Charcoaling manure and greening neighborhoods: ecological approaches to cleaner water in the Chesapeake Bay watershed

ESA 100th Annual Meeting, August 9-14, 2015 in Baltimore, Md.
Ecological Science at the Frontier

Ecological science at the frontier: Centennial logoFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

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More press releases for the 100th Annual Meeting

 

When ecologists gather in Baltimore, Md., this August for the 100th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America, special attention will fall on the local Chesapeake Bay watershed, with field trips and research presentations exploring its rich wildlife and social history. At symposia, poster exhibits, and site visits, ecologists will have opportunities to discuss the latest research and experiences working with stakeholders in the region to improve the health of the nation’s largest estuary.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed and major river basins. Credit, US Geological Survey.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed and major river basins. Credit, US Geological Survey.

Chesapeake Bay bears a heavy pollution burden from the growing metropolitan centers and vibrant agricultural activity in the watershed. In the last fifty years, too many nutrients have poured into the watershed, causing large fish kills and habitat damage in the bay.

Nitrogen and phosphorus draining from farm fields, livestock manure, sewage treatment plants, industry, and car exhaust are powerful fertilizers that feed blooms of algae in the bay. Sudden population explosions of algae pull oxygen from the water in the bay and change its acidity, which stresses aquatic animals and can even lead to “dead zones” empty of economically valuable fish and shellfish. Murky water can block enough sunlight to harm or kill native aquatic plants, destroying critical habitat for Chesapeake Bay fish and other aquatic animals. Some algae are toxic, presenting a direct threat to the health of people and wildlife.

Roughly 100,000 streams and 50 major creeks and rivers drain into the bay form the enormous 64,000-square-mile watershed, flowing through agricultural lands, industrial centers, and some of the oldest and densest municipalities in the United States, including Washington, Baltimore, and Richmond. Encompassing parts of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington D.C., the Chesapeake watershed is home to 27 million residents.

On December 29, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, acting under the authority of the Clean Water Act, instituted a comprehensive “pollution diet” to address the slow progress on water quality problems in the watershed. The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) sets pollution limits for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment loads entering water bodies and includes accountability measures.

Manure from the many poultry farms in the Chesapeake watershed is a major source of excess nitrogen entering the bay. Maryland alone has 574 large-scale operations, each concentrating 37,500 or more birds in one place. Many are on the Eastern Shore. Disposing of all that chicken waste is a big problem for the farms; nearly one in five large operations has been fined by the State of Maryland recently for violating reporting requirements.

Nutrient solutions for agriculture: engaging rural residents and farmers

Cooking chicken manure into charcoal, or biochar, can turn a pollution problem into a potential farming resource. Biochar is an organic fertilizer that retains nitrogen in soil longer than inorganic nitrogen fertilizers and also captures the carbon in the manure in a stable form, returning it to the soil.

Rebecca Ryals of Brown University has compared plant growth and nutrient retention agricultural fields fertilized with biochar, raw manure, composted manure, and inorganic nitrogen fertilizer (urea). Her presentation is part of an organized session of talks about “Putting agroecology to work: from science to practice and policy,” on Wednesday morning, August 12. Farmers are often willing to try new methods that improve ecological outcomes, but need economic and logistical support to make implementation practical. Ryals will also talk about the opportunities and barriers to implementing biochar use in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Mari-Vaughn Johnson, an agronomist at the US Department of Agriculture’s Blackland Research and Extension Center in Temple, Texas, will follow Ryals with a USDA National Resources Conservation Service case study report on conservation gains through voluntary actions by private land owners in the Chesapeake Bay region.

EPA regulations on TDMLs of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment in Chesapeake waterways are powerful tools for encouraging land use practices based on ecological science. But unequal pressures to adopt Best Management Practices have often left the agricultural community feeling unfairly blamed for nutrient pollution problems in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  On Monday afternoon, Kalla Kvalnes of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science will talk about outreach events engaging farmers and residents in rural Chesapeake Bay communities to better understand the stumbling blocks to adoption of Best Management Practices.

Ryal’s colleague, Amy Teller, will present further data on the biochar project at a poster session on sustainable agriculture and forestry on Wednesday afternoon. Maya Almaraz, also of Brown University, will report on seasonal effects on nitrogen and nitrous oxide gas emissions from the experimental farm fields Ryal treated with different fertilizers during a Monday afternoon session on new paradigms in nutrient cycling in a variety of ecosystems.

A true color composite image of Chesapeake Bay, created from Provisional Surface Reflectance data collected by the USGS satellite Landsat 8 in the fall of 2014. Sediment suspended in the water along the coast and in the rivers of the Chesapeake watershed appears light blue or green. Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C., and the I95 corridor are bright grey stars to the left of the Bay. Credit, US Geological Survey.

A true color composite image of Chesapeake Bay, created from Provisional Surface Reflectance data collected by the USGS satellite Landsat 8 in the fall of 2014. Sediment appears light blue or green, suspended in the water along the coast and in the rivers of the Chesapeake watershed. Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C., and the I95 corridor are bright grey stars to the left of the Bay. Credit, US Geological Survey.

 

Revitalizing urban neighborhoods

Simple urban improvements like replacing the concrete of an empty lot with greenery have the potential to improve the health and happiness of neighborhood residents as well as the quality of the water draining from these urban surfaces, and ultimately into the bay.

The Parks & People Foundation in Baltimore has a long history of fostering partnerships between academics, government agencies, and citizens to improve the city’s open spaces. On Sunday, August 9, Alan Berkowitz and Bess Caplan of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Christina Bradley from Parks & People, and Morgan Grove with the USDA Forest Service will co-lead a field trip on Sunday, August 9, to the site of an urban Long Term Ecological Research project investigating the connections between social and ecological revitalization in storm sewer watershed 263 (WS263), a “sewershed” in Baltimore encompassing 11 neighborhoods housing 28,214 people. The group will discuss approaches to environmental education while visiting bio-infiltration projects, lot renovations, and other green infrastructure features in WS263.

