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New UC-Wide Institute will Focus on Climate Change Impacts in Natural Ecosystems

By Andrea Sargis, UC Davis

January 26, 2015

The University of California’s Natural Reserve System (NRS) has aided in much discovery since its inception in 1965 and will continue to do so, specifically in the way of recording the current and future impacts of climate change on the state of California. The UC President’s Research Catalyst Award has just provided $1.9 million to a new research effort being led by UC Santa Cruz scientist, Barry Sinervo, with input from faculty across the UC including UC Davis faculty Mark Schwarzt, Marissa Baskett, and John Wingfield. The funds will be put towards a new Institute for the Study of Ecological Effects of Climate Impacts (ISEECI), which will encompass all nine undergraduate UC campuses. UC Davis manages 4 of the reserves that will be part of the initial ISEECI network: Jepson Prairie Reserve, McLaughlin Natural Reserve, Quail Ridge Reserve, and Bodega Marine Reserve .

In total, the NRS holds 756,000 acres in its 39 reserves which are spread across the state, giving researchers an extremely broad range of protected natural landscapes to monitor and study. This scope of land includes nearly every conceivable type of ecological habitat that can be found in California, a hotspot of biological diversity in North America. By creating the necessary infrastructure and coordination, ISEECI will allow scientists the opportunity to survey each and every possible condition, and generate a database of baseline monitoring data for climate change studies.

Although the NRS has been widely surveyed for decades, there has been difficulty translating the findings from one survey to another since each scientist or organization maintains different methods of conducting research. The ISEECI will implement a variety of standardized surveys over a vast area, allowing researchers to more easily track the accumulated effects of climate change at the ecosystem level.

“We are thrilled to be part of this new UC-wide initiative on climate change. The institute will synthesize individual climate change studies at all the different reserves, expand our confidence in what we are finding, and inform us of future likelihoods,” says Shane Waddell, Reserve Director at UC Davis’ Quail Ridge Reserve.

Quail Ridge, located on Lake Berryessa just 45 minutes west of the UC Davis campus, will factor prominently in ISEECI’s network, where a current NSF-funded project documenting the effects of climate change on dragon fly development and dispersal is underway. The reserve is also home to QuRiNet, a state-of-the-art wireless mesh system with the capacity to support automated environmental monitoring and tracking of a variety of species (e.g., see QRAAT, the reserve’s new automated animal telemetry system).

ISEECI will be the first research network to empirically investigate the long-term impacts of climate change on natural ecosystems in California.

Mark Schwartz, Director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment, who is also involved in the USDA and Department of the Interior climate initiatives, says "The ISEECI will address an important gap in California’s portfolio of climate change research and enhance the work of other initiatives in the state. This project signals the University of California launching an initiative to bring state-of-the-art monitoring technologies to bear on one of society’s most pressing questions: how will changing climates impact the ecosystems upon which we all depend?”

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