Sage grouse losing habitat to fire as endangered species decision looms

Post-wildfire stabilization treatment has not aided habitat restoration for the imperiled Great Plains birds.

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, 2 April 2014
Contact: Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; llester@esa.org

 

A summer storm passes over sagebrush country near Hollister, Idaho. The area has not burned in the last 30 years and features mature sagebrush, but also non-native cheatgrass, mustard, and crested wheatgrass, and barbed-wire fencing, which provides perches for predatory birds. Non-native plants and human infrastructure diminish the quality of the habitat for sage grouse.

An early summer storm passes over sagebrush country near Hollister, Idaho. The area has not burned within the 20 year time frame of the study. It features mature sagebrush, but also non-native cheatgrass, mustard, and crested wheatgrass, and barbed-wire fencing, which provides perches for predatory birds. Non-native plants and human infrastructure diminish the quality of the habitat for sage grouse. Credit, Robert Arkle, June 2011.

As fires sweep more frequently across the American Great Basin, the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been tasked with reseeding the burned landscapes to stabilize soils. BLM’s interventions have not helped to restore habitat for the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) reported scientists from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and US Forest Service in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecosphere last week, but outlier project sites with good grouse habitat may yield clues to successful management scenarios.

Their report arrives in the shadow of a pending decision by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to protect the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, and efforts by BLM and FWS to establish voluntary conservation and restoration management plans in lieu of endangered species listing mandates.

Protection of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act could affect the management of 250,000 square miles of land in the western US. FWS must decide on the grouse’s protection status by the end of FY 2015.

Wildfire is the predominant cause of habitat loss in the Great Basin. The sagebrush ecosystem is not adapted to frequent fires like some forests in California and the central Rockies, and fires have increased in frequency and in size over the last half century.

“The most common species, big sagebrush, doesn’t re-sprout from the stump. After it burns, it’s dead and it has to reseed, and it’s not very good at dispersing seeds long distance,” said author Robert Arkle, a supervisory ecologist for the USGS Forest & Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center at the Snake River Field Station in Idaho. “Seeds aren’t viable very long. Some years they don’t reproduce at all, without the right spring conditions. Getting sage established out in the middle of these big burned areas is a difficult task.”

Arkle emphasized that recovery of sage grouse habitat is not part of BLM’s wildfire response directive. BLM’s Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation (ESR) program is designed to reestablish perennial plant cover following wildfire, preventing erosion and limiting the spread of non-native species.

“Accomplishing those goals certainly wouldn’t hurt sage grouse, but whether or not these treatments provide a benefit for sage grouse doesn’t have bearing on the success of the ESR program,” said Arkle. “It’s important to recognize the difficulty of what the land management community is trying to do.”

A sea of non-native crested wheatgrass (left) fills the path of the Poison Creek fire, which burned on Idaho’s remote Owyhee High Plateau in 1996. An abrupt transition to healthy sagebrush marks the edge of the fire. The Jarbidge Mountains sit on the horizon. Credit, Robert Arkle.

A sea of non-native crested wheatgrass (left) fills the path of the Poison Creek fire, which burned on the remote Owyhee High Plateau, tucked into the southwest corner of Idaho, in 1996. Nearly two decades later, an abrupt transition to healthy sagebrush marks the edge of the fire. The Jarbidge Mountains sit on the horizon. Credit, Robert Arkle, June 2011.

Historically, the Great Basin burned in smaller, patchier conflagrations, at intervals on the order of once per century. Managers are now seeing sagebrush country burn every 20 years in parts of the Great Basin, fueled by drought and vigorous non-natives like cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum).

 “Almost a million acres burn each year in the Great Basin and, since 1990, about 6% of the Great Basin has been treated with these ESR projects. Almost all treated acres occur in historic sage grouse habitat,” said Arkle. That’s why the team chose to look at ESR project sites. “We have this problem with non-native plants coming in, changing the fire cycle, and promoting more frequent fires. We wanted to know if ESR treatments had improved conditions for grouse in these vast burned areas.”

The average ESR project encompasses 4 square miles. In 2007, the Murphy Complex Fire burned 653,000 square miles in south-central Idaho. To cover such large areas, BLM spreads seed from aircraft or with tractor and rangeland drill seeders, usually in the fall or early winter. They customize a mix of forb, bunchgrass, and shrub seeds to the site. In recent years, BLM has moved to using native species when possible.

Arkle and colleagues examined 101 sites that burned once between 1990 and 2003. To select their sites, they compiled a database of fires and ESR projects from which they randomly chose a set of project sites with a gradient of precipitation and annual temperatures but similar soil types.

“Treated plots were not much more likely to be used by sage grouse than the burned and untreated, on average, but there were outliers. Those are important, because they are sites where the treatments were more effective, in terms of sage grouse habitat,” said Arkle.

Sage grouse prefer land that has not burned at all in recent decades. Arkle and his colleagues found little sagebrush cover at burned sites, whether treated or not.

“I think that’s the most important finding, because some sites burned 20 years ago and still haven’t recovered,” said Arkle. “We did not see a trend of increasing sagebrush cover with time, so time is not the limiting factor in this 20 year window.” If not time, then what does sagebrush need to recover? The limiting factor could be related to climate, or prevalence of non-native plants. It is a question the researchers hope to address in the future.

Robert Arkle collected data at Clover Creek in 2009, near perimeter of a fire that burned on Idaho’s Owyhee High Plateau in 1994. Credit (co-author) David Pilliod.

Robert Arkle collected data at Clover Creek in 2009, near the perimeter of a fire that burned on Idaho’s Owyhee High Plateau in 1994. Credit (co-author) David Pilliod, July 2009.

