2016 Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America comes to Southern Florida

Novel Ecosystems in the Anthropocene, Fort Lauderdale, Fl. 7–12 August 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, 21 April 2016
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

 

Environmental scientists gather in Fort Lauderdale, Florida this August for the 101st Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America. Two thousand scientific presentations on breaking research and new ecological concepts fill the program at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/ Broward County Convention Center on the 7th through the 12th of August, 2016.

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.

Geologists have proposed a new epoch, the Anthropocene, to describe our present time, in which the pervasive presence of humans and the products of human invention have altered the atmosphere, oceans, and ecosystems of the world. Ecologists documenting profound changes to living systems have embraced the concept. The meeting theme “Novel Ecosystems in the Anthropocene” invites a focus on the new relationships between species arising under the influence of global change.

Meeting field trips will explore the meeting’s theme outside the convention center, visiting the nearby Everglades and the walking the streets of Fort Lauderdale to learn about sea level rise management.

A preliminary conference program is online. A full schedule, including abstracts for individual oral and poster presentations, will be available online in June, with a downloadable app to follow in summer 2016. 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.

Plenary Sessions
*open to the public

  • Opening Plenary: Lynn Scarlett, worldwide managing director for public policy at The Nature Conservancy.
  • Scientific Plenary: Peter M. Groffman, microbial ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, investigates the big role of tiny microorganisms in the function of ecosystems and how they affect water and air quality.
  • New Phytologist Lecture: Jeannine Cavender-Bares, professor at the University of Minnesota links evolutionary history to current ecological processes, exploring stress tolerance in plant species in our present time of global change.
  • Recent Advances Lecture: John W. Williams, a professor of geography and director of the Nelson Center for Climatic Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, digs 20,000 years into the past to understand the future of ecosystems under climate change.

 

ESA Policy on Press Credentials

ESA’s press office provides complimentary registration for professional journalists attending to gather news and information to produce media coverage of the Annual Meeting. Credentials considered for press eligibility include a recognized press card or current membership in the National Association of Science Writers, the Canadian Science Writers Association, the International Science Writers Association, and the Society of Environmental Journalists. Freelancers must be currently active in journalism and able to present recent bylined news stories in the natural sciences.

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

Members of the press may attend all research presentations but some events, workshops, and field trips may not be open to press without prior arrangement.

 

Institutional Press Officers

We offer complimentary registration for press officers and public information officers. Press officers who cannot attend, but would like to promote presenters from their institutions, are welcome to prearrange distribution of press releases and other author materials on the meeting website in the on-site Press Room. Press officers may request copies of all abstracts related to their institution. For registration, more information, or help finding scientists in our meeting program, please contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org or (202) 833-8773 x211.

 

On-site Press Room

Pre-registered press may pick up their credentials in the Press Room and enjoy coffee, tea, internet access, a printer, telephones, and an interview area. Journalists may also register on site in the Press Room.

Location: Fort Lauderdale Convention Center, room 119

Phone number: (954) 762-4954

Press Room hours:

  • Sunday, 7 August: 1:00 pm-5:00 pm
  • Monday, 8 August – Thursday, 11 August: 7:30 am-5:30 pm
  • Friday, 12 August: 7:30 am-Noon

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The Ecological Society of America, 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

Connecting people to solve collective environmental problems: network governance guides conservation megaprojects

 Special Issue: Network governance and large landscape conservation, in the April edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, 6 April 2016
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

 

mckinney_scarlet_fig4 crown of the continent mapOrganizational models known as “network governance” can help big conservation alliances govern themselves, researchers argue in a special April issue of the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The Special Issue explores the life cycle of networks, plumbs examples in cities and wilderness, and examines community-based conservation within larger governance networks. Conservation efforts can leverage the problem solving power of stakeholder networks, strengthening connections through communication to facilitate collaboration, cooperation, and accountability, the authors say.

Ecological systems, and ecological problems, are not nicely contained within neat human boundaries. Animals move. Watersheds sprawl across regional and national borders. Wildfire respects neither property, nor sovereignty.

Conservation-minded groups and governments are increasingly attempting to address this reality with large, jurisdiction-spanning conservation programs. But big environmental programs face the additional big problem of coordinating many and varied stakeholders in distant physical, economic, and psychological spaces. In coalitions, no central authority sets goals or enforces performance targets.

“Ultimately, accountability for conservation performance lies with the stakeholders themselves,” said Patrick Bixler, a research scientist at Texas A&M University who served as guest editor for the Special Issue along with Lynn Scarlett, global managing director for public policy at The Nature Conservancy, and Matthew McKinney, director of the Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Policy at The University of Montana.

In a network, no one entity is on “top.” Networks connect constituent groups without hierarchy, unlike traditional state governments. Networks emphasize inclusivity. Though network governance, disparate stakeholders can envision what they want to achieve together, then choose metrics for measuring progress, improving efficiency by sharing information and coordinating parallel conservation efforts. Networks are flexible, able to link up new constituent groups and release those with waning interests. They can bud off subnetworks to work on problems of specific or local interest.

As consequence of decentralized authority, governance networks struggle with accountability. Hierarchical governance structures enforce compliance with conservation goals through legal or executive mandates. Market-driven governance models motivate individuals towards conservation goals with financial incentives, through instruments like fishery catch shares or carbon cap-and-trade agreements. Self-governed networks have no singular authority that can enforce agreements made by the group as a whole. Networks rely on social connection, trust, and commitment to shared goals to motivate constituent groups to resolve conflicts and adhere to the agreements they have made.

“In some of these landscapes, just getting governments and local communities to communicate at all is a challenge. It takes a lot of work to get to the point where we can worry about performance measures,” said Bixler.

Bixler points to the Roundtable on the Crown of the Continent as a success story with lessons for other large conservation efforts. The 18 million acre (44,000 square kilometer) Crown ecosystem follows the Rocky Mountains as they sprawl across northwest Montana, southeast British Columbia, and southwest Alberta. The Crown encompasses private lands, tribal lands, First Nations, and protected areas managed by multiple agencies and local, regional, and national governments in two countries. Over 100 entities manage parts of the system.

“Crown of the Continent is, to my mind, an incredible success story. Communication between tribes, agencies, and other stakeholders built a connective tissue of trust that allowed them to work together to keep certain invasives out of the landscape, connect watersheds across jurisdictions, share data and choose landscape-wide ecological indicators,” said Bixler. It sets a really high bar for what I’m looking for when I think about other landscape projects.”

Other examples of network governance in action include Chicago Wilderness and America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative.

Explore more ideas and examples of network governance for conservation in the open access Special Issue.

Contents:

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Funding: This Special Issue of Frontiers is based on a series of workshops hosted at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center and generously funded by the National Science Foundation, School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas, Maxwell School of Syracuse University, the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and Lynn Scarlett.

The Ecological Society of America, 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 2016 Graduate Student Policy Award Recipients

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, 30 March 2016
Contact: Terence Houston, 202-833-8773 ext. 224 terence@esa.org

 

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) has selected the 2016 recipients of its annual Graduate Student Policy Award: Brian Kastl (University of California), Kristen Lear (University of Georgia), Matthew Pintar (University of Mississippi), Timothy Treuer (Princeton University), Jessica Nicole Welch (University of Tennessee), and Samantha Lynn Werner (University of New Hampshire).

