Category Archives: fresno

From Silent Spring to Silent Night: A Tale of Toads and Men

As the semester winds down here at Fresno State, the Tri Beta Biology Club has a couple more special treats for us. For this week’s Biology Colloquium, we bring you a real role model in Dr. Tyrone Hayes, an African American field biologist (yes, they exist, despite the stereotype) who became one of the youngest Full Professors at the University of California Berkeley. He will share his groundbreaking (and corporation-shaking) research on the effects of the herbicide Atrazine on amphibians, a taxon that has been in global decline for some time now, with pesticides hammering some of the nails in their collective coffin. Here’s an excerpt about Dr. Hayes’ work from the PBS documentary Frogs: The Thin Green Line:


And if that isn’t enough to grab your interest, this might:
Here are details of the colloquium:
Tri Beta Biology Club presents:


Dr. Tyrone Hayes
Professor of Integrative Biology
University of Californa, Berkeley
on Friday, May 6, 2011
at 3:00 PM in AG 109 (download maps here)

The herbicide, atrazine, is a potent endocrine disruptor. My laboratory’s studies in amphibians have shown that atrazine both demasculinizes and feminizes exposed males at levels as low as 0.1 ppb. Our previous worked examined morphological effects, including the loss of androgen-dependent sexually dimorphic features, and the development of estrogen-dependent features in exposed males. These findings are consistent with an induction of aromatase, resulting in decreased androgen secretion and inappropriate estrogen synthesis and secretion. Our ongoing studies focus on behavioral effects in male frogs exposed throughout life and demonstrate both the loss of male reproductive behavior and the induction of female-typical behavior in exposed males. These data on amphibians and the proposed mechanism are consistent with findings across vertebrate classes, including humans, and raise concern about the role of this common environmental contaminant in reproductive hormone-dependent cancers and declining fertility in humans.

Call the Biology department (559•278•2001) for more information. You can also download the flyer here.

Symphony of the Soil – free film screening @Fresno_State this evening

We have another interesting soil-related even on campus this evening – a screening of a new film on the subject:


Here’s more about this film project from its website:


The Symphony of the Soil project consists of one feature film that examines soil in all its complexity and mystery and several short ‘satellite’ films that go deeply into single topics. The feature film explores soil as a protagonist of our planetary story, including the birth of soil, its life cycle, the many creatures making up the soil community, nutrient cycling, biological processes such as the carbon cycle and the nitrogen cycle, and succession. The film also examines our human relationship with soil, the use and misuse of soil in agriculture, deforestation and development, and the latest scientific research on the key role soil can play in ameliorating the most challenging environmental problems of our time. We will feature techniques from ancient wisdom to cutting edge science that preserve and improve soil. By gaining an understanding of the elaborate relationships and mutuality between soil, water, microorganisms, the atmosphere, plants, animals, and humans, we come to appreciate the complex and dynamic nature of this precious resource.


For more information about the feature film – SYMPHONY OF THE SOIL – stay tuned. We are currently in post-production and will have an update on the status of the film. There are work in progress screenings of the film. Find the schedule here.


The short films, which we are calling satellite films, are stand-alone films, twelve to twenty minutes in length. The short films provide information on specific topics such as dry farming, nitrogen, the Transition Movement, biodynamic farming, composting, soil/water relationships, and carbon sequestration. Below find a list of the short films completed to date:


PORTRAIT OF WINEMAKER (TRT: 15:36, work in progress)

TRANSITION TOWN TOTNES (TRT: 10:20, work in progress)

SEKEM VISION (TRT: 13:31, work in progress)

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Remembering Darwin on the Sky Harbor Trail

On Darwin Day 2011, the 202nd birthday of Charles Darwin, a group of about 20, students and faculty, members of Tri Beta Biology Club and the Fresno State Nature Club, participated in a celebratory hike along Sky Harbor trail above Lake Millerton just north of Fresno, on the San Joaquin river. It was a glorious day, with the impossibly blue skies typical of this part of the world (although too often obscured by what we pump up into the central valley air these days). Signs of Spring well under way were everywhere: in the songs of the Oak Titmouse and the Towhees, in the drunken bees buzzing about the flowers dotting the lush green slopes everywhere, and in the warm afternoon sun that set everything ablaze with a wonderful light. This was a hike good old Charlie would surely have enjoyed. As it is, my hat is off to you Charlie, on this your day and everyday, for so thoroughly deepening my appreciation of nature’s tangled banks and my own wonderful place within. Thank you. And Happy Birthday, Mr. Darwin.