Sage grouse are picky birds, Arkle and colleagues found, preferring a sagebrush steppe environment featuring very little human development and dwarf sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula, A. nova, or A. tripartita) but not cheatgrass or other non-native plants. Even in otherwise primo landscapes, if just 2.5% of the land is developed within five kilometers of a site, the birds will be half as likely to use it. If any development, including paved roads, can be seen, they don’t want be there. Seemingly low impact structures like fences and livestock watering stations provide predatory ravens with high perches from which to spy sage grouse nests.

The outlier ESR sites preferred by sage grouse had healthier sagebrush and shared common climate and post-treatment weather conditions. Sagebrush recovery fared better in more northerly, higher elevation sites, with relatively cool, moist springs. Spring weather has big role in successful germination and growth of sagebrush during the crucial first growing season. Sagebrush biology and physiology can be the biggest hurdle for restoration managers.

To Arkle’s mind, the study results argue for maintaining and protecting existing expanses of intact, high quality habitat, and only secondarily trying to fix what’s broken.

Experimental techniques have some promise, and include multiple seedings when the first try fails, out-planting pods of seedlings, and using different types of drill seeding equipment. Reseeding burns with local varietals or close genetic matches could improve recruitment. Controlling non-native plants with herbicides and fungal infections has been tried, with mixed results.

But the factors that ultimately determine the survival of the sagebrush ecosystem may be out of managers’ control. The study, and another tracking the recovery of mountain big sagebrush (A. tridentata subsp. vaseyana) at high elevation, suggest that climate may play a role in the failure of big sage germination and establishment in hotter locations. Managers can try to work with and around climate and weather constraints, but impending climate changes will likely make this task more difficult. Some sites are more resilient than others. It’s possible that parts of the Great Basin will cross a tipping point of climate and species representation, from which they cannot return.

“There is potential for sites to move into a new plant community state,” said Arkle. “It’s possible that some have gone past a threshold. We could have a really difficult time trying to move them back to plant communities that existed historically.”

 

Robert S. Arkle, David S. Pilliod, Steven E. Hanser, Matthew L. Brooks, Jeanne C. Chambers, James B. Grace, Kevin C. Knutson, David A. Pyke, Justin L. Welty, and Troy A. Wirth 2014. Quantifying restoration effectiveness using multi-scale habitat models: implications for sage-grouse in the Great Basin. Ecosphere 5:art31.

This open access report was funded by the US Geological Survey, the Bureau of Land Management, and the US Forest Service.

USGS press release: Post-Fire Stabilization Seedings Have Not Developed Into Sage-grouse Habitat. Released: 3/24/2014 9:34:33 AM

Special issue of ESA Frontiers assesses the impacts of climate change on people and ecosystems, and strategies for adaptation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, 4 November, 2013
Contact: Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; llester@esa.org

 

Mangrove islands like these along the upper Lostman’s River in Everglades National Park protect coastlines from stormy waves, storm surge, and erosion – expected to increasingly threaten coastal cities and townships as sea levels rise. Investments in “soft” engineering protections against storm damage, like wetlands and oyster reef restoration, can be cheaper in the long run than seawalls, breakwaters, and groins, and offer benefits for wildlife, fisheries,  and recreation. Credit, Paul Nelson, USGS.

Mangrove islands like these along the upper Lostman’s River in Everglades National Park protect coastlines from stormy waves, storm surge, and erosion – expected to increasingly threaten coastal cities and townships as sea levels rise. Investments in “soft” engineering protections against storm damage, like wetlands and oyster reef restoration, can be cheaper in the long run than seawalls, breakwaters, and groins, and offer benefits for wildlife, fisheries, and recreation. Credit, Paul Nelson, USGS.

President Obama marked the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy with an executive order last Friday “preparing the United States for the impacts of climate change.”

The coming century will bring many changes for natural systems and for the human societies that depend on them, as changing climate conditions ripple outward to changing rainfall patterns, soil nutrient cycles, species ranges, seasonal timing, and a multitude of other interconnected factors. Many of these changes have already begun. Preparing for a future of unpredictable change will require, as the President suggests, the coordinated action of people across all sectors of society, as well as good information from the research community.

The November 2013 issue of the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment is devoted to an assessment of climate change effects on ecosystems, and the consequences for people.

The Special Issue tackles five major topics of concern:

Biodiversity

Ecologists have predicted that species will move out of their historic ranges as climate changes and their old territories become inhospitable. This is already occurring. Past predictions that species would seek out historic temperature conditions by moving up latitudes, uphill, or into deeper waters have turned out to be too simple, as species movements have proven to be idiosyncratic.  Because some species can move and cope with change more easily than others, relationships between species are changing, sometimes in ways that threaten viability, as interdependent species are separated in time and space.

Ecosystem functionality

Living things have powerful influences on the lands and waters they occupy. As existing ecosystems unravel, we are seeing the chemistry and hydrology of the physical environment change, with further feedback effects on the ecosystem.  Ecosystem changes, in turn, feed back to climate.

Ecosystem Services

Impacts on natural systems have direct consequences for crop and seafood production, water quality and availability, storm damage, and fire intensity. Working with rather than against, ecosystems may help society to adapt to changes, like sea-level rise and storm surge, that threaten lives and property.

Combined effects of climate and other pressures

Species will be hard pressed to adapt to rapidly changing physical conditions without room to move. Ecosystems are already stressed by habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, and natural resource extraction.