The six students will travel to Washington, DC on April 27-28 to participate in policy training and attend meetings with their US Representative and Senators. The Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition, co-chaired by ESA, sponsors the event.

On Capitol Hill, students will team with other scientists to discuss with lawmakers the importance of federal funding for the biological sciences, particularly the National Science Foundation (NSF). Participants will attend sessions about how current political and fiscal issues may impact federal agencies. ESA graduate student policy awardees will also meet with federal ecologists to learn about their work within the federal government.

“Young ecological scientists who are confident in their ability to engage within the policy sphere are needed more than ever, whether they chose to pursue a career in policy or research. Proficiency in communicating science to lawmakers to inform policy decisions is a valuable skill for ESA members to attain, and it’s never too soon to start,” said Katherine McCarter, executive director of ESA.

Brian Kastl

Brian Kastl

Kastl’s research on ecosystem services aims to inform the design of policies that support sustainable watershed management. In 2012, he was selected by The Nature Conservancy to lead a policy study in Micronesia to reduce the impact of deforestation on water security. He was subsequently awarded a travel grant to present his research at the 2013 United Nations Environment Program Global Land-Ocean Connections Conference. He is a PhD student in ecohydrology and decision science at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, UC Santa Barbara, and a recipient of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

 

Kristin Lear

Kristen Lear

Lear worked with a Mexican non-governmental organization to develop science-based conservation policies for the Mexican Long-nosed bat. Her NSF Graduate Research Fellowship has been critical in providing professional development and in funding her bat conservation research. She is pursuing a PhD in Integrative Conservation and Forestry & Natural Resources at the University of Georgia.

 

Matthew Pintar

Matthew Pintar

Pintar’s graduate school experiences with the National Park Service and the US Forest Service shaped his interest in policy engagement. Internships with the Prince William Forest Park and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area provided him with unique insight into policy management decisions. As an undergrad, he studied the effects of acidification on ovenbird territory size within the Bear Brook Watershed in Maine. He is pursuing a PhD in Biology from the University of Mississippi.

 

Timothy Treuer

Timothy Treuer

Treuer’s NSF-funded research developed a technique using arrays of microphones, synced by GPS, to investigate how acoustically active species interact and coexist in their environment. Through participation in the Civics and Conservation Summit and the Climate Project, he led legislative and advocacy engagement efforts with Alaska’s state and federal lawmakers. He is a PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University.

 

Jessica Nicole Welch

Jessica Nicole Welch

Welch studies threats to bats caused by invasive species and analyzes the extinction risk of threatened bat species to better inform conservation efforts. She is involved with a diverse array of public outreach and volunteer work promoting science education. As Coordinator for Tennessee Darwin Day event, she applied for grants and solicited donations to offer Tennessee schoolteachers instruction on how to teach climate change and evolution. Welch has also presented at the 2012 and 2015 ESA annual meetings and served as a SEEDS mentor during the latter centennial meeting. She is working towards her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee.

 

Samantha Werner

Samantha Werner

Werner hopes to provide policymakers with a better understanding of the link between agro-ecological sustainability and economic vitality through her Master’s degree research in environmental economics at the University of New Hampshire, funded by the US Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. As an undergraduate, Werner got her start in research investigating the impact of climate change on ecosystems in northern Sweden with support from NSF. She presented her research during ESA’s centennial meeting.

 

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 may run—through ESA’s Student Section—to serve on several ESA standing committees including the Public Affairs Committee (PAC). ESA’s Washington, DC-base Public Affairs Office works closely with the PAC 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.

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The Ecological Society of America, 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 collapse circumscribes traditional women’s work in the Mesopotamian Marshes of Iraq

As the land at the heart of the cradle of civilization dries out, an ancient culture is being lost with the unique ecosystem that sustains it.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, 24 March 2016
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

A Marsh Arab (Ma'dan) woman carries freshly cut reeds, the traditional construction material of mats, baskets, and houses in the Mesopotamian Marshes. Credit, Kelly Goodwin.

A Marsh Arab (Ma’dan) woman carries freshly cut reeds, the traditional construction material of mats, baskets, and houses in the Mesopotamian Marshes. Credit, Kelly P. Goodwin (2014).

For thousands of years, the marshes at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in modern day Iraq were an oasis of green in a dry landscape, hosting a wealth of wildlife. The culture of the Marsh Arab, or Ma’dan, people who live there is tightly interwoven with the ecosystem of the marshes. The once dense and ubiquitous common reed (Phragmites australis) served as raw material for homes, handicrafts, tools, and animal fodder for thousands of years. Distinctive mudhif communal houses, built entirely of bundled reeds, appear in Sumerian artwork from 5,000 years ago. Now that culture is drying up with the marshes. 

The Mesopotamian Marshes in 2000 were mere remnants of their former glory, after a decade of deliberate drainage. The white area shows the extent of the marshes in 1973. <em>Credit, <a href="http://www.grid.unep.ch/activities/sustainable/tigris/2003_march.php" target="_blank">United Nations Environmental Programme</a></em>.

The Mesopotamian Marshes in 2000 were mere remnants of their former glory, after a decade of deliberate drainage. The white area shows the extent of the marshes, once the largest in the Middle East and an important destination for migratory birds, in 1973. Credit, United Nations Environmental Programme.

Recent decades have brought extreme change to the fertile lands famous for the birth of agriculture and the rise of some of the world’s earliest cities. The sphere of daily life for Marsh Arab women has shrunk as the natural resources they traditionally cultivated have vanished, reports an international team of researchers in “Effects of Mesopotamian Marsh (Iraq) desiccation on the cultural knowledge and livelihood of Marsh Arab women,” published today in the March 2016 issue of Ecosystem Health and Sustainability, a joint journal of the Ecological Society of America and Ecological Society of China.

The study is the first effort to specifically document Marsh Arab women’s cultural relationship to marsh ecological services.

“Imagine the Everglades. The Marsh Arabs used to live in the middle of the water, surrounded by everything green. The fields, the reeds, and the water buffalo were around them. Now they have to walk five, ten kilometers to reach resources. The land is dry and brown,” said study author Nadia Al-Mudaffar Fawzi, an Iraqi marine ecologist who returned from New Zealand to the city of her birth in 2009 to teach and conduct research at the University of Basrah.

Al-Mudaffar Fawzi studies the impact of climate change on biodiversity in the marshes, the Persian Gulf, and the Shatt al-Arab river which connects them. Rising temperatures, falling water volume in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and groundwater pumping is causing the salt water in the Gulf to extend up the Shatt al-Arab, which is formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates. Basrah, now the second largest city in Iraq, is on the Shatt al Arab about 70 kilometers downstream of the confluence.

“When I came back in 2009, I knew there were lots of problems with drying of the system. We knew there was big impact on fish production, on water quality in the Shatt al-Arab, and in the north of the Gulf,” said Al-Mudaffar Fawzi.

In her investigations of the water systems, she also grew interested in the social impact of environmental change, and in people’s understandings of the effects of the environment on their lives. Iraq did not have environmental laws until the change of government in 2003, and they remain a low priority in the current chaotic conditions in the country.

