College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

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January 17, 2012

Western Bluebirds Provide Pest Control

By Joe Eaton and Ron Sullivan

The Bluebird of Happiness has a new gig. Now it's the Bluebird of Ecosystem Services.

That would be the western bluebird, a widespread California native. This colorful little thrush nests in tree cavities, often moving in after the original property developer, a woodpecker, has moved out. New research by UC Berkeley postdoctoral scholar Julie Jedlicka suggests that setting up bluebird nest boxes - surrogate cavities - in vineyards can help control insect pests. As the birds colonize urban areas in the East Bay and South Bay, they may be a boon to home gardeners, too.

In nesting season, a western bluebird pair stays busy catching insects - grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, bugs, ants, wasps, flies, termites and scale insects - for their voracious offspring. "Bluebirds have a wide general foraging style: on the ground, on vegetable matter, on leaves, in the air," Jedlicka explained. "They're targeting a lot of different spaces that insects inhabit." In a good year, the parents can rear two broods; with four to six eggs per clutch, that's a lot of hungry mouths to feed.

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Study: Eat More Often, Weigh Less

Reuters

Jan 13 - Girls who ate frequent meals and snacks put on less weight and gained less on their waistlines over a decade than those who only ate a couple of times a day, according to a U.S. study.

Researchers, who tracked more than 2,000 girls for the study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, said that smaller, more frequent meals and snacks may have kept girls satisfied for longer, preventing them from over-eating.

But they added that it was too early to say if that style of eating should be recommended to help prevent obesity in girls, or in the general population.

"I wouldn't recommend that people go out and say, 'Oh, I eat three meals a day and now I'm going to eat five to try to prevent weight gain'," said study author Lorrene Ritchie, at the University of California, Berkeley, noting that moderation appeared to be what matters.

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January 3, 2012

Scientists Try Tricking Vineyard-Killing Bacteria

By Beth Mole, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Every grapevine in the 28-acre Bonny Doon Vineyard had to be ripped from the earth and torched in 1994. New vines might have faced the same fate the following year. Instead, owner Randall Grahm, numb from years of battling an incurable plague, sold his whole vineyard of dead and dying Syrah, Viognier and Marsanne grapes.

But that was just the beginning of a statewide killing spree by a new duo behind Pierce's disease: the sap-sucking insect known as the glassy-winged sharpshooter and the vine-choking bacteria Xylella fastidiosa. Together, they drained more than $30 million out of Northern California's $3 billion-a-year grape industry in the late '90s. The wine industry retaliated with millions of dollars of pest-management and protection measures -- in a battle it's still fighting.

Now, scientists have come up with a new and cheaper tactic: Confuse the germs as soon as the sharpshooter delivers them into a healthy vine. And it couldn't come at a better time for Grahm, who just bought land for a new vineyard in Bonny Doon.
Though Xylella and other sharpshooters have been in California since the 19th century, glassy-winged sharpshooters sneaked in during the 1980s, hopelessly infesting 12 southern counties warm enough to host them.

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Western Bluebirds Provide Pest Control
Study: Eat More Often, Weigh Less
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