ESA’s Applied Ecology Section will also be visiting parts of WS263 on Sunday for its annual Urban Bioblitz, approaching from the Middle Branch Trail on the Patapsco River. The group will observe the diversity of plants, birds, insects, and aquatic invertebrates resident in the watershed while discussing the land planning, management, and maintenance.

Improving the health of the Bay can only come about with active participation from residents of the watershed. Amina Mohamed worked with 20 students from environmental clubs at two high schools in the Anacostia and Patuxent River watersheds (part of the larger Chesapeake watershed) to better understand community attitudes about the health of their environment. Through the participatory program Photovoice, originally developed for public engagement in public health, students photographed local environmental issues, choosing 10 photos to further describe in brief narratives. 

Mohamed analyzed the photo sets and texts for themes reflecting the perceptions and priorities of the student participants and their communities. Images of the Anacostia study area featured pollution and trash more prominently, while the Patuxent images indicated more community awareness of connections to the greater Bay region. She will present the results of her study in a poster session dedicated to ecological education on Friday morning.

 

Other meeting sessions related to water quality in the Chesapeake watershed:

Field Trips

ESA invites press and institutional public information officers to attend the Annual Meeting for free. To apply, please contact ESA Communications Officer Liza Lester at llester@esa.org. Please visit our conference website for details on press credentials and pressroom operation. Walk-in registration will be available during the meeting.

The complete conference program, including abstracts for oral and poster presentations, is available on the conference website.

Meeting abstracts are not embargoed.

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The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes six journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

Ecological Society of America Responds to Pope Francis’ Encyclical, LAUDATO SI: ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, June 29, 2015
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

The following statement is attributable to the Ecological Society of America (ESA), President-elect Monica G. Turner, PhD, President David W. Inouye, PhD and Immediate Past-president Jill S. Baron, PhD. ESA represents nearly 10,000 professional ecologists in the US.

ESA President-elect Monica Turner headshot

ESA President-elect Monica Turner

Colorado State University

ESA Past-president Jill Baron

ESA President David Inouye

ESA President David Inouye

WASHINGTON, DC — “The Ecological Society of America commends Pope Francis for his insightful encyclical on the environment. Addressed to everyone on this planet, the letter issued on 18 June 2015 is an eloquent plea for responsible Earth stewardship. The pope is clearly informed by the science underpinning today’s environmental challenges. The encyclical deals directly with climate change, its potential effects on humanity and disproportionate consequences for the poor, and the need for intergenerational equity. The document is remarkable for its breadth, as it also addresses pollution, overuse of natural resources, landscape change, sense of place, and the loss of biodiversity. The pope recognizes that slow rates of change can mask the seriousness of environmental problems and the urgency to act. Pope Francis also acknowledges the importance of all taxa and all levels of biodiversity in sustaining our global commons.

“In addition to drawing attention to global change, we are very pleased to see a world leader of his stature advocate strongly for ecological research and education. Pope Francis writes, ‘Greater investment needs to be made in research aimed at understanding more fully the functioning of ecosystems and adequately analyzing the different variables associated with any significant modification of the environment.’ At a time when science is woefully politicized, the pope stresses the importance of unfettered research, stating that ‘… it is essential to give researchers their due role, to facilitate their interactions, and to ensure broad academic freedom.’ Noting that education is fundamental to change, the pope – an experienced teacher himself – advocates passionately for ecological education at all levels. We firmly agree with these sentiments, which align well with the mission of the Ecological Society of America.

“Today’s environmental dilemmas require bold responses, and the pope suggests actions to sustain ecosystems at local to global scales. He sees the need for comprehensive solutions solidly grounded in understanding of nature and society. Because there is no single path to sustainability, he sees generating viable future scenarios as necessary to stimulate dialogue toward finding solutions. We concur.

“Science and religion offer different but complementary ways of engaging the world around us. Ecologists produce fundamental understanding that helps to meet the challenges outlined so well by Pope Francis, such as planning a sustainable and diversified agriculture, promoting better management of marine and forest resources, and providing universal access to drinking water. Support for these goals by religion will facilitate their achievement. We thank Pope Francis for entering into this discussion. We hope his leadership will lead to serious dialogue among – and action by –the world’s religious, political and scientific leaders on the environmental challenges facing this and future generations of humanity.”


The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes six journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

Ecological Society of America awarded National Science Foundation funding to retain diversity

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, 1 June 2015
Contact: Teresa Mourad, 202-833-8773 ext. 234, Teresa@esa.org

 

SEEDS alumna Betsabé Castro, a PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley starting in fall, 2015, studies artificial selection of medicinal and edible traits in plants native to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and other Caribbean islands with support from the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Read an interview to learn more about Betsabé's experience with SEEDS.

SEEDS alumna Betsabé Castro, a PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley starting in fall, 2015, studies artificial selection of medicinal and edible traits in plants native to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and other Caribbean islands with support from the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Read an interview to learn more about Betsabé’s experience with SEEDS.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded  a $597,643 grant to the Ecological Society of America’s Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program, supporting a three-pronged approach to increase diversity within the ecological field. The grant spans four years, beginning today.

The new NSF award will support activities that guide students to identify ecology as a viable career option, develop a sense of personal connection with science, and surmount cultural stereotypes that hinder participation. It will also fund development of a mechanism for connecting the “marketplace” of opportunities along a variety of career pathways in ecology.

“While most diversity programs seek to recruit and engage underrepresented students, this SEEDS project expands our work with the aim of retaining underrepresented students in the ecological field,” said Teresa Mourad, ESA Director of Education and Diversity Programs.

A 2011 National Academy of Science study indicates that underrepresented minority populations in the science and engineering workforce needs to triple to keep pace with the nation’s changing demographics. 

The NSF grant supports three new activities building on the existing SEEDS program: regional ecological field experiences, partnerships with field stations and researchers for undergraduate summer research, and a SEEDS Certificate program. Although the program is open to all students, it makes a special effort to attract minorities, first-generation college students, economically-disadvantaged and veteran students.

