The intricacies of LA’s urban ecosystem are the focus of new UCLA podcast


Not all Los Angeles celebrities are human.

Witness the excitement of spotting the city’s famous wildlife. A recent headline from the Los Angeles Times read: “Famous P-22 Puma Makes Spectacular Appearance in Beachwood Canyon Backyard.

But even Angelenos fascinated by the big cats of the Santa Monica Mountains might not realize that the animals are threatened by factors that seem entirely unrelated to their natural habitats. For example, what if the rodenticide used to control rat infestations in Los Angeles neighborhoods could ultimately harm P-22 and his running mates?

That’s the subject of the first episode of “The Labyrinth Project,” a new UCLA podcast available now on Apple, Spotify, Google, Amazon and Stitcher. Across six episodes, the series engages listeners in a range of ecological puzzles, all of which are as interconnected as the city’s vast natural ecosystems.

Its creator is Christopher Kelty, professor of anthropology at UCLA and member of the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics. Kelty’s Labyrinth Project research initiative inspired the podcast, and its work is funded in part by the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge.

“People see nature in different ways and with different stakes,” he said. “Some people want to conserve nature in a certain way, others want to exploit it and others are afraid of it. We really wanted to explore that idea.

The first episode explores the conflict between people’s attempts to fight off one species, rats, while preserving another, pumas. Studies by UCLA researchers and others have shown that rats killed by pesticides end up in the food chain that ultimately leads to bobcats and cougars, which can damage their immune systems and alter their genetics. .

“We could ban poisons, but the question remains: Do we want to live with rats? Should we change our relationship with rats as well as pumas? Kelty said. “This podcast is an attempt to say that if you focus on issue by issue, you won’t see the big picture. We try to emphasize the big picture in an easy-to-grasp way. And we’re asking listeners to take a step back, and maybe not have a strong opinion right now.

The podcast is written and produced by Kelty and five UCLA undergraduate and graduate students. Upcoming episodes, which will be released each Monday, explore stories around coyotes, feral cats and the pressure people can feel from being bombarded with messages about sustainable living.

“I really dove into my own feelings about trying to live a sustainable lifestyle,” said Emma Horton, a third-year undergraduate student in human biology and society, and co-producer of one episode. “I found what I call ‘sustainability guilt practices’ all around me, and realized there were these subtle forms of shaming consumers into living a respectful life. of the environment, although much of it is truly beyond the reach of the average person.”

The team represents a wide range of academic interests. Spencer Robins, for example, is a PhD student in English, specializing in environmental literature.

“If you go out to LA and start talking to people who really know and care about the natural world here, you’re going to meet some really wild characters with crazy stories,” he said. In Project Labyrinth, these characters range from trained scientists to a family that feeds a coyote at their front door to members of a Satanist cult that has morphed into a no-kill movement in Los Angeles.

For Chase Niesner, a graduate student at UCLA’s Institute for Environment and Sustainability, the project highlighted the interconnectedness of a wide range of issues.

“The goal of this project is to understand and respect the complexity of the urban ecosystem, and to understand that if you pull one thread, it changes everything else,” he said. “In urban ecology, you really can’t think of one conversation separately from the others.”


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