Tracking elephants, ecstasy, and emerging diseases

Highlights from the December issue of ESA Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

 

In a rapidly changing north, new diseases travel on the wings of birds

When polar bears (Ursus maritimus) meet glaucous gulls (Larus hyperboreaus) over the remains of a bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), they may be sharing more than a meal. As the warming climate brings animals into new proximity, parasites, viruses, and bacteria can find opportunities to spread to new and naïve hosts, sometimes jumping from birds to mammals, and from marine ecosystems to land ecosystems. Photo credit, USGS.

When polar bears (Ursus maritimus) meet glaucous gulls (Larus hyperboreaus) over the remains of a bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), they may be sharing more than a meal. As the warming climate brings animals into new proximity, parasites, viruses, and bacteria can find opportunities to spread to new and naïve hosts, sometimes jumping from birds to mammals, and from marine ecosystems to land ecosystems. Photo credit, USGS.

When wild birds are a big part of your diet, opening a freshly shot bird to find worms squirming around under the skin is a disconcerting sight. That was exactly what Victoria Kotongan saw in October, 2012, when she set to cleaning two of four spruce grouse (Falcipennis canadensis) she had taken near her home in Unalakleet, on the northwest coast of Alaska. The next day, she shot four grouse and all four harbored the long, white worms. In two birds, the worms appeared to be emerging from the meat.

Kotongan, worried about the health of the grouse and the potential risk to her community, reported the parasites to the Local Environmental Observer Network, which arranged to have the frozen bird carcasses sent to a lab for testing. Lab results identified the worms as the nematode Splendidofilaria pectoralis, a thinly described parasite previously observed in blue grouse (Dendragapus obscurus pallidus) in interior British Columbia, Canada. The nematode had not been seen before so far north and west. Though S. pectoralis is unlikely to be dangerous to people, other emerging diseases in northern regions are not so innocuous.

Animals are changing their seasonal movements and feeding patterns to cope with the changing climate, bringing into close contact species that rarely met in the past. Nowhere is this more apparent than the polar latitudes, where warming has been fastest and most dramatic. Red foxes are spreading north into arctic fox territory. Hunger is driving polar bears ashore as sea ice shrinks. Many arctic birds undertake long migratory journeys and have the mobility to fly far beyond their historical ranges, or extend their stay in attractive feeding or nesting sites.

With close contact comes a risk of infection with the exotic parasites and microorganisms carried by new neighbors, and so disease is finding new territory as well. Clement conditions extend the lifecycles of disease carrying insects, and disease-causing organisms. Migratory birds can take infectious agents for rides over great distances. In November 2013, Alaska Native residents of St. Lawrence Island, in the Bering Sea, alerted wildlife managers to the deaths of hundreds of crested auklets, thick-billed murres, northern fulmars and other seabirds, caused by an outbreak of highly contagious avian cholera (Pasteurella multocida).

“It’s the first time avian cholera has shown up in Alaska,” said Caroline Van Hemert, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage, Alaska. “St. Lawrence Island is usually iced in by November, but last year we had a warm fall and winter in Alaska. We don’t know for sure that open water, climate, and high-densities of birds contributed to the outbreak, but it coincided with unusual environmental conditions.”

On a weekend in October, 2012, Victoria Kotongan shot six spruce grouse near her home in Unalakleet, on the remote northwest coast of Alaska. Four harbored visible worms under their skin, later identified as the nematode species Splendidofilaria pectoralis. Photo credit, Victoria Kotongan, Local Environmental Observer Network, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

On a weekend in October, 2012, Victoria Kotongan shot six spruce grouse near her home in Unalakleet, on the remote northwest coast of Alaska. Four harbored visible worms under their skin, later identified as the nematode species Splendidofilaria pectoralis. Photo credit, Victoria Kotongan, Local Environmental Observer Network, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

Circumstantial evidence collected by researchers and local observers is pointing toward a surge of infectious disease in the northern latitudes, but scanty baseline data makes interpretation of current trends uncertain. Van Hemert and colleagues review the state of our knowledge of emerging disease in northern birds and effects on wildlife and human health, discussing strategies for cooperative programs to fill in information gaps in the December issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

  • Wildlife health in a rapidly changing North: focus on avian disease. (2014) Caroline Van Hemert, John M Pearce, and Colleen M Handel. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 12(10): 548–556, doi:10.1890/130291
  • Author contact: Caroline Van Hemert, US Geological Survey Alaska Science Center, Anchorage, AK; cvanhemert@usgs.gov

Elephants, ecstasy, and cockroaches: tracking animals’ mood, motivation, and health through motion monitors

How does an elephant feel? What is the internal state of a cockroach? How does a raver’s past drug use linger in his hands? Accelerometers attached to animals can track not only location and motion but the animal’s internal state of health, hormones, and even emotions, moods, and motivations. The authors track specific components of internal state in three different animal models: chemical state in humans (Homo sapiens), affective state in African elephants (Loxodonta africana), and disease state in death’s head cockroaches (Blaberus craniifer).

  • Wild state secrets: ultra-sensitive measurement of micro-movement can reveal internal processes in animals (2014). Rory P Wilson, Ed Grundy, Richard Massy, Joseph Soltis, Brenda Tysse, Mark Holton, Yuzhi Cai, Andy Parrott, Luke A Downey, Lama Qasem, and Tariq Butt. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 582–587. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/140068

Mapping underwater ecology with sound

From the warm coral reefs to the cold waters under polar ice, tens of thousands of tracking devices send information about the underwater world and the animals that carry them. The authors lay out complex questions that new technology may allow us to answer.

  • Making connections in aquatic ecosystems with acoustic telemetry monitoring (2014). Michael R Donaldson, Scott G Hinch, Cory D Suski, Aaron T Fisk, Michelle R Heupel, and Steven J Cooke. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 565–573. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/130283

Slippery slopes and valuing all ecosystems, historical and new

All ecosystems are affected by human activity. Patches of historical “wild” ecosystems remain, embedded in a matrix of cities and suburbs, agricultural lands and parks, and every gradient in between. The authors discuss a management framework that classifies a patche of land by how much it has changed, how its changes influence neighboring landscapes, and how likely a reversion to the historical state is. New ecosystems that coalesce under the influence of climate change, species invasions, and human industry also have ecological and cultural value, they say, which needs to be considered in restoration efforts.

