A  GSPA winner’s close encounter with an Alaska senator and a fish called ‘Walter’ while advocating for NSF
Jun14

A GSPA winner’s close encounter with an Alaska senator and a fish called ‘Walter’ while advocating for NSF

A guest commentary by Timothy Treuer (Princeton University), 2016 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award recipient Walking through the door into Senator Lisa Murkowski’s fourth floor office in the Hart Senate Building feels like stepping from the halls of the nation’s capital into a home in Alaska. The walls and shelves are covered in photos of arctic landscapes, Alaska Native artwork, and other mementos of my home state. Indeed, walking around the reception area felt a lot like pacing the living room of my parents’ house back in suburban Anchorage. There were five of us there on the afternoon of April 28th. We constituted the California and Alaska contingent of the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day. The event is organized annually to give biologists and ecologists from around the country a chance to interact with Congress on the ever-pressing issue of National Science Foundation (NSF) funding. ESA sponsored my participation through a Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA), along with Brian Kastl of University of California, Santa Barbara and four other awardees representing different states. Though we had been expecting to meet with Senator Murkowski’s legislative aide, as we were ushered into a conference room we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the senator herself would be dropping in for the second half of the meeting. Because of a last minute conflict with a vote in the Capitol Building, this meant that Sen. Murkowski would be our only in person meeting with a member of Congress that day. The goal of BESC’s Congressional Visits Day is twofold. First, we were there to put a human face on NSF funding–too often federally funded research gets caricatured and lambasted by politicians whose mental image of a scientist is likely something along the lines of a Revenge of the Nerds protagonist in a lab coat. Having a collection of business-attired biologists with a polished pitch on how their federally funded research achieves real world impacts leaves a lasting impression. Second, and more concretely, we were there to ask for $8 billion in funding for NSF for fiscal year 2017. If that seems like a lot to you, consider the following three facts: (1) $8 billion is $2.44 billion less than the cost of a single Ford-class aircraft carrier, (2) proposal funding rates at NSF have fallen over the last decade by a third, and (3) the NSF would need an additional $4 billion to fund all proposals deemed meritorious (average review of ‘very good’ or higher). The meeting with Sen. Murkowski’s staff started off in what by that point felt like a familiar routine. We went around our table introducing ourselves,...

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The importance of international collaboration in the advancement of global ecological issues
Dec17

The importance of international collaboration in the advancement of global ecological issues

Many of the ecological issues facing society require cooperation among the international community to effect substantive change. The successful negotiations in Paris that resulted in the first-ever international climate accord affirm the importance of fostering international collaboration to effectively address ecological issues on a global scale. During the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, immediate Past President David Inouye shares his insights as ESA president. His reflections include representing ESA for Climate Science Day on Capitol Hill, presiding during ESA’s 100th year, and his various collaborations and outreach efforts with other ecological societies of the world. On Dec. 2014, Inouye attended the British Ecological Society and French Ecological Society joint meeting. The event included a luncheon meeting between the presidents and representatives of the world’s ecological societies. Inouye reciprocated by hosting a meeting for leadership of 13 international of societies during ESA’s Centennial Meeting in Baltimore this past summer. “One of the things we did was to have each society talk about one particular success they’ve had and one particular problem issue that they face, and that gave the other society representatives an opportunity to contribute ideas about how they might solve that problem and how their societies might be able to benefit from that success that the other society had,” said Inouye. “So I made it a point during my year as a president to get to a number of ecological society meetings.” Inouye also attended the Ecological Society of Japan’s annual meeting, the European Ecological Federation meeting and an International Phenology Conference in Turkey. Aside from climate change, another ecological issue with worldwide consequences is the decline of pollinators. In the podcast, Inouye  discusses his work over the past two years as one of the United States representatives for an Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) assessment focusing on the status of pollinators around the world. Established in 2012, IPBES is an independent intergovernmental body open to all member countries of the United Nations. The assessment will “address the role of native and exotic pollinators, the status of and trends in pollinators and pollination networks and services, drivers of change, impacts on human well-being, food production of pollination declines and deficits and the effectiveness of responses to pollination declines and deficits.” The final pollinator report is expected to be due out in Feb. 2016, after it has been approved by all participating countries. In addition to climate change and pollinator preservation, food and natural resource scarcity, invasive threats, ocean health, and endangered species protection are among the many issues where partnering with other ecological societies and international entities will be pivotal towards...

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Programs that promote diversity in science education
Oct30