“The whole situation in the marshes is completely different from what I saw before, in the ‘70s and early ‘80s,” she said. “Women used to play a role in the ecological system. They used to work with men in gathering reeds and in fishing, and we would see them in the market when they come and sell their produce, like the fish, and the milk from the buffalo, the cheese and the yogurt that they make.”

Reed mats and pigeon homes, ready for sale, lean against the side of a reed house. Credit, Kelly P. Goodwin.

Reed mats and pigeon homes, ready for market, lean against the side of a reed house. The production and sale of handicrafts is traditional work for Marsh Arab women. The common reed (Phragmites austalis) is a cultural and ecological keystone species of the Mesopotamian Marshes. Lack of water has made this once abundant raw material scarce. Credit, Kelly P. Goodwin.

Al-Mudaffar Fawzi and her colleagues designed a survey to more formally ask Marsh Arab women about their lives and activities. With the exception of women living on the edge of the Mesopotamia Marshland National Park, created in 2013, where restoration efforts have seen some success, Marsh Arab women reported that their daily lives had narrowed to domestic tasks in the home. Very few women today go out to gather reeds or care for buffalo.

“The older women who were adults before the war would tell us, ‘back then I was out making dung patties, collecting reeds, taking care of buffalo,’” said author Kelly Goodwin, who works with the international NGO Millennium Relief and Development Services. “They say, ‘now I’m just at home’.”

Goodwin interviewed 34 women, ranging in age from teenagers to more than 70 years, in the Hammar Marshes north of the city of Basrah in December 2013–February 2014. More than half the interviewees were over 50. These older women were born and grew to adulthood before the war in the 1980s and destruction of the 1990s. Nearly 60 percent of younger women under 40 described their days as exclusively “domestic.”

We are not teaching our daughters, older women told the researchers, because the water is gone, the ground is dry and there are no reeds to gather. The water is too salty for our buffalo.

Although men and women have separate roles in Marsh Arab culture, traditional women’s work took women outside the home and brought supplementary income to the family through market sales. Women cared for water buffalo and gathered reeds to weave into mats, baskets, pigeon cages and other tools. Women turned high-fat buffalo milk into dairy products, dung into fuel, and raise chickens, cattle, and sheep. They helped cultivate rice, wheat, and dates. Usually women, not men, took fish, dairy, and handicrafts to sell in city markets.

 “The marshes were a cultivated landscape, shaped by selective harvest, hunting, fishing, and burning to promote the natural resources that the Marsh Arabs used—much like the precolonial landscape was cultivated by native peoples here in California,” said author Michelle Stevens, a professor California State University in Sacramento. Also like California, Stevens said, climate change modeling predicts a future of hotter summers, accentuated droughts, and shrinking winter snowpacks in Turkey’s Taurus Mountains, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers arise.

In Iraq, war and ongoing political instability have magnified the problems besieging marshes worldwide, particularly in arid landscapes: pollution and too many demands on the water that sustains them. The marshes enjoyed a burst of recovery the mid-2000s after drying up nearly completely in the previous decade. The influx of water, and resulting dramatic greening, can be seen in images from NASA’s Terra satellite, captured between 2000 and 2010. The resilient reeds returned quickly as the marshes rehydrated.

In the 1990s, former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein deliberately drained the marshes to facilitate oil discovery and to retaliate against tribes that participated in uprisings against his government. Marsh Arabs who had not already fled the front line fighting during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, were forced to leave as the land became barren and dry.

After the Second Gulf War removed Hussein from power, Iraqis tore down the water diversions and returned water to the marshes. Many Marsh Arabs returned to their homeland. The apparent resilience of the ecosystem and the culture of the marshes masked fragility, however. The researchers fear that the Marsh may be approaching a threshold of no return, as the older generation with the wealth of skills needed to flourish in the marshes yields to a younger generation that never had the opportunity for hands-on learning.

Water in the Tigris and Euphrates has dropped to 20 percent of the pre-war volume. The remaining water carries so much salt that it is often undrinkable. Drought in 2007 hit the region hard, reversing many of the restorative gains for the ecosystem. The generation of Marsh Arabs that grew up outside the marshes had no practical experience of living in the marshes, and struggled to adapt to the lifestyle of their parents’ youth.

Goodwin describes the tapwater in Basrah as so salty that a filigree of crystals forms on the surface of dishes as they dry. Increased dependence on groundwater is worsening saltwater intrusion from the Gulf.

Although the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow across the length Iraq, the water comes from outside its borders. Iraq is at the mercy of the water policies of its upstream neighbors Turkey, Syria, and Iran, all of which have intensified water development projects in recent years. The current political instability makes effective diplomacy on water issues difficult.

Recovery of the ecosystem and culture of the marshes will likely depend on diplomatic efforts to secure sufficient water, Al-Mudaffar Fawzi says. In Mesopotamia Marshlands National Park, Iraq’s first national park, restoration practices are emerging that appear to successfully restore social and ecological systems, and could be used as templates for restoration in other areas of the Mesopotamian Marshes. But this cannot be done without water.

The authors recommend that programs be implemented to preserve traditional skills, to develop a market for handicrafts to support women and their families, and to support cultural knowledge. Otherwise, with the passing of the older generation, these remnants of ancient Sumerian knowledge systems and traditional ways of life will soon be lost.

“It was extremely sobering sometimes to see the circumstances some people are living in,” said Goodwin. “Much of the land near Basrah city is desertified.” But visits to the marshes could also be thrilling, she said, and the visit to the restored region was almost magical.

“I really consider it was a privilege to sit with these women, drink tea, and hear their stories,” said Goodwin.  “I would have loved to have tangible solutions to take back to them that could encourage the retention of cultural traditions and secure ecological restoration. I think they feel they are forgotten and overlooked. I wish I could tell them that they are not forgotten.”

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Nadia Al-Mudaffar Fawzi, Kelly P. Goodwin , Bayan Mehdi, Michelle L. Stevens (2016) Effects of Mesopotamian Marsh (Iraq) desiccation on the cultural knowledge and livelihood of Marsh Arab women. Ecosystem Health and Sustainability 2(3):e01207. doi: 10.1002/ehs2.1207 Full text open access

 

Author contacts:

  • Nadia Al-Mudaffar Fawzi
    Department of Biological Development of Shatt Al-Arab and North Arabian Gulf, Marine Science Centre, University of Basrah, Iraq
    email:  fawzi.nf@gmail.com

  • Michelle L. Stevens
    Environmental Studies Department, California State University, Sacramento, USA.          
    email: stevensm@csus.edu
  • Kelly P. Goodwin
    Millennium Relief and Development Services, (currently in Mersin, Turkey)
    email: kgoodwin@mrds.org

Ecosystem Health and Sustainability launched in 2015 through a collaboration of the Ecological Society of America and the Ecological Society of China. The online-only, open access journal publishes articles on advances in macroecology and sustainability science, on how changes in human activities affect ecosystem conditions, and on systems approaches for applying ecological science in decision-making to promote sustainable development. Papers focus on applying ecological theory, principles, and concepts to support sustainable development, especially in regions undergoing rapid environmental change.