  • Managing the whole landscape: historical, hybrid, and novel ecosystems (2014). Richard J Hobbs, Eric Higgs, Carol M Hall, Peter Bridgewater, F Stuart Chapin III, Erle C Ellis, John J Ewel, Lauren M Hallett, James Harris, Kristen B Hulvey, Stephen T Jackson, Patricia L Kennedy, Christoph Kueffer, Lori Lach, Trevor C Lantz, Ariel E Lugo, Joseph Mascaro, Stephen D Murphy, Cara R Nelson, Michael P Perring, David M Richardson, Timothy R Seastedt, Rachel J Standish, Brian M Starzomski, Katherine N Suding, Pedro M Tognetti, Laith Yakob, and Laurie Yung. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 557–564. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/130300
  • Urban ecology: advancing science and society (2014). Colby J Tanner, Frederick R Adler, Nancy B Grimm, Peter M Groffman, Simon A Levin, Jason Munshi-South, Diane E Pataki, Mitchell Pavao-Zuckerman, and William G Wilson. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 574–581. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/140019

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Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, issued 10 times per year, consists of peer-reviewed, synthetic review articles on all aspects of ecology, the environment, and related disciplines, as well as short, high-impact research communications of broad interdisciplinary appeal.

ESA 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 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 .

ESA Frontiers November preview

Preview for the November issue of the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

 

141105 November Frontiers coverFor a complete table of contents or advance pdf copies of the articles, please contact Liza Lester, llester@esa.org, 202-833-8773 x211.
Embargoed until: 12:01 am EDT Friday 31 Oct 2014

 

Connectivity cost calculations for conservation corridors
Where are conservation dollars best invested to connect fragmented habitats? Sara Torrubia and colleagues test their model balancing restoration costs with connection quality on the threatened Washington ground squirrel in eastern Washington State.

Getting the most connectivity per conservation dollar,” by Sara Torrubia, Brad H McRae, Joshua J Lawler, Sonia A Hall, Meghan Halabisky, Jesse Langdon, and Michael Case.


Agricultural companions: co-planting partner crops improves yields
Soy and cereals, rice and fish, trees sorghum – crops cultivated together yield more food. Weizheng Ren and colleagues at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China review scientific studies of traditional pairings and suggest policies to improve the use of species partnerships in modern agriculture.

Can positive interactions between cultivated species help to sustain modern agriculture?” by Weizheng Ren, Liangliang Hu, Jian Zhang, Cuiping Sun, Jianjun Tang, Yongge Yuan, and Xin Chen.


Jellyfish and human well-being.
Jellyfish have been getting bad press lately for closing beaches, damaging fisheries, and fouling equipment at aquaculture, desalination, and power facilities. The gelatinous invertebrates generally have a bad reputation as nuisance species. But species of jellyfish also harbor small fish and other animals on and around their bodies. They transport other invertebrate ocean dwellers, like barnacles and shrimp and crab larvae. They are food for ocean predators and for people. An international team of ecologists assesses the consequences of growing global jellyfish populations for human well-being.

Linking human well-being and jellyfish: ecosystem services, impacts, and societal responses,” by William M Graham1, Stefan Gelcich, Kelly L Robinson, Carlos M Duarte, Lucas Brotz, Jennifer E Purcell, Laurence P Madin, Hermes Mianzan, Kelly R Sutherland, Shin-ichi Uye, Kylie A Pitt, Cathy H Lucas, Molly Bøgeberg, Richard D Brodeur, and Robert H Condon.

For a full press release, contact: Van Arnold, University of Southern Mississippi Office of Communications, 601.266.5568, Hattiesburg, van.arnold@usm.edu


Micromanaging microbes
When managing ecological resources, it is important not to forget the invisible microbial world, say Ariane Peralta and colleagues. Microbes get our attention when food-borne illness makes headlines. But most microbes do not make people sick. Microscopic activities of microbes have huge benefits for food production and water purification.

A social-ecological framework for “micromanaging” microbial services,” by Ariane L Peralta1, Diana Stuart, Angela D Kent, and Jay T Lennon.


Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, issued 10 times per year, consists of peer-reviewed, synthetic review articles on all aspects of ecology, the environment, and related disciplines, as well as short, high-impact research communications of broad interdisciplinary appeal.

ESA 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 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.

Seaweed engineers build crustacean homes; old forests store new nitrogen

Highlights from the October 2014 issue of the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecology, published online today.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, October 22, 2014 Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

 

Invasive seaweed shelters native crustacean

The invasive Gracilaria vermiculophylla seaweed gains a holds on a mudflat in Charleston Harbor, S.C., by clinging to tube-building decorator worms (Diopatra cuprea) rooted firmly in the mud.  The invasive seaweed provides shelter for a small native crustacean. Credit, Erik Sorka.

A Japanese seaweed gains a holds on a mudflat in Charleston Harbor, S.C., by clinging to tube-building decorator worms (Diopatra cuprea) rooted firmly in the mud. The invasive Gracilaria vermiculophylla seaweed provides shelter for a small native crustacean. Credit, Erik Sorka.

On the tidal mudflats of Georgia and South Carolina, the red Japanese seaweed Gracilaria vermiculophylla is gaining a foothold where no native seaweeds live. Only debris and straggles of dead marsh grass used to break the expanse of mud at low tide. Crabs, shrimp, and small crustaceans mob the seaweed in abundance. What makes it so popular? Not its food value. On mudflats near Savannah, Ga., Wright and colleagues found that the tiny native crustacean Gammarus mucronatus (one of the 9,500 species of amphipod, which includes sand fleas) does not eat much of the seaweed. Rather, its attraction is structural. The seaweed protects the small crustaceans from predators at high tide and from the dry heat of the flats at low tide. G. mucronatus was up to 100 times as abundant on seaweed invaded mudflats.

The arrival of an aggressive invader disrupts the food webs and physical and chemical characteristics of the environment it enters. Disruption is often bad for native species that get shaded, crowded, or eaten by the invader, and reports of the disastrous consequences of invasive species have grown familiar. But the story for individual species is more complicated, as the presence of the invader is sometimes a benefit, either as a new source of food or, as in this case, of shelter.

Engineering or food? Mechanisms of facilitation by a habitat-forming invasive seaweed (2014) JT Wright, JE Byers, JL DeVore, and E Sotka. Ecology 95(10): 2699-2706. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/14-0127.1 [open access]

  • Jeffrey T. Wright, Australian Maritime College, National Centre for Marine Conservation and Resource Sustainability
  • James E. Byers, University of Georgia, Odum School of Ecology
  • Jayna Lynn DeVore, University of Sydney, School of Biological Sciences
  • Erik Sotka , College of Charleston, Department of Biology

Mature forests store nitrogen in soil

The tall, mature trees of a late-succession forest (right) stand next to young trees, seeded after a clear-cut. The deeper volume of organic matter on the floor of a mature forest can capture more of the nutrient nitrogen when it enters the forest than the clear-cut can. Credit, David Lewis.

