Heads up for ESA Portland!

During ESA’s 2012 annual meeting in Portland, Oregon, next week, EcoTone will be highlighting blog posts from meeting participants. Joern Fischer of Leuphana Universität, Lüneburg, gets the jump on the conference coverage today with a post at his blog Ideas for Sustainability, excerpted below.  I’ll be a the Ecological Society of America Meeting in Portland next week! And I intend to blog about it, with a random bias towards whatever I find interesting. This, most likely, will mean I’ll comment on conservation and sustainability issues being discussed; and who knows, perhaps I’ll feel the urge to have random rants about the uselessness of mega-conferences (you never know…); or I might complain about jet fuel being senselessly burned in the name of science. Myself, I’ll be presenting in a symposium on “Human behavior and sustainability” — details here. I have thought more than once that flying to this thing to talk about how we need behaviour change is a complete load of crap (excuse me) — and I doubt I’ll get over this feeling. So, this time, I will go, for various reasons, but the irony is certainly not lost on me. The symposium is loosely based on a paper I led with Robert Dyball, which you can find here. Rob is coordinating the symposium. See you at the ESA, perhaps! …continue reading “Measuring academic activity — and heads up for ESA Portland!” at Joern’s blog Ideas for Sustainability. Follow Joern on Twitter @ideas4sust Have an ESA2012 blog post you want to share? Email Liza: llester [at] esa [dot]...

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No love for the lady ginkgos

Washington DC Department of Urban Forestry nips stinky seeds in the bud By Liza Lester, ESA communications officer. A male Gingko biloba in Lafayette Park, flanking the White House. Credit, Liza Lester April, 2012. As an urban arboreal companion, the ginkgo has much to recommend it. Its tall branches bring welcome summer shade, the fans of its leaves turn a lovely gold in the fall, it copes well with city pollution, lives for thousands of years, and isn’t prone to disease or insect infestation. But it has a serious drawback. In the fall, mature female ginkos produce fleshy seeds (not a “fruit” in the parlance of botany, as the ginkgo is not an angiosperm, or flowering plant), and unlike cherry season, the height of ginko reproduction is not a time of celebration. The seeds drop all over city streets, smelling “like dirty socks and vomit.” Some city dwellers hate the trees so much that they are willing to cut them down rather that endure the annual mess. Rather than massacre female ginkgo trees all over the city, this week DC’s Urban Forestry Administration will spray the trees with “Shield EC” aka “Sprout Nip” aka “chlorpropham,” an herbicide that interferes with the division of plant cells during growth. Agricultural distributors typically use chlorpropham to discourage potatoes from sprouting after harvest. Buds and shoots  – anywhere the plant is actively growing – are hotspots of cell division, and the incipient ginko seed buds fall off before they can grow stinky. At least, that’s the idea. Not all customers are satisfied. Since only female trees are a problem, it would make sense to plant only male trees. But male and female trees look identical when their reproductive parts aren’t hanging out. It can be a good two decades before a tree matures and begins to produce either pollen cones or seeds. Botanist CL Lee’s argument for an X/Y sex determination scheme (like the human mechanism), pointing to a subtle chromosomal difference between the sexes, has not been confirmed in the fifty years since he proposed it. Genetics has not provided an easy solution. Although Chinese scientists have been looking for molecular signatures that would allow botanists to sex young saplings, there is no easy test as of yet. Instead, nurseries now take cuttings of mature male trees to create “clones” of the male tree, either inducing root growth, or grafting the cutting to the roots of a young tree (sometimes this backfires when the graft fails and the root stock turns out to be female, hence reports of male trees turning female). But in the meantime there are robust, mature female trees...