The Ecological Society of America, 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

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/

Adaptable, ecology-based U.S. National Vegetation Classification for monitoring multi-scale change debuts today

Public release of a 20-year collaborative effort to devise a unified and consistent national reporting system for plant communities opens new avenues for broad-scale and long-term analyses of landscape change.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, 23 February 2016
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

 

big cordgrass saltmarsh

Classification at the fine scale: Big cordgrass salt marsh. Topped by tall blades of a nearly pure stand of Spartina cynosuroides (big cordgrass), Fimbristylis caroliniana and Schoenoplectus pungens, Misty Franklin and Colette DeGarady collect vegetation plot data defining Spartina cynosuroides salt marsh communities for the U.S. National Vegetation Classification (USNVC). The community of species represented by this plot, on the coast of North Carolina, occurs along tidal creaks and sloughs from Georgia to New Jersey. Spartina cynosuroides salt marsh is an example of the Association, or most local, specific level of the classification, which ascends through eight levels of increasingly broad scale. Credit, R.K. Peet. See more plant communities in the USNVC photo album.

The U.S. National Vegetation Classification  (USNVC), a reporting standard organized around ecological principles for the study of plant communities, launches today. It is the first classification of its kind designed to adapt to new ecological knowledge and expand to absorb new vegetation types.

The organizing framework of the classification helps independent and federal scientists speak the same language, whether they monitor the high elevation red spruce forests of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park or conduct broad scale analyses of forest trends across the North American continent.

“As the lead agency for the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) Vegetation Subcommittee, the U.S. Forest Service is thrilled to see the release of the U.S. National Vegetation Classification.  This is the culmination of two decades of effort from a dedicated and highly collaborative team representing the academic sector, non-governmental organizations, state agencies, and numerous federal agencies. The USNVC fills a critical need for a standardized system for vegetation classification that will allow land managers to collaborate across ownership boundaries and manage and identify trends on a landscape, regional, and national scale.  In the past, the many uncoordinated classification systems that were used prevented us from being able to compare and analyze vegetation, except on a local level and within individual land ownerships. This great achievement allows us to have a common language. I really appreciate the dedication of all those who made this possible,” said Carlos Rodriguez-Franco, acting deputy chief for R&D at the U.S. Forest Service.

USNVC InfographicThe Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) Panel on Vegetation Classification has worked to ensure the scientific rigor of the classification and facilitate the classification’s development, collaborating with NatureServe, the U.S. Forest Service,  and the U.S. Geological Survey  to form a U.S. National Vegetation Classification partnership. These agencies, along with the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and others, continue to fund ongoing peer-reviewed revisions.

“We call it the eco-veg approach. The idea of the classification’s hierarchy is to reflect the functional ecology of plant communities. The eight levels of the hierarchy are organized around ecological concepts at different scales and can be refined or expanded as new information emerges from ecological research,” said Don Faber-Langendoen, editor-in-chief of the US National Vegetation Classification and a senior research ecologist at NatureServe.

The classification has two categories, which both use an 8-level organizational hierarchy: a “Natural” hierarchy, for plant communities primarily influenced by ecological factors, parallels a “Cultural” hierarchy, for plant communities shaped by human activity.

The National Vegetation Classification provides a common rubric for reporting data about public lands, but federal agencies can preserve their own classification systems. The new classification is designed to “cross-walk” to other classification systems, identifying equivalent types when possible. Vegetation types are best typified by collecting quantitative field plot data that record plant species, vegetation structure, and site factors. People from a great diversity of environmental sectors collect plot data, employing diverse databases and protocols. Bringing these data together in a consistent and well documented format was and continues to be a major challenge of the project.

“Historically, vegetation classifications were built by field scientists with a lot of experience. The problem is that it was too subjective. Another scientist could not look at the classification types and replicate the methods used to derive them. The National Vegetation Classification is based on standardized, rigorous data rather than just subjective opinion. The plot data is publicly available so that anyone can go back and see it, and the classification can be revised and improved moving forward,” said Robert Peet, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Peet was among the instigators of the new classification and has served on ESA’s Panel on Vegetation Classification since its inception, in 1995.

USNVC 8 level hierarchyIn the Natural hierarchy, the top, most coarse-grained three levels (class, subclass, formation) describe major structural categories on a global scale, such as tropical forest, warm desert, and temperate grassland. The middle levels (division, macrogroup, group) reflect distinctive combinations of species in the context of regional to continental scale climate, geology, and water cycles, and disturbance patterns of fire, wind, and flood. Mid-levels include ecosystem categories familiar to ecologists, like Caribbean mangrove forest, tall grass prairie, or Great Basin sagebrush steppe. The combination of species largely defines the lowest, most fine-grained levels (alliance, association), distinguishing, for example, between forest dominated by black mangrove versus red and white mangrove.

The Cultural hierarchy is organized by type of human manipulation at the top levels, capturing agricultural lands, reclaimed farmlands, and urban parks. Mid-levels are defined by climate, plant taxa, and specifics of the disturbance, such as temperate row crops or tropical orchards. The low levels are defined by most common species and appearance, describing sweet corn or banana crops, for example.

At both broad and fine-grained scales, the classification adopts traditional, widely shared concepts, with terminology that often dates to the early 1900s, but unites these concepts into an effective, coherent system. 

“The USNVC is the first dynamic standard that will evolve as information and data about vegetation in the U.S. is refined—and as global change occurs. We know that vegetation will respond to changes in the environment resulting in novel ecosystems,” said Alexa McKerrow, implementation manager for the U.S. National Vegetation Classification and a biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. “That doesn’t mean the descriptions of the historical types will go away. We don’t rewrite the sage brush type just because pristine sage brush scrubland is invaded by cheatgrass. We will add new types based on the latest information.”

The ESA Panel on Vegetation Classification will manage the peer review process for revisions and additions to the classification. Established by the Ecological Society in 1995, the panel developed the standards for plot-based survey methods and the peer review system for revising the classification. The panel represents the expertise of professional ecologists spanning academic, agency, and non-governmental sectors and acts as a forum for debate on scientific issues relating to vegetation science and taxonomy. It maintains VegBank, a public data archive for storing, sharing, and displaying information on vegetation types, including the multiple kinds of vegetation plots now being employed in the classification enterprise. Nearly 100,000 plots have already been archived—a good start, say panel members, but only a fraction of what is needed to represent the diversity of vegetation in the U.S.

“Proposals for classification updates are submitted to a peer review process, much like articles are peer-reviewed for publication in a journal, but because we’re maintaining a system, we have to consider how individual changes or additions will affect the whole. If someone wants to change Mangrove types, we have to be sure that it doesn’t conflict with tropical forest swamp types,” said Faber-Langendoen.

The panel expects that the lower levels will generate most input and review. The fine-grained, lower levels have also received the least scrutiny and review so far. Levels 5-8 will only change, at most, every five years.

“People need assurance that it’s stable enough to work with and doesn’t go out of date before you can use it.  Thankfully, we’re now at that point,” said Faber-Langendoen.