The tall, mature trees of a late-succession forest (right) stand next to the young regrowth of a clear-cut forest in central Pennsylvania. The deeper volume of organic matter on the floor of a mature forest can capture more of the nutrient nitrogen when it enters the forest than the clear-cut can. Credit, David Lewis.

Ecologists working in central Pennsylvania forests have found that forest top soils capture and stabilize the powerful fertilizer nitrogen quickly, within days, but release it slowly, over years to decades. The discrepancy in rates means that nitrogen can build up in soils. Forests may be providing an unappreciated service by storing excess nitrogen emitted by modern agriculture, industry, and transport before it can cause problems for our waterways.

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient, required for all living things to live and grow. Though a major component of the air, it is largely inaccessible, captured only through the metabolism of certain microbes or washed to earth in the form of ammonia, nitrogen oxides, or organic material by rain, snow, and fog. On land, microbes, fungi, and plants incorporate what doesn’t wash away into proteins, DNA, and other biological components. Organic matter in the soil – the remains of fallen leaves, animal droppings, and dead things in various states of decay – can also capture newly deposited nitrogen, holding it stable in the soil.

Mature forests store nitrogen more efficiently than young forests recovering from clear-cuts the authors found, because they have been accumulating organic matter on the forest floor for a century or more. When a forest is clear cut, erosion soon follows, washing away top soil. A young stand of trees a decade old is beginning to rebuild the organic layer, but it will take many autumns to accumulate.

The orderly succession of changes in resident species as a forest grows and ages is a classic preoccupation of ecological theory. The exchange of nutrients among the species and the non-living landscape also changes with succession, and the discovery that nitrogen accumulates in the organic soil indicates something important about how an ecosystem’s nutrient economy ages.  It was thought, up through the 1970s and early 80s, that an ecosystem grows like a person. At some point, forests, like people, stop getting bigger and adding new biomass. Ecologists argued that the ability to capture incoming nutrients stopped with the end of growth. But by the mid-80s, it was clear that mature ecosystems did continue to absorb nitrogen, mostly in soil. By showing that nitrogen capture is much faster than its release, Lewis and colleagues suggest a mechanism by which old ecosystems can accumulate new inputs of nutrients.

A member of the research team plunges into a stand of young trees, heading for a study plot in a central Pennsylvania forest recovering from recent clear-cutting. Credit, David Lewis.

A member of the research team plunges into a stand of young trees, heading for a study plot in a central Pennsylvania forest recovering from recent clear-cutting.Credit, David Lewis.

Because soils rich in organics can quickly incorporate nitrogen, forest soils have the potential to absorb excess nitrogen that has been newly added to the biosphere through human activities. Application of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and combustion of fossil fuels produce substantial amounts of ammonia and nitrogen oxides. Since industrialization, human activities have tripled the global rate of fixation of nitrogen from the air. The excess has perturbed the nutrient economies of many ecosystems, most visibly by feeding algal blooms and oxygen-deprived dead zones in lakes and estuaries. The study suggests that we may want to strategically conserve or restore forests, preserving organic-rich soils where they intercept the movement of ground water towards streams, lakes, or estuaries.

Forest succession, soil carbon accumulation, and rapid nitrogen storage in poorly-remineralized soil organic matter (2014) DB Lewis, M Castellano, and JP Kaye. Ecology 95(10): 2687-93. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/13-2196.1 [open access]

  • David Bruce Lewis, University of South Florida, Tampa. Corresponding author.
  • Michael J. Castellano, Iowa State University, Ames
  • Jason P. Kaye, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park

Unexpected diets

In streams around the world, small animals feeding at the bottom of the food chain are not eating the selection of decaying leaves, slimy film streambed films, and fine particulate detritus that ecologist have presumed they eat.

You are not always what we think you eat: selective assimilation across multiple whole-stream isotopic tracer studies. (2014) W. K. Dodds, S. M. Collins, S. K. Hamilton, J. L. Tank, S. Johnson, J. R. Webster, K. S. Simon, M. R. Whiles, H. M. Rantala, W. H. McDowell, S. D. Peterson, T. Riis, C. L. Crenshaw, S. A. Thomas, P. B. Kristensen, B. M. Cheever, A. S. Flecker, N. A. Griffiths, T. Crowl, E. J. Rosi-Marshall, R. El-Sabaawi, and E. Martí. Ecology 95(10):2757–2767. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/13-2276.1

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ESA 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 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.

 

River flow by design: environmental flows support ecosystem services in rivers natural and novel

The October 2014 issue of ESA Frontiers spotlights river management in the Anthropocene

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

The dry Colorado River delta on June 21, 2013. Credit, NASA.

Tides flow backwards up the dry channels of the Colorado River delta, as seen in an astronaut photo taken June 21, 2013. Prior to the construction of the Hoover Dam and other large water projects on the Colorado, the delta estuary supported a great diversity of species in 3,000 square miles (7,700 square kilometers) of braided channels and lagoons. Now, the riverbed often dries not far from the Arizona-Mexico border. In the spring of 2014, an experimental “pulse” of 105,000 acre-feet (130 million cubic meters) of water were released from the lowest dam on the river in an effort to recover some the lost services provided by the lower Colorado ecosystems. Credit, NASA. (Click image to enlarge it).

Last spring, the Colorado River reached its delta for the first time in 16 years, flowing into Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of California after wetting 70 miles of long-dry channels through the Sonoran Desert. The planned 8-week burst of water from Mexico’s Morelos Dam on the Arizona-Mexico border was the culmination of years of diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Mexico and campaigning from scientists and conservation organizations. Now ecologists wait to see how the short drink of water will affect the parched landscape.

This year’s spring pulse held less than 1 percent of the volume of the Colorado’s annual spring floods before the construction of ten major dams and diversions to municipalities, industry, and agriculture. A return of the lush Colorado delta of the 1920s will not be possible. But there is hope that periodic flows will bring back willow, mesquite, and cottonwood trees, revive insects and dormant crustaceans, give respite to birds migrating on the Pacific Flyway, and ease strains on fisheries in the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California).

Environmental flows for natural, hybrid, and novel riverine ecosystems in a changing world

There are two primary ways to achieve “environmental flows” of water necessary to sustain river ecosystems, write Mike Acreman, of the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and colleagues in a review published this month in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment: controlled releases like the recent experiment on the Colorado that are designed with specific objectives for ecology and ecosystem services in mind and hands-off policies that minimize or reverse alterations to the natural flow of the river.