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Spreading Green fire one community at a time

By Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs Directly following a recent showing of the new film Green fire about Aldo Leopold, a woman in the audience confessed that she had “never heard of the man,” in spite of being an active member of several environmental organizations that Leopold had either helped establish or heavily influenced. That’s just one of the reasons Stanley Temple is spending much of his time traveling around the United States to show and discuss the film.   Temple is Professor Emeritus of conservation, forest and wildlife ecology, and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and senior fellow and science advisor with the Aldo Leopold Foundation.  He’s visiting communities around the country to introduce Leopold and his ideas to audiences who may never have heard of the man who was a key figure in shaping American approaches to managing natural resources; the pioneer of the field that would become known as wildlife ecology and management. Leopold is best known as the author of A Sand County Almanac, which wasn’t published until after his death in the late 1940s.  Sales were initially feeble—Americans were not ready for Leopold’s essays on “one man’s striving to live by and with, rather than on, the American land.”  But when it was reissued as a paperback in the late 1960s, Americans and others around the globe had caught up with Leopold; the book has sold over two million copies in ten languages. Leopold was a Yale-trained forester who, as noted by Temple, never stagnated in his thinking.  In fact, over the course of his 61 years, Leopold changed his view in several areas, perhaps most notably, his ideas about predators.  At the beginning of his career, he had promoted killing of wolves in the American Southwest.   Later in his career, Leopold shifted 180 degrees in his thinking, recognizing the key role predators play in a healthy ecosystem.  This shift is captured in A Sand County Almanac: “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes.  I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and to the mountain.  I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise.  But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.” Last Friday, Temple showed Green fire in Reston, Virginia, one of the country’s few planned communities, and one which is facing big changes.  Reston lies...

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The Last Reef

Advocacy film delivers “Cities beneath the Sea” in 3D IMAX, bringing you nudibranchs as you’ve never seen them before and activism that you have. By Liza Lester, ESA communications officer. La Evolución Silenciosa (The Silent Evolution), an installation of 400 life-size figures 9 meters under the sea off Cancun / Isla Mujeres, Mexico, is featured in the new IMAX film The Last Reef: Cities beneath the Sea. Credit, Jason deCaires Taylor. WE OPEN with an atomic explosion mushrooming over Bikini Atoll. Historic footage, made 3D through the magic of post-production graphic arts, rolls on a projector screen in a 3D schoolroom. In 1946, the United States removed all humans from Bikini in preparation for atomic tests that would span twelve years and 23 nuclear detonations. Lingering radioactivity has kept people away. In our absence, the disembodied voice of Jamie Lee tells us, the reef has rebounded. Fishy, invertebrate and microbial life now thrives on the resurgent coral (with the exception of a few species that didn’t make it back). From this promising beginning, The Last Reef plunges us into the present, into the ocean, into full throttle modern 3D-IMAX, and into an old school advocacy film, heavy with environmental rhetoric and swelling music. “We love working with images and music,” said director Steve McNicholas, during the post-preview panel discussion at AAAS headquarters, explaining that he and co-creator Luke Cresswell are not scientists or wildlife documentarians, and began filming the ocean because they wanted to take us on an underwater adventure. During the filming of their first underwater feature they awakened to the not-so-beautiful developments in the ocean resulting from fishing, shipping, agriculture, and fossil fuel combustion. “Mid-way through making Wild Ocean we became quite politicized.” The team behind the Broadway sensation STOMP!, McNicholas and Cresswell know what they are doing with sight and sound.  They commissioned a novel containment system from cinematographer D.J. Roller to house the massive 3D macro beamsplitting IMAX camera system, helping him shoot closer close-ups of reef creatures underwater. You have never seen nudibranchs like this before! A soundtrack thrumming with complicated rhythms (and a descending harp line reminiscent of John Adams’ El Nino) matches the vibrant underwater colors and textures, occasionally freezing with anxiety or swelling with promise as the narrator tells us of human threats to the reefs. McNicolas and Cresswell intercut scenes of the reef “cities beneath the sea” with some beautiful, if frenetic, footage of New York City – drawing an analogy of two kinds of communities built on the accretions of past generations. We get a simple introduction to the ecology of the reef, couched in balance-of-nature oratory; the coral...

