Guide

This is a quick and easy video guide for the most common birds you can find in the chaparral ecosystems of Southern California. Can you identify all of the birds here? Write down your species IDs in the comments!

From Point Blue Conservation Science in the USA:

New research on avian response to wildfires

The varied ways birds respond to fires of mixed severity

June 22, 2018

Summary: New research explores the effects fire has on ecosystems and the wildlife species that inhabit them. Scientists examined the impacts of fires of different severity levels on birds and how that changes as the time since fire increases. Scientists looked across 10 fires after they burned through forests in the Sierra Nevada. A key finding was that wildfire had strong, but varied, effects on the density of many of the bird species that were studied.

As we enter another wildfire season in California, attention will turn to the inevitable fires and efforts to extinguish them. After these fires burn, land managers are tasked with deciding how, where, and when to act to manage these new conditions. It is vital that land managers use the latest science to understand the effects that fire has on the ecosystem and the wildlife species that inhabit them. New research [by] Point Blue Conservation Science explores these effects, looking at impacts of the severity of fire on birds and how that changes as the time since fire increases. Scientists looked across 10 fires up to 15 years after they burned through forests in the northern Sierra Nevada. Key among the findings is the observation that wildfire had a strong effect on the density of many of the bird species that were studied.

However, the severity of the fires affected different bird species differently. Of the 44 species studied, 18 reached their maximum densities after high-severity fire, 10 in moderate-severity, and 16 in areas affected by low-severity fire.

Over the last century humans have reduced the influence of fire across this ecosystem, but as the climate warms and the amount of fuels in these forests increase, the area burning annually and the severity of fires has been increasing. Understanding how species that rely on these forests respond to such fires can help inform management of fires and post-fire environments.

“One of the most important things we found was how varied the response was between areas that burned at different levels of severity as well the time after the fire it took for different species to reach their peak abundance,” said lead author Dr. Paul Taillie who was a field technician on the project with Point Blue and is now a researcher at North Carolina State University. “This reinforces the idea that mixed severity fires are crucial to sustaining a diversity of bird life in Sierra forests and that these burned landscapes are providing important habitat for decades after they burn.”

In addition to comparing the effects of different burn severities and the amount of time since fire, researchers also investigated more complex and nuanced responses of birds to fire than has been investigated in fire-prone western forests. Rather than simply increasing or decreasing consistently across the 15-year post-fire period, many species exhibited more complex patterns, for example increasing rapidly but reaching a plateau and then declining again. Other species’ responses to burn severity varied across the 15 year post-fire period investigated.

The researchers also compared bird populations in post-fire forests to populations in unburned forests. Of the species studied, 30 percent had higher densities in burned forest, with all but one of those in areas of high severity fires. Just 11 percent reached greater densities in unburned forest.

“Our findings really illustrate how dynamic the avian community is after these fires. Many of the species peaked in density during a narrow window of time after fire in a specific burn severity class. We just don’t see this rapid change in the bird community in green forests even after mechanical fuel reductions. It suggests we be cautious in prescribing post-fire management actions that alter the trajectory of these forests,” said researcher Ryan Burnett, Sierra Nevada Director at Point Blue. “We hope this research helps land managers make informed decisions about managing these dynamic post-fire bird habitats.”

WILDFIRES DEVASTATE CALIFORNIA Wildfires devastated two small Northern California communities before reaching the city of Redding, killing a bulldozer operator on the fire lines, injuring three firefighters, destroying dozens of homes and forcing thousands of residents to flee. [AP]

NestWatch in New York Times: A massive study that retraced the footsteps of naturalist Joseph Grinnell also used NestWatch records to find out new ways that California’s birds are coping with climate change.