Working with over 90 SEEDS campus chapters across the US, regional field experiences funded by the NSF grant are designed specifically for freshmen and sophomore college students to gain real-world exposure by working hand-in-hand with ecologists. For many underrepresented students, this is usually their first opportunity to work at a field station or engage in a field investigation.

New ecological field station partnerships will offer more summer research opportunities for undergraduate students.  They will present their summer research at SEEDS Leadership Meetings and the ESA Annual Meeting. Held annually, the Leadership Meeting is an opportunity for SEEDS student leaders to engage in a dialogue about the connections between science and society. The meeting provides a venue for SEEDS participants to develop 21st century skills and understanding in communications, policy, community outreach and education, rounding out their experience as young scientists.

SEEDS students on the first regional field trip to Puerto Rico, in 2013.

SEEDS students record measurements in Puerto Rico on the program’s first regional field trip, in 2013.

Set for a Fall, 2015 launch, the SEEDS Certificate will function as the hub to provide students with a range of experiences to prepare them for an ecological career.  An ESA member will mentor each participating student during and after their participation in SEEDS to advise them in their career development. This is the first time that ESA will implement long-term mentoring in SEEDS.

“Just-in-time advising is critical for many students to succeed in ecology,” said Mourad.  “All too often, underrepresented students are simply unaware of the skills and experiences needed to succeed. For instance, students do not commonly know that research experience is required for acceptance into a graduate ecology program.”

Minority students face an additional hurdle—some of their institutions do not have ecology programs or cannot provide ecology research experiences.  This means they must seek out opportunities. SEEDS is designed to facilitate opportunities for them. Students also need to know the range of ecology careers that are available in both research and applied practice.

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SEEDing a diverse peer network:  read an interview with SEEDs alumna Betsabé Castro, currently completing her MA at the University of Missouri, Columbia. She will begin a PhD program at the University of California, Berkeley in the fall of 2015 with support from the NSF’s prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship.


The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes six journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

Centennial lecture series celebrates the past and future of ecology

The 100th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America

August 9-14, 2015 in Baltimore, Md.
Ecological Science at the Frontier

Ecological science at the frontier: Centennial logoFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, 8 May 2015
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

 

This August, the Ecological Society of America convenes its 100th Annual Meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center in Baltimore, Md. The centennial meeting is on track to be our largest annual gathering, with over 4,000 presentations of the latest research findings and applications, and the history, policy, and ethics of ecology and conservation science.

The anniversary has inspired sessions celebrating the past and looking forward to future investigations into the relationships of organisms to each other and their environment. The last century has seen the development of the foundations of ecological theory. The discipline continues to expand its boundaries with new ideas, new experimental tools, and the recruitment of young scientists from previously excluded social groups. The Centennial Ecology Lecture Series will supplement our established plenary lectures, inviting further reflection on these themes of history and change.

 

Centennial Ecology Lecture Series

Climate change: mapping the problem space and the solution space

new phytologist lecture Chris Field small squareChris Field  
New Phytologist Trust Lecture
Monday, Aug. 10, 12:00-1:15 PM room 308

Turquoise-NP-logo_for-ESA-150x49

ESA is excited to welcome the New Phytologist Trust, a not-for-profit dedicated to the promotion of plant science, as a sponsor of this lecture. Chris Field is the founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, Melvin and Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies at Stanford University, and faculty director of Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. His research emphasizes impacts of climate change, from the molecular to the global scale, integrating field, laboratory, and modeling approaches.

 

Together or not at all: the collective power of ecology and natural history in the Anthropocene

centennial lecture JoshTewksbury small squareJoshua Tewksbury
Tuesday, Aug. 11, 12:00-1:15 PM room 310

Ever since he found out there was a formal discipline that sought to explain the diversity of the world, Josh Tewksbury has been working as an ecologist, naturalist, and conservation scientist, continually caught between the desire to save and savor the natural world. He is the founding director of the Luc Hoffmann Institute, a boundary science organization at WWF that brings together biophysical science, social science, and policy and practice experts, and the Doug and Maggie Walker Professor of Natural History at the University of Washington.

 

Untangling the population dynamic interactions between climate and infectious diseases

centennial lecture Mercedes Pascual small squareMercedes Pascual
Robert H. MacArthur Award Lecture
Wednesday, Aug. 12, 12:00-1:15 PM room 310

Mercedes Pascual takes a contemporary epidemiological perspective on a long running historical debate in ecology: the role of extrinsic (environmental) vs. intrinsic (density-dependent) factors in population dynamics. She will present a synthesis of her research group’s findings on climate variability and climate change and their interaction with the population dynamics of infectious diseases, specifically cholera in Bangladesh and malaria in Africa and India. Pascual is a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, a visiting professor at the University of Michigan, and on the external faculty of the Santa Fe Institute.

The Robert H. MacArthur Award is given biannually to an established ecologist in midcareer for meritorious contributions to ecology in the expectation of continued outstanding ecological research.

 

A preliminary version of the full conference program, including abstracts, will be available in June 2015.

Meeting abstracts are not embargoed. Reporters who would like help locating presenters and outside sources for in person or phone interviews should contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org or (202) 833-8773 x211.

ESA welcomes attendance from members of the press and waives registration fees for reporters and institutional public information officers. Information about our policy on press credentials and press room support is available on the Centennial Meeting website. To apply, please contact ESA Communications Officer Liza Lester directly at llester@esa.org.

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The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes six journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

Ecological Society of America announces 2015 award recipients

logoFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, 7 May 2015
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

 

 

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) will present nine awards recognizing outstanding contributions to ecology in new discoveries, teaching, sustainability, diversity, and lifelong commitment to the profession during the Society’s 100th Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. The awards ceremony will take place on Monday, August 10, at 8 AM in the Key Ballroom, Hilton Baltimore. More information about ESA awards is available here.  