Preparation for change

Adaptation efforts may need to think beyond the preservation of current or historic natural communities. Existing relationships between species and the landscapes they inhabit will inevitably change. We may need to consider managing the changing landscapes to maintain biodiversity and the functional attributes of ecosystems, rather than specific species.

 

“The impacts that climate change has had and will have on people are interwoven with the impacts on ecosystems. I think that we instinctively know that. In this assessment, we try to draw that connection,” said guest editor Nancy Grimm, a professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University.

To produce this Special Issue of ESA’s Frontiers, a diverse group of over 50 ecological scientists and other stakeholders condensed and illustrated the work they had done for a technical input report on biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services for the US National Climate Assessment. The Assessment is due to be released in 2014.

The collection is aimed at both ecologists and practitioners. The authors hope to demonstrate the potential for researchers to collaborate with practitioners in identifying “policy relevant questions”—information that practitioners need to make science-based decisions about management of natural resources. Grimm would like to see more academic researchers designing “policy-relevant questions” into their research programs, so that research projects may address the data needs of managers while tackling basic science questions.

The authors designed the collection of reports to demonstrate the interrelationships of human and ecosystem productivity, as well as the interrelationships of species, climate, and landscape. By properly managing ecosystems, they say, we are also managing their potential to harm or help society. The variability of the natural world demands equal creativity and flexibility in considering a range of complementary solutions to environmental problems.

 

Special Issue: Impacts of climate change on biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11(9) November, 2013

 

Contents:

  • Evaluating climate impacts on people and ecosystems
    NB Grimm and KL Jacobs 455
  • Climate-change impacts on ecological systems: introduction to a US assessment
    NB Grimm, MD Staudinger, A Staudt, SL Carter, FS Chapin III, P Kareiva, M Ruckelshaus, and BA Stein 456
  • Biodiversity in a changing climate: a synthesis of current and projected trends in the US
    MD Staudinger, SL Carter, MS Cross, NS Dubois, JE Duffy, C Enquist, R Griffis, JJ Hellmann, JJ Lawler, J O’Leary, SA Morrison, L Sneddon, BA Stein, LM Thompson, and W Turner 465
  • The impacts of climate change on ecosystem structure and function
    NB Grimm, FS Chapin III, B Bierwagen, P Gonzalez, PM Groffman, Y Luo, F Melton, K Nadelhoffer, A Pairis, PA Raymond, J Schimel, and CE Williamson 474
  • Climate change’s impact on key ecosystem services and the human well-being they support in the US
    EJ Nelson, P Kareiva, M Ruckelshaus, K Arkema, G Geller, E Girvetz, D Goodrich, V Matzek, M Pinsky, W Reid, M Saunders, D Semmens, and H Tallis 483
  • The added complications of climate change: understanding and managing biodiversity and ecosystems
    A Staudt, AK Leidner, J Howard, KA Brauman, JS Dukes, LJ Hansen, C Paukert, J Sabo, and LA Solórzano 494
  • Preparing for and managing change: climate adaptation for biodiversity and ecosystems
    BA Stein, A Staudt, MS Cross, NS Dubois, C Enquist, R Griffis, LJ Hansen, JJ Hellmann, JJ Lawler, EJ Nelson, and A Pairis 502

 

 

This open access Special Issue was generously funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the US Geological Survey, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

 


The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge. ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

Journalists and public information officers can gain access to full texts of all ESA publications by contacting the public affairs office. Email Liza Lester, llester@esa.org.

To subscribe to ESA press releases, contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org.

Warming climate mixed bag for forests

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Lenny Bernstein. “Climate change affecting North American forests, researchers find.” Washington Post 14 Oct 2013 (A3 of the 15 Oct print edition under the headline “Study says warming is affecting forests: for North America, a mixed bag”).
 
Climate change is making North American forests more vulnerable to insects and disease but is helping some trees grow faster and increase their resistance to pests, a team of researchers from Dartmouth College said Monday.
 
Researchers reviewed almost 500 scientific studies dating back to the 1950s to produce what they called the most comprehensive review of the affect of climate change on the forests that cover about one-third of North America. The effort was undertaken as part of the National Climate Assessment in 2012…read the article
 
 
 
Aaron S. Weed, Matthew P. Ayres, and Jeffrey Hicke. Ecological Monographs (preprint 11 Feb 2013).

Wildfires and Climate Change

 
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Galbraith, Kate. “Wildfires and Climate Change.” New York Times 4 Sep 2013.
 
 

“Global studies of wildfire patterns are rare. But a paper published last year in the journal Ecosphere predicted that climate change would have an effect on wildfires that varies widely, especially in accordance with a given region’s precipitation patterns.”

“The paper — which focused on climate change but not other variables, like changing land management — projected that dry parts of the middle latitudes and Australia are likely to see more fires over the long term. The American West, already a tinderbox, will become more fire-prone. So, too, will high-latitude areas, the study found, partly because the carbon-rich peat soil there will burn under extreme weather conditions.”

 
 
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Profeta, Tim. “Using the Clean Air Act to Regulate Carbon Emissions.” National Geographic 5 Sep 2013.
 
“A paper published last year in the journal Ecosphere came to a similar conclusion. It suggests that climate change’s effect on wildfires would vary widely, especially when precipitation patterns were factored in.”
 
 
Climate change and disruptions to global fire activity Max A. Moritz, Marc-André Parisien, Enric Batllori, Meg A. Krawchuk, Jeff Van Dorn, David J. Ganz, and Katharine Hayhoe. Ecosphere 2012 3:6, art49

 

Shark migrations

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Miller, Erin “Study: More sharks in late summer, early fall.” Hawaii Tribune Herald 6 Sep 2013.
 