For rivers like the Colorado, already much altered and bearing heavy demands from many different user groups, a “designer” approach is more practical than attempting to return the river closer to its natural, pre-development state, say the authors. Designers work to create a functional ecosystem or support ecosystem services under current conditions, rather than recreate a historical ecosystem.

Achieving ecological objectives requires planning beyond minimum flows and indicator species to encompass seasonal floods and slack flows and a holistic look at the plants, fish, fungi, birds and other life inhabiting the river, its banks and its marshes. Managers must plan to turn on the taps when ecosystems can capitalize on the flow, lest water releases do more harm than good. Several decades of applied research guided the planning for the engineered “spring flood” on the lower Colorado this year, which was timed for the germination of native trees.

Rebirth of the Elwha River

The Elwha River pours through the remains of the Elwha Dam in Washington State’s Olympic National Park on October 23, 2011. The river ecosystem and former reservoir beds have recovered quickly after demolition of the two dams on the river. <i>Credit Kate Benkert, <a href=“https://flic.kr/p/aMrEQD”>USFWS</a></i>.

The Elwha River pours through the remains of the Elwha Dam in Washington State’s Olympic National Park on October 23, 2011. The former reservoir beds have recovered quickly and salmon and steelhead have returned after demolition of the two dams on the river. Credit Kate Benkert, USFWS.

For rivers with fewer economic and social demands, restoration guided by historical records of the natural dynamics of the river can be an effective restoration strategy, say Acreman and colleagues. To preserve species and get the maximum value from ecosystem services, river systems need to fluctuate in natural rhythms of volume, velocity, and timing ( to put it very simplistically).

At the end of the twentieth century, Washington State decided that the water of the Elwha River would be most valuable flowing freely through Olympic National Park to the Pacific at the Strait of Juan de Fuca, supporting salmon, trout, clams, and tourism. Habitat and eroded coastline are recovering at an astonishing pace only one year after the demolition of two dams freed the river, as Noreen Parks reports for her news story “Rebirth of the Elwha River” in ESA Frontier’s October Dispatches.

Rivers of the Anthropocene?

Outside protected wilderness, the Elwha’s story may be more of an anomaly than a blueprint for future river restoration projects. As non-native species, land development, and climate change remodel river ecosystems, it is no longer easy to define what is “natural” for river systems. But heavily used, regulated, and altered rivers have ecological value.

“The future of freshwater biodiversity is inextricably linked to land and water infrastructure management,” writes N LeRoy Poff of Colorado State University in his guest editorial for ESA Frontiers, in which he contemplates whether rivers have changed so much that we need to rethink some of our conceptions about restoration.

“We are rapidly entering an era where restoration interventions will be guided less by statistical deviations from historical reference conditions and more by “process-based” understanding of organism–environment relationships,” he writes.

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Citations:

Mike Acreman, Angela H Arthington, Matthew J Colloff, Carol Couch, Neville D Crossman, Fiona Dyer, Ian Overton, Carmel A Pollino, Michael J Stewardson, and William Young (2014). Environmental flows for natural, hybrid, and novel riverine ecosystems in a changing world. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 466–473. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/130134

Noreen Parks (2014). “Rebirth of the Elwha River.” Dispatches. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 428–432. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/1540-9295-12.8.428

N LeRoy Poff (2014). Rivers of the AnthropoceneFrontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 427–427.http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/1540-9295-12.8.427

 

ESA 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 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.

 

UMD Professor David Inouye named President of the Ecological Society of America

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Contact: Alison Mize, 202-833-8773 ext. 205, Alison@esa.org

 

140923 David Inouye with flowersDavid Inouye, plant ecologist and professor emeritus of the Department of Biology at the University of Maryland (UMD), College Park has been named President of the Ecological Society of America.

Elected by the members of ESA for a one-year term, Inouye presides over the world’s largest professional society of ecologists. Its membership comprises 10,000 researchers, educators, natural resource managers and students, reflecting the diverse interests and activities of the Society. As President, Inouye now chairs ESA’s governing board, which lays out the Society’s vision for overall goals and objectives.

“I’m greatly honored to be leading the ESA as it reaches its 100th anniversary. I’ve been a member for over four decades, since I was a graduate student, and have watched and participated as the Society has grown in membership, number and prestige of journals published, size of its annual meeting, and all other metrics of success.

The Washington, D.C. office provides a valuable service to government and other organizations by making the expertise of its membership available for advice on ecological issues, and we have an excellent educational program that is helping to train a diverse next generation of ecologists.

We will also expand our international impact this year as we jointly publish a new journal with the Ecological Society of China. I look forward to the next century of growth and success by the Society,” Inouye said.

Inouye’s pollinator and wildflower research has encompassed pollination biology, flowering phenology, plant demography and plant-animal interactions in both the US and abroad since 1971. Over his 44-year tenure at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab near Crested Butte, Colorado, Inouye has discovered that the wildflower growing season has increased by 35 days since the 1970s. His long-term studies of flowering phenology and plant demography are providing insights into the effects of climate change at high altitudes.

He is a lead author for the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) fast-track assessment of pollinators, pollination and food production, sits on the governing boards of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign and the USA-National Phenology Network, is a is a member of the National Academy of Sciences Roundtable on Public Information in the Life Sciences, and serves on numerous scientific publication editorial boards.

Inouye has taught courses in ecology and conservation biology at UMD and also instructed at the University of Colorado’s Mountain Research Station, the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, and with the Organization for Tropical Studies.

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ESA 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 sixjournalsand 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.

Volunteer ‘eyes on the skies’ track peregrine falcon recovery in California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, September 11, 2014
Contact: Alison Mize, 202-833-8773 ext. 205, Alison@esa.org

 

Datasets from long-running volunteer survey programs, calibrated with data from sporadic intensive monitoring efforts, have allowed ecologists to track the recovery of peregrine falcons in California and evaluate the effectiveness of a predictive model popular in the management of threatened species.

 

An adult American peregrine falcon soars near her coastal nesting cliff in northern California, USA.  Photo credit: Mary Malec.

An adult American peregrine falcon soars near her coastal nesting cliff in northern California, USA. Photo credit: Mary Malec.

In recovery from the deadly legacy of DDT, American peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus anatum) faced new uncertainty in 1992, when biologists proposed to stop rearing young birds in captivity and placing them in wild nests. Tim Wootton and Doug Bell published models that year in ESA’s journal Ecological Applications, projecting population trends for the falcon in California, with and without direct human intervention in the falcons’ reproductive lives. They concluded that the birds would continue to recover without captive rearing, though the population growth rate might slow. Fledgling introductions had bolstered wild falcon numbers and genetic diversity, but survival would ultimately depend on cleaning up lingering DDT contamination to create healthy conditions for wild birds, they argued.