Programs that promote diversity in science education

The White House recently released a fact sheet as part of its efforts to promote Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics). The fact sheet focuses largely on how implicit bias (unconscious or unintentional assumptions that influence perceptions and judgements of others) can hinder participation among women and other underrepresented demographic groups in STEM-related fields. This finding reinforces the need for programs and initiatives that help promote careers in science for traditionally underrepresented groups. During the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, 2015 Ecological Society of America (ESA) Graduate Student Policy Award winner Natalie Hambalek, a first generation college student, highlights some of the science education programs available to underprivileged and underrepresented minorities. She also discusses her work to promote careers in science for young women as Co-President of Graduate Women in Science at Oregon State University. “When young students are asked to draw scientists, they draw and Einstein-looking man, usually with big glasses, frazzled hair, a lab coat and a chemistry flask. I think there’s this common notion that science isn’t accessible because of the use of a lot of technical jargon. So I wanted to help in changing this stigma, particularly engaging young girls in science activities,” stated Hambalek. “Because women are traditionally underrepresented in many STEM fields, I think it’s really important to assist in normalizing women in science,” she continued. She also cites three programs she participated in that help promote educational opportunity and career growth in STEM fields: The Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation program is a program specifically targeted to racial and ethnic groups traditionally underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Funded through the National Science Foundation, the program helps colleges and universities in their efforts to increase the number of student who obtain STEM-related degrees among these underrepresented groups. The Ronald E. McNair scholarship is a federal TRIO program funded by the US Department of Education. The program funds 151 institutions throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. The McNair program is geared towards individuals with demonstrated strong academic potential who are either first-generation college students with financial need or members of a demographic that has been traditionally underrepresented in graduate education. Sponsored through the Aspen Institute, the William Randolph Hearst Endowed Fellowship for Minority Students offers graduate students and undergraduate students from underrepresented communities of color the opportunity to work within the Aspen Institute, a non-profit research think tank. The program promotes collaboration between grant-making entities, non-profit groups, social enterprises and public-private partnerships towards addressing various policy issues facing society. Within ESA, Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) has worked...

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Pikas act as ‘climate indicators’
Aug01

Pikas act as ‘climate indicators’

The Oscar-winning Disney movie “Frozen” includes a living snowman character named Olaf that would melt and die under the 70 degree temperatures humans and many other animals prefer. Of course, there are a number of species in the animal kingdom sensitive to heat conditions humans generally find preferable. Some of these are fellow mammals , but not all, are limited to the extreme cold Arctic and Antarctic climates. At home in loose rock areas in alpine and subalpine mountain regions, American pikas are one such species. Though they bear a resemblance to rodents, pikas are actually members of the lagomorpha order, which includes rabbits and hares. Their North American range includes British Columbia in Canada and the US states of California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Much like the Disney’s Olaf, pikas cannot endure the mid-to-upper 70s temperatures we humans deem comfortably warm for more than a short period.  In fact, pikas would die if exposed to temperatures above 77 degrees for longer than six hours. Alas, the thick-furry coats that keep them snug through a cold-mountain winter prevent them from ever taking in the rays on a warm summer day at the beach. This heat intolerance largely prevents their existence below 8,202 feet in the regions of New Mexico, Nevada and southern California. And yet, this distinct temperature sensitivity makes them interesting specimens for studying the profound impacts of climate change on ecosystems. During the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, 2014 Ecological Society of America Graduate Student Policy Award winner Johanna Varner (University of Utah) discusses her research into pikas and their importance as climate indicators. A recent study found that extinction rates for American pikas have increased five-fold in the last 10 years while the rate at which the pikas are moving up mountain slopes has increased 11-fold. The US Fish and Wildlife Service ruled in 2010 that the American pika does not warrant Endangered Species Act protection, but this could change if this population decline significantly worsens. Luckily, some pikas have proven to be adaptable in their foraging mannerisms. One population of pikas in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge have adapted to warming temperatures by increasingly eating (and re-ingesting) moss.  Eating moss, which grows in the shadier parts of the animal’s habitat, helps the pikas avoid the blistering (deadly in their case) summer sun while also helping minimize their becoming a victim of predation. Aside from their obvious appeal as “charismatic fauna”, deserving of Disney characterizations in their own right, some might question why research into preserving pikas is important. As Varner notes in the podcast,...

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Pickett touts importance of stewardship and a diverse, collaborative ecological community

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst When sharing science with diverse publics representing a broad swath of cultural, ethnic, ideological and socioeconomic interests, it certainly helps when those doing the sharing are themselves representative of a diverse cross-section of society. In a recent The Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Ecological Society of America (ESA) President Steward Pickett (2011-2012) notes that the science of ecology is strengthened when a wide variety of individuals are engaged in it, bringing a diversity of values to the table. Pickett refers to science as a system consisting of three parts: 1) engaging in discovery 2) nurturing a diverse community that carries out the act of discovery and 3) connecting the science to the larger society. “This diverse community, that’s part of the mechanism by which science works, but this diverse community is also the mechanism that connects the science, the discovery and the understanding, to the larger society…science is a system. It requires all three of those things and the community that does this complex job needs to be mutually supportive and to really understand what all this does and ESA is uniquely positioned to promote all three of the parts of the scientific process.” says Pickett. In the podcast, he also discusses ESA’s Earth Stewardship Initiative and the Society’s efforts to advance sustainability. Pickett emphasizes that ecologists need to function as a partner amongst a network of groups and disciplines working towards a common goal.   These can include religious groups, landscape designers, natural resource managers and social scientists.   A diversity of people and perspectives play just as important role in advancing environmental sustainability, says Pickett, as biological diversity does in sustaining an ecosystem. This commitment to fostering human diversity in the ecological community underscores the importance of ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program, which seeks to nurture interest and development in ecology among traditionally underrepresented communities. Increasing minority participation in the sciences has been a priority at the US Department of Education and was cited in a National Academies report as key towards sustaining the nation’s global competitiveness in innovation. As Pickett notes, promoting diversity internally should complement external outreach by scientists beyond the traditional ecological community. Science investment enjoys support in part because of the broad cross-section of the nation that benefits from it, including education and research institutions in virtually every state. Sharing science beyond the scientific community is a critical part of the scientific enterprise.   To maintain critical investments in science and education as well as further public understanding of the natural world, it is essential that this outreach continue....

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