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Wakida, Blayton. “Research: Female tiger sharks migrate to Hawaii in late summer, fall.” KITV News 5 Sep 2013.
 
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ESA News Release:

Female tiger sharks migrate from Northwestern to Main Hawaiian Islands during fall pupping season

A tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) photographed by Wayne Levin in Hawaiian waters.

A tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) photographed by Wayne Levin off the Big Island of Hawaii.

“When we think of animal migrations, we tend to think of all individuals in a populations getting up and leaving at the same time, but it’s not as simple as that,” said first author Yannis Papastamatiou of the University of Florida. “Some are resident and some are transient.”

 A quarter of the mature female tiger sharks plying the waters around the remote coral atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands decamp for the populated Main Hawaiian Islands in the late summer and fall, swimming as far as 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) according to new research from University of Florida and the University of Hawaii. Their report is scheduled for publication in the November 2013 issue of Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecology. The authors’ manuscript is available as a preprint.

 

 

 

 

Female tiger sharks migrate from Northwestern to Main Hawaiian Islands during fall pupping season

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, 5 September, 2013
Contact: Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; llester@esa.org

 

A tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) photographed by Wayne Levin in Hawaiian waters.

A tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) photographed off the Big Island of Hawaii by Wayne Levin.

A quarter of the mature female tiger sharks plying the waters around the remote coral atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands decamp for the populated Main Hawaiian Islands in the late summer and fall, swimming as far as 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) according to new research from University of Florida and the University of Hawaii. Their report is scheduled for publication in the November 2013 issue of Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecology. The authors’ manuscript is available as a preprint.

“When we think of animal migrations, we tend to think of all individuals in a populations getting up and leaving at the same time, but it’s not as simple as that,” said first author Yannis Papastamatiou of the University of Florida. “Some are resident and some are transient.”

Among all migrating animals, from birds to elk to 15-ft ocean predators, some portion of the population remains behind when the rest leave on their seasonal journeys. Animals have choice. On what factors does choice depend? The answers are important to conservation efforts and the management of our own interactions with the animals as they pass around, over, and through human communities.

Tiger sharks are present throughout the islands at all times of year.  The female sharks’ migration from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands dovetails with the tiger shark birth season in September to early November – and with the months of highest shark bite risk. Though rare, shark bites have historically been most frequent from October to December.  Traditional Hawaiian knowledge also warns of danger during the fall months.

“Both the timing of this migration and tiger shark pupping season coincide with Hawaiian oral traditions suggesting that late summer and fall, when the wiliwili tree blooms, are a period of increased risk of shark bites,” said co-author Carl Meyer of the University of Hawaii.

Papastamatiou and Meyer urge people not to leap to the conclusion that this movement of female sharks is directly related to recent shark bites around Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island. Many factors might influence shark behavior in ways that would lead to more frequent encounters with people, Papastamatiou said. Scientists have almost no data on the attributes or particular behaviors of tiger sharks that bite people because bloody conflicts with humanity, though dramatic, are rare.

Papastamatiou thinks there is a more likely connection to pupping, with female sharks swimming down to preferred nursery sites in the Main Hawaiian Islands. The Main Hawaiian Islands may offer different foods, protection from ocean waves, or some other, unknown factor.

Papastamatiou is careful to distinguish between what he knows and what he can only hypothesize based on the patterns of shark location data and shark natural history. He knows that one quarter of the mature females are moving to the main isles at the time when pupping is known to occur. He knows tiger shark females mostly likely pup every three years, so only one third are pregnant in the Fall.

Discussions of tiger shark behavior and natural history are often laced with caveats because the sharks are rare and swim through very large home ranges. They are not easy to observe systematically.

Papastamatiou and colleagues tracked more than 100 tiger sharks over the course of 7 years by tagging each animal with a transmitter that emitted high frequency sound in a unique code. When the sharks swam within range of one of 143 underwater “listening stations” arrayed throughout the islands and atolls of the Hawaiian Archipelago, the station made a record of time, date, and the identity of the shark. The tags last for a minimum of 3 years.

The researchers caught only glimpses of each animal. For months between those glimpses, the sharks’ movements and behavior remained mysterious. “They could leave Hawaii altogether, and we wouldn’t know,” said Papastamatiou. Like many good studies, their results offered more new questions than answers. But the research team could detect a few patterns.

“One that stands out: although sharks show preference for certain islands, they don’t stay resident in specific bays for long periods,” said Papastamatiou. “It debunks the old idea of territoriality.”

This research and other studies like it have solidly overturned mid-twentieth century ideas that tiger sharks stick to chosen territories in specific coves and bays. The territoriality hypothesis led to culls during the 1960s and ‘70s under the belief that killing sharks in locations where people had been hurt meant killing the shark that had attacked them, eliminating a “problem” shark.

But Papastamatiou said his data show that tiger sharks don’t hang around the same bit of coastline for more than a few weeks. With concerns acute in the wake of recent shark bites and the death of a German tourist, Hawaiians are anxious to do something to respond.

“The one thing I hope they don’t do is try to initiate a cull as was done in the 60s and 70s. I don’t think it works. There is no measurable reduction in attacks after a cull,” said Papastamatiou.

Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources commissioned a two-year, $186,000 study last year of tiger shark movements in the islands, headed by study co-author Carl Meyer. The study will begin this month.

 

Telemetry and random walk models reveal complex patterns of partial migration in a large marine predator. Yannis Peter Papastamatiou, Carl Gustav Meyer, Felipe Carvalho, Jonathon Dale, Melanie Hutchinson, and Kim Holland. Ecology (2013, in press)

 

Journalists and public information officers can gain access to full texts of all ESA publications by contacting the public affairs office. Email Liza Lester, llester@esa.org.