This month, they return to their 1992 predictions to see how the American peregrine falcons have fared over the last two decades, with a new report featured on the cover of the September 2014 issue of Ecological Applications. Though falcon numbers are lower than hoped for, data from volunteer survey programs, calibrated with more intensive surveys by wildlife biologists, confirmed a recovery trajectory well within the trends Wootton and Bell predicted.

“The challenge was to come up with data,” said Wootton. “Once a species falls off the endangered species list, there is not a lot of funding to track how management, or lack of management, is doing,” he said. “There was limited data that was appropriate being collected on the falcon, so we turned to a couple of well-known bird censuses that cover wide geographic areas.”

The follow-on study provided insights in the use of volunteer-generated data as well as an important test of population viability analysis, a tool increasingly used to evaluate alternative management plans and identify conservation priorities for endangered species, including sea turtles, grizzlies, and desert tortoises. It supported the importance of considering the health and behavior of geographic groups of a threatened species within a larger population. The 1992 paper identified falcon population “sinks” in parts of Southern California where chemical contamination lingered and the birds could not maintain numbers without migrants from healthier areas. Unfortunately, the falcon’s recovery has continued to lag in these areas.

Once widespread across North America, the world’s fastest bird had disappeared from the east by mid-century and was near extinction on the continent by 1975, when a survey found only 159 breeding pairs of American peregrine falcons. Chicks often did not survive to hatch in thin shells made fragile by a metabolite of the famously persistent insecticide DDT, which, along with its metabolites and breakdown products, accumulates in fatty tissues and can haunt soils for decades. DDT came into use during World War II to prevent the spread of serious insect-borne disease. Its use expanded widely and indiscriminately over North America in the next three decades.

Testimonials from scientists, like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, eventually brought attention to the environmental hazards of organochloride insecticides. Canada banned agricultural use of DDT in 1970, and the US followed in 1972. The peregrine was listed as endangered in 1970 under the original Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969. Peregrine numbers steadily improved in 1980s, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service removed the falcon from endangered species protection in 1999.

“Amateur falconers developed methods to captive rear and release falcons because they were personally concerned about the birds,” said Wootton. “A group at UC Santa Cruz adopted and adapted the techniques that people had used in falconry for centuries and a fleet of volunteers helped monitor nests.”

Without parents to guide and protect them, released fledglings often ran afoul of owls and other dangers, but the captive breeding programs succeeded in boosting falcon numbers. How healthy released birds were, and what would happen when the flow of introduced young stopped, was unknown.

“Our 1992 models suggested they would be okay,” said Wootton.

To fill the large information gaps between the end of intensive falcon monitoring in 1992 and sporadic later surveys, Bell and Wootton drew on data collected by the Audubon Society’s long-running Christmas Bird Count and by the Breeding Bird Survey, administered cooperatively by the US Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the Canadian Wildlife Service. They expected that the more formally structured Breeding Bird Survey would be most consistent with systematic census data collected by the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group during its captive rearing program (1975-1992) and in a 2006 follow-up census, and with 2003 data from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The authors were a little surprised to discover that data from the Christmas Bird Count served better in this particular study.

The Audubon Society has organized a yearly Christmas Bird Count since 1900, urging volunteers to count bird sightings over 24 hours in locations of their choice in mid-December to early January. Some participants have recorded feathered visitors to their backyard feeders while others hiked into local parks and wilderness preserves. The society has an interest is in getting people to participate and enjoy birding as well as gather data, and encourages first-time observers as well as scientists and life-long birders to join the count. To make year-to-year data more comparable, local groups return yearly to count birds in established spots, and often make efforts to assure that experienced birders accompany novices. Groups report results as birds sighted per hour per group.

The Breeding Bird Survey has recruited birding enthusiasts who can identify all breeding bird species in their geographic area by sight and sound since 1966. Throughout the summer breeding season, dedicated volunteers record observations during explicitly defined 3-min observation sessions at 50 roadside stops along 40 kilometer routes.

Wootton suspects that the greater number of ‘eyes on the skies’ in the Christmas Bird Count was key to obtaining a reliable sampling of the rare peregrines, overcoming variables of motivation, experience, location, and time. Predators like peregrine falcons are rare compared to other birds, even when populations are healthy. Mustering many observers lowers the likelihood of undercounting rare birds.

Peregrine falcons that breed in California often do not migrate, which reduces the discordance of recording observations in different seasons. It is possible that for more common birds, or different ecological questions, the Breeding Bird Survey would perform better. Wootton noted that a reliable calibration data set was essential, though he has high confidence in the volunteer data.

“I’m very positive about volunteer datasets. I think that comes from my background as a participant in other volunteer data collection programs going into university. I had a sense that people taking part in the programs knew what they were doing. That’s especially true in the birding world. Many non-scientists are very good at observing and identifying birds,” said Wootton.

The Breeding Bird Survey, the Christmas Bird Count, and other citizen science programs like eBird are supported by strong communities of knowledgeable, competitive amateurs who provide learning resources to novices and create a culture of high expectations. Wootton speculated that these traits help produce high-quality data that can be integrated into research programs. Their success suggests to him ways in which the amiably competitive and obsessive nature of scuba diving, for example, might be harnessed to monitor coral reef health, and produce sorely needed natural history data.

Population viability analyses are often used for planning conservation management, but management changes are rarely used to evaluate whether models are actually useful. Bell and Wooton would like to see predictions tested across wider situations to provide a rigorous test of model. But rigorous testing depends on long-term data collection. Ecologists are awakening to the potential of citizen naturalists armed with smartphones, databases, and social media tools to join them in that long term effort for conservation and discovery.

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Citations:

J. Timothy Wootton and Douglas A. Bell (2014). Assessing predictions of population viability analysis: Peregrine Falcon populations in California. Ecological Applications 24:1251–1257. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/13-1323.1 [pdf]

J. Timothy Wootton and Douglas A. Bell (1992). A Metapopulation Model of the Peregrine Falcon in California: Viability and Management Strategies. Ecological Applications 2:307–321. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1941864 [pdf]

 

Authors:

Tim Wootton
Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill.
http://woottonlab.uchicago.edu/
twootton@uchicago.edu

Doug Bell
Wildlife Program Manager, East Bay Regional Park District, Oakland, Cal.

Funding for this study was provided in part by the National Science Foundation (DEB 0919420).

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.

Innovations for Endangered Species Recovery

40 years after enactment of the Endangered Species Act, shifting public priorities remain an uphill battle.

