Seagrasses have been in the news lately, because they offer opportunities to increase carbon sequestration and offset emissions to help reach subnational, national, and international carbon neutrality goals, while also protecting our developed coastlines and blue economies. We spoke with California Sea Grant State Fellow Dr. Kathryn Beheshti who had spent the previous 10 months working for the Ocean Protection Council (OPC) in their Climate Change Program.

So, what are seagrasses? Seagrasses are marine flowering plants that evolved from land plants over 100 million years ago. With approximately 72 species spread across 4 families, what seagrasses lack in diversity, they make up for in their distribution, occurring at tropical, temperate, and arctic latitudes. They provide many ecosystem services and functions: from sequestering carbon more effectively and efficiently than tropical terrestrial forests, to providing nursery habitat to commercially and recreationally important species, and buffering our coastlines from storms and erosion.

Efforts to restore eelgrass have had variable success. Beheshti and colleagues were successful in restoring eelgrass in Elkhorn Slough, an estuary located at the heart of Monterey Bay. Within just a few years, restored plots expanded 8500%, and with such tremendous restoration success came the rapid recovery of key ecosystem functions (biodiversity, nursery function, water quality improvements).

There’s a reason seagrasses were referred to by Dr. Beheshti as “the heroes of the sea”. Listen and find out!

“Slough It” Website with resources on all things nearshore ecology
Eelgrass restoration work in Elkhorn Slough
UCSC Press Release on Eelgrass Study in Ecological Applications
ESA Press Release on Eelgrass Study
Eelgrass Restoration Synthesis for the Pacific Northwest
Video: K-5 Video on what eelgrass is and what it does
Video: OPC-funded Project in Richardson’s Bay
Video: OPC-funded Project to develop an Eelgrass Habitat Suitability Model for SF Bay

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Green Crab Invasion

Anglers trying for Dungeness Crab in the Albion, Big, and Noyo Rivers this year have instead pulled up numbers of European Green Crab. How did they get here, why are there so many of them, and are they causing any ecological harm? For answers to these and other questions, we turn to Dr. Edwin (Ted) Grosholz, Professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California-Davis. He has been studying the invasion of Green Crabs on the Pacific coast and tells us the whole story.

Eradication sometimes backfires Functional eradication may work better

Community scientists can help

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Black Bears in Mendocino County

Black bears are a game animal seen regularly in parts of Mendocino County. Scott Koller, a wildlife biologist retired from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, talks about the information gained from monitoring the bears taken by hunters, and provides insights on how to keep bears out of your garbage cans and chicken coops.

Audio file available here.
Podcast available from Apple, or Google, or Spotify.

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Brown Pelicans

The oldest California Brown Pelican on record, known to be at least 22 years of age

Early this summer, California Brown Pelicans began appearing along the Mendocino coast in large numbers. All summer and into fall, we have been treated to spectacular displays of hundreds at a time feeding on the abundant schools of anchovy, sometimes just outside the surf. Thousands roosted on the rocks just offshore from Seaside north to Westport. Watching those huge flocks wheeling and diving, it was hard to comprehend that fifty years ago they were headed for extinction.

We spoke with Bart Selby, a citizen-scientist who is monitoring Brown Pelicans along the central California coast, to learn more about these amazing birds and why so many are here this year. Here is one possible explanation: the concentration of Anchovy is apparently higher here than in areas to the north or the south this year. Local fishermen tell me they have not seen anything like it in 40 years.

Interview available to stream or download here. Also available as a podcast from Apple, or Google, or Spotify.

Here’s an amazing video showing how DDT was regarded in 1944.

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Wildfire Ecology and Myths

Once again, wildfires are burning across huge areas of the western US – and once again, a narrative about the causes and effects of these fires is being repeated endlessly in both the popular media and in scientific publications. Our guest, Dr. Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project, has been conducting research to understand the nature of wildfire in western forests. His recent book, “Smokescreen: Debunking Wildfire Myths to Save Our Forests and Our Climate” takes direct aim at several of the popular theories and presents compelling evidence contradicting much of what we have been told.

The audio file can be found here, and is also available as a podcast from Apple, Google, or Spotify.