The National Park Service has taken the lead in putting the National Vegetation Classification into action for its inventory and monitoring program. The Park Service has inventoried 159 parks, preserves, and other lands under its administration using the classification, and has 88 projects in progress. The Landscape Fire and Resource Management Planning Tools (LANDFIRE) program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior is working to cross-walk their classifications based on NatureServe’s Ecological Systems to the group and macrogroup levels of the National Vegetation Classification, which will allow USNVC vegetation plot data to contribute to LANDFIRE’s nationwide mapping efforts.

Faber-Langendoen and his colleagues hope the launch of the classification will bring it to the attention of a broader section of potential users and draw input from academics, consultants, and other as yet untapped environmental professionals.

 

US National Vegetation Classification

Get involved:

 

###

The U.S. National Vegetation Classification (USNVC) Partnership includes: U.S. Forest Service, USGS Core Science Systems, NatureServe, Ecological Society of America (ESA), and the Vegetation Subcommittee of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC)

Contacts:

  • ESA –Science Programs Manager: Jill Parsons, jill@esa.org, 833.8773 x209
  • ESA – Director of Science Programs: Cliff Duke, csduke@esa.org, 202.833.8773 x202
  • USNVC – Implementation Manager: Alexa McKerrow, amkerrrow@usgs.org
  • USNVC – Editor-in-Chief: Don Faber-Langendoen, don_faber-langendoen@natureserve.org

 

The Ecological Society of America, 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

Kill the rabbit

New Brunswick family helps remove invasive snowshoe hares from a group of remote Bay of Fundy Islands, five decades after introducing them — and other highlights from the February issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

For immediate release: Friday, 12 February 2016
Contact: Liza Lester; llester@esa.org; (202) 833-8773 x211

 

  • Too much of an adorable thing — eradication of an ecosystem engineer
  • Focus on of charismatic great apes biases biodiversity research in tropical Africa and Asia
  • Disconnecting ecosystem services from ecosystems

 

Kill the rabbit

Snowshoe Hare

Too much of an adorable thing. Snowshoe hares like this one, photographed in its winter finery in Denali National Park, are native to North America and range across the north of the continent from Alaska to the coast of Maine, but had not colonized the remote islands of the Bay of Fundy, 15 miles off the coast of Maine, without human help. Credit, NPS Photo/ Tim Rains.

Snowshoe hares arrived on tiny Hay Island, at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, in 1959, traveling by boat from Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, Canada, with Wesley Ingalls and his nephew, Junior. The two fishermen had the idea that trapping hares would make an entertaining winter activity, when they were not fishing, and bring in a little extra money.

With no competitors and few predators, Ingalls’ original dozen hares quickly became several hundred. When low tide opened a causeway to neighboring Kent Island, they hopped across. Junior went out to Hay two years later to harvest young balsam firs for his herring weir, as was his custom. The forest stand never grew back. A bramble of wood fern and raspberry grew up in its place, crowding out other plants and providing excellent cover for bunnies hiding from bald eagles and wintering snowy owls.

Snowshoe hares are native to North America and range across the north of the continent from Alaska to the coast of Maine, but had not colonized the remote islands of the Bay of Fundy, 15 miles off the coast of Maine, without human help. On Hay and Kent their population reached 3-50 times the density of hare populations on the Maine mainland. They had an impact. Intrepid eaters, the hares mowed though young saplings as well as grass. In winter they even climbed the bases of trees to gnaw on twigs and bark. As mature trees aged and blew down in storms, no young trees grew to replace them. The hares bonsaied surviving young spruces into the shape of alpine cushion plants. For nearly five decades, the hares shaped the vegetation of Hay and Kent islands. Ingalls had unintentionally initiated and ecological experiment by introducing a keystone herbivore to the island.

Kent island also happens to house Bowdoin College’s biological field research station, originally established in 1930s as a preserve for the then near-extinct common eider (Somateria mollissima). In 1998 Nathaniel Wheelwright, a professor at Bowdoin and then the director of the Bowdoin Scientific Station, set out to eradicate the snowshoe hare with the help of Junior’s son and grandchildren. The hares came back. They tried again 2002, with additional recruits from Maine and New Brunswick, but failed again.

Wheelwright decided he needed help from the experts. He emailed the chief of New Zealand’s national pest control agencies, who replied, “Eradicating the hares using hunters and dogs from 70 ha ought to be trivial. You’re not trying very hard.” The team tried harder, and in 2007, succeeded in removing the last hare. Now, Bowdoin’s Scientific Station is observing the experiment in reverse. A think carpet of tree seedlings covers the forest floor. The trees are so successful in recolonizing open fields that they threaten the breeding habitat of the islands’ savanna sparrows, under observation by the station since the 1960s.. In an ironic twist, station biologists will have to mow fields to hold back the resurgent forest and preserve a long-running study from the era of the hare.

 

Focus on of charismatic great apes biases biodiversity research in tropical Africa and Asia

Large national parks that are home to gorillas, chimpanzees and other great apes are focal points for much of the field research on biodiversity conducted in tropical Africa and Asia, resulting in crucial knowledge gaps and a biased view of broader conservation needs in those regions say anthropologist Andrew Marshall colleagues. Scientists tend to place field studies in large protected areas that house our primate relatives, leaving a third of African protected areas with no research attention at all. Full press release from the University of Michigan.

 

Disconnecting ecosystem services from ecosystems

The power of modern technology has made it possible to transport the benefits of ecosystems for human societies (ecosystem services) far from the source. Jianguo Liu and colleagues examine the consequences in a very dramatic example, China’s enormous South-North Water Transfer Project, designed conduct water from the Yangtze River basin hundreds of miles to three parched regions in the north. Construction began in 2002 and is expected to take 50 years. Though the water will flow with gravity on the Central route to Beijing, the Eastern route to the North China plain must flow uphill and tunnel under the Yellow River. The proposed Western route must pass the Bayankala Mountains. Liu and colleagues propose that natural cause-and-effect feedback from the environmental consequences of the water diversion, disconnected by distance, may be replaced by information flows between sending and receiving locations, in the form of news, science, and protest movements.


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

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. 

Science-driven strategies for more effective endangered species recovery

The US Endangered Species Act can protect more species, more effectively, through expanded partnerships and science-driven implementation ecologists say in the Winter 2016 edition of Issues in Ecology

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, 6 January 2016
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

 

An endangered California condor soars through the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in California, where captive-bred birds are released into the wild. Condor conservation benefits from unusually rigorous population monitoring compared to most recovery programs for endangered species. Credit, USFWS.

An endangered California condor soars through the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in California, where captive-bred birds are released into the wild. Condor conservation benefits from unusually rigorous population monitoring compared to most recovery programs for endangered species. In the Winter 2016 edition of Issues in Ecology, Dan Evans and colleagues press for the extension of monitoring to other, less famous endangered species. Credit, USFWS.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), which quietly passed its 42nd birthday last week, has shielded hundreds of species in the United States from extinction and dramatically achieved full recovery for a celebrated few. Flexibility of implementation is one of the ESA’s great strengths, allowing for adaptation in response to new knowledge and changing social and environmental conditions.

In a report released by the Ecological Society of America today, 18 conservation researchers and practitioners propose six broad strategies to raise the effectiveness of the ESA for endangered species recovery, based on a thorough review of the scientific literature on the status and performance of the law.

