Putting ecology back in school

Currently, U.S. students can graduate high school without taking a course that covers ecological science or that encourages ecological literacy—the ability to understand the interconnectedness of life on Earth. By not being exposed to this material, students’ career paths can be dramatically impacted. On a basic level, they may not consider the advantages of exploring ecology as an option for post-secondary education. But sometimes, they may never understand the complex dynamics of natural and built environments, including the role of humans in an ecosystem.

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Pittsburgh bioblitz: biological inventory of an urban high school’s oasis

Just down the street from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh—where the Ecological Society of America (ESA) is holding its 95th Annual Meeting this week—is a vacant lot adopted by the City Charter High School. Last Sunday, ESA ecologists and students visited the lot which is being restored by the 10th graders of the City Charter High School in coordination with the Student Conservation Association (SCA).

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Spreading SEEDS, growing diversity

SEEDS is an education program of Ecological Society of America (ESA), and Iman is one of several SEEDS students who will be attending and presenting research at ESA’s upcoming Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh.

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President’s budget reflects priorities in STEM, renewable energy, climate, and “bio-economy”

This post was contributed by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs As is tradition on the first Monday in February, the President yesterday unveiled his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year of 2011.  All over Washington, DC, federal agencies held budget briefings, with more to come over the next several days. Although President Obama called for some fiscal belt-tightening, Administration officials presenting the budget pointed out that Obama was preserving—and in some cases boosting—key science research and development (R&D) programs.  Presidential Science Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren said during a briefing that the President: …managed to preserve what needed to be preserved for science while holding the line on spending. Among other areas that Holdren highlighted, is a 63 percent increase proposed for the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture competitive grants program.  That increase would bring the program to $429 million and a significant part of it would focus on bioenergy research. Holdren also pointed to the President’s proposed $3.7 billion spread across multiple agencies to foster education in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.  That proposal includes $1 billion to improve science and math achievements of K-12 students.   Jane Lubchenco, who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that her agency’s proposed R&D budget is the largest boost that NOAA has seen in over a decade.  Lubchenco characterized strengthening science at the agency as part of her “personal mission” and said agency priorities include addressing ocean acidification, detection of marine pathogens, and aquaculture. The Administration’s budget also reflects renewed emphasis on the US Global Change Research Program, proposing a 21 percent increase to $2.6 billion for the multi-agency program.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would get a boost to its Earth science program to improve forecasting of climate change and natural disasters.  The Department of Interior’s lead science agency, the US Geological Survey is proposed to receive an $18 million increase for its USGCRP programs, focused on understanding the impacts of climate change on natural resources. At the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget briefing, Director Arden Bement’s highlights included the agency’s plans to integrate its existing climate science and engineering research with new education and cyber-based activities through its Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability initiative.  In addition, the agency is interested in fostering the “bio-economy” by drawing on biology to boost agricultural productivity, industrial processes, and environmental sustainability. NSF’s National Ecological Observatory Network—which promises to open up new horizons for large-scale biology—is slated to receive $15 million to complete design of the network and $20 million...

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National Lab Day: White House, science societies begin campaign for science education

This post was contributed by ESA’s Director of Education and Diversity Programs, Teresa Mourad. A new nationwide campaign was launched yesterday at the White House, designed to motivate and inspire America’s youth to excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Speaking about the “Educate to Innovate” campaign, President Obama reaffirmed the importance of science and mathematics education to drive America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and innovation. The President sees STEM education as vital in the development of a citizenry with the ability to solve problems, think critically and make informed decisions throughout their lives. A series of high-powered partnerships have come together to invest $260 million in the project. Among these is a coalition of science and engineering societies supporting National Lab Day, a grassroots effort to bring hands-on learning to 10 million students by upgrading science labs, supporting project-based learning and building communities of support for grades 6-12 STEM teachers. The coalition of more than 200 public and private sector organizations, including ESA, represents more than 2.5 million STEM professionals and almost 4 million educators, with strong financial support from the Hidary Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and industry partners, including Microsoft, AT&T and Texas Instruments. National Lab Day will facilitate inquiry-based hands-on STEM experiences in classrooms, learning labs and after-school programs throughout the year and culminate in special events each May.  “We wouldn’t teach football from a textbook,” said John Holdren, Science Adviser to President Obama. “It is even more important that America’s youth have the opportunity to learn math and science by doing.” What’s refreshing about National Lab Day is its grassroots approach, reflecting the community-building ethos in a digital age. It is a timely recognition that no one group can move students to the top in math and science achievement alone. The initiative will help to engage the scientific and educational community in this challenge.  National Lab Day will match teachers with scientists and technology professionals in a sort of “eHarmony” system, based on educational needs and rooted in local communities. With the pressing need for a world class STEM workforce, National Lab Day is the scientific community’s response to President Obama’s challenge issued at the National Academy of Sciences this spring to raise STEM education as a national priority. This initiative promises to help move the U.S. from a position of being 21st in the world in science achievement to being 1st.  As President Obama says, it will “expand opportunity for all Americans, including women and minorities” and “unlock a sense of promise”. To join in this important national campaign, please visit www.nationallabday.org. Other...

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A Conference about Water V: The EcoEd Digital Library

This post was submitted by Teresa Mourad and Jennifer Riem of ESA’s Education Office. The ongoing discussions at the Millennium Conference are highlighting the role that ecologists and social scientists play in issues related to water, ecosystem services, and drought. Preparing the next generation of scientists to research, adapt, mitigate and manage these challenges is a responsibility that we all share. While the plenary talks and poster presentations have all showcased the current scientific knowledge about these topics, EcoEd Digital Library is also showcasing a collection of teaching resources related to water resources that can be used to bring this knowledge into the classroom. These resources were all submitted by ecologists who have integrated their own research into their teaching and published their work for others to use. The collection highlights the close-knit relationship between research and education that must be developed in order to prepare future ecologists and social scientists to add to the knowledge being shared today. You can view the resources in the Drought & Water-Ecosystem Services Collection here. EcoEd Digital Library is part of the BioScience Education Network (BEN), which is the biology pathway of the National Science Digital Library. EcoEd DL accepts a wide variety of resources, including  photos and photo collections, videos, tables and figures, datasets, and classroom activities. The descriptions and keywords accompanying the resources allow instructors to search by keyword and browse by ecological concept. By submitting research products to the library, researchers can fulfill broader impacts requirements of funding agencies. Most importantly, educators will have access to the best scientific resources for their classrooms. EcoEd DL also welcomes resources on other ecological topics. For more information on how to submit, please visit the EcoEd Digital Library...

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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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Plants “smell” siblings, scale back competition

A study out in Communicative and Integrative Biology shows the mechanism behind plants that can recognize their own siblings.  These plants send out fewer roots when planted next to siblings than when they’re planted next to strangers, a phenomenon the researchers think lessens competition among sibs but increases competition among unrelated plants. The study was done in the lab of Harsh Bais, a researcher at the University of Delaware, on the common laboratory plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Bais and his graduate student Meredith Biedrzycki, the lead author on the paper,  exposed seedlings to exudates, or root secretions, of siblings and of unrelated plants.  The plants exposed to strangers’ exudates had greater lateral root formation — that is, their roots spread further away from the plant. The ecologists used wild-collected strains of Arabidopsis in the study to avoid the potential of lab-reared strains having unknown siblings.  It’s interesting that a well-studied lab plant would show this ability to sense its siblings. It would be interesting also to know what other wild plants have this heightened sense of family. Is it common, or specific to certain groups?  Are there traits in Arabidopsis that make it a good lab plant and also give it advanced sensory capabilities? Read the abstract...

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