 

Eminent Ecologist Award: Eric Pianka
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.  During his 50-year academic career, Pianka, a professor at the University of Texas since 1968, published nearly 200 scientific papers, several of which became “Citation Classics.” His textbook “Evolutionary Ecology,” first published in 1974, went through six editions and has been translated into multiple languages.  Pianka’s key and durable contributions to empirical ecology encompass wide‐ranging studies of lizard community ecology across many continents and the  discovery of many new lizard species. In 2004, Pianka was chosen as the Herpetologists League’s “Distinguished Herpetologist” and in 2006 the Texas Academy of Science named him “Distinguished Scientist.” All of his conceptual contributions are grounded in a thorough understanding of natural history with a deep love of the natural world. His work has influenced many individuals, both inside the ecological profession and beyond.

Eugene P. Odum Education Award:  Nathaniel Wheelwright
The Eugene P. Odum Award recipients have demonstrated their ability to relate basic ecological principles to human affairs through teaching, outreach, and mentoring activities. ESA honors Wheelwright of Bowdoin College, whose 29 years of exemplary teaching has influenced over 49 students to pursue a Ph.D. in ecology or related fields. He has co-authored peer-reviewed papers with more than 25 undergraduate students. Beyond his responsibilities at Bowdoin, Wheelwright has served as a visiting faculty resource person for over 20 Organization of Tropical Studies courses, mentoring hundreds of graduate students from dozens of universities. While on a Fulbright grant at the University of Botswana, Wheelwright taught more than 400 students and established the University’s first natural history club. 

Commitment to Human Diversity in Ecology Award: Mary McKenna
This ESA award recognizes long-standing contributions of an individual towards increasing the diversity of future ecologists through mentoring, teaching, or outreach. ESA honors McKenna, a professor at Howard University, for her leadership in developing diversity-enhancing programs within the Society and working to improve minority access to all Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. In her 29 years at Howard University, McKenna’s greatest contribution to promoting the diversity of future ecologists has been her ability to develop structured, engaging and meaningful undergraduate research mentoring programs for aspiring minority students.

ESA Distinguished Service Citation: Alan Covich
The Distinguished Service Citation is given to recognize long and distinguished volunteer service to ESA, the larger scientific community, and the larger purpose of ecology in the public welfare. Covich, a professor at the University of Georgia, has contributed over 40-years of service to ESA in many roles and was elected as ESA President in 2008. His work to advance the science of ecology and foster international cooperation and communication through other service activities includes his leadership roles as Past-president of North American Benthological Society, American Institute of Biological Science, and INTECOL.

Whittaker Distinguished Ecologist Award: Inderjit
This ESA award recognizes an ecologist outside of the United States who has earned a doctorate and an outstanding record of contributions in ecology. Inderjit is Director of the Centre for the Study of Degraded Ecosystems at the University of Delhi, where he is also a professor. Noteworthy is his outstanding and meticulous experimental work into the mechanisms responsible for plant invasions. These insights have been presented in over 20 invited-plenary lectures worldwide. He has penned eight books on plant ecology and numerous peer-reviewed journal articles.

Honorary Membership Award: Stuart Bunn
This ESA award is given to a distinguished ecologist who has made exceptional contributions to ecology and whose principal residence and site of ecological research are outside of North America. Bunn is Director of the Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, and is one of Australia’s leading freshwater scientists, earning national and international recognition for his outstanding contributions in water science and management. His research has resulted in over 250 technical publications, of which more than half are peer-reviewed journal papers receiving 900 citations per year. Bunn also serves in formal advisory roles with international and Australian government agencies on water resource management and policy. In 2007, Professor Bunn was awarded the Australian Society for Limnology Medal in recognition of his outstanding contribution to research and management of Australia’s inland waters.

W.S. Cooper Award: Carissa D. Brown and Mark Vellend
The Cooper Award honors an outstanding contribution to the field of geobotany, physiographic ecology, plant succession or the distribution of plants along environmental gradients. ESA recognizes Brown of theMemorial University of Newfoundland and Vellend of the University of Sherbrooke for their paper “Non-climatic constraints on upper elevational plant range expansion under climate change,” published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The study focuses on interactions between soil, climate, and biotc factors on plant performance and distributions.

George Mercer Award: Marcelo Ardón, Jennifer L. Morse, Ben P. Colman, and Emily S. Bernhardt
The Mercer Award recognizes an outstanding and recently-published ecological research paper by young scientists. Ardón (East Carolina University), Morse (Portland State University), Colman (Duke University), and Bernhardt (Duke University) co-authored “Drought-induced saltwater incursion leads to increased wetland nitrogen export,” published in Global Change Biology. In the tradition of landscape-scale ecosystem ecology, their study finds that saltwater intrusion has the potential to liberate vast stores of legacy nitrogen from past agricultural fertilizer use, leading to ecosystem degradation and coastal eutrophication on a massive scale.

Murray F. Buell Award: Nina Lany
This ESA award is given for excellence in ecology to a student for the outstanding oral paper presented at the ESA Annual Meeting. Lany, now a postdoctoral research associate at Michigan State University, presented “Top-down vs. bottom-up is a function of temperature for forest Lepidoptera,” at the Society’s Annual Meeting in Sacramento, CA in 2014, while completing her doctorate at Dartmouth College. The study measured the daily survival rate of caterpillars finding that negative indirect effects on caterpillars propagated through predators and food quality can outweigh the benefits of faster development time at higher temperatures.


To learn more about the August 9–14, 2015 ESA Annual Meeting see:  http://esa.org/baltimore/

ESA welcomes attendance from members of the press and waives registration fees for reporters and institutional public information officers. Information about our policy on press credentials and press room support is available on the Centennial Meeting website. To apply, please contact ESA Communications Officer Liza Lester directly at llester@esa.org.

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The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes six journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

Ecological Society of America announces 2015 fellows

ESA 100 years logoFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, 7 May 2015
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

 

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is pleased to announce its 2015 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 who have advanced ecological knowledge and applications within 8 years of completing their doctoral training (or other terminal degree), 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.

