Canopy in the Clouds development team analyzes its social outreach
Oct29

Canopy in the Clouds development team analyzes its social outreach

A guest post by Greg Goldsmith, a tropical plant ecologist and part of the multitalented team behind Canopy in the Clouds. He describes methods he used to track and analyze audience engagement in the educational website with colleagues Drew Fulton, Colin Witherill, and Javier Espeleta in an article out today in Ecosphere. Cloud Forest Introduction from Colin Witherill on Vimeo.   There is a growing movement towards using the web for educational outreach in the sciences. The unfortunate truth is that no one really knows whether or not it is working. Data gathered from our science education website Canopy in the Clouds demonstrate that simple changes to website design, content and promotion can improve the outcomes for everyone involved. In an article published today in the Ecological Society of America’s open access journal Ecosphere, Drew Fulton, Colin Witherill, Javier Espeleta and I show that by monitoring how visitors find and use the site, we can spend less time and user fewer resources while simultaneously increasing both the quantity and quality of visits. The results provide much needed data on how people find and use science education websites that we hope can help others in their own efforts. Perhaps the most striking results concern how we use social media tools. Facebook was more effective than Twitter at driving visitors to Canopy in the Clouds, but visitors from social media viewed fewer pages and remained on the website for less time than visitors referred from other sources (e.g. educational websites). Simply building a website is not enough, it needs to be actively promoted in order to reach its potential. We studied more than 60,000 visits to the site over a three-year period using Google Analytics, a free tool that lets a website provider track visitors to the website. Importantly, the visitors’ identity and location are removed from the data provided in order to maintain anonymity.  The metrics include how visitors found the site (e.g. keyword search or link from another site), how long they spent on the site, and what content they viewed. The study also revealed how visitors used the website content. Their behavior was not what we expected. Canopy in the Clouds is designed to use immersive multimedia from a tropical montane cloud forest as a tool for engaging people in ecology. The website’s homepage has an introductory video that then leads to the core multimedia content. Our results suggest that if we immediately immersed visitors in the core content of the website, rather than providing the introductory video, that they would stay for longer and look at more pages. This provides a data-driven foundation upon which we can...

Read More
Invasive seaweed shelters tiny native critters on Georgia mudflats
Oct24

Invasive seaweed shelters tiny native critters on Georgia mudflats

On the tidal mudflats of Georgia and South Carolina, the red Japanese seaweed Gracilaria vermiculophylla is gaining a foothold where no native seaweeds live. Only debris and straggles of dead marsh grass used to break the expanse of mud at low tide. Crabs, shrimp, and small crustaceans mob the seaweed in abundance. What makes it so popular? Not its food value. On mudflats near Savannah, Ga., Jeffrey Wright and colleagues found that the tiny native crustacean Gammarus mucronatus (one of the 9,500 species of amphipod, which includes sand fleas) does not eat much of the seaweed. Rather, its attraction is structural. The seaweed protects the small crustaceans from predators at high tide and from the dry heat of the flats at low tide. G. mucronatus was up to 100 times as abundant on seaweed invaded mudflats, the authors report in the October issue of Ecology, out this week. The arrival of an aggressive invader disrupts the food webs and physical and chemical characteristics of the environment it enters. Disruption is often bad for native species that get shaded, crowded, or eaten by the invader, and reports of the disastrous consequences of invasive species have grown familiar. But the story for individual species is more complicated, as the presence of the invader is sometimes a benefit, either as a new source of food or, as in this case, of shelter. Engineering or food? Mechanisms of facilitation by a habitat-forming invasive seaweed (2014) JT Wright, JE Byers, JL DeVore, and E Sotka. Ecology 95(10): 2699-2706.  [open...

Read More
Old forests store new nitrogen–and may soak up nutrient excesses
Oct23

Old forests store new nitrogen–and may soak up nutrient excesses

Ecologists working in central Pennsylvania forests have found that forest top soils capture and stabilize the powerful fertilizer nitrogen quickly, within days, but release it slowly, over years to decades. The discrepancy in rates means that nitrogen can build up in soils, David Lewis, Michael Castellano, and Jason Kaye report in the October 2014 issue of ESA’s journal Ecology, published online this week. Forests may be providing an unappreciated service by storing excess nitrogen emitted by modern agriculture, industry, and transport before it can cause problems for our waterways. Nitrogen is an essential nutrient, required for all living things to live and grow. Though a major component of the air, it is largely inaccessible, captured only through the metabolism of certain microbes or washed to earth in the form of ammonia, nitrogen oxides, or organic material by rain, snow, and fog. On land, microbes, fungi, and plants incorporate what doesn’t wash away into proteins, DNA, and other biological components. Organic matter in the soil – the remains of fallen leaves, animal droppings, and dead things in various states of decay – can also capture newly deposited nitrogen, holding it stable in the soil. Mature forests store nitrogen more efficiently than young forests recovering from clear-cuts the authors found, because they have been accumulating organic matter on the forest floor for a century or more. When a forest is clear cut, erosion soon follows, washing away top soil. A young stand of trees a decade old is beginning to rebuild the organic layer, but it will take many autumns to accumulate. The orderly succession of changes in resident species as a forest grows and ages is a classic preoccupation of ecological theory. The exchange of nutrients among the species and the non-living landscape also changes with succession, and the discovery that nitrogen accumulates in the organic soil indicates something important about how an ecosystem’s nutrient economy ages. It was thought, up through the 1970s and early 80s, that an ecosystem grows like a person. At some point, forests, like people, stop getting bigger and adding new biomass. Ecologists argued that the ability to capture incoming nutrients stopped with the end of growth. But by the mid-80s, it was clear that mature ecosystems did continue to absorb nitrogen, mostly in soil. By showing that nitrogen capture is much faster than its release, Lewis and colleagues suggest a mechanism by which old ecosystems can accumulate new inputs of nutrients. Because soils rich in organics can quickly incorporate nitrogen, forest soils have the potential to absorb excess nitrogen that has been newly added to the biosphere through human activities. Application of synthetic nitrogen...

Read More
Water rises, cattle graze, dunes walk on the Kalahari
Oct15

Water rises, cattle graze, dunes walk on the Kalahari

There is water under the dry sands of the Kalahari. Perversely, this gift has lead to a cycle of land degradation.

Read More
River Flow By Design: Environmental Flows Support Ecosystem Services In Rivers Natural And Novel
Oct09

River Flow By Design: Environmental Flows Support Ecosystem Services In Rivers Natural And Novel

“When the sun peeped over the Sierra Madre, it slanted across a hundred miles of lovely desolation, a vast flat bowl of wilderness rimmed by jagged peaks. On the map the Delta was bisected by the river, but in fact the river was nowhere and everywhere, for he could not decide which of a hundred green lagoons offered the most pleasant and least speedy path to the Gulf.”

Read More