“The ESA is one of our country’s strongest environmental laws, but it has only partly fulfilled its conservation promise,” said Daniel Evans, who led the report while serving as a policy fellow at the United States Forest Service. “Innovation will be key to implementing the ESA in the coming decades because the 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.”

The ESA grants the administering agencies, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), discretion to interpret the requirements of the law, including the meaning of “endangered.” The agencies determine the management actions needed for species protection and recovery and prioritize conservation efforts. Funding for conservation actions under the ESA has not kept pace with the growth of the US economy, increased environmental pressures due to development and encroachment of invasive species, and the subsequence expansion of the number of species at risk.

“Throughout the ESA’s 42-year history, government funding has been insufficient to recover most listed species and funding has been highly skewed among groups of species. For example, as we discuss in the paper, from 1998 to 2012 over 80 percent of all government spending went to only 5 percent of all listed species,” said Evans.

The number of officially endangered species has grown from the original 78 species listed by the ESA’s forerunner, the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, to 1,590 listed as endangered or threatened in January 2016. Only 32 species have recovered sufficiently to be removed from the list. It is likely that some species may remain indefinitely “conservation-reliant” after recovering to sustainable numbers.  Reliant species require consistent interventions to maintain historic habitat, connect small genetic populations isolated by development, or control predators, competing invasive species, or parasites. These species are more complicated to graduate from the list than success stories such as the bald eagle, which went from 417 nesting pairs in 1963 to more than 11,000 in 2007.

In “Species recovery in the United States: increasing the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act,” the 20th report in the Ecological Society’s series Issues in Ecology, Evans and colleagues recommend that the administering federal agencies, state natural resource management agencies, Native American tribes, and their conservation partners:

  • Establish and consistently apply a system for prioritizing recovery funding to maximize strategic outcomes for listed species
  • Strengthen partnerships for species recovery
  • Promote more monitoring and consistently implement and refine approaches for adaptive management
  • Refine methods to develop recovery criteria based on the best available science
  • Use climate-smart conservation strategies
  • Evaluate and develop ecosystem-based approaches that can increase the efficiency of managing for recovery

“By adopting these strategies, conservation managers, policymakers, scientists, and the public can use the ESA more effectively and efficiently to save species at risk,” said Evans.


Species recovery in the United States: increasing the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act. Daniel M. Evans, Judy P. Che-Castaldo, Deborah Crouse, Frank W. Davis, Rebecca Epanchin-Niell, Curtis H. Flather, R. Kipp Frohlich, Dale D. Goble, Ya-Wei Li, Timothy D. Male, Lawrence L. Master, Matthew P. Moskwik, Maile C. Neel, Barry R. Noon, Camille Parmesan, Mark W. Schwartz, J. Michael Scott, and Byron K. Williams. Issues in Ecology #20, Winter 2016. [pdf]

Funding for this project was provided by Cooperative Agreement 12-CA-11221633-096 between the USDA Forest Service and the Ecological Society of America. Other funding and services were provided by Resources for the Future.


The Ecological Society of America, 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

Issues in Ecology is an official publication of ESA, using commonly-understood language to report the consensus of a panel of scientific experts on issues related to the environment. Issues in Ecology aims to build public understanding of the importance of the products and services provided by the environment to society. The text for every Issues in Ecology is reviewed for technical content by external expert reviewers. http://www.esa.org/esa/science/issues/ 

Building with nature: ecological design for next generation cities

Special Centennial Issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment explores ecological innovations for infrastructure in the face of climate change

CONTACT: Liza Lester, (202) 833-8773 ext. 211, llester@esa.org

 

Rotterdam’s futuristic Dutch Windwheel design combines eletricity generation, retail, tourism, and cultural iconography in an 174-meter (570-foot) tall ‘turbine’ (the updated wildmill has no moving parts) encircled by an inner ring of offices, shops, and living spaces and a moving outer ‘ferris wheel’ The structure also deploys solar panels, funnels rainwater, and collects human waste for biogas generation. With a foundation in Rotterdam Harbor, it is designed to withstand environmental variability, including fluctuating sea levels. Central photo credit: © Windwheel Corporation; Architects: Doepel Strijkers. Background photo credit: VF Gabriel; license: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Rotterdam’s futuristic Dutch Windwheel design combines electricity generation, retail, tourism, and cultural iconography in an 174-meter (570-foot) tall ‘turbine’ (the updated windmill has no moving parts) encircled by an inner ring of offices, shops, and living spaces and a moving outer ‘Ferris wheel.’ The structure also deploys solar panels, funnels rainwater, and collects human waste for biogas generation. With a foundation in Rotterdam Harbor, it is designed to withstand environmental variability, including fluctuating sea levels. Central photo credit: © Windwheel Corporation; Architects: Doepel Strijkers. Background photo credit: VF Gabriel; license: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The Ecological Society of America turns 100 this year, with many reflections on the achievements of the discipline and the big questions for ecologists as we embark on a new century marked by great environmental upheaval. ESA’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment celebrates the centennial of the society with perspectives on the potential for ecological science to influence the design of the next generation cities and their infrastructure.

The November 2015 Special Issue on Innovations in the face of climate change examines innovations big and small, from massive technological installations like Rotterdam’s proposed next generation Dutch Windwheel to municipal planning and the individual construction and land use choices of city residents.

“Cities are emergent systems, with only 5 to 7 thousand years of history, mostly during the relative climatic stability of the Holocene,” said guest editor Kristina Hill, an associate professor at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design. “We’ve never tried to operate a city during a rapid climate change, especially not on the scale of population we now have, with our largest cities housing upwards of 20 million people.”

New problems require new approaches that strive for harmony rather than control. Hill sees opportunities to solve problems created or accentuated by climate change by hybridizing the concrete-and-steel structures we have been designing for hundreds of years with living systems.

The articles in the November special issue tackle physical, legal, social, and technological interfaces with natural systems.

“It’s not about the preciousness of some rare thing that lives far, far away. It’s about the water and the wind and the plants in your city,” said Hill. “While we’ve observed that nature can be fragile, we’ve forgotten that nature is powerful. Our alterations of the planet’s climate are going to bite us in the rear end, in the near future it will be up to us to accommodate nature. I find that refreshing.”

Hill wants to start a cultural revolution in our relationship with natural systems, working with, rather than against, the force of tides, floods, and storms, and inviting non-human life into our living spaces. Ecosystem services have clear practical benefits. Vegetation brings cleaner air and water as cooler summer temperatures, and as well as beauty, recreational space, and habitat for our non-human neighbors into cities. Making the rhythms of natural systems visible also helps city dwellers connect with the natural world.

“Through ecology, we learn what it is to be human by learning about what is not human. Understanding human experience through other forms of life is so significant and fundamental,” said Hill. “Ecology is literally, etymologically, about the house. The problem of climate change is going to bring ecology home. We are talking to people about how they live—their houses. If we all live differently, we can change the world.”