Fellows elected in 2015:

  • Jayne Belnap, Research Ecologist, Southwest Biological Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
  • John Blair, University Distinguished Professor and Edwin G. Brychta Professor of Biology, Division of Biology, Kansas State University
  • David D. Breshears, Professor, School of Natural Resources and the Environment and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona
  • Grace Brush, Professor, Geography and Environmental Engineering, Johns Hopkins University
  • Peter Chesson, Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona; Visiting Professor, Department of Life Sciences, National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan
  • Kathy Cottingham, Professor, Biological Sciences, Dartmouth
  • Evan DeLucia, G. Arends Professor of Integrative Biology, Department of Plant Biology, Baum Family Director, Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment, University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana
  • Valerie Eviner, Associate Professor, Plant Sciences, University of California Davis
  • Mary Firestone, Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California Berkeley
  • Janet Franklin, Professor, School of Geographical Sciences & Urban Planning, Arizona State University
  • Peter Groffman, Senior Scientist, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
  • Drew Harvell, Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University
  • Sarah Hobbie, Professor, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota
  • David Inouye, Professor Emeritus, Department of Biology, University of Maryland
  • Pat Megonigal, Senior Scientist & Deputy Director, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Smithsonian Institution
  • Gary Mittelbach, Professor, Kellogg Biological Station and Dept. of Integrative Biology, Michigan State University
  • Craig Osenberg, Professor, Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia
  • Mercedes Pascual, Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago
  • Ivette Perfecto, George W. Pack Professor of Ecology, Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan
  • Steward Pickett, Distinguished Senior Scientist, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
  • Jim Reynolds, Professor, Environmental Sciences and Policy, The Nicholas School, Duke University
  • Os Schmitz, Oastler Professor of Population and Community Ecology, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University
  • Sharon Strauss, Professor and Chair, Department Evolution and Ecology, University of California Davis
  • Kathleen Weathers, Senior Scientist, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

 

Early Career Fellows elected in 2015:

  • Karen Abbott, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Case Western Reserve University
  • Brian Allan, Assistant Professor, Department of Entomology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • Liza Comita, Assistant Professor of Tropical Forest Ecology, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University
  • Rob Pringle, Assistant Professor, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University
  • Corinna Riginos, Adjunct Professor, Haub School of the Environment, University of Wyoming
  • Rob Salguero-Gómez, Australian Research Council Fellow, University of Queensland; Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research
  • Daniel Stouffer, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Integrative Ecology and the School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury
  • Ariana Sutton-Grier, Assistant Research Scientist, Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites in the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, University of Maryland; Ecosystem Science Adviser, National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Hillary Young, Assistant Professor, Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, University of California Santa Barbara

 


The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes six journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

100 years of ecology at the Centennial Meeting of the Ecological Society of America

August 9–14, 2015, in Baltimore, Md.
Ecological Science at the Frontier

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, April 30, 2015
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

 

logoThe 100th Annual Meeting of Ecological Society of America convenes this August 9–14 at the Baltimore Convention Center in Baltimore, Md. The centennial meeting is on track to be our biggest gathering, with 4,000 presentations scheduled on topics from microorganisms to global scale ecological change.

ESA invites press and institutional public information officers to attend for free (see credential policy below). To apply, please contact ESA Communications Officer Liza Lester directly at llester@esa.org. Walk-in registration will be available during the meeting.

When the society was founded in 1915, ecology was a new field, still defining its scope as a discipline rooted in the study of the relationships of organisms to each other and their environment. The last century has seen the development of the foundations of ecological theory. The discipline continues to expand its boundaries with new ideas, new experimental tools, and the recruitment of young scientists from previously excluded social groups. At the 100th Annual Meeting, featured sessions will look back at the field’s growth over the last hundred years — and forward to the environmental challenges that will face us now and into the next century.

The complete conference program, including abstracts for oral and poster presentations, will be available online and as a downloadable app in June 2015.

Meeting abstracts are not embargoed. Reporters who would like help locating presenters and outside sources for in person or phone interviews should contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org or (202) 833-8773 x211.

 

Scientific Plenary Monday, August 10, 8:00–11:30 am

In celebration of the centennial, panelists James Collins, Doulas Erwin, Rush Holt and Margaret Palmer will lead the community in envisioning a successful environmental agenda for the next 5, 10, 50, and 100 years. This program is open to the public.

 

Field Trips

Field visits have been an integral part of the Annual Meeting since the founding of the society. Visiting ecologists will explore the native ecology, history, and traditional ecological knowledge of the Chesapeake Bay watershed in 17 organized outings to long-term ecological research sites, national museums, the Potomac River, Baltimore Harbor, and more.

 

Special Sessions daily 11:30 am–1:15 pm; 8:00–10:00 pm

With a flexible and informal format, this year’s special sessions include presentations on earth stewardship, an eco-fashion show, and a pitch session for applied research projects, structured like a reality TV game show and judged by local leaders from environmental non-profits.

 

ESA Policy on Press Credentials

We will waive registration fees for reporters with a recognized press card and 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.

We do not waive registration fees for editors of peer-reviewed journals, ad sales representatives, publishers, program officers or marketing professionals.

 

Institutional Press Officers

We will waive registration fees for press officers. If you cannot attend but would like to promote presenters from your institution, we are happy to distribute your press releases in the meeting’s Press Room.  Press officers may request copies of all abstracts related to their institution. For registration, more information, or help finding your scientists in our meeting program, please contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org or (202) 833-8773 x211.

 

Newsroom Operation

Members of the press are exempt from registration fees and may attend all meeting sessions (*field trip fee still apply). A staffed Press Room, including computers, a printer, telephones and an interview area, will be available.

  • Location:         North Show Office, to the right of the Exhibition Hall
  • Phone:             410-649-6066;  410-649-6110

 

The Press Room will be open on these dates:

  • Sunday, August 10:  1:00– 5:00 pm
  • Monday, August 11 Thursday, August 14th:  7:30 am–5:30 pm
  • Friday, August 15:  7:30 am–Noon

The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes six journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

ESA announces 2015 Graduate Student Award Recipients

Graduate students from University of Illinois at Chicago, Princeton University, Oregon State University and University of Texas at Austin will speak with federal lawmakers about sustaining support for science.