 

Author Contacts:

 Yannis Peter Papastamatiou (first author), University of Florida, Florida Museum of Natural History ypapastamatiou@gmail.com; 352-392-2360 extension 3-1955

Carl Meyer, University of Hawaii, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology [contact Talia Ogliore, Public Information Officer, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa; togliore@hawaii.edu; 808-956-4531]

 

 

The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge. ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

Ecology in Agricultural Landscapes: seeking solutions for food, water, wildlife

A compendium of agro-ecology sessions at the 2013 annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America

2013 ESA Logo

Media advisory

For Immediate Release:  Tuesday, 23 July 2013
Contact: Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; llester@esa.org

 

Agriculture alters the landscape more than any other human activity, with trickle-down effects on water, soil, climate, plant and wildlife diversity, wildfire, and human health. Crop and rangeland occupies nearly 40 percent of earth’s ice-free land, and mountains and deserts make much of the remaining surface unwelcoming to agriculture. Our increasing population applies constant pressure for further conversion of wild lands to agricultural production. With yields plateauing in many parts of the world, managers, both private and public, are looking for new ideas to get the most out of agricultural lands, sustain production into the future, and protect natural resources.

Multiple sessions will address the ecological study of agricultural systems at the Ecological Society of America’s 98th Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 4 – 9.

Presenting scientists will examine routes to improved soil, water, and nutrient retention, pollinator support, and pest suppression by natural enemies. They will discuss opportunities to increase biodiversity in agricultural areas and mitigate runoff.

 

Land sharing

Soil erosion….or not. STRIPs project - LIsa Schulte Moore presents at the Aster Cafe on Wednesday August 7 at 5:30pm

Soil erosion….or not. Even small amounts of perennials can have a dramatic impact on the environmental benefits provided by row-cropped agricultural lands. This image depicts the ability of native prairie to keep soil in farm fields, where it can produce crops, as opposed to allowing it to move into streams, where it becomes a serious pollutant.
Lisa Schulte Moore won the inaugural ESA2013 Science Cafe Prize with her vision for change in modern agriculture based on ecological knowledge and experimentation. Schulte Moore, a professor of landscape ecology at Iowa State University, will speak at a public event at the Aster Cafe on the riverfront in Minneapolis, at 5:30pm on Wednesday August 7. Photo, Dave Williams.

OOS 23: Bridging The Public-Private Land Divide – Supporting Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services By Tapping The Ingenuity In Social-Ecological Systems.
Thursday, August 8, 2013: 8:00 AM-11:30 AM, room 101A

For much of the world, high-intensity industrial farming produces food with high efficiency, but puts the squeeze on other plant and animal life. Wildlife is mostly sequestered on preserves. But is this the best way to maximize food and biodiversity? Or are there other configurations that might improve mobility of wildlife and benefit other ecosystem services without cost (and possibly with benefit) to private land owners?

“We are probably not going to be able to achieve landscape conservation goals for soil, water, and wildlife, specifically grasslands and birds, working on publically-owned lands alone. We will need to incorporate private lands,” said session moderator Chris Woodson, a private lands biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Missouri.

Conservation biologists are looking for conservation-supportive practices that have potential to augment protected areas on public lands and aid existing programs. Private landowners and entrepreneurs are looking for contributions that they can make to conservation and still make a living.

This session brings together managers, scientists, private land owners, and entrepreneurs to discuss ideas, pilot projects, and existing public-private partnerships, and seek areas of mission overlap and opportunities for collective action.

“Lower case c conservation is what we want to see happen,” said session co-organizer Paul Charland, a wildland firefighter with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Capital C Conservation is official business; it’s the movement as an organizational process. Lower case conservation is all efforts to keep native species. We want to provide a mechanism for everyone to do that.”

 

Organizers:         Patrica Heglund (Patricia_Heglund@fws.gov); Paul Charland (paul_charland@fws.gov); Carol Williams; Chris Woodson   (chris_woodson@fws.gov)

 


 

Connecting the global to the local – agricultural landscapes from field to orbit

SYMP 20: Integrating Agro-Ecological Research Across Spatial and Temporal Scales
Thursday, August 8, 2013: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM

Kate Brauman integrating eco-agro research scales ESA2013

Collage assembled by Kate Brauman. Image Credits – Globe: Reto Stöckli, Robert Simmon, MODIS teams, NASA. Satellite images: shrimp aquaculture in Honduras, Landsat 7, 1999, Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory. Small photos: Kate Brauman.

Big changes in agriculture are visible on the global scale – changes in crop yields, dietary choices, water use, fertilizer application, soil retention, and nutrient pollution. In some parts of the world, yield lags, revealing opportunities to get more out of land already in production. In others, crop production has sagged or plateaued. Will yields keep increasing as they have in the past? It’s hard to see trajectories without local context, said session organizer Kate Brauman of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Site-specific field work fills in details.

“Agronomy has been working very successfully for a long time, and it’s been focused on practitioners,” said Brauman. “And global analysis can be hard for someone in the field to interpret. How can we take insights from the local to the global scale and make them useful?”

Ecology has great scientists studying the very local, applied art and science of getting more yield out of our crops and the local ecological effects of agriculture, and great scientists studying global trends, said Bauman. It does not have much of a history of cross-pollination between the groups. This session aims to bridge gulfs of scientific culture and of scale, connecting the satellite’s eye view of global change to the view from the field; computational modeling to on-the-ground experimentation; and snapshot observations to daily, seasonal, annual, and decadal change.