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Hanging with Mr. Darwin @ Fresno State

As part of Darwin Week at Fresno State, the local chapter of the Tri Beta Biological Honors Society organized Darwin Hour at noon on Feb 9, 2011. Dr. Paul Crosbie of the Biology Dept. dressed up as a youngish Mr. Darwin, circa 1961 to talk about how he came to write his most famous book, and answered questions about what his theory means for us.

[Pictures taken on an iPhone 3Gs, hence the low resolution]

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Wouldn’t it be cool to have a real Community Garden @Fresno_State?

Here’s your chance to help make it happen: participate in this survey which is being circulated via email today – and let your friends know too!

Begin forwarded message:

From: Jennifer Sobieralski <jsobieralski@CSUFRESNO.EDU>
Date: November 12, 2010 3:35:55 PM PST
Subject: [BULLETINBOARD] Fresno State Community Garden Survey – Please complete
Reply-To: Jennifer Sobieralski <>

Terri Payne and Lindsey Hughes are Fresno State Dietetic Interns working under the direction of Mollie Smith, Fresno State Dietetic Intern Coordinator.  As part of our rotation at the Gibson Farm Market we are conducting a survey to determine interest in starting a community garden. Please take a few moments to complete the survey by Wednesday, November 17th at noon.  If you complete the information at the end of the survey your name will be added to a random drawing to win a $25 gift certificate to the Gibson Farm Market.  We appreciate your response.


Please click on the link below to participate in our survey



Gibson Farm Market

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How the wealth of your neighborhood and the water in your yard affect bird diversity

I wrote the following essay summarizing some early conclusions from the Fresno Bird Count for the April issue of the Yellowbill, the newsletter of Fresno Audubon. My student Brad Schleder presented some of these results as part of his masters thesis exit seminar earlier this week, and we also had a poster at the College of Science & Mathematics research poster symposium earlier today. So I thought I should also share this essay with you here:

The American West faces a water crisis. Drought, urban growth, climate change and the continued demands of agriculture have combined to heighten the competition among water users. In California’s San Joaquin Valley, court-ordered water diversions under the Endangered Species Act have radically decreased water deliveries to many Valley farmers. A recent settlement providing for the restoration of the San Joaquin River and ongoing drought (in a region subject to repeated cycles of drought) have only exacerbated public debate about water and spurred the search for ways to conserve it. Valley farmers are experimenting with dry land farming methods, while valley cities are seeking ways to reduce urban water use. In the Fresno-Clovis Metropolitan Area, the City of Clovis already meters water use (but has relatively low water rates) and the City of Fresno will start metering water in 2013. How does our use of water (amount and method of use) affect other species such as birds that also occupy our urban landscapes? What can we do to improve the environment for ourselves and for sustaining biodiversity in the long run?

The Fresno Bird Count (FBC, was established by my laboratory at Fresno State in spring 2008 to begin long-term monitoring of bird species in the Fresno-Clovis metro area in part to address such questions about human actions and their effects on biodiversity. The FBC was modeled after the Tucson Bird Count which is now in its 10th year, as a citizen science project where volunteer birders from the community collaborate to gather data on bird distribution and abundance using statistically rigorous sampling and standardized census methodologies. As in Tucson, our volunteers count all the birds they can detect while standing at pre-determined fixed locations for 5 minutes each (i.e., a 5-min point count; see the FBC website for details of the protocol). Each point is a randomly selected location within a 1 km X 1 km square cell that is part of a 460 square kilometer (approx. 178 square miles) grid covering most of Fresno-Clovis and some outlying areas. In the first two years of the FBC, we have managed to survey about 180-200 of these points, and are seeking more volunteers to expand our coverage, because the more finely we can cover the highly variable urban landscape, the better our understanding of just what constitutes habitat for birds in the city and how various bird species use the spaces and resources we leave for them.