ESA 100 years logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, March 25, 2014
Contact: Terence Houston, 202-833-8773 ext. 224, terence@esa.org

 

WASHINGTON, DC – The Ecological Society of America (ESA), the world’s largest professional society of ecological scientists, is pleased to announce this year’s Graduate Student Policy Award winners. The award affords ESA graduate students the opportunity to participate in two days of science policy activities, including meetings with congressional offices. This year’s winners are Sydney Blankers (University of Illinois at Chicago) Cleo Chou (Princeton University), Natalie Hambalek (Oregon State University) and Emlyn Resetarits (University of Texas at Austin).

All four students demonstrate a commitment to engaging in public policy and the ESA Award allows them to build on their prior experiences. Blankers, Chou, Hambalek and Resetarits, will participate in a congressional visits event in Washington, DC, this May, sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) and co-chaired by ESA. The event brings together young scientists from across the country to meet with lawmakers. The scientists will highlight the benefits of biological research and education in their respective states and the nation. Participants attend sessions about how current political and fiscal issues may impact federal agencies. ESA graduate student policy awardees also meet with federal ecologists to learn about their work and that of their respective agencies.

 

2015 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winners

Sydney Blanker

Sydney Blanker

Sydney Blankers is pursuing a Masters in urban planning and policy with a concentration in environmental planning. She studies regulatory and economic techniques for influencing development and resource use in a manner that is more in tune with urban community ecosystems. She will present her thesis on urban and natural interconnectedness at the American Planning Association National Conference in Seattle in April 2015. Through her work with the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce in Chicago, she has interviewed sustainable businesses and showcased their work through a marketing campaign.

 

Cleo Chou

Cleo Chou

Cleo Chou is expected to obtain her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology this year. Her dissertation is on carbon and nutrient cycling in tropical rainforests. She is a fellow in the Princeton Energy and Climate Scholars group, an interdisciplinary group of PhD students from energy and climate-related fields. She also serves as project coordinator and co-author of a publication on nuclear fusion technology as an energy source in the Andlinger Center Energy Technology Distillate series, geared towards policymakers as well as academics. As an undergrad at Columbia University, she planned and organized events designed to bring timely and social-relevant science to the student body and local community.

 

Natalie Hambalek

Natalie Hambalek

Natalie Hambalek’s policy engagement began while as an undergrad at Sonoma State University where she called on California state lawmakers to pass legislation to expand access to education at the university level, including the California Dream Act. She’s been a presenter for Discovering the Scientist Within and Advocates for Women in Science, Engineering and Math. Her honors include a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship Honorable Mention. She is also a Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Scholar. In pursuing her Ph.D. in zoology, she is studying the physiological effects of pesticides on amphibian declines and management efforts to mitigate adverse outcomes.

 

Emelyn Resetarits

Emlyn Resetarits

Emlyn Resetarits has collaborated with Shoal Creek Conservancy and the city of Austin watershed department to conduct a biodiversity assessment of the Shoal Creek watershed. Her Ph.D. research focuses on expanding metacommunity theory and bridging the gap between theoretical and empirical work. At the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, she helped alert local government entities to a harmful algal bloom genus that produces a neurotoxin that causes amnesiac shellfish poisoning in humans. During her time as an undergrad at Columbia University, she worked as an environmental liaison between the university and student body to find sustainable solutions on campus issues. She is also the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

 

The Graduate Student Policy Award is one of several ways ESA works to offer its graduate student members opportunities to gain public policy experience. The Society also provides policy training during its annual meeting and by request throughout the year. ESA graduate student members also may run—through ESA’s Student Section—to serve on several ESA standing committees, including the Public Affairs Committee, which works closely with ESA’s Washington, DC-based Public Affairs Office and focuses on activities to engage ecological scientists with policymakers and the media. Reflections from past recipients are available on the Graduate Student Policy Award alumni network page.

 


The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes six journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

New international, interdisciplinary, open access journal launched by the Ecological Societies of America and China

Ecosystem Health and Sustainability showcases applications of ecological science in support of sustainable development during an era of extensive and accelerating human and environmental change.

ESA_ESC logo combo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, 17 March 2015
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

 

 

Today, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the Ecological Society of China (ESC) jointly launch a new open access scholarly research journal to foster communication of applied ecological research across national and disciplinary boundaries.

Ecosystem Health and SustainabilityEcosystem Health and Sustainability (EHS, ISSN: 2332-8878) features international collaborations, interdisciplinary research, and multi-scale projects.

“The new journal emphasizes research applying ecological science to decision-making in support of sustainable development at local, national, and international scales,” said Dr. Shirong Liu, president of the Ecological Society of China.

The journal encourages integration of natural, social, and behavioral studies and seeks research with implications for strategic planning and governance.

EHS is the first ecological journal published cooperatively by two scientific societies headquartered in different countries,” said Dr. David Inouye, president of the Ecological Society of America. “But it was created to publish research on ecosystem health and sustainable development from scientists all over the world, not just China and the United States.”

A committee of ESA and ESC representatives selected Dr. Yonglong Lu, a distinguished professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as EHS Editor-in-Chief for his solid grounding within the ecological research communities of both societies’ home countries. Dr. Lu has recruited 80 editorial and advisory board members from 27 countries. The journal is honored to include editors from Africa, Asia (including India and Russia), Europe, Oceania, and the Americas.

“The editors particularly look for submissions from scientists working in parts of the world experiencing rapid economic development and rapid environmental change,” said President Liu.

Editor-in-Chief Lu said fostering publication of research from developing and newly industrializing economies is vital. The new journal is an opportunity to build a truly global ecological resource.

“I am honored to take on this new role joining the efforts of the two societies, and would like to work together with peer scientists on getting the new journal recognized internationally. Ecosystem Health and Sustainability will open a platform for international cooperative research on ecology and sustainability science and promote communication between the scientists in developed and developing countries about applications of ecological science for sustainable development. This is very much needed,” said Dr. Lu.