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Black Abalone and Wildfire

We talk with Dr. Peter Raimondi from the Raimondi-Carr Lab at UC Santa Cruz about efforts to keep the rare black abalone from going extinct. The threats to this once common species include a rarely discussed phenomenon–massive mudslides in recently burned coastal mountains burying large proportions of coastal intertidal habitat. A team led by Wendy Bragg, one of Dr. Raimondi’s graduate students, is actively working to save a remnant population of the black abalone in Big Sur that has suffered from large mudslides, and Dr. Raimondi tells us the whole story.

Complete interview found here, or as a podcast from Apple, Google, or Spotify.

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“Bone-eating worms.” Interested now? Or would you rather hear about exploding whales? This interview has both, and lots more.

Most life on the deep-sea floor is supported by the constant rain of tiny particles of organic matter (called “marine snow”) from the sea surface, where sunlight drives primary production. Occasionally, larger particles fall as fish and other vertebrates die and sink. The largest of these are whale carcasses. In the 1980s, while working on the famous deep-sea submersible Alvin, our guest Dr. Craig Smith of the University of Hawaii discovered an ecological community of organisms that specialize in living on whale remains. Surprisingly, these communities resembled those living on deep-sea hydrothermal vents (which had only been discovered about a decade earlier). Dr. Smith has been studying these unique assemblages ever since, and has fascinating stories to tell about his work.

Audio here, or podcast via Apple, Google, or Spotify

Video: Stages of Whale Decomposition

Video: Feast in the Deep

Video: Whalefall discovered (scientists totally geeking out!)

Video: Whalefall revisited

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Cowbirds: Brood parasites

Image: Wilson’s Warbler feeding Brown-headed Cowbird chick. Photo by Beth Hamel

Birds invest considerable effort in the reproductive processes and have evolved myriad ways to improve their chances of success. The entire process of mating, nest-building, brooding, and rearing young consumes enormous amounts of energy, often leaving the parent birds nearly worn-out by the time their young reach independence. It is perhaps no wonder, then, that a few birds have developed a way to avoid most of that expense by getting other birds to do most of the work. Brood parasites lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, which then hatch and rear them unwittingly.

The most widespread and abundant brood parasite in North America is the Brown-headed Cowbird. Dr. Mark Hauber studies Cowbirds and other brood parasites around the world, focusing on questions of recognition, social function, and the complex interactions between the parasites and their victims. He is a Professor at the University of Illinois in the Department of Animal Biology, School of Integrative Biology, where he runs the “Cowbird Lab” and conducts some fascinating research. He is also Harley Jones Van Cleave Professor of Host-Parasite Interactions in the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior. Dr Hauber addressed the central question of recognition: How does a Cowbird chick, raised entirely by another species, know it is a Cowbird?

Among many other insights, Dr. Hauber dispelled a myth I had unwittingly perpetuated for years: the idea that Cowbirds evolved to follow herds of Bison and adopted brood parasitism so they could remain with the herd as it moved across the landscape. Apologies to everyone I have misled with this story!

Listen to the interview here, or get it as a podcast from Apple here, or Google, or Spotify.

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Yellow-legged Frogs in the Eel River

Tonight’s guest is Dr. Sarah Kupferberg, an aquatic ecologist doing research at the University of California’s Angelo Reserve in northern Mendocino County. Dr. Kupferberg has studied the food web in the south Fork of the Eel River, including the yellow legged frog. She describes the life history of these frogs and how they use the riverine habitat, and their population status. Along the way we learn about the sometimes messy ways science gets done, tadpoles get rescued, and what the vocalization of a Yosemite Toad sounds like.

Interview available here, or as a podcast from Apple Google Spotify

Links for more information:

  Angelo Reserve website

Status Report on Foothill Yellow-Legged Frog  

  Ecology summary re FYLF

More about aquatic life in the Eel River 

 Center for Biological Diversity animal call ringtones

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Deep-sea Exploration

This is a real creature. Its scientific name literally means “Vampire squid from Hell.”

Journey to the bottom of the sea with Dr. James Barry of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute as he describes their cutting-edge research using Remotely Operated Vehicles to examine the seafloor. Dr. Barry and his team of scientists are discovering the fantastic ways life adapts to the total darkness and near-freezing temperatures, more than two miles below the surface. They also give the rest of us an opportunity to look over their shoulders, through their video library and YouTube channel featuring spectacular videos of life in the abyss.

We had a terrific conversation with Dr. Barry and hope he can return to tell us about the next fascinating discovery. The interview can be heard here, or as a podcast from Apple Google Spotify.

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