College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

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July 14, 2009

Singing the Praises of Native Bees


From Bay Nature:

Gordon Frankie is a UC Berkeley professor and a native bee expert. Bees are his unmitigated passion. But before you walk out the door to talk to him, drop anything you think you know about honey-making hive-dwellers. For him, the most important bees are the ones you probably see every day--but have never heard of.

Turns out that none of the 1,600 known species of native California bees are anything like these transplants from across the Atlantic. Our homegrown bees can be green, black, or even red. They range in size from giant bumblebees to some that are barely visible to the naked eye. Some are as furry as a Sasquatch. Others are smooth and metallic. They mostly live alone or in small groups, sleeping in burrows or bivouacking on flowers at night. They are roughly split between male and female, they don't have queens, their stingers don't get stuck in your skin, and, lastly, they don't make honey....

Read "In the Key of Bee" at

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July 9, 2009

Theory provides more precise estimates of large-area biodiversity

Ask biologists how many species live in a pond, a grassland, a mountain range or on the entire planet, and the answers get increasingly vague. Hence the wide range of estimates for the planet's biodiversity, predicted to be between 2 million and 50 million species.

A new way of estimating species richness reported this month in the journal Ecology Letters by ecologist John Harte and colleagues, will make such estimates more precise for habitats of all sizes and types, from deserts to tropical rainforests.

"We know how to census the number of species in a square-meter plot or within an acre, but a major problem in conservation biology and ecology is estimating the diversity of biota at very large spatial scales, such as in the Amazon," said Harte, professor of environmental science, policy, and management. "This theory provides a much more accurate means of doing that."

Continue reading "Theory provides more precise estimates of large-area biodiversity" »

July 6, 2009

Growing young scientists in Tahiti

A University of California, Berkeley, project to catalog nearly every living thing on the Polynesian island of Moorea is enlisting the help of the island's 5th graders and showing them that science is not for foreigners only.

While conducting research for his thesis and for the Moorea Biocode Project, ESPM graduate student Brad Balukjian has been teaching 5th graders at the Paopao Primary School about biodiversity and introducing them to the scientific study of the plants and animals they see every day.

The biocode project, run by UC Berkeley and French researchers and funded by a $5.2 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, aims to build a comprehensive inventory of all non-microbial life on the island by 2011.With samples taken from the mountaintops to the ocean depths, it would be the first complete inventory of a tropical ecosystem.

At an end-of-year science fair on June 25, Balukjian's students proudly presented their collections of Moorean insects and plants to parents and fellow students. Each student had also collected a specimen specifically for the Moorea Biocode Project database, so that its DNA profile could be entered along with the student collector's name.

"They are immortalized in the biocode database," Balukjian said.

Continue reading "Growing young scientists in Tahiti" »

July 2, 2009

Tougher controls sought for DNA ancestry testing

As the popularity of take-home DNA kits to trace ancestry or calculate the risk for serious medical conditions grows, there is an increasingly critical need for federal oversight of "direct-to consumer" genetic testing, as well as of the use of DNA samples for research, according to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and several other academic institutions.

In the past year, scientists, sociologists and bioethicists, among others, have come to agree that the technology of these direct-to-consumer tests, which run between $100 and $1,000 apiece, is problematic and that the test results can be misleading and lead to problems including skewed ethnic data and questionable membership claims to Native American tribes.

But while organizations such as the American Society of Human Genetics have issued guidelines to curb the unintended consequences and misuses of DNA testing, federal agencies need to step in and help shape a "gold standard" in genetic ancestry testing, according to a policy paper published in the July 3 issue of the journal Science and coauthored by researchers from UC Berkeley, Stanford University, the University of Texas, University of Wisconsin and New York University.

Continue reading "Tougher controls sought for DNA ancestry testing" »


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Singing the Praises of Native Bees
Theory provides more precise estimates of large-area biodiversity
Growing young scientists in Tahiti
Tougher controls sought for DNA ancestry testing


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