The FBC started with two broad goals: to keep track of how many birds of which species occur in the area and how their numbers change under ongoing urban growth; and, to provide basic bird data for more detailed studies focused on the connections between what we do in the urban environment and how birds respond to resulting changes in habitats. The first of such studies has just been completed by my graduate student and FBC coordinator Brad Schleder in the form of a Masters thesis. Brad focused on how we water our lawns and yards, and how the resulting residential landscapes attract different kinds of birds. After spending much of last summer driving around the city to various bird count locations to measure aspects of the habitat such as the number of trees, canopy cover, amount and height of grass, and degree of watering, Brad found some interesting patterns that may give pause even to some long-term birdwatchers living in the area. Of course, it may not surprise you to learn that we find more species of birds towards the north and north-west, in a slight trend of increasing diversity as we approach the river. On the other hand, would you have guessed that bird diversity is a good indicator of the wealth of a neighborhood? That indeed seems to be the case: more species of birds are found in wealthier neighborhoods than in poorer ones, and this is a pattern I’ve also found in Phoenix, Arizona! The reason here may have something to do with how people water their household landscapes. Brad found that poorer neighborhoods don’t water their yards quite as much as wealthier ones. This surprised us because, without metering, the cost of water is not a constraint for residents in Fresno – yet we already see a pattern predicted to occur as a result of metering! Perhaps the direct cost of water is not the only thing affecting the habitat in poorer neighborhoods; rather, landscaping one’s yard and maintaining it regularly is a costly enterprise regardless of how much water costs. If anything, the metering of water (if coupled with a rate structure designed to encourage water conservation) will only add to the burden and exacerbate the contrast in landscapes between rich and poor parts of the city! And the birds will likely notice the changes in the urban landscape and respond by changing their residential address too.

These first results from the FBC support a conclusion that is emerging from similar studies in other cities throughout the US: that biodiversity in cities is unevenly distributed, and tends to favor the rich. In other words, in addition to economic hardship, the poor also face an environmental injustice because birds (and other wildlife) will also flock preferentially to the richer neighborhoods where they may find more diverse landscaped yards with plenty of water and food. That may not be good news for Fresno and other valley cities facing tough economic challenges right now, with high levels of unemployment and rising poverty. Yet, there is also an opportunity here for city planners and developers to rethink the pattern of urban growth and plan for amenities such as more public parks and roadside landscaping that will support more biodiversity and provide greater access to nature for those who may need it the most in these troubled times.
Published in the April issue of the Yellowbill.

Who’s that young artist on the telly promoting the Youth Orchestras of Fresno?

This aired earlier today on KSEE24, Fresno’s NBC affiliate station. I didn’t get to see it live on the telly when it aired, because I was actually in the studio watching it being recorded, having driven there in my parental role accompanying said young artist, Sanzari Aranyak (and listen to how she says her name!)! Our first time inside a TV studio was fun, first watching the weather guy applying makeup (definitely much more on his face than Sanzari’s) while awaiting his cue, and then doing his green screen bit – very slick. And then a full three-and-a-half minutes devoted to the story we were part of, the fundraiser for the Youth Orchestras of Fresno for which Sanzari and a number of local artists have painted violins. Julia Copeland, the Excecutive Director of YOOF, had picked Sanzari to accompany her as the young representative of the violin artists on what we had thought might be a 30-second sound-bite clip on the news. Despite being not quite prepared to actually be part of the interview, our little artist pulled off her first TV appearance quite smoothly under what would have been trying circumstances for her parents! No stage fright with this one… but then again she is a veteran of the stage having performed in a variety of shows since she was 5 – i.e., for half her lifetime!