ESA2014 Sacramento logo

99th Annual Meeting
The Ecological Society of America

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, August 7, 2014
Contact: Terence Houston 202 833-8773 x224; terence@esa.org
Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; llester@esa.org

 

Conservation researchers and managers will discuss how prospects for endangered species recovery have changed since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed in 1973 and present innovative strategies for improving the act’s implementation on August 12th, 2014, at Ecological Society of America’s 99th Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California.

The session is spearheaded by American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Policy Fellow Daniel M. Evans.

“Innovation will be key to implementing the ESA in the coming decades because the ecological threats to at-risk species are pervasive and persistent; many listed species are conservation reliant, requiring ongoing management for the foreseeable future; and climate change will continue to shuffle the mix of species in ecosystems, increasing both extinction risk and management uncertainty,” said Evans.

“Moreover, throughout the ESA’s 40-year history, government funding has been insufficient to recover most listed species, and without a dramatic shift in public priorities funding for endangered and threatened species will likely remain insufficient,” he said.

The speakers assembled for the symposium will discuss ways to address these problems. Dale Goble, a Professor of Law at the University of Idaho, will kick off the session by describing how the ESA is a flexible law that permits considerable innovation in its implementation.

J. Michael Scott, a conservation scientist from the US Geological Survey and the University of Idaho, will discuss strategies for recovering and delisting the “conservation-reliant” species that require ongoing management.

University of Texas scientists Camille Parmesean and Matthew Moskwik will present climate-smart strategies to conserve and recover species in the face of rapid climate change.

Rebecca Epanchin-Neil, a resource economist from Resources for the Future, will evaluate and recommend programs for government agencies to partner with private landowners to recover ESA-listed species.

Additional speakers include Maile Neel (University of Maryland), Debby Crouse (US Fish and Wildlife Service), and Healy Hamilton (NatureServe).

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Ecological Society of America’s 99th Annual Meeting, August 10-15th, 2014, in Sacramento, Cal.

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Organized oral session 13: Innovations for Endangered Species Recovery
Tuesday, August 12, 2014: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM
Organizer: Daniel M Evans; Co-organizer: Terence Houston

 

The Quino Checkerspot Butterfly (Euphydryas editha quino) is federally listed as “Endangered” throughout its range in California and New Mexico. Credit, US Fish and Wildlife Service

The Quino Checkerspot Butterfly (Euphydryas editha quino) is federally listed as “Endangered” throughout its range in California and New Mexico. Credit, US Fish and Wildlife Service.


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.

History of fire and drought shapes the ecology of California, past and future

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ESA’s 99th
Annual Meeting

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Contact: Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; llester@esa.org

 

Fire season has arrived in California with vengeance in this third year of extended drought for the state. A series of large fires east of Redding and Fresno, in Yosemite, and on the Oregon border prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency on Sunday, August 3rd.

As force of destruction and renewal, fire has a long and intimate history with the ecology of California. Ecological scientists will discuss aspects of that history in detail at the upcoming 99th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America on August 10 – 15th, 2014.

“Big fires today are not outside the range of historical variation in size,” said Jon Keeley, an ecologist based in Three Rivers, Cal., with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Western Ecological Research Center, and a Fellow of the Ecological Society.

Keeley will present research on the “association of megafires and extreme droughts in California” at the Annual Meeting as part of a symposium on understanding and adapting to extreme weather and climate events.

He will synthesize his research on the history of wildfire across the entire state, contrasting historical versus contemporary and forested versus non-forested patterns of wildfire incidence. He and his colleagues reviewed Forest Service records dating to 1910, as well as a wealth of newspaper clippings, compiled by a Works Progress Administration archival project, that stretch back to the middle of the last century.

Understanding historical fire trends, Keeley said, means recognizing that when we talk about wildfire in California we are talking about two very different fire regimes in two different ecosystems: the mountain forests and the lower elevation chaparral, oak woodlands, and grasslands.

A controlled burn of central marine chaparral conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Ord, Cal., on October 14, 2013.Credit, U.S. Army.

A controlled burn of central marine chaparral conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Ord, Cal., on October 14, 2013. Credit, U.S. Army.

The chaparral shrublands of southern California, and similar sagebrush ecosystems in the Great Basin, are not adapted to the kind of frequent fire typical of the mountain conifer forests in California. Fires in the lower elevation ecosystems are always crown fires, which kill most of the vegetation. In the millennia before humans arrived, these ecosystems burned at intervals of 100 to 130 years.

These lower elevation ecosystems experienced unprecedented fire frequency in the last century, with fire returning to the same area every 10 to 20 years, altering the ecology of the landscape.

“In Southern California, lower elevation ecosystems have burned more frequently than ever before. I think it’s partly climate, but also people starting fires during bad conditions,” Keeley said. Bad conditions include extended droughts and dry fall days when the Santa Ana winds blow through the canyons.

In high elevation conifer forests, spring temperatures and drought are strongly correlated with fire, and Keeley thinks climate change and management choices are likely playing a role in current trends. But in the hotter, drier valleys and foothills cloaked in grass, oak, and chaparral, human behavior dominates. Through arson or accident, in southern California, over 95% of fires are started by people, according to Cal Fire.

“Climate change is certainly important on some landscapes. But at lower elevation, we should not be thinking just about climate change,” said Keeley. “We should be thinking about all global change.” Land use change and population growth create more opportunities for fires to start.

The high frequency of fire has instigated a persistent switch from chaparral to grass in some areas. Frequent fire favors quick germination and spread of forbs and grasses. Most grasslands in California are not native.

Since the more recent arrival of immigrants from Europe and Asia, several of the exotic grasses they brought with them from the Old World have been quick to capitalize on the opportunities presented by fires to spread invasively throughout roughly a quarter of chaparral country. To Keeley, this means that prescribed fires in lower elevation ecosystems now have entirely different consequences for the regional ecology than they did when native Californian peoples set fires to manipulate resources.

“When the Native Americans did it, they did not affect native species so much, because native perennial bunchgrass and other herbaceous species grew in,” said Keeley. “Once the aliens got here, it completely changed.”

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Ecological Society of America’s 99th Annual Meeting, August 10-15th, 2014, in Sacramento, Cal.

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Symposium 5-4 -The association of megafires and extreme droughts in California
In: Extreme Weather and Climate Events: Understanding and Adapting to Ecosystem Responses
Tuesday, August 12, 2014: 9:40 AM
Speaker: Jon E. Keeley, Western Ecological Research Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Three Rivers, Cal.