 

Organizer: Kate Brauman (kbrauman@umn.edu)

 


 

Resilient future

Two “Ignite” sessions offer a series of 5-minute introductions to ideas for the future interdependency of conservation and agriculture, from plant breeding and field design, to farm policy.

 


 

More…

  • PS-29: Agriculture            Tuesday, August 6, 2013: 4:30 PM-6:30 PM, Exhibit Hall B
    (Poster session)
  • COS 1: Agriculture I         Monday, August 5, 2013: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM, room L100I
    Grasslands, coffee, excess nitrogen fertilizer
  • COS 18: Agriculture II      Tuesday, August 6, 2013: 8:00 AM-11:30 AM, room 101C
    Biodiversity, weeds, spatial organization
  • COS 80: Soil Ecology        Wednesday, August 7, 2013: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM, room M100GD
    Includes soybean symbiosis, prairie grazing gradients, and bioenergy constraints.
  • COS 77: Land-Use And Land-Use History               Wednesday, August 7, 2013: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM, room L100H
    Consequences of armed conflict, restoration ecology, and shifting away from beef(?).
  • OOS 24: Managing Belowground Processes In Agroecosystems  Thursday, August 8, 2013: 8:00 AM-11:30 AM, room 101B
    The invisible world of roots, fungi, insects, arthropods, microbes, and decomposing plants matter matter very much to crop success and environmental health. This session will evaluate the state of the science and “alternative” agro-ecological systems, and discuss management opportunities.
  • COS 126: Pollination        Friday, August 9, 2013: 8:00 AM-11:30 AM, room L100G
    Cranberries, blueberries, and parasitoid wasps.

 


 

Press Registration for the Annual Meeting, August 4 – 9, 2013:

We waive registration fees for reporters with a recognized press card and for current members of the National Association of Science Writers, the Canadian Science Writers Association, the International Science Writers Association and the Society of Environmental Journalists. Email Liza Lester, llester@esa.org.

Meeting abstracts are not embargoed.


 

The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge. ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

 

To subscribe to ESA press releases, contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org.

Declining fortunes of Yellowstone’s migratory elk

Are human choices redefining the fitness of an ancient survival strategy?

 

Media advisory

For Immediate Release:  Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Contact: Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; llester@esa.org

 

In the late spring, the 4000 elk of the Clarks Fork herd leave crowded winter grounds near Cody, Wyoming, following the greening grass into the highlands of the Absaroka Mountains, where they spend the summer growing fat on vegetation fed by snowmelt. It’s a short trip (40-60 kilometers) by migratory standards, and by modern standards, uncommonly free of roads, fences, metropolitan areas, and other human-built barriers. But it crosses an important human boundary: the border into Yellowstone National Park.

Twenty-five minute old elk calf in Mammoth Hot Springs. Jim Peaco; Yellowstone National Park. June 9, 2010

A Twenty-five minute old elk calf at Mammoth Hot Springs. Credit, Jim Peaco; Yellowstone National Park. June 9, 2010

The costs of migrating to the high green pastures have lately outstripped the benefits, according to a research report in the June issue of the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecology, published last week. Arthur Middleton and colleagues at the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and the U.S. Geological Survey reported that the migratory Clarks Fork herd has been returning to winter grounds with fewer and fewer calves over the last few decades. Herds that remain in the vicinity of Cody year-round have more surviving calves. Middleton et al. attribute the change in migratory fortunes to climate change and a resurgence within the park of predators that hunt newborn elk calves.

In a Forum edited by Marco Festa-Bianchet, of the Université de Sherbrooke, Québec, five working groups of ecologists commented on the data, praising Middleton and colleagues’ work, but, in some cases, challenging their interpretation. Middleton and colleagues addressed the commentary in a rebuttal.

Historically, migratory hoofed beasts like elk have outnumbered sedentary members of their species by as much as an order of magnitude. John Fryxell, a Forum contributor, wrote a classic paper on this effect in the American Naturalist in 1988. Migration allows animals to capitalize on seasonal foods and to shelter from predators and the elements. Elk and their hooved brethren have benefited from chasing the spring “green-up” into higher terrain as snow retreats, leaving behind, at least temporarily, their predators, which are pinned down by the needs of young pups and cubs.

Middleton’s observations therefore demonstrate a severe reversal of fortunes. Ecologists have reported troubled times for migrating animals all over the world, and attributed the problems to habitat changes wrought by human development and climate change. Middleton et al. point to the same influences, but draw a subtle distinction which they believe makes this a novel case study.

The Yellowstone elk enjoy some of the best open range of modern times, and a migratory path unimpeded by conspicuous physical barriers of modern infrastructure. Middleton et al argued that drought and the return of predators, specifically bears, to Yellowstone are causing the observed low pregnancy rate and low calf survival for migratory elk.

“Many of the forum commentaries discuss the implications of our work for management and conservation of large carnivores and their prey in Yellowstone, especially wolves,” said Middleton. “However, a persistent focus on the impact of re-introduced wolves among scientists, wildlife managers, and the public misses key roles of grizzly bears and severe drought in limiting elk populations.”

Global Positioning System (GPS) locations from a representative sample of migratory (black circles, n = 10) and resident (white circles, n = 13) elk (Cervus elaphus) used to delineate seasonal ranges. From Fig. 1 of Middleton et al.

Global Positioning System (GPS) locations from a representative sample of migratory (black circles, n = 10) and resident (white circles, n = 13) elk (Cervus elaphus) used to delineate seasonal ranges. From Fig. 1 of Middleton et al.