So do forgive this proud dad’s bloggy indulgence as I share our girl’s moment in the spotlight!

Posted via web from a leaf warbler’s gleanings

Café Scientifique tonight: Epidemiology of Lung Cancer in the Central Valley

Each year 160,000 Americans die from lung cancer and another 220,000 are diagnosed with the disease. About 85-90% of lung cancer is attributable to cigarette smoking and other tobacco related exposures; however, one in five American adults continue to smoke. Although there has been a decline in smoking during the last several decades, recent national data suggest the decline has leveled off, especially among young adults. In this presentation, the worldwide distribution of lung cancer, state and local patterns of lung cancer will be presented, as well as data on smoking habits and other risk factors for this deadly disease.

For those of you in Fresno tonight – a reminder: the above is the topic for tonight’s talk at the Central Valley Café Scientifique by Dr. Paul Mills of the UCSF-Fresno Medical Education Program. And note that we meet at a new venue tonight. Enjoy – even if some of us regulars have to miss it!

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Residential water management as a driver of urban biodiversity

67.11  Wednesday, Jan. 6  Resilience in urban socioecological systems: residential water management as a driver of biodiversity KATTI, M*; SCHLEDER, B; California State Univ, Fresno; California State Univ, Fresno

Cities are unique ecosystems where human social-economic-cultural activities prominently shape the landscape, influencing the distribution and abundance of other species, and consequent patterns of biodiversity. The long-term sustainability of cities is of increasing concern as they continue to grow, straining infrastructure and pushing against natural resources constraints. A key resource is water, esp. in the more rapidly urbanizing arid regions. Understanding water management is thus critical for a deeper theoretical understanding of urban ecosystems and for effective urban policy. Landscaping and irrigation at any urban residence is a product of local geophysical/ecological conditions, homeowners’ cultural preferences, socioeconomic status, neighborhood dynamics, zoning laws, and city/state/federal regulations. Since landscape structure and water availability are key determinants of habitat for other species, urban biodiversity is strongly driven by the outcome of interactions between these variables. Yet the relative importance of ecological variables vs human socioeconomic variables in driving urban biodiversity remains poorly understood. Here we analyze data from the Fresno Bird Count, a citizen science project in California’s Central Valley, to show that spatial variation in bird diversity is best explained by a multivariate model including significant negative correlations with % building and grass cover, and positive correlations with interactions between irrigation intensity, median family income, and grass height. We discuss implications of our findings for urban water management policies in general, and for Fresno’s planned switch to metering water use in 2013. Ecological theory, conservation, and urban policy all benefit if we recognize cities as coupled socioecological systems.

If you’re in Seattle – at the ongoing SICB meeting even – at 11:40 AM on Wednesday this week, and need some mental stimulation before lunch, why not join the throng at the above talk?

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A Christian student reflects on Eugenie Scott’s talk about Evolution/Creationism

At the podium-3 copyWhat an overwhelming response we had at Eugenie Scott’s wonderful lecture last week on “Why the fuss about Darwin and Evolution?“! Thank you, Genie, for such a great talk, for inspiring and recharging those of us in the think of the evolution/creationism culture war in the Central Valley, for showing us how to address these issues in a graceful, polite, and inclusive manner. And thank you, all of you who came to campus that evening and overflowed the Satellite Student Union. For those that couldn’t come that evening, you can still enjoy the talk, in parts via videos posted on Scott Hatfield’s blog, and also a full-length podcast of the slides with audio that I’m working on (as soon as classes are out of the way this week!). More on that soon.