Organized oral session 5-2-A history of megafires and extreme droughts in California
In: Shrubland Resilience and Recovery After Disturbance
Monday, August 11, 2014: 1:50 PM
Speaker: Jon E. Keeley, Western Ecological Research Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Three Rivers, Cal.

More fire ecology at the upcoming meeting:  http://esa.org/am/info/press/topics/#fire

 

Organized oral session 6-6: What do changing climate suggest about future fire frequency in California
In: Ecological drought in California forests: linking climate science and resource management
Monday, August 11, 2014: 3:20 PM, rm 307
Speaker: Mark W. Schwartz , Environmental Science & Policy, University of California, Davis, Davis, Cal.

More drought ecology at the upcoming meeting: http://esa.org/am/info/press/topics/#drought

 

Additional Resources:

  • Jon E. Keeley and Paul H. Zedler (2009). Large, high-intensity fire events in southern California shrublands: debunking the fine-grain age patch model. Ecological Applications 19:69–94. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/08-0281.1
  • Safford, Hugh D.; Van de Water, Kip M. (2014). Using Fire Return Interval Departure (FRID) Analysis to Map Spatial and Temporal Changes in Fire Frequency on National Forest Lands in California. Res. Pap. PSW-RP-266. Albany, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station. 59 p. http://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_rp266/
  • Online Special Issue: Prescribed burning in fire-prone landscapes. (2014). Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11 (August). http://www.esajournals.org/toc/fron/11/s1

 

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.

Preparing for the effects of a changing climate: Ecologists unwrap the science in the National Climate Assessment

Findings from The Third National Climate Assessment Report (released in spring 2014) will be presented at the Ecological Society of America’s 2014 Annual Meeting in Sacramento, Cal., August 10–15.

ESA2014 Sacramento logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, August 5, 2014
Contact: Alison Mize (703) -625-3628; alison@esa.org
Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; llester@esa.org

 

Two Ignite sessions focusing on findings in the United States National Climate Assesment5 (NCA) will take place on Monday, August 11th during the Ecological Society of America’s 99th Annual Meeting, held this year in Sacramento, California.

The first session, Ignite 1: From Plains to Oceans to Islands: Regional Findings from the Third National Climate Assessment will highlight major findings from the report about the regional effects of climate change, discuss impacts to the ecosystems of the region, and explore how changes in those ecosystems can moderate or exacerbate the impacts of climate change when coupled with other socioeconomic and demographic shifts.

Report authors will discuss key findings from each of the ten regions: Northeast, Southeast and Caribbean, Midwest, Great Plains, Northwest, Southwest, Alaska, Hawai‘i and U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands, Coasts, and Oceans and Marine Resources.

In the second session, Ignite 2: From Mountains to Coasts: Ecosystems in the Third National Climate Assessment  major findings from the report about climate change’s effects on ecosystems and sectors of concern are presented. NCA authors will discuss the numerous impacts of climate change on ecosystems, including shifts in biodiversity and location of species, disruptions in ecosystem structures and functions, inability of ecosystems to adapt to change, and alterations to the capacity of ecosystems to moderate the consequences of disturbances.

Ecosystems provide a rich array of benefits and services to humanity, including habitat for fish and wildlife, drinking water storage and filtration, fertile soils for growing crops, buffering against a range of stressors including climate change impacts, and aesthetic and cultural values.

Because of the importance of ecosystems to humanity, climate change impacts will affect the fisheries, drinking water, air quality, croplands, and iconic species and landscapes that support jobs, economic growth, health, and human well-being.

“As an ecologist, you can’t escape the effects of climate change on natural resources. We’re observing climate impacts in nearly all natural and managed ecosystems,” said Ecological Society of America President Jill Baron, an ecosystem scientist with the US Geological Survey in Fort Collins, Col., and a contributor to the NCA. “In order to protect biodiversity and the natural resources that we rely on, we need to be developing policy now. The National Climate Assessment provides guidelines for how to respond and adapt.”

The NCA collects, integrates, and assesses observations and research from around the country, helping to show how the climate is changing and what it means for the communities, states, and regions in which we live.

The NCA report is the most comprehensive assessment of climate change science, impacts, and responses in the United States to date. It analyzes the current and future impacts of climate change the United States and summarizes key risks and opportunities for each of ten regions.

Evidence for climate change abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans. Scientists and engineers from around the world have meticulously collected this evidence, using satellites and networks of weather balloons, thermometers, buoys, and other observing systems. Evidence of climate change is also visible in the observed and measured changes in location and behavior of species and functioning of ecosystems.

Taken together, this evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming, and over the last half century, this warming has been driven primarily by human activity. U.S. average temperature has increased by 1.3°F to 1.9°F since 1895, and most of this increase has occurred since 1970. Temperatures are projected to rise another 2°F to 4°F in most areas of the United States over the next few decades. The magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades depends primarily on the amount of heat-trapping gases emitted globally, and how sensitive the Earth’s climate is to those emissions.

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Ecological Society of America’s 99th Annual Meeting, August 10–15th, 2014, in Sacramento, Cal.

Main * Program * Press Information * App

 

Scientific assessments like The National Climate Assessment report are essential tools for linking science and decision making. It is used by the U.S. Government, citizens, communities, and businesses as they create more sustainable and environmentally sound plans for the future. Credit/USGCRP

Scientific assessments like The National Climate Assessment report are essential tools for linking science and decision making. It is used by the U.S. Government, citizens, communities, and businesses as they create more sustainable and environmentally sound plans for the future. Credit, USGCRP.

Ignite 1: From Plains to Oceans to Islands: Regional Findings from the Third National Climate Assessment
Monday, August 11, 2014: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM, Room 313, Sacramento Convention Center
Organizer: Emily Therese Cloyd

Ignite 2: From Mountains to Coasts: Ecosystems in the Third National Climate Assessment
Monday, August 11, 2014: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM, 313, Sacramento Convention Center
Organizer: Rebecca J. Aicher
Co-organizer: Emily Therese Cloyd

Resources:

  • Third National Climate Assessment report, data, and tools (website)
  • Special Issue: Impacts of climate change on biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11(9) November, 2013 (open access). Summary.
  • SH Julius et al. Climate change and U.S. natural resources: advancing the nation’s capability to adapt. Issues in Ecology, Fall 2013. (pdf)

 

 

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.

Climate change, predators, and the trickle down effects on ecosystems

Ecologists are just beginning to understand how the impacts of climate change are affecting predatory keystone species and their ecosystems. Ecologists will report on this and other climate-ecosystem research news at the Ecological Society of America’s 2014 Annual Meeting in Sacramento, Cal., August 10–15.