Over the last two decades, summers have been hotter and dryer in the summer range of the migratory Clarks Fork elk. Satellite imagery shows that the length of spring vegetation “green-up,”  a critical time for female elk to gain the fat the need to support reproduction, shortened by 27 days over 21 years. During the same time period, wolves were reintroduced to the park, and the numbers of wolves and bears are growing. Both pressures are ultimately the result of human choices through our manipulations of predators and increasingly fierce drought that many studies have linked to human-caused climate change, the authors said.

Wyoming Fish and Wildlife irrigates fields in the Sunlight Basin Wildlife Habitat Management Area, 40 miles northwest of Cody, to provide forage for elk. Forum contributors Chris Wilmers and Taal Levi show that the non-migratory elk use the irrigated fields more heavily during drought years. Migrating elk do not receive this subsidy.

“I think Middleton has an intriguing idea, and it might be what’s happening. We offer another hypothesis that also fits the data that they have. He says it’s climate change on the summer range and more predators on the summer range. I think it’s because there is irrigation that provides the sedentary elk with food. And I think it’s also that there is predator control outside the park,” said Wilmers.

While wolves and grizzlies have been thriving inside the park, predator control measures have intensified outside the park, Wilmers said. “My hypothesis is that in that crucial winter period, the migrants are coming down to range that the resident elk have already been feeding on all summer, and now they are competing for in the winter,” he said. To distinguish between these two stories would require hypothesis testing, he said – pitting them against each other and testing them with more data.

Jack Massey, Sarah Cubaynes, and Tim Coulsen of Oxford University joined the conversation with their contribution “Will central Wyoming elk stop migrating to Yellowstone, and should we care?” The trends in vegetation and predator differential across the park boundary are compelling, they commented, but have those factors caused the change in elk demographics? Middleton et al.’s data cannot answer those questions, the Oxford group wrote. “We don’t wish to sound critical of the huge effort they have put in. Nonetheless, despite their hard work, their data on elk condition and pregnancy rates come from a relatively small number of animals collected over only a relatively short time period. Given this, they are restricted to conducting a few piecemeal analyses and telling some compelling stories. But the problem with this approach is that it is easy to construct very many compelling stories.”

Massey et al wrapped up their commentary with the reflection that the Middleton paper, like many reports which mention both wolves and elk, will likely be appropriated for political ends, and used by proponents of large elk herds as evidence that wolves are destroying the elk population. The causes of elk decline, however, are not so clear or so simple. Should we maximize elk herds for hunting? Farm the animals? Leave the system to find its own equilibrium (to the extent that is possible in a human dominated world)?

“As ever with such debate, whether we should care all depends on one’s view on what our wilderness should look like,” the Oxford group concluded.The answer to their title question depends on personal and community values, and cannot be answered by science alone.

 

Forum—Ecological Change and Migratory Ungulates

 

The Forum is available as a single pdf. Please contact Liza Lester.

 

 

Author contacts:

Arthur Middleton

arthur.middleton@yale.edu

Yale School of Forestry &
Environmental Studies

307-766-6404

 

Chris Wilmers

cwilmers@ucsc.edu

University of California, Santa Cruz

(831) 459-3001

 

Journalists and public information officers can gain access to full texts of all ESA publications by contacting the public affairs office. Email Liza Lester, llester@esa.org.

The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge. ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

 

To subscribe to ESA press releases, contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org.

Ecological Society of America announces 2013 award recipients

ESA2013 Minneapolis badgeFor Immediate Release: Monday, 17 June 2013

Contact: Nadine Lymn (202) 833-8773 x 205; nadine@esa.org
or Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; llester@esa.org

 

 

During the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) 98th Annual Meeting, the Society will present ten awards recognizing outstanding contributions to ecology.  The awards ceremony will take place on Monday, August 5 at 8 AM in the auditorium of the Minneapolis Convention Center. More information about ESA awards is available here.  

Braun Award:  Tony Kovach

Kovach is recognized for the design and methodology of his poster entitled “Determinants of avian density across a fragmented landscape.”  Kovach’s 2012 poster presentation was based on his M.S. research at the University of Hawai’i – Hilo. The Braun Award recognizes a student’s outstanding poster presentation at the ESA Annual Meeting and is presented at the following year’s meeting.

 Buell Award: Kate Boersma

Boersma is honored for her 2012 oral paper “Top predator extinctions in drying streams modify community structure and ecosystem functioning” that was based on her doctoral work at Oregon State University. The Buell Award is given to a student for an outstanding oral paper presented at the ESA Annual Meeting and is presented at the following year’s meeting.

W.S. Cooper Award: John Thompson, Anne Charpentier, G. Bouguet, Faustine Charmasson, Stephanie Roset, Bruno Buatois, Philippe Vernet, Pierre-Henri Gouyon

Thompson, with the Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle & Evolutive, and colleagues are being recognized for their paper Evolution of a genetic polymorphism with climate change in a Mediterranean landscape, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy.  The study found rapid and ongoing evolutionary change associated with strong environmental change.  The Cooper Award honors an outstanding contribution to the field of geobotany, physiographic ecology, plant succession or the distribution of plants along environmental gradients.

Honorary Member Award: Christian Körner

A strong scientific leader for European science, Körner, with the University of Basel, is known for his innovative approach in studying the response of mature trees to increased carbon dioxide (CO2). His work has enhanced understanding of the ways in which plants respond differently to CO2 and raised critical questions about what controls growth in trees. Recipients of the Honorary Member Award are distinguished ecologists who have made exceptional contributions to ecology and whose principal residence and site of ecological research are outside of North America.

