University of Florida

UF/IFAS study: Most homeowners can’t properly assess damage to their trees

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Extension, Families and Consumers, Forestry, Green Living, IFAS, RECs, Research, Safety

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The next time a storm tears up your yard, let an expert assess the damage to any trees. A study from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences shows that homeowners perceive the risk of a damaged tree differently than trained professionals.

The survey of tree experts and homeowners in the Tampa Bay area assessed the perceptions of both groups when it came to assessing tree damage, said Andrew Koeser, an assistant professor in environmental horticulture and study author.

“While there are a number of factors tied to tree risk, most respondents were fixated on tree defects,” Koeser said. “Only experienced professionals considered other pertinent factors—namely whether the tree was actually a threat to a person, vehicle or house.”

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Wilson named chair of UF/IFAS Department of Environmental Horticulture

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Conservation, Crops, Environment, Green Living, Honors and Appointments, IFAS, Invasive Species

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — You can take the “interim” off of Sandra Wilson’s title. She’s now chair of the UF/IFAS Department of Environmental Horticulture.

Named interim chair in November 2014, Wilson was named to the permanent position in September by Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

“Dr. Wilson was a natural choice to lead our Environmental Horticulture Department,” Payne said. “Combine her outstanding teaching and research record, the leadership she has shown and the fact that the faculty support her, and we knew right away Dr. Wilson would lead the department to unparalleled heights.”

Wilson came to Gainesville after 15 years as an environmental horticulture faculty member at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center.

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UF/IFAS landscape management researcher named Early Career Scientist by global tree group

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Environment, Extension, Forestry, Green Living, Honors and Appointments, IFAS, Research

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Andrew Koeser

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A UF/IFAS scientist, who has helped design a tree risk-management app and is co-writing tree identification books, has been named as a co-recipient of the International Society of Arboriculture’s Early Career Scientist Award.

The award is given to professionals showing exceptional promise in arboriculture research.

Andrew Koeser, an assistant professor in environment horticulture at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Baum, is also a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology.

One of Koeser’s projects is a mobile app for risk-assessment data collection and mapping. He is also co-writing a series of tree identification books unique to the different regions of Florida.

Koeser hopes his research enhances efforts to improve risk-assessment and storm response processes. The app project is designed to give cities an easy and efficient means of taking inventory and assessing the safety of their trees. Should a severe storm hit, the data collected will help managers more quickly estimate debris levels for cleanup.

“My research in tree risk assessment carries on the goal of enhancing current efforts being made to improve assessment processes,” said Koeser, a faculty member with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “I think the app project has the potential to gather user data needed in order to make reasonable assessments of potential tree failure.”

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UF/IFAS study sheds light on how willing we are to adjust our energy bills

Topic(s): Economics, Environment, Families and Consumers, Finances, Green Living, IFAS, Research, Weather

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — All it takes is six questions. You answer those, and University of Florida researchers say contractors will know how willing you are to upgrade your home for energy efficiency and whether you can afford the improvements.

Heating and cooling make up 54 percent of American households’ utility bills, a primary concern for Randy Cantrell, a UF/IFAS assistant professor and Extension specialist in housing and community development. For some people, their monthly energy bill comes as sticker shock. But we all react differently when we open the envelope, and Cantrell calls that response “botheredness.”

Cantrell wanted to know two things: how bothered people are by their energy bill and whether they can afford to do something about it. So he and Brad Sewell, a graduate research assistant, used a web-based survey of about 1,000 American homeowners to divide them into groups based on utility bill botheredness and budgetary constraints for household upgrades.

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UF/IFAS apps give irrigation, growing tips and more

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Environment, Extension, Families and Consumers, Green Living, IFAS, New Technology, Research, Weather


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Looking to save money and water when you irrigate? UF/IFAS scientists have developed an app for that. Want to know what plants to grow in your garden? You guessed it: UF/IFAS has an app for that as well.

UF/IFAS’ so-called “smart irrigation apps” include an urban lawn app that estimates how long you’ll need to water your lawn to meet current plant water demand. It uses a simplified approach for automated irrigation systems. This urban lawn model uses meteorological data to compute a simple, real-time weekly water balance, said Kati Migliaccio, UF/IFAS associate professor in agricultural and biological engineering and lead designer of the app. Find these apps and others at Smartirrigationapps.org.

“The turf app provides a free resource to determine a schedule to apply the right amount of water to landscapes, which is personalized based on user inputs,” Migliaccio said.

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UF/IFAS researchers use pigs to root out problem weeds

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Environment, Green Living, IFAS, Livestock, Research, Vegetables
Professor of Agronomy and Weed Science Greg MacDonald with his pigs.

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CITRA, Fla. — Sometimes, the old-fashioned ways are the best ways.

Back before chemical pesticides and herbicides, farmers had to come up with ways to kill the weeds that took over their fields. One method used “back in the day” was letting pigs loose in fields that were not being used for crops for a season and allowing the pigs to do what they do naturally: dig up the roots of weeds and  fertilize the land.