The journal is published in English. It is open access and digital only, based on the model of ESA’s rapid-publication journal Ecosphere, which launched in 2010 and was recently indexed in Web of Science.

“We would like the new journal to become a home for data from big, multinational collaborations, including ongoing long-term research projects and interim results from broad-scale ecological assessments,” said President Inyoue, who has worked on many international efforts, such as a pollinator assessment currently under review for the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

EHS receives rigorous copy-editing from the production team that handles ESA’s traditional journals Ecology, Ecological Monographs, and Ecological Applications. The new joint journal expands the on scope of ESA’s existing journal family to further embrace big data and the rise of ecological research on a global scale, encouraging participation from parts of the world that have been underrepresented in the scientific literature.

“There is great science coming from regions of rapid development, but much of it is published in local journals that are not widely read or accessible,” said Katherine McCarter, executive director of ESA and publisher of EHS. “With so many ecological issues emerging around the world, we need more opportunities for quality research to be broadly distributed.”


Contents of the inaugural issue of Ecosystem Health and Sustainability, March 2015:

A new platform for ecologists to link ecology with policy. (editorial)

  • Yonglong Lu, Editor-in-Chief, Ecosystem Health and Sustainability
  • David W. Inouye, President, Ecological Society of America
  • Shirong Liu, President, Ecological Society of China

 

Global methane and nitrous oxide emissions from terrestrial ecosystems due to multiple environmental changes. (research report)

  • Hanqin Tian, International Center for Climate and Global Change Research, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University, Auburn, AL, USA.
    Telephone: 334-844-1059; tianhan@auburn.edu
  • Co-authors: Guangsheng Chen, Chaoqun Lu, Xiaofeng Xu, Wei Ren, Bowen Zhang, Kamaljit Banger, Bo Tao, Shufen Pan, Mingliang Liu, Chi Zhang, Lori Bruhwiler, and Steven Wofsy

Methane and nitrous oxide are potent greenhouse gases and important considerations for climate change mitigation strategies. But global and regional budgets of these gases are uncertain because direct emissions measurement is difficult. Emissions can be highly variable over small areas and short time spans, causing sampling to be misleading without using an unreasonably large number of samples. Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide influence the production and consumption of each other within natural systems in complex and dynamic ways. Hanqin Tian and colleagues applied a model based on ecological theory to existing datasets from the last three decades to estimate global methane and nitrous oxide emissions simultaneously. They used the model to explore patterns of influence from the combined effects of multiple environmental factors. Nitrogen fertilizer use, atmospheric carbon dioxide, ozone pollution, soil properties, climate conditions, land use, and vegetation cover can affect emissions. Simulated emissions increased in most climatic zones and continents during 1981–2010, but the fastest increases occurred in tropical regions, particularly in natural wetlands and rice fields.

 

Global urbanization as a shifting context for applying ecological science toward the sustainable city. (review)

  • Steward T.A. Pickett, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook NY, USA; picketts@caryinstitute.org
  • Weiqi Zhou, State Key Laboratory for Urban and Regional Ecology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China; wzhou@rcees.ac.cn

Cites are part of the natural world. The centers of commerce delineated by tall buildings, electric light, and concrete transport corridors are also habitats—dynamic and interconnected ecosystems. Ecologically informed urban design has the potential to guide the development of sustainable cities. But conceptual models of urban ecosystems must encompass global patterns of urban growth in the 21st century. Human migrations between fast-growing urban agglomerations and agricultural villages blur boundaries of city, suburb, exurb, countryside, and wilderness. In rapidly industrializing nations, mosaics of rural agriculture, high-rise buildings, gated communities, and informal shantytowns are appearing that do not necessarily follow patterns of industrialization in Australia, Europe, Japan, or North America. Picket and Zhou summarize and propose a synthesis of the complementary concepts of the “urban megaregion” and the continuum of urbanity” into a comprehensive and inclusive framework that applies urban ecological science with sustainable urban transformations.

 

Ecosystem health towards sustainability. (review)

  • Yonglong Lu, State Key Laboratory of Urban and Regional Ecology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
    Telephone: 0086-10-62915537; yllu@rcees.ac.cn
  • Co-authors: Ruoshi Wang, Hongqiao Su, Pei Wang, Alan Jenkins, Rober C. Ferrier, Mark Bailey, Geoff Squire

What is a healthy ecosystem? Health and dysfunction are qualitative perceptions of ecosystems, defined by the symptoms or indicators chosen to describe and monitor the systems. Definitions of ecosystem health reflect social needs and goals and, unavoidably, include value judgments. Ecologists and managers point to evidence of stable structure and function over time, even in the face of sudden external stresses, as key signifiers of ecosystem health. Though the concept of ecosystem health is not entirely objective, it can be useful for environmental management. To identify quantifiable indicators of ecosystem health, Lu and colleagues review methods and models for measuring ecosystem health and sustainability, offering criteria for selecting indicators appropriate to different types of ecosystems.

 

Climate change, Risky Business, and a Call to Action for Ecologists. (policy forum)

  • Jerry Melillo, The Ecosystems Center, Marine Biological Laboratory, jmelillo@mbl.edu

In October 2013, the Risky Business Project, co-chaired by Michael R. Bloomberg, Henry Paulson, and Tom Steyer, commissioned an assessment of the economic risks posed by climate change. The report produced by these prominent financial leaders pointed out the potential for serious damage to the U.S. economy if steps toward mitigation and adaptation are not taken. It also painted a picture of hope for our capacity to manage climate risk. Ecologist Jerry Melillo sees this report from the business sector as a call to action. Ecologists, he says, need to get involved by bringing the ecological dimension of climate change into the economic conversation.