George Mercer Award: Pieter Johnson and Jason Hoverman

Johnson, at the University of Colorado, Boulder and Hoverman, with Purdue University, used a novel approach in their 2012 Proceedings of the National Academy paper Parasite diversity and coinfection determine pathogen infection success and host fitness.  Their study demonstrates how an ecological approach can contribute deeper understanding of biomedical questions.  The Mercer Award recognizes an outstanding and recently-published ecological research paper by a young scientist.

Eugene P. Odum Education Award: Martin Main

Main, with the University of Florida, is honored for developing the highly innovative and successful Florida Master Naturalist Program, a state-wide environmental education initiative for professionals and laypeople that has awarded more than 7,000 certificates and resulted in 160,000 hours of volunteer environmental education, monitoring and restoration service. Through teaching, outreach and mentoring activities, recipients of the Eugene P. Odum Award have demonstrated their ability to relate basic ecological principles to human affairs.

Eminent Ecologist Award: William Reiners 

Reiners’ career in ecology spans 50 years and has deepened the philosophical and conceptual foundations of ecology. Among his influential papers are a series on nitrogen dynamics in New England forests and pioneering long-term studies at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest. Reiners, now at the University of Wyoming, most recently coauthored a book that explores the philosophy of ecology. The Eminent Ecologist Award is given to a senior ecologist in recognition of an outstanding body of ecological work or sustained ecological contributions of extraordinary merit.

Distinguished Service Citation: Wes Jackson 

ESA recognizes Jackson’s long-standing efforts through the Land Institute, which he co-founded with his wife 30 years ago, to champion agricultural practices that use a variety of crop species and minimize erosion and the use of chemicals. Jackson has authored numerous books, including Consulting the Genius of the Place: An Ecological Approach to a New Agriculture (2011). The Distinguished Service Citation recognizes long and distinguished service to ESA, to the larger scientific community or to the larger purpose of ecology in the public welfare.

Commitment to Human Diversity in Ecology Award: Sonia Ortega

Ortega, who works for the National Science Foundation (NSF), is honored for her leadership in developing diversity enhancing programs within the Ecological Society of America and working to improve the diversity of scientists across all Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Ortega contributed to ESA’s Women and Minorities in Ecology report and spearheaded STEM pipeline development programs at the NSF, among many other diversity initiatives. This ESA award recognizes long-standing contributions of an individual towards increasing the diversity of future ecologists through mentoring, teaching, or outreach.

Sustainability Science Award: Pamela Matson

Matson and a team of fourteen interdisciplinary researchers documented 15 years of agricultural development in the Yaqui Valley, Mexico, one of the most intensive agricultural regions of the world, and its transition to more sustainable management. Matson, with Stanford University, is editor of the book Seeds of Sustainability: Lessons from the Birthplace of the Green Revolution (2011) that reflects the team’s findings and insights. The Sustainability Award is given to the authors of a scholarly work that makes the greatest contribution to the emerging science of ecosystem and regional sustainability through the integration of ecological and social sciences.

 

To learn more about the August 4 – 9, 2013 ESA Annual Meeting see:  http://www.esa.org/minneapolis/


 
The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and the trusted source of ecological knowledge.  ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth.  The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org or find experts in ecological science at http://www.esa.org/pao/rrt/.

ESA announces 2013 Fellows

ESA LogoMedia Advisory

For immediate release: 11 June 2013

Contact: Nadine Lymn, Nadine@esa.org, 202.833.8773, ext. 205

 

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is pleased to announce its 2013 fellows. The Society’s fellows program recognizes the many ways in which our members contribute to ecological research and discovery, communication, education and pedagogy, and to management and policy.

ESA fellows and early career fellows are listed on the ESA Fellows page.

Fellows are members who have made outstanding contributions to a wide range of fields served by ESA, including, but not restricted to those that advance or apply ecological knowledge in academics, government, non-profit organizations and the broader society. They are elected for life.

Early career fellows are members typically within eight years of receiving their Ph.D. (or other terminal degree) who have begun making and show promise of continuing to make outstanding contributions to a wide range of fields served by ESA. They are elected for five years.

ESA established its fellows program in 2012. 

Awards Committee Chair Alan Hastings says that the program’s goals are to honor its members and to support their competitiveness and advancement to leadership positions in the Society, at their institutions and in broader society.   

Kudos to all this year’s ESA Fellows!

2013 Fellows:

  • Carlo D’Antonio, University of California
  • Bill Fagan, University of Maryland
  • Lisa Graumlich, University of Washington
  • Jessica Gurevitch, Stony Brook University
  • Susan P. Harrison, University of California, Davis
  • Robert D. Holt, University of Florida
  • Nancy Johnson, Northern Arizona University
  • Pablo Marquet, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
  • Kevin McCann, University of Guelph
  • Bruce Menge, Oregon State University
  • Camille Parmesan, University of Texas, Austin
  • Eric R. Pianka, University of Texas, Austin
  • Hugh Possingham, The University of Queensland
  • Julie Reynolds, Duke University
  • Osvaldo E. Sala, Arizona State University
  • Joshua Schimel, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Joy Zedler, University of Wisconsin, Madison

 

2013 Early Career Fellows:

  • Steven D. Allison, University of California, Irvine
  • Marissa L. Baskett, University of California, Davis
  • Meghan Duffy, University of Michigan
  • Pieter Johnson, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Duncan Menge, Columbia University
  • Julian D. Olden, University of Washington

 


The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and the trusted source of ecological knowledge.  ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth.  The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org