The Dutch Sand Engine experiment in dynamic coastline management is an artificial sand beach designed to erode. Sand pulled away from the 126-ha peninsula by wave, wind, and currents spreads along the Delfland Coast of The Netherlands, naturally nourishing a shoreline that has suffered rapid erosion. The project, a collaboration of government, private industry, and academic researchers, was completed in 2011 and is expected to maintain the shoreline for the next 20 years. The peninsula is also popular with wind and kite surfers. Guest editor Kristina reviews innovations in coastal infrastructure designed to work with storm surge, sea level rise, and other natural processes in “Coastal infrastructure: a typology for the next century of adaptation to sea-level rise,” on page 468 of this issue.

The Dutch Sand Engine experiment in dynamic coastline management is an artificial sand beach designed to erode. Sand pulled away from the 126-ha peninsula by wave, wind, and currents spreads along the Delfland Coast of The Netherlands, naturally nourishing a shoreline that has suffered rapid erosion. The project, a collaboration of government, private industry, and academic researchers, was completed in 2011 and is expected to maintain the shoreline for the next 20 years. The peninsula is also popular with wind and kite surfers. Guest editor Kristina Hill reviews innovations in coastal infrastructure designed to work with storm surge, sea level rise, and other natural processes in “Coastal infrastructure: a typology for the next century of adaptation to sea-level rise,” on page 468 of the November 2015 Special Issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Credit: Kristina Hill.

 

Innovations in the face of climate change. (2015) Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment Volume 13, Issue 9. (Open access).

Guest Editor: Kristina Hill, University of California, Berkeley kzhill@berkeley.edu

Clearly defining ‘restoration’ in law. Though mandates like the Clean Water Act have been powerful tools for instituting environmental protections in the United States, loose legal definitions of “restoration” mean that few mitigation projects install whole, functioning, and self-sustaining ecosystems. An Appalachian project with the narrow goal of restoring stream flow after mountaintop mining, for example, (left) delivers few of the resources of the natural ecosystem that was lost (right). Likewise, programs aimed at recovery of endangered species do not necessarily prioritize functional ecosystem recovery. Palmer and Ruhl examine the scientific and (U.S.) legal bases for ecological restoration and how the two may be more fruitfully unified in “Aligning restoration science and the law to sustain ecological infrastructure for the future,” on page 512 of this issue. Photo credit: E Bernhardt.

Clearly defining ‘restoration’ in law. Though mandates like the Clean Water Act have been powerful tools for instituting environmental protections in the United States, loose legal definitions of “restoration” mean that few mitigation projects install whole, functioning, and self-sustaining ecosystems. An Appalachian project with the narrow goal of restoring stream flow after mountaintop mining, for example, (left) delivers few of the resources of the natural ecosystem that was lost (right). Likewise, programs aimed at recovery of endangered species do not necessarily prioritize functional ecosystem recovery. Palmer and Ruhl examine the scientific and (U.S.) legal bases for ecological restoration and how the two may be more fruitfully unified in “Aligning restoration science and the law to sustain ecological infrastructure for the future,” on page 512 of this issue. Photo credit: E Bernhardt.

In this issue:

Funding: This Special Issue was partially funded by the National Science Foundation (grant # DEB-1541324).


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

Expanding the reach of environmental research with Citizen Science

Issues in Ecology 19: Investing in Citizen Science can improve natural resource management and environmental protection

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

 

Growth in the number of scientific publications that have used or studied citizen science since 1995. Data are based on a search of the Web of Science for the keyword "citizen science" and likely represent a fraction of all scientific publications using or studying citizen science because many publications fail to acknowledge when they include contributions from citizen science. Fig 1 of McKnight et al (2015) Issues in Ecology 19.

Growth in the number of scientific publications that have used or studied citizen science since 1995. Data are based on a search of the Web of Science for the keyword “citizen science” and likely represent a fraction of all scientific publications using or studying citizen science because many publications fail to acknowledge when they include contributions from citizen science. Fig 1 of McKinley et al (2015) Issues in Ecology 19.

Public participation in scientific research has surged in popularity and prominence in recent years through the connections of the world wide web, an explosion of smartphone pocket computing power, and a slow cultural change within professional science toward a more open and welcoming research environment.

Today, the White House affirmed the potential for citizen science to engage the public directly in scientific discovery and the monitoring and management of our natural resources. In a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren mandated that all federal agencies build capacity for citizen science and crowdsourcing while facilitating cooperation across agencies and with outside organizations.

To help guide program managers in deciding if citizen science is right for their organizations and how best to design citizen science projects to meet their organization’s goals, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) has released a report today summarizing how “Investing in Citizen Science can improve natural resource management and environmental protection.” The report is number 19 in ESA’s series Issues in Ecology and is included as a resource in the Federal Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit, released this morning in conjunction with Holdren’s policy memo and a Citizen Science Forum webcast live from the White House.

If you ask a dozen practitioners about citizen science, you’ll get a dozen different definitions, and a dozen reasons for why they are doing it—all of which are valid! But it can be confusing,” said Duncan McKinley, a research ecologist with the USDA Forest Service and a lead coordinator of the scientific team behind the report. “We wanted to zoom out to the big picture, the 30,000-ft view of citizen science, and capture the shared values of the field, within the specific context of ecology and the environment.”

The report touches on how citizen science can help organizations:

  • Meet core information needs for research and monitoring
  • Promote environmental stewardship
  • Foster public involvement in environmental decision-making
  • Spread knowledge and scientific literacy
  • Encourage collaboration
  • Address questions of local concern
  • Expand awareness of an organization’s mission
  • Ignite synergies between science, education, and public engagement

Twenty-one experienced practitioners hailing from non-profit, government, and academic institutions set out to tame the exuberant diversity of the citizen science frontier into shared core principles. The report delves into  the strengths and limitations of citizen science, illustrating the breadth of existing applications through case studies. The authors identify hallmarks of research questions ripe for volunteer involvement as well as those that might not be appropriate for a citizen science approach.

Citizen science is not fluff science,” said report co-organizer Abe Miller-Rushing, science coordinator for Acadia National Park and the Schoodic Education and Research Center. “Citizen science has a strong reputation for education and outreach, but its ability to deliver actionable information is underrated.”

Volunteers for Smithsonian's Biocube project sort and identify specimens for a biodiversity survey. Credit, Carolyn A. F. Enquist.

Volunteers for Smithsonian’s Biocube project sort and identify specimens for a biodiversity survey. Modeled on the classic ecologist’s quadrat, which marks out a standard sampling plot, Biocube guides observers to catalog the variety of life found in one cubic foot of soil or seawater.  Credit, Carolyn A. F. Enquist.

Citizen science has earned a reputation for excellence in advancing science literacy at all ages and educational levels. With this report, Miller-Rushing, McKinley, and co-authors hope to demonstrate that citizen science also has the tools to produce high quality data. Citizen science projects have produced rigorous science on par with conventional research produced entirely by professional scientists. Data gathered by observers for the North American Breeding Bird Survey, for example, have contributed to more than 500 peer reviewed papers.

Participation in research makes abstract concepts concrete—and fun. Participants say they are motivated by opportunities to contribute information that will be used in the conservation of organisms, ecosystems, or natural areas that they care about.

 “Hands-on involvement in a real research question makes science tangible and lends participants a sense of personal connection to our natural resources,” said author Heidi Ballard, an associate professor in the School of Education at the University of California, Davis.

