Record drought in the U.S., cod fishery recovery and Bjork’s ode to E.O. Wilson

This is the last post I will contribute as moderator of ESA’s blog EcoTone—it has been a wonderful, educational experience to explore the connectivity and complexity of life processes and to meet the scientists who have helped to further this cross-disciplinary research. I hope you have enjoyed reading these stories as much as I have enjoyed writing them! Please continue to visit the blog frequently for new posts, and remember that guest submissions are always welcome at esablog@esa.org. See the end of this post for a few highlighted EcoTone articles published since January 2010. Detrimental drought: According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Texas and other southern states are experiencing record-breaking, “exceptional” drought.  And as a recent Reuters article pointed out, these conditions are leading to wildlife hardships. In Austin, for example, the world’s largest urban bat colony has been departing from under the Congress Bridge earlier than usual to search for prey. “The drought has killed off crops in Texas, and that in turn has killed off those delicious pests the Mexican free-tailed bats consider dinner,” wrote Karen Brooks. As a result, the bats are emerging before sunset—providing ample viewing time for bat-watchers but indicating the bats are exerting greater energy to feed. “An extended drought could be a double whammy for central Texas farmers, who depend on the bats to remove some 1,000 tons of insects and pests from the air each night,” wrote Brooks. Read more at “1.5 million bats in Texas city left hungrier by drought.” Conserving water in the West: Many U.S. residents are aware that turning lights off after leaving a room conserves energy; however, people may not be as aware that conserving water is also conserving energy. As Daniel Glick reported in a Scientific American article, “Nationally, energy production sucks more water from freshwater sources than any other sector except agriculture. It takes water to create the power we use to drive our cars, transport our groceries, and run our toaster ovens. Virtually every source of electricity in a typical American home or manufacturing plant—whether it comes from hydroelectricity, coal, natural gas, nuclear, biofuels, or even concentrated solar—also requires water. Lots of water.” Read more at “How Saving Energy Means Conserving Water in U.S. West.” Slow recovery: Researchers from Dalhousie University have reported that, after nearly two decades, cod and haddock fisheries off the coast of Nova Scotia are showing signs of recovery. After the fisheries collapsed due to overconsumption, the Canadian government closed this area in 1993 and has just started to see the ecosystem begin to stabilize. As Hannah Waters concluded in a Scientific American article, this is just one example...

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Seeing (less) red: Bark beetles and global warming

This post contributed by Jesse A. Logan, retired research entomologist living in Emigrant, Montana. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) is an ecological reserve of regional, national and international significance. This collection of National Parks, National Forests, wildlife reserves and tribal lands is generally recognized as one of the last remaining large, nearly intact, ecosystems of the Earth’s northern temperate region. Climax whitebark pine (Pinus albicalus Engelman) forests comprise the majority of forested habitat above 2,750 meters and extend to the highest elevation as a crooked krumholtz growth form. By functioning as both a foundation and a keystone species, whitebark pine is an important ecological component of the GYE. Unfortunately, the foundation whitebark forests of the GYE are facing catastrophic collapse due to a combination of an introduced pathogen, unprecedented attack by a native bark beetle and climate change. Whitepine blister rust is a pathogen introduced near the turn of the past century, and its effect is to first compromise the reproductive capacity of the tree, eventually (requiring an average of twenty years in the GYE) leading to the tree’s death. On the other hand, attack by the native mountain pine beetle either immediately leads to the  tree’s deaths, or the tree successfully defends itself and repulses the attacking beetles. The seriousness of these threats to the integrity of high-elevation forests is indicated by the recent finding by the US Fish & Wildlife Service that whitebark meets the criteria for a threatened or endangered species; in addition, despite their risk of extinction, the FWS did not add whitebark to the endangered species list due to lack of sufficient funding. Under historic climate regimes, these high elevation forests were simply too cold for the mountain pine beetle (MPB) (Dendroctonus ponderosae) to thrive. Although, past MPB-caused whitebark pine mortality did occur during periods of unusually warm weather—for example, in the 1930s—these outbreaks were short-lived and limited in scale. With the publication of the first Interngovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 1990, research on the potential for increased MPB activity in whitebark pine began to occur. Model predictions of high intensity MPB outbreaks began to be realized across the southern range of whitebark pine by the early 2000s. By 2005, USDA Forest Service Aerial Detection Survey (ADS) data showed significant MPB caused mortality across large areas of GYE whitebark pine. This mortality is first evident by large numbers of red trees (symptomatic of trees killed the previous summer), subsequently followed by vast areas of gray trees — the residual ghost forest — is shown in the photos above. In those photos of Hoyt Peak from Avalanche Peak near Sylvan Pass, Yellowstone National...