ESA2014 Sacramento logo

99th Annual Meeting
The Ecological Society of America

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, August 4, 2014
Contact: Alison Mize (703) -625-3628; alison@esa.org
Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; llester@esa.org

 

Predators play important roles in maintaining diverse and stable ecosystems. Climate change can push species to move in order to stay in their climatic comfort zones, potentially altering where species live and how they interact, which could fundamentally transform current ecosystems.

A symposium focusing on climate’s effects on predators—causing cascading effects on whole ecosystems — will take place on Tuesday, August 12th during the Ecological Society of America’s 99th Annual Meeting, held this year in Sacramento, California.

There will be “winners” and “losers” as species adapt to a changing climate. Ecologists are just beginning to understand why different competitors may be favored by climate change and how consumer-resource interactions are modified. Impacts on one species can affect many organisms in an ecosystem. Because predator species are animals that survive by preying on other organisms, they send ripples throughout the food web, regulating the effects other animals have on that ecosystem. This cause and effect process is called a “trophic cascade,” or the progression of direct and indirect effects predators have across lower levels in a food chain.

Sea otters consume sea urchins and help keep the undersea kelp forest healthy. Credit, Vancouver Aquarium

Sea otters consume sea urchins and help keep the undersea kelp forest healthy. Credit, Vancouver Aquarium.

Sea otter populations provide a historical example of this phenomenon. The fur trade spanning the late 1700s to early 1900s decimated their numbers across their range, from Alaska to Baja California, Mexico. Populations went from an estimated several hundred-thousand to more than a million down to 1,000–2,000. Today, there are estimated to be just over 106,000 worldwide, with just under 3,000 in California. Now sea otters and other important predator species face the challenges of a changing climate.

“The near extinction of sea otters is one of the most dramatic examples of human-induced impacts to the structure and functioning of temperate nearshore marine ecosystems,” said Rebecca G. Martone, of the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University.

In the U.S., there are two distinct sea otter subspecies, the Northern sea otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) and the Southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis). Northern sea otters are found in the Aleutian Islands, Southern Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington. Southern sea otters, also known as California sea otters, live in the waters along the California coastline and range from San Mateo County in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south.

Sea otters live offshore in forests of kelp—huge, yellow-brown, rubbery seaweed reaching from the sea floor to the surface, like tall trees. In coastal North America, sea otters help maintain healthy kelp forests, which benefits other marine species dependent on this habitat.

Sea otters must eat about 25% of their body weight daily to maintain their body temperature since unlike other marine mammals they rely solely on their fur rather than an extra layer of blubber to stay warm—it’s like a 120-pound human eating 30 pounds of food per day. Some of otters’ favorites are abalone, clams, crabs, mussels, shrimp, and sea urchins. Few predators can crack the globe-shaped spiny urchins, which in unchecked hordes will chew through the holdfasts of the kelp, leaving vast barrens in place of the vibrant forests. The otter is a “keystone predator” whose presence has an outsized effect on its kelp forest habitat.

Without sea otters, the undersea sea urchins they prey on would devour the kelp forests, resulting in dense areas called sea urchin barrens that have lower biodiversity due to the loss of kelp that provide 3-dimensional habitat and a food source for many species. Researchers found that when sea otters arrive in an area from which they have been absent, they begin feasting on urchins. As a result, the kelp forest begins to grow back, changing the structure of kelp forest communities.

Many fish, marine mammals and birds are also found in kelp forest communities, including rockfish, seals, sea lions, whales, gulls, terns, snowy egrets as well as some shore birds. Otters might also offer a defense against climate change because healthy kelp forests can grow rapidly and store large amounts of carbon.

Dr. Martone’s analyses of the effects of sea otters on kelp forest ecosystems can help shape predictions of how climate change and trophic cascades, in concert with other drivers, affect coastal ecosystems. The ecological impacts of a changing climate are evident, from terrestrial polar regions to tropical marine environments. Ecologists’ research into the tropic cascading effects of predators will assist decision makers by providing important scientific findings to prepare for the impacts of climate change occurring now and into the future. Speakers for the symposia include marine, freshwater and terrestrial experimental ecologists who will present their research and offer insights from different approaches used to studying consumer-resource interactions.

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Ecological Society of America’s 99th Annual Meeting, August 10–15th, 2014, in Sacramento, Cal.

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Symposium 9:  From Oceans to Mountains:  Using Abiotic Gradients to Investigate the Effects of Climate on the Cascading Effects of Predators
Tuesday, August 12, 2014; 1:30 PM–5:00 PM; Magnolia, Sheraton Hotel
Organizer: William L. Harrower
Co-organizer: Mary I. O’Connor

1:30 PM SYMP 9-1 Ecological stoichiometry: A chemical approach to understanding trophic interactions across spatial gradients
Angélica L. González, University of British Columbia; Rana W. El-Sabaawi, University of Victoria

2:00 PM SYMP 9-2:  Spatial and temporal patterns of trophic control across marine ecosystems
Daniel Boyce, Queen’s University and The Bedford Institute of Oceanography; William Leggett, Queens University; Brian Petrie, Bedford Institute of Oceanography; Boris Worm, Dalhousie University; Kenneth T. Frank, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

2:30 PM SYMP 9-3:  Ecological responses to predators and temperature in California mountain lakes
Celia C. Symons, University of California- San Diego; Jonathan B. Shurin, University of California- San Diego

3:10 PM SYMP 9-4:  Space use patterns and tropic interactions among woodland caribou, wolves, and moose across an anthropogenic disturbance gradient
John M. Fryxell, University of Guelph; Tal Avgar, University of Alberta; Anna Mosser, University of Minnesota; Andrew Kittle, University of Guelph; Garrett Street, University of Guelph; Madeleine Mcgreer, University of Guelph; Erin Mallon, University of Guelph; Ian D. Thompson, Canadian Forest Service; Arthur R. Rodgers, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources; Brent Patterson, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources; Glen S. Brown, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources; Doug Reid, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources; Merritt R. Turetsky, University of Guelph

3:40 PM SYMP 9-5:  Indirect effects of sea otter-driven trophic cascades vary across environmental and anthropogenic gradients
Rebecca G. Martone, Stanford University; Russell W. Markel, University of British Columbia; Gerald Singh, University of British Columbia

4:10 PM SYMP 9-6:  Trophic cascades and detrital subsidies in montane temperate grasslands
William L. Harrower, University of British Columbia; Lauchlan H. Fraser, Thompson Rivers University; Roy Turkington, University of British Columbia

4:40 PM SYMP 9- Panel Discussion

 

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.