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The Ecological Society of China (ESC) was established in 1979 and has approximately 9,000 members, consisting of scientists and people with an interest in ecology. ESC has twenty academic committees and five working committees. Its headquarters are located in Beijing, China. The current president of ESC is Dr. Shirong Liu and the general secretary is Dr. Liding Chen. In addition to publishing three journals in Chinese, two journals in English, and a members’ bulletin, the ESC provides services to the academic community, promotes academic communication, and provides professional training and consultation services to government agencies to assist decision-making on ecological restoration, environmental protection, and ecosystem management. Visit the ESC website at http://english.rcees.cas.cn/sp/zgstxxh/

The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes six journals and a bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

Sagebrush ecosystem recovery hobbled by loss of soil complexity at development sites

Restoring Wildlife Habitat Following Oil and Gas Disturbance Requires Attention to Soils and Plants

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, 26 January 2015
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

 

A typical natural gas well pad which has been prepared for interim reclamation. (Photo by Tamera Minnick)

Homogenized bare soil surrounds a wellhead on a  typical natural gas well pad that has been prepared for interim reclamation. Credit, Tamera Minnick.

In big sagebrush country, re-establishing the ecosystem’s namesake shrub may jump-start the recovery process more successfully after oil and gas development than sowing grass-dominated reclamation seed mixes typically used to quickly re-vegetate bare soil on well pads, report two Colorado scientists in the January 2015 issue of Ecological Applications, released today.

Big sagebrush is often conspicuously absent at restoration sites decades after disturbance. Historically, grasses have dominated the vegetation recovery following development, offering limited diversity and poor quality habitat for the 350 wildlife species harbored by what was once the most widespread ecosystem in the western United States.

“Successful restoration is more than establishing vegetation. To restore wildlife habitat so that it is self-renewing, it is critical that soils are returned to a healthy status as quickly as possible,” said the study’s lead scientist, Tamera Minnick, Professor of Environmental Science at Colorado Mesa University.

The authors sampled two undisturbed reference sites and eight reclaimed or abandoned natural gas well pads in Rio Blanco County, Colorado. They found that none of the oil and gas well pads included in the study had returned to a reference, or pre-drilling, condition, even those that had had 20 to 50 years to recover.

When a well pad is built, the topsoil and lower soil layers are removed and stored in piles in order to create a level work surface for drilling wells. Today’s well pads, often consisting of dozens of wells per pad, may require removing soil from an area of 3-10 acres. When drilling is completed, current reclamation standards require oil and gas companies to replace the soil and reestablish plants. However, the stored soils are now thoroughly mixed or homogenized and have lost the patchy pattern of soil nutrients that existed before the well pad was built.

“Sagebrush modifies its habitat to create patchy soils that make the habitat more resilient and even better for supporting sagebrush and all the other plants and animals that depend upon this important ecosystem,” said Richard Alward, Principal Ecologist with Aridlands Natural Resource Consulting, and the study’s coauthor.

Co-author and Aridlands Natural Resources Consulting Principal Ecologist Richard Alward taking a soil sample. (Photo by Tamera Minnick)

Author Richard Alward, Aridlands Natural Resources Consulting Principal Ecologist takes a soil sample at a field site in Rio Blanco County, Colorado. Credit, Tamera Minnick.

Other researchers have documented that sagebrush shrubs trap decaying organic matter, moisture, and nutrients in the soil beneath  their canopies, creating “islands of fertility” in sagebrush habitat, which Minnick and Alward confirmed. The patchy pattern of nutrients favors the recovery of sagebrush, creating a positive feedback that reinforces the persistence of the ecosystem.

The researchers found that some reclaimed well pads had total plant cover that was similar to the reference sites, a current requirement for reclamation, but those plants were primarily grasses or rabbitbrush. These species do not produce patches of high and low soil organic matter; instead the soils are much more uniform. This uniformity may ultimately make it more difficult to reestablish sagebrush – and to restore conditions favorable to diverse wildlife species.

“There can be a conflict between short- and long-term restoration goals, for example, between immediate erosion control versus restoring wildlife habitat,” said Minnick. “For the long-term stability of these ecosystems, it is critical to establish the natural feedbacks between plants and soil. And in this ecosystem, that means establishing big sagebrush. Wildlife habitat goals cannot be realized by merely establishing grasses.”

Semi-arid and arid ecosystems are notoriously difficult to restore after heavy disturbance. Researchers from Idaho to Nevada, from Australia to Israel, have been identifying techniques that improve the chances of restoration success in these dry areas. These techniques work to promote soil patchiness, and positive feedbacks between plants and soils, in a process termed “autogenic” restoration.

The region where this study was conducted is considered “semi-arid” since it typically records less than 11 inches of rain per year. The researchers studied 10 sites on public lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Rio Blanco County, western Colorado, approximately 55 miles north of Grand Junction.  This area has seen periodic, and sometimes very intense, oil and gas exploration over the last several decades. The soils of eight well pads that had been completed at various times since the 1960s were compared to soils at two nearby undisturbed sagebrush sites.

Successful restoration of oil and gas disturbances generates many benefits – to hunters and conservationists concerned with wildlife habitat, to oil and gas operators who desire continued access to these resources, to the public who reap benefits such as clean water and recreation opportunities, and to land managers who are responsible for  maintaining the land for multiple uses.

Sagebrush ecosystems provide important habitat for many wildlife species in the western United States, including mule deer, pronghorn, elk, pygmy rabbits, golden eagles, and greater sage-grouse (the latter is a species being considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for protection under the Endangered Species Act). Improved habitat restoration may decrease pressure for federal intervention to protect this iconic bird.

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Citation:

Plant–soil feedbacks and the partial recovery of soil spatial patterns on abandoned well pads in a sagebrush shrubland. (2015) Tamera J. Minnick and Richard D. Alward. Ecological Applications 25(1), 3-10. http://www.esajournals.org/doi/full/10.1890/13-1698.1 (Open Access).

ESA is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of

Colorado Mesa University Professor of Environmental Science and lead author, Tamera Minnick with a CMU undergraduate student collecting field samples on the edge of a reclaimed wellpad. (Photo by Richard Alward)

Colorado Mesa University Professor of Environmental Science and lead author, Tamera Minnick with a CMU undergraduate student collecting field samples on the edge of a reclaimed wellpad in Rio Blanco County, Colorado. Photo by Richard Alward.

ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth.  The 10,000 member Society publishes six journals and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts over 3,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.