A Conference About Water, Part II: Drought and water issues on the big screen
Nov10

A Conference About Water, Part II: Drought and water issues on the big screen

Yesterday afternoon at the ESA Millennium Conference on water-ecosystem services, drought, and environmental justice included a varied program of presentations, including two more plenary talks and a reception showcasing case studies on water-ecosystem services, presented in a manner very different for ecological science: in a session using videos that was reminiscent of a poster session. Emily Bernhardt of Duke takes a question after her talk about sustaining freshwater ecosystems.   Wrapping up the day’s plenary talks were Roger Pulwarty of NOAA and Emily Bernhardt of Duke University. Both focused from different perspectives on the ever far-ranging issue of drought and the types of management that people use to ameliorate its effects. Pulwarty explored the issue of management implementation and identified a key issue with of dealing with drought. Although people  are good at identifying our own expectations for management of nature, he said, we’re not good at adapting those expectations based on new data. In some cases, he said, institutional inertia can harm a project. “We shouldn’t be in the business of helping people do the wrong things more precisely,” he said. In keeping with an emerging conference theme of managing at regional and local levels, he suggested the localized use of tools such as the National Integrated Drought Information System which, he says, provides a systematic collection and analysis of social, environmental and economic data focused on the impacts of drought. Emily Bernhardt of Duke University then gave a thoughtful review of the baseline definitions of drought and its related issues. She made the astute point that in many cases, the synergistic effects of drought and other factors are more devastating than the drought itself. She also commented that, unlike many people’s perceptions, the biggest problem exacerbating droughts is not in fact climate Daniel Pritchett of the California Native Plant Society explains his work at the case study presentations.   change, but simple human population expansion.  The only way to truly help stave off severe droughts like those in the American Southeast and Southwest, she said, is for people to limit their water consumption. The day ended on a boisterous note, with the 100 or so scientists at this conference gathering for food, drink and case study presentations. The 10 case studies were presented concurrently, five at a time, for an hour each.  Although the video presentations were sometimes hard to hear, the presenters made do by narrating their video and taking questions from the surrounding crowd, making it something like an interactive poster session. Daniel Pritchett talked to me at length about his case study on the ever-famous struggle between the Owens Valley and Los Angeles.  The...

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A Conference about Water and Ecology

Nancy Grimm welcomes attendees to the first ESA Millennium Conference. ESA’s first Millennium Conference kicked off today in Athens, GA. The meeting is bringing together ecologists and social scientists to engage in conversations about one of the most dramatic emerging challenges in ecology: that of clean water and water scarcity.  While ecologists’ main expertise is in providing and maintaining adequate water for healthy ecosystems, social scientists are expert in and concerned about scarce water and allocation across diverse communities. The discussion this morning focused on several key issues associated with water conservation. Nancy Grimm was the president of ESA when the Millennium series was suggested, and she welcomed the group to the conference. In her opening remarks, she was the first to bring up the fact that for water reform and management to really take hold, it needs to occur at a regional level.  All-encompassing water legislation, even at state levels, can pit differing priorities against one another; since ecosystem services are largely delivered at regional scales, their legislation should be regional as well. Ann Bartuska addresses a question during her talk about urban ecosystem services. But Carol Couch, formerly chief of environmental protection in Georgia, made the point that a difficult challenge is to learn how to legislate water and water rights among political boundaries.  Since ecosystems know no political boundaries, local politicians must learn to work together. “We need to explore systematically and synthetically how different societies throughout time have dealt with a common pool of resources, so it doesn’t devolve into the tragedy of the commons,” she said. “We need to start thinking about ecological services as a common pool.” A major challenge, she also mentioned, will be considering water as a common-pool resource in areas, like Georgia, where most (96 percent!) of the land is privately owned. Bob Naiman of Washington University made the great comment that it would be nice to have an “opinions map” – one that showed which people over the landscape have what opinions about water and how it should be used. This could inform management strategies and ground-up community initiatives. “We don’t need to convince people, we just need to speak in words they understand,” she said.”We could then spend less time advocating for a public campaign – but instead recruit people to work with us.” A final theme of the first several talks was interdisciplinarity.  As co-chair Ted Gragson of UGA pointed out, we’re ready to practice what we’ve often preached about interdisciplinarity. No water problem will be solved by an ecologist or a social scientist alone, which is the whole reason for the conference. Later this afternoon: Roger...