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State of the Science, 2012

Thoughts and twitterings around the ecosphere on President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress, Tuesday, January 24th, 2012. In the Wednesday morning quarterbacking that followed this year’s State of the Union, pundits aired the perennial complaint that the President’s speech ran too long, heavily-laden with a Clinton-style laundry list of programs. But citizens like to hear their favorite programs mentioned, and we in the science community are no exception! Technical education and funding for basic research briefly made the list, but the majority of the attention went to energy. The President pitched “clean” energy from wind, sun and reduced waste, alongside a drill-baby-drill enthusiasm for oil and gas exploration, while sidestepping any awkward mention of nuclear energy. Here’s a replay of exciting moments in #SOTU, interleaved with a sampling of comments tweeted out of the eco-science bubbleverse. Enter POTUS, with entourage. Shaking hands as he moves down the aisle, he sweeps down upon Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz) for a rare moment of bipartisan good-feeling. Giffords will formally resign on the following day to continue her recovery from the terrible head wound she suffered in a shooting last year. Share “ Obama and Giffords hug and rock back and forth. WHAT, I HAVE SOMETHING IN MY EYE. #SOTU   daveweigel Wed, Jan 25 2012 20:11:41 ReplyRetweet Share “ Boehner invites pipeline pals to #SOTU: is.gd/VlmGQk   David Roberts Wed, Jan 25 2012 11:04:28 ReplyRetweet “As the camera pans around the Capitol chamber for President Obama’s State of the Union address, see if you can spot the representatives from the state of Oil: four avid supporters of the Keystone XL Pipeline who will attend the speech as the guests of House Speaker John Boehner.” Scott Rosenberg, reporting in real-time on Gristlist. Share Congress leaps before it looks at Keystone pipeline permit review efforts | EcoTone This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst H.R. 3630, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2011,… Esa [*President Obama didn’t actually kill the Keystone XL Pipeline; he rejected a bid from TransCanada. The project is on hold pending a State Department environmental review. Tune in to EcoTone’s Policy News this Friday to learn more.] POTUS: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans: Share “ Climate is only mentioned as something that Congress can’t seem to agree on. #SOTU   Kate Sheppard Wed, Jan 25 2012 20:11:41 ReplyRetweet [Kate Sheppard is clearly reading ahead in the script, because POTUS is still talking about courage, selflessness and teamwork, and coming together to get the job done, like the military (and unlike some other...

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Beneath the waves film festival–call for submissions!

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer. Four years ago, graduate student Austin Gallagher took a video camera into the tropical waters around Mo’orea, about 17 km northwest of Tahiti in French Polynesia. With his first post to YouTube, he was hooked. Filmmaking supplied an instant gratification quotient to balance the years of patient, slow research required to turn scientific inspiration into scientific publications. It also reached an audience that doesn’t usually dive into the technical depths of scientific papers. Gallagher wanted to show people the beauty, as well as the science, of his ecological subjects, and share some of the every-day experiences of research. “It’s a way to connect with people,” he said. What I want to do is show other researchers that filmmaking isn’t that hard to do. It should be one of our tools.” Now a PhD student in conservation ecology at the University of Miami, Gallagher is still filming, and urging other divers, scientists, conservationists, and policy wonks—all the aquatic stakeholders—to take up a camera and show off the underwater world at his third annual Beneath the Waves Film Festival, screening at the Benthic Ecology Meeting in Norfolk, Virginia on March 21-24. Previous festivals have drawn audiences of 300-500 locals and conference-goers, and featured the rap stylings of young ecologists alongside professional animation and endearingly untutored footage of divers at work. Gallagher encourages novices to jump in. “Get your hands on some equipment. It doesn’t matter how good the equipment is, because you’re still going to be able to record something. The tool doesn’t make the filmmaker. It’s how you tell your story.” Gallagher recommends that new filmmakers let their own identity spill into the narrative, and use the specialized knowledge behind the lens to woo viewers. “Some of my favorite submissions have been from scientists out in the field, filming on their iPhones, for all I know,” he said. “Try to convey who you are.” Underwater footage is not required, but the film should tell a story or impart a message. Focused brevity is key. “People have really short attention spans. You should be able to get your message across in five minutes. Keep it short, sweet, and potent.” Gallagher studies sharks, and admits to a bit of a shark-bias on the festival website, but the film series welcomes aquatic themes of all persuasions in all narrative forms. He wishes he could include everyone who applies, but since space and time and limited, a panel will select films for the March lineup. Submit your creations by February 24th to be considered for the 2012 Festival. Image credit: Austin...