For now I want to share an essay written by one of my students who attended the talk, identifies himself as a Christian, and has, starting from a religious background that made him suspicious of the E-word, come around to accept the evidence for evolution, while retaining his faith. I thank Eric York for allowing me to share his synopsis of and reflections on Genie’s talk here. Having a standing-room audience is one thing – and a great thing for sure – but a personal testimony from a student who has made some real progress in their thinking because of what we teach, that is the best kind of response we teachers can hope for. Note that I am posting his essay as is, although I have (and you can guess where) some quibbles with a couple of the things he says in his synopsis. You should also read Scott’s summary of the talk, which has a bit more on the core-fringe model of knowledge. If you attended the talk, feel free to share your reaction in the comments section below. Here’s Eric (continued below the fold):

“Why all the fuss about Evolution?” –Eugenie C. Scott

Eugenie Scott provided a lecture outlining the basics of evolution, followed by a detailed synopsis of the evolution vs. creationism debate. She started off the debate by outlining the different facets of evolution, and the various sciences it is deeply entangled with. These included astronomy, biology, geology, and anthropology, which are each considered evolutionary sciences. The main distinction is that evolution doesn’t necessarily address the origins of life; rather it attempts to explain how organisms have gotten to their present state, via descent with modification.

One of the complaints about evolution is that humans don’t like the idea of us being “descended” from monkeys. However, Scott cleared this up by stating that we aren’t descended from monkeys or apes. She compared this to a family tree. I descended from my dad, and my dad descended from my grandpa. My grandpa also had another son, who in turn had a son, who is consequently my cousin. I am not descended from my cousin, but we do share a recent common ancestor. This parallels the concept of descent with modification.

Scott brought up a book called, “A Consumer’s Guide to Pseudoscience.” This claims that the core ideas of science that are well tested, such as gravity and orbit, are at the center. Around the core ideas are the frontier portions, which include the current experiments and hypotheses that sciences are actively testing. Finally, surrounding the frontier is the fringe. This discusses the why and philosophical aspects of science, and includes ideas such as natural selection and perpetual motion.

Scott spent a significant portion of the time discussing the debate between creationism and evolution. She suggested that instead of looking at both as a dichotomy in which you have to choose one over the other, look at them as a continuum. This continuum starts with conservative Christians that take the Bible literally. This includes those people who, as Scott stated, base their belief on the written Word that simultaneously makes the statement that the earth is flat. This argument is based on Scripture that pictures the earth as circular. Arguments against this claim are that the old Hebrew language didn’t have an adequate term for the word spherical, or that by saying the earth was circular was merely describing its general properties and not its absolute shape. This is only one of the many arguments between evolutionists and the conservative Christians who take the Bible literally.

From the literal interpretations of the Bible comes a transition into young earth creationists, who believe the Earth is only 10,000 years old. They believe that the Earth has only recently been created, and accept that if evolution does occur, it must act much more rapidly than currently accepted. Next are the old earth creationists that believe in creationism, but accept an older earth with the possibility of evolution. This is based on the interpretation of Genesis that the seven days of creation aren’t actually 24 hour days. This is based on the Scripture that says, “To the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.” By this reasoning, the seven days of creation could in fact imply thousands, millions, or even billions of years. Under this claim, evolution could be a feasible method that a creator used to derive the extant organisms that are alive today. This is followed by materialists, who don’t believe in creationism, and are skeptical of evolution. They are basically an in between category and don’t go one way or the other. Finally are the fundamental evolutionists. They are the ones that explicitly believe in evolution and the direct descent with modification.

Altogether I felt this was a very interesting and enlightening discussion. I personally am a Christian and take the Bible as inspired by God, which leaves several aspects up to interpretation. However, I am also taking evolution with Dr. Crosbie, and through this have learned the mechanisms, consequences, and impacts of evolution. Consequently I have come to believe that evolution via natural selection and descent with modification is in fact responsible for how organisms have changed over time to get to their present state. Although my belief is in contradiction to most views held by Christians, I personally think that science and creationism can in fact go hand in hand, and don’t have to be mutually exclusive of one another. As mentioned, I have slowly reached this conclusion by taking my evolution class, along with analyzing past and present research. I felt that it was appropriate to include as part of my analysis for this seminar the influence that Scott had on confirming my ideals, and expounding upon the inclusiveness in my own thinking of creationism and evolution.