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Sharing ecology online

It is no secret that the world is becoming increasingly digital. The evening news has less of a role in disseminating leading headlines than a friend or colleague does. That is, social media outlets have become primary sources of news—in general, stories vetted by friends, coworkers and family members have gained more credibility than a random, syndicated news report. This change in interactive networking brings with it challenges and a unique potential to broaden and simultaneously deepen conversations about science. As a result, the Ecological Society of America, has launched a new Facebook page as part of its efforts to initiate dialogue about the Society and ecological research, policy engagement, education and other initiatives in general. The new Facebook page allows you to Like ESA, post on the wall, view or add photos and start a discussion. You can also subscribe to the new Facebook page on your phone or as an RSS feed to receive ESA news and updates from the ecological community. ESA also provides updates on Twitter @ESA_org. And during this year’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas, tweeting enters meeting attendees into a drawing for the new ESA t-shirt, “Ecologists Do It in the Field.” Use Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts on Earth Stewardship—in addition to networking with colleagues and receiving real-time meeting and Society announcements. Join the conversation about Earth Stewardship using #earthsteward on Twitter and mentioning “Earth Stewardship” on ESA’s Facebook wall. All responses will be automatically entered into the daily drawing. To share information about the annual meeting in general, use #ESA11 on Twitter. The theme of this year’s meeting, “Earth Stewardship: Preserving and enhancing the earth’s life-support systems,”will be explored in the numerous presentations and discussions during the conference.  The Society hopes some participants will also use the Society’s social media venues to share opinions, ideas, insights and suggestions. With your help, these contributions can help ESA formulate the best approaches to enhancing Earth Stewardship. Participants MUST be attending the annual meeting in order to collect the prizes. Winners will be announced on Twitter through ESA’s Twitter page, using the @mention feature to notify the winner. They will also be announced on ESA’s Facebook wall. Prizes will be picked up at the ESA booth in the exhibit hall. Photo Credit: Karl-Ludwig...

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Scientists dig up the history of the mole’s extra ‘thumb’

Marcelo Sánchez-Villagra from the University of Zurich and researchers have uncovered the evolutionary history of the mole’s extra “thumb.” As it turns out, this polydactyl animal evolved an elongated wrist bone to serve as a sort of extra finger, widening the paw for more effective tunneling. The researchers examined embryos of the Iberian mole (Talpa occidentalis) and the closely related—but five-fingered—North American least shrew (Cryptotis parva). They found that the “thumb” didn’t begin to grow until the embryos were 18 days old, after the other fingers had already begun to develop. The digit, which does not bend but can wiggle, suggests a relationship with the testosterone level of these animals. According to a recent Science Now article, “True to their oddness, many female moles grow not only ovaries but also some testicular tissue, hinting that they have too much of the hormone, Sánchez says. Testosterone is well known for building bones, and some evidence suggests that human polydactyly—people can occasionally develop genuine sixth fingers—coincides with high levels of maternal testosterone.” Read the original press release “How the mole got its 12...

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URBAANE: An urban environmental conference for communities of color
Jul12

URBAANE: An urban environmental conference for communities of color

This post contributed by Kellen Marshall-Gillespie, University of Illinois-Chicago, NSF-IGERT LEAP Fellow and 2011 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winner. As an active member of the Ecological Society of America and its Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program and environmental justice (EJ) section, I understand and support the Society’s vested interest in accomplishing meaningful broader impacts. As a member of the steering committee of “Urban Resolutions for Bridging African Americans to Natural Environments” (URBAANE) 2011, I am pleased to have connected the philosophies of the EJ section of ESA to the scope of the overall conference. I share with the ESA community a powerful grassroots conference that surely will resonate within the Society. It represents the potential for us as scientists to connect with communities of color in a way that advances the Society’s goals, as well as moves forward resolutions that are beneficial to diverse audiences. On Saturday June 4, 2011, professionals, students and community members gathered in a historic meeting of the minds to discuss resolutions to urban environmental issues in the Chicago metro area. Chicago State University, together with Fuller Park Community Development and a host of generous sponsors, put together a stellar event titled “Urban Resolutions for Bridging African Americans to Natural Environments” (URBAANE). The conference theme was “Connecting the Lots: Minorities and Urban Land Issues.” Speakers and presenters discussed their work as it related to land issues, including the uses of vacant lots, the spatial distribution of natural resources or the quality of spaces for various greenspace uses. URBAANE 2011’s mission was to develop a conference that discussed perspectives, research and solutions related to environmental justice, environmental education, green jobs, green development/industry and urban agriculture. Designed as a community conference, attendees varied in age, education levels and professions. The goal was to engage a diverse audience, foster networking between community groups and academia as well as student populations and government agencies. The findings and action plans resulting from URBAANE 2011 will contribute to establishing an agenda for African Americans and people of color on urban socio-ecological issues in the Chicago metro area. As exciting as it was to plan the conference, it was a true delight for me that one hundred percent of URBAANE speakers and panelists were people of color. All too often the voices of communities of color are whispers in environmental conversations amongst the booming voices of those in the scientific community.  Held in the New Academic Library on the campus of Chicago State University, the venue could not have been more ideal. Along with its strong environmental program—including biological sciences, geography and chemistry—the campus houses an award-winning...

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