February highlights from Ecological Society of America publications

Future of Alaskan forests, proliferation of plastic greenhouses, and the intersection of watershed protection and urban renewal

 

Weighing the costs and benefits of plastic vegetable greenhouses

Teklanika Hills, Denali National Park & Preserve

Broadleaf trees and tamarack burn gold with fall color against the ever-green of conifers in the northeast corner of Denali National Park & Preserve. The low (relative to the core of the Alaska Range, which includes Denali, the highest mountain in North America) Teklanika Hills loom in the background. In the foreground, the Teklanika River flows northeastward into the Tanana River drainage, a major tributary of the mighty Yukon River. Credit, Tim Rains, Denali National Park and Preserve, 2011.

The economic benefits of intensive vegetable cultivation inside plastic greenhouses, particularly for small-holders, have driven a rapid mushrooming of long plastic tents in farmlands worldwide – but particularly in China, where they cover 3.3 million hectares and produce approximately US $60 million in produce (2008 figures). The method conserves water, binds up carbon, shrinks land use, protects against soil erosion and exhaustion, and mitigates problematic dust storms. But this change from conventional vegetable farming has harmful environmental effects as well. Chang et al review the current research and identify gaps in our knowledge in the February issue of ESA’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Learn more on ESA’s blog, EcoTone.


Ten-year study sets baseline for climate change modeling and park and forestry management in Interior Alaska’s Denali National Park

Alaska is already feeling the consequences of a changing climate in melting permafrost, coastal erosion, and retreating sea ice. Recent studies have predicted major landscape-scale change for the future of the Alaskan interior, with a potential shift from spruce-dominated boreal forest to broadleaf forest or grasslands, through a combination of heat, drought, insect outbreaks, and more frequent wildfires. This month in ESA’s journal Ecological Monographs, the National Park Service’s Inventory and Monitoring program reports on the first decade of ongoing ecosystem monitoring in Denali National Park. Carl Roland and colleagues visited 1100 study plots yearly, distributed over 4.5 million-acres of the park, often hiking into remote locations, scrambling rocky slopes and wading mountain ponds to reach randomized plots and acquire data on patterns of tree species distribution across the rather large terrain variation in Denali. They predict that the iconic white spruce may expand higher up mountain slopes and into thawing tundra.

This paper will be featured in an interview with Carl Roland on ESA’s podcast Field Talk, coming in early March. Read more about the science of Denali’s changing landscape on the NPS Alaska Regional Office website.


Integrating urban renewal and watershed restoration

When you bring neighbors outdoors to work on a shared community problem, the project brings people together. It creates, as sociologists like to say, “social cohesion.” People see that they have power over their environment – that, as a group, they can influence access to city services. Like many older cities, Baltimore is coping with an aging sanitary sewer system. Ecologists, city planners, and social organizers saw an opportunity to simultaneously revitalize urban neighborhoods and urban watersheds by expanding green spaces. Investments in private yards and public parks and school yards could, they thought, diminish nitrogen and phosphorous runoff to Chesapeake Bay, improve storm-water management, and bolster quality of life in underserved, and economically disadvantaged city neighborhoods.

Watershed 263 is a partnership of Baltimore’s Parks & People Foundation, the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, the USDA Forest Service, Baltimore’s municipal Department of Public Works, and neighborhood volunteers. A paper out this month in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment details the 930 acre test case, spread over 11 densely urban neighborhoods of west and southwest Baltimore. The authors describe both difficulties (litter, resistance to native plants, unexpectedly complicated hydrology) and successes (notable reduction in phosphorus and nitrogen contamination, better school performance, more residents reporting outside activities). Read more about Baltimore’s Watershed 263 experiment in socioecology at ESA’s blog, EcoTone.


Other titles of interest:

Ecological knowledge reduces religious release of invasive species. Xuan Liu, Monica E. McGarrity, Changming Bai, Zunwei Ke, and Yiming Li. Ecosphere February 14, 2013 4:2, art21 (open access).

Water, climate, and social change in a fragile landscapeSpecial Feature on Sustainability on the U.S./Mexico Border. W. L. Hargrove, D. M. Borrok, J. M. Heyman, C. W. Tweedie,C. Ferregut. Ecosphere February 18, 2013 4:2, art22 (open access).

Where do Seeds go when they go Far? Distance and Directionality of Avian Seed Dispersal in Heterogeneous Landscapes. Tomas A. Carlo, Daniel García, Daniel Martínez, Jason M. Gleditsch, and Juan Manuel Morales. Ecology 2013 92:2, 301-307.


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.

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