In the last year, Greg MacDonald, a weed science researcher with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, decided to give the method a try to combat nutsedge, a weed that looks like grass and is so resilient it can sprout up through plastic row-crop coverings and even the plastic lining of above-ground pools. (more …)

UF/IFAS study: Non-native grass invasion, prescribed fires, deadly ecological combination

Topic(s): Agriculture, Biocontrols, Conservation, Economics, Environment, Forestry, Green Living, Invasive Species, Research


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Invasive stiltgrass is bad enough by itself, crowding out native plant and insect species in about 25 eastern U.S. states, including Florida. It can also inhibit tree seedling survival and growth, and it can change the availability of nitrogen in the soil.

In general, invasions of non-native plant species can reduce biodiversity and alter ecosystems. In 2013, 1,585 prescribed fires were used to burn about 290,000 acres in eight eastern U.S. states. Scientists have used prescribed fires to effectively control some invasive plants, but new evidence suggests fires may promote stiltgrass invasions.

If land managers perform prescribed fires — normally used to manage ecosystems and prevent wildfires – in stiltgrass-invaded areas, native trees can be killed by the more intense fires caused by burning stiltgrass, said Luke Flory, an assistant professor of ecology at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

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UF/IFAS study: Forest managers hindered in efforts to use prescribed burns to control costly wildfires

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Forestry, Green Living, IFAS

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Forest managers would prefer to use prescribed burns every few years to help prevent costly wildfires and rebuild unhealthy ecosystems, but hurdles like staffing, budget, liability and new development hinder them, a new University of Florida study shows.

Fighting wildfires is costly. The U.S. government now spends about $2 billion a year just to stop them, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. That’s up from $239 million in 1985.

Leda Kobziar, an associate professor of fire science and forest conservation in UF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation, led a web-based survey of 523 public and private land managers across Region 8 of the U.S. Forest Service, which consists of 13 Southern states, including Florida. She and her colleagues wanted to see whether front-line experts think prescribed burns prevent wildfires and maintain vegetation and healthy ecosystems. And if they do, what are the circumstances under which such burns work best.

As it turns out, prescribed burns should be done every few years to prevent wildfires or reduce their severity, depending on weather and the type of ecosystem land managers are trying to protect, according to the survey.

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Bicyclists willing to ride up to 3 miles to catch bus, train, UF/IFAS study shows

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Families and Consumers, Green Living, IFAS, RECs, Research

Students commute on bicycles through campus.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – If three American metro areas are any indication, few people ride their bicycles to a bus or train station to commute to work, and those who do only travel an average of 1 to 2 miles. That suggests to a University of Florida researcher that American cities should make the 2-mile radius around transit hubs more bike-friendly.

Methods to do so could include installing bicycle lanes separated from vehicular traffic, adding off-street multipurpose paths for pedestrians and bicyclists and converting car lanes to bike-only lanes, said UF geomatics Associate Professor Henry Hochmair.

Hochmair reached his conclusions by studying data collected by transit agencies from passengers who rode trains and buses in three metro areas – Atlanta, Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

From those who completed the survey, Hochmair analyzed trips from 157 people in Los Angeles, 66 in Atlanta and 99 in Minneapolis who rode their bikes to access transit – 2.3 percent, 0.3 percent, and 4.2 percent, respectively. In Hochmair’s data analysis, those who opted to ride a bike to a transit hub cycled an average of 1 to 2 miles in Atlanta and the Twin Cities and 3 miles in Los Angeles.

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Neighborhood designs can cut carbon emissions, electric costs

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Green Living, Research

Marl Hostetler-Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. Photo by Eric Zamora

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A big tree next to your house can do more than just save home-cooling costs, it will also cut carbon emissions, University of Florida researchers say.

Trees shade houses so that less energy is needed to cool them. But trees, especially older ones, also store and sequester carbon. Through photosynthesis, trees sequester ─ or capture ─ carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to create energy for growth. This carbon is then stored in the tree as long as the tree remains alive. Trees store carbon in their leaves, branches, trunks, stems and roots.

Carbon dioxide is released through electricity use, home heating, waste and transportation, among other activities, said UF wildlife ecology and conservation professor Mark Hostetler. Through photosynthesis, trees can offset the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a house through carbon storage and sequestration.

With UF experts projecting the state to grow from 19 million now to 25 million in 2040, more land will be needed for housing, commercial and recreational uses. With a population increase comes more need for fossil fuels for heating, cooling and transportation and usually wildlife habitat losses, said Richard Vaughn, one of Hostetler’s former master’s students.

“While climate change mitigation takes place on many levels, I focused on the city level,” Vaughn said. “Cities are increasingly trying to offset carbon dioxide emissions, and new residential developments are a major source of such emissions. Our study offers a viable mitigation strategy that addresses many of these issues.”

With a goal of storing more carbon, Vaughn studied how to design conservation-friendly neighborhoods. Using tree data and a model, Vaughn examined how to design a subdivision for maximum tree carbon storage and sequestration.

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