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AAAS exhibition captures an undersea world worth conserving

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer “A composer, an artist, a physicist and a philosopher walk into a bar,” said artist Rachel Simmons, introducing her work to a crowd at the opening of Beneath the Surface: Rediscovering a World Worth Conserving at the American Association for the Advancement of Science on November 17th. What emerges is a curious combination of sound and graphics interpreting the underwater experience of our noisy marine activities for terrestrial human perception. Noise is a problem for whales that communicate by sound. Simmons teaches at Rollins College near Orlando, and regularly draws on her scientific colleagues for collaboration and inspiration. Describing the construction of her ceramic coral reef Courtney Mattison said that the corals’ chalky exoskeleton and her artistic medium share base materials—and fragility. Her art is also heavy. Though most of her clay corals are hollow, the wall in the AAAS lobby had to be reinforced to support the weight of the installation. Above the artist’s head, bone whites and pale grays replace the vibrant glazes, illustrating the “bleaching” of stressed corals that have evicted their photosynthesizing algal cohabitants. Corals are vastly disadvantaged by the loss, usually triggered by changes in water temperature, of their symbionts. The exhibition features seven artists and ranges from descriptive nature photography to overt criticism of modern culture and its discarded byproducts, with Simmons’ and Mattison’s work somewhere in between. “Fortunately for me, I don’t have to come to conclusions. I just have to ask questions,” said Simmons. “It’s the scientists’ job to make conclusions.” But it’s the public’s job to decide how to use the information, the exhibit’s curators would seem to reply. Beneath the Surface is on display, and open to the public, at AAAS headquarters in Washington DC until March 2nd.   Listen to the art at Simmons’...

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Chickenpox sweeties and the social ecology of infectious disease

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer   No one speaks for the endangered poliomyelitis. No one raises money to protect the last survivors, as health workers stalk the virus through its last redoubts in India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan. On the contrary, the WHO spends billions on hunting it to extinction. But the virus has held out longer than expected. Joshua Michaud, policy analyst at the Kaiser Foundation, thinks the polio fighters are falling behind. Guinea worm will be the next scourge to fall, he said on an AAAS panel engaged to discuss Infectious Disease: Challenges to Eradication on Monday. Why have efforts with guinea worm been so successful? a precocious Georgetown student wanted to know. Biology was on our side. There is no vaccine for guinea worm, and no medicine to cure infection. To extract the worm, you must wind it slowly around a stick as it emerges through a sore in your leg (an oft-repeated story holds that the treatment has not changed since the Egyptians of the XVIII dynasty described it in 1550 BCE, though the source appears to have been exaggerated). The process is excruciating, and it takes weeks. But we know key details of the worm’s biology that the ancient Egyptians did not. Basic technology and careful hygiene can defeat the worm. Larvae harbor in the bodies of invisible copepods, “water flies” tiny enough to swallow. Once swallowed, female larvae nestle against the long limb bones of their hosts, growing up to a meter in length over the course of a year. They surface inside a burning ulceration that sends their victims running for a dip in a cool pond—and the next generation of larvae escape to start the cycle of life anew. The good news, said Michaud, is that guinea worm does not have another host. It has no environmental bolt hole to hide in while under siege, only to emerge when health forces are not looking. It needs humans. And affected people are visibly affected. Break the cycle for one year, and you can free a communal water source, and its community, from the worm. Copapods may be microscopic, but a simple nylon strainer on the end of a drinking tube saves you from swallowing them (although not bacterial and viral parasites that might also lurk there, interjected Dennis Carroll, in charge of avian flu and other emerging threats at USAID). Help the infected, persuade them to stay out of drinking water sources when their worm breaches, and you break the cycle. Success requires the help and good will of village elders. The Carter Foundation has been courting good...

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