But citizen science is not just an individual or personal activity; it is often undertaken in groups. Local communities and environmental organizations have been involved in monitoring local natural resources for many years. In some cases, local communities have actually driven the development of a research initiative through acute concerns about water or air quality in their region. Participation in citizen science generates greater participation in public decision-making, with some projects providing direct means for public input on government policy and environmental management.

Through citizen scientist volunteers, scientists, land managers, and policy makers have gained access to data collection at scales that would not be possible through conventional science. Even before the scaling power of the internet and smartphone technology, programs like the Christmas Bird Count and the Cloned Lilac Project mustered observer reports through the U.S. Mail from across North America. Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, celebrated annually since 1900, is not only one of the largest, longest-running citizen science programs, it is one of the largest ecological datasets available. Part of its success lies in its simplicity and backing by a large, experienced environmental organization.

Robust results hinge on appropriate design and implementation of citizen science programs. Project managers must think carefully and honestly about their organization’s goals and set clear expectations for program outcomes. “Investing in Citizen Science” provides an overview of the benefits and pitfalls of different approaches to citizen science. It describes some of the technology and data management tools currently available and the infrastructure investments required to build successful citizen science programs, taking into account the special policy considerations that come into play when federal agencies are involved.

Good citizen science gets us fine grain, broad extent data we can’t collect, or afford to collect, any other way,” said author Julia Parrish, a professor of aquatic and fisheries sciences at the University of Washington and director of the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST).  “Along the way, we can move thousands—maybe millions!—of citizens from a state of vague worry about the environment to a place of understanding the science and lobbying for responsible resource management based on good science. Win-win in my book!”


150930 issues in ecology 19 citizen science coverInvesting in Citizen Science can improve natural resource management and environmental protection. Issues in Ecology No. 19, Fall 2015.

Report Coordinators:

  • Duncan McKinley, Research and Development, USDA Forest Service, Washington, DC 20250. dcmckinley@fs.fed.us; (202) 309-8269
  • Abraham J. Miller-Rushing, Schoodic Education and Research Center, Acadia National Park, National Park Service, Bar Harbor, ME 04609. abe_miller-rushing@nps.gov; (207) 288-8733

Co-Authors:

  • Heidi Ballard, School of Education, University of California, Davis, CA 95616
  • Rick Bonney, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 14850
  • Owen Boyle, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI 53707
  • Russell Briggs, Division of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York, Syracuse, NY 13210
  • Hutch Brown, Research and Development, USDA Forest Service, Washington, DC 20250
  • Stuart Chapin III, Department of Biology and Wildlife Institute of Artic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK 99775
  • Daniel M. Evans, AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow, Research and Development, USDA Forest Service, Washington, DC 20250
  • Rebecca French, AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow, Office of Research and Development, US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC 20460
  • David Hewitt, Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA 19103 and Evidential Planning and Management, LLC, Philadelphia, PA 19128
  • Julia Parrish, School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98105
  • Tina Phillips, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850
  • Peter Preuss, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC 20460
  • Sean Ryan, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556
  • Lea Shanley, Commons Lab of the Science and Technology Innovation Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC 20004
  • Jennifer Shirk, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850
  • Michael Soukup, Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park, Winter Harbor, ME 04693
  • Kristine Stepenuck, University of Wisconsin Extension, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706
  • Jake Weltzin, National Coordinating Office of USA National Phenology Network, U.S. Geological Survey, Tucson, AZ 85721
  • Andrea Wiggins, College of Information Studies, University of Maryland College Park, College Park, MD 20742

Funding:

Production of Issues in Ecology 19 was funded by Cooperative Agreement 12-CA-11221633-096 between the U.S. Forest Service and the Ecological Society of America (ESA). Other funding and services were provided by the National Park Service and the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park.


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.

Issues in Ecology is an official publication of ESA, using commonly-understood language to report the consensus of a panel of scientific experts on issues related to the environment. Issues in Ecology aims to build public understanding of the importance of the products and services provided by the environment to society. The text for every Issues in Ecology is reviewed for technical content by external expert reviewers. http://www.esa.org/esa/science/issues/ 

 

 

Monica Turner Named President of the Ecological Society of America for 2015-2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, 24 September 2015
Contact: Alison Mize, 202-833-8773 ext. 205, Alison@esa.org

 

Credit, Brian J. Harvey

Credit, Brian J. Harvey

Monica Turner, the Eugene P. Odum Professor of Ecology and a Vilas Research Professor in the Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin-Madison became President of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) on August 14, 2015.

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

“It is a tremendous honor to serve as President of the Ecological Society of America, and even moreso to serve during our centennial year. ESA is my primary professional society, and I have been a member since I was in graduate school. Many aspects of the profession have changed over the years, but I remain firmly committed to ESA’s mission. Our journals will remain highly respected sources of excellent research as we transition to our new publishing partnership with Wiley, and I’m excited that all members will have complimentary online access. Ecologists also face challenges, including heightened needs for communicating ecology to diverse audiences and for providing policy makers with sound ecological science to use as the basis for decision-making. I look forward to working with the ESA staff, Governing Board, and membership this year as we position ESA to support ecology and ecologists in the years ahead,” Turner said.

Turner is an internationally recognized landscape ecologist, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America. She received the Ecological Society of America’s Robert H. MacArthur Award in 2008. Her field studies and simulation models have provided new insights about the causes and ecological consequences of spatial patterning in the environment. She has studied disturbance regimes, vegetation dynamics, nutrient cycling, animal movements, and climate change, and is well known for her long-term studies of recovery after the large fires that swept through Yellowstone National Park in 1988.

Turner’s quarter century of work in Greater Yellowstone has generated new understanding about the resilience of forest ecosystems to severe fires and bark beetle outbreaks. This research has laid the groundwork for deeper understanding of how major disturbances shape ecosystems in space and time. Turner also studies land-water interactions in Wisconsin, effects of current and historical land use on Southern Appalachian forest landscapes, and how land-use and climate change affect ecosystem services—the benefits provided to people by nature.

New 2015-16 ESA President Monica Turner surveys the site of the Bearpaw Bay fire in July 2010, one year after it burned in the summer of 2009. The lodgepole pine p inus contorta) forest near Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park had burned just 28 years previously, in a region that more typically burns at 200 year intervals. A trend toward a warmer, dryer climate in the Rocky Mountains is likely to increase fire frequency, which could have consequences for the regeneration of the forest and carbon storage. Turner’s research group has ongoing, long term investigations into seedling recruitment, carbon storage, and other questions about the effects of natural disturbances on vegetation dynamics in the region of Yellowstone. Credit, Monica Turner.

New 2015-16 ESA President Monica Turner surveys the site of the 2009 Bearpaw Bay Fire in July 2010, during the first summer after lightening ignited a 2,800 acre wildfire in the lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) forest. The are near Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park had burned just 28 years previously, in a region that more typically burns at intervals of 100 to 300 years. A trend toward a warmer, dryer climate in the Rocky Mountains is likely to increase fire frequency, which could have consequences for the regeneration of the forest and carbon storage. Turner’s research group maintains ongoing, long term investigations into seedling recruitment, carbon storage, and other questions about the effects of natural disturbances on vegetation dynamics in the Greater Yellowstone. Credit, Monica Turner.


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.