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ESA Conference: Drought & environmental justice

The first conference in ESA’s Millennium Series begins on Monday at the University of Georgia in Athens. The conference, titled “Water-Ecosystem Services, Drought, and Environmental Justice,” will bring 100 scientists and land managers together to work on the resolution of social issues related to localized drought. The conference will focus on issues surrounding one of the biggest emerging environmental issues – water – and its relationship to human social structure. Although many areas experience periodic drought, the results of such drought often depend on an area’s government and policy, its infrastructure, and the behavior of its people. These factors can create differences in vulnerability to water shortages across communities with different racial, cultural and income profiles. The Millennium Conference aims to combine the knowledge of ecologists and social scientists to begin to address this issue of environmental justice. The Conference attendees will present 12 case studies on water shortages and their effect on societies throughout the world. In one study, an urban water shortage in Melbourne, Australia, led to a controversial infrastructure project to transfer water from a similarly water-stressed rural area to the city. In another, Michigan residents are fighting annual water bills as high as $10,000 and the potential privatization of their water resources. You can watch live streaming video of the plenary speakers on the Millennium Conference web site on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.  Videos about each of the case studies are available. Learn more about ESA’s Millennium...

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Fish migrate to escape climate change

A study out today in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series shows that global warming could have a major effect on the fishing industry by forcing large fish populations from their original habitats. About half of the fish stocks studied in the Atlantic ocean, many of them commercially valuable species, have shifted northward over the last 40 years. The study finds that the fish are moving to escape continually warming waters that are no longer ideal as habitat. Published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, the paper reviews published literature on population data of 36 large fishery stocks over the last four decades. The data show that fish are always found at an optimal temperature for their species; this suggests that the fish are moving to stay within their preferred temperature ranges. Some species also move to deeper depths to find cooler waters. The results are not startling, but they draw attention to the fact that fishermen may soon need to travel much further distances to find fishes that people are used to seeing at their markets. Says lead author Janet Nye, a postdoc at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center laboratory in Woods Hole: Consumers in the Northeast, for example, may eventually start seeing less familiar species like Atlantic croaker at local markets and on restaurant menus as southern and Mid-Atlantic species move northward into New England waters. The fish appear to be adapting to a changing environment, and people will as well over the next few decades. Nye, J., Link, J., Hare, J., & Overholtz, W. (2009). Changing spatial distribution of fish stocks in relation to climate and population size on the Northeast United States continental shelf Marine Ecology Progress Series, 393, 111-129 DOI:...

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Climate change will further endanger monkeys

A critically endangered northern muriqui in Brazil. Photo by Carla B. Possamai, provided by K.B. Strier A study out today in Biology Letters shows that global warming will likely drive several species of primates closer to extinction by increasing the severity and frequency of El Niño and La Niña events (the El Niño Southern Oscillation, ENSO). Eric Post and graduate student Ruscena Wiederholt of Penn State examined population data on four species of threatened New World monkeys: muriquis (or woolly spider monkeys) in Brazil, woolly monkeys in Colombia, Geoffroy’s spider monkeys on Barro Colorado Island in Panama, and red howler monkeys in Venezuela. The scientists compared monkey population levels and the amounts of leaves and fruits available as monkey food with the frequency and duration of ENSO events. Their data showed that howler monkeys, which eat mostly leaves, declined during El Niño years, but that the other monkeys, which derive part or all of their diet from fruit, showed a year lag in their corresponding decline. Global warming is predicted to exacerbate the effects of the ENSO, in which ocean waters in the southern hemisphere warm (El Niño) and cool (La Niña), creating correlated terrestrial changes in weather patterns, such as flooding, droughts and severe storms.  The authors show that ENSO events greatly alter the availability of leaves and fruits, creating greater mortality and a consequential population decline.  As Wiederholt said in a press release: We know very little about how climate change and global warming are affecting primate species. Up to one third of primate species are threatened with extinction, so it is really crucial to understand how these changes in climate may be affecting their populations. Read the Times Online’s story here. Ruscena Wiederholt, & Eric Post (2009). Tropical warming and the dynamics of endangered primates Biology...

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