Master-of-one caterpillars dodge bird predation

Insect herbivore species often specialize on the host plants that they eat, evolving adaptations to use a plant’s unique set of resources.  But like any time you throw all your eggs in one basket, these caterpillars put themselves at risk. Michael Singer of Wesleyan University gave a talk today at the ESA Annual Meeting that evaluated these tradeoffs in caterpillars. “A lot of evolutionary ecologists have pondered the advantages of being a specialist, and there are presumably tradeoffs,” he said. “Specialists have a smaller resource base, but they might be better adapted to their niche.” Singer and his colleagues wondered if there could be other advantages to specialization than better utilization of host plants as food. Specialists might also be more adept than generalists at, for example, using their host plants for defense or refuge from predation, specifically by birds. The team tested this idea by excluding birds from experimental plots in a temperate forest in Connecticut and surveying the density of generalist and specialist caterpillar species inside and outside the exclosures. In the exclosures, his team observed a surge in generalist density compared to natural areas. The number of specialists, however, only increased slightly. The conclusion? Bird predators were preferentially targeting generalists. The difference is likely due to the specialists’ ability to take better advantage of their host plants, says Singer. Specialists can use chemicals from their host plant’s tissue to make themselves toxic.  While Singer’s caterpillars don’t do this, they might be more adept at camouflaging themselves by finding the best places to hide or to blend in. Singer says that the interactions among the three trophic levels – plants, herbivores and predators – are the key to understanding the species’ ecology and evolution. “Food webs are complex, and that complexity is fundamental to understanding ecological specialization and diversity in natural ecosystems,” he...

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Food for fish dwindling on developed lakes

A pulse of midges swarms over Lake Malawi in Africa. Photo credit: The Daily Mail. Freshwater fish often rely on terrestrial insects as a portion of their food supply. In lakes, the size and shape of the lake can determine how much the fish rely on terrestrial insects for food. But with humans’ love of lakefront property, the resulting development of lakeshores could have an impact on these insect subsidies. Tessa Francis, a post-doctoral researcher at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) asked this question in her talk yesterday at the ESA Annual Meeting. She identified fish stomach contents over the course of a year in four Pacific Northwest lakes, surveyed fish in Pacific Northwest lakes — 28 of them — and compiled published data on fish populations in lakes across North America. Francis found that at undeveloped lakes, insect outbreaks often happen in pulses, where insects emerge over a short time period. She remembers pulses of millions of flying ants at one undeveloped lake in British Columbia during the spring of her study season, but only days later the ants had all but disappeared. In highly developed areas, however, these insect pulses vanish. This disparity was apparent in fish food availability: In the undeveloped lakes, terrestrial insects comprised up to 100 percent of the diet of fish in undeveloped lakes, in contrast to a maximum of 2 percent in developed lakes. What’s more, Francis’ large-scale assessment of published data also showed this pattern at the regional and national scale. This difference in food subsidy translates into fish behavior and nutrition. Francis found that trout in developed lakes had a 50 percent lower daily intake of energy. Lower energy intake can slow growth and compromise fish reproduction, she says, which will ultimately lead to population declines. But she emphasizes that even a small amount of shoreline vegetation can serve as insect habitat. “Our shorelines need to remain as intact as possible, with a mix of trees and shrubs,” she says. “But we may not need a dense, native forest. There likely are designs that are compatible with both lakeshore development and sustaining lake food...

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The State of our Society (ESA, that is)

Program Chair Scott Franklin and ESA President Sunny Power at the scientific plenary and ESA Awards session. This post was contributed by ESA’s Director of Public Affairs, Nadine Lymn. At the start of this morning’s Scientific Plenary & ESA Awards Session, ESA President Alison “Sunny” Power gave her State of the Society address. Much like the U.S. presidential “State of the Union,” this address talks about where the society is now and where it’s headed. Power started by noting what a “wild ride” the last year had been for society at large as well as for individual ESA members feeling the effects of the economic times.  Many of us know people who have lost their jobs and many of us can personally relate to university furloughs, she said.  But Power also pointed to the exciting parts of the “ride” , especially the arrival of a new Administration that values science and the reality of several ecologists now serving in key positions within the Administration-among them, John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Kit Batten, Science Advisor to the Under Secretary of the Department of Interior. These appointments present an exciting opportunity for ecological scientists to play critical roles in shaping policy, said Power.  And they have their roots in the Society’s long history of involvement in public policy.  She pointed to the very first meeting of the Society and its first President, Victor Sheldon.  Even back in 1915, many in the Society believed strongly in applying their science to policy issues of the day, such as land preservation.  That ecological scientists continue their involvement in public policy is important and appropriate, said Sunny.  Today–when society at large faces a myriad of environmental issues–offers more opportunities than ever to do...

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ESA meeting kicks off with award to Senator, opening plenary

The ESA meeting kicked off last night with the opening plenary session and presentation of the ESA Regional Policy Award.  ESA’s Director Katherine McCarter welcomed everyone to the meeting, citing the fact that her first ESA meeting as director was also in Albuquerque in 1997. She pointed out that the meeting’s theme, “Ecological Knowledge and a Global Sustainable Society,” is particularly relevant given the world’s financial crisis. The time is ripe, she said, for ecological knowledge to come to the forefront of political and social decision-making as we revamp our financial system. ESA’s President Sunny Power then introduced Sarah Cobb, a spokesperson for Sen. Tom Udall (D) of New Mexico. Udall won this award in its second year in part because, said Power, “of his continued efforts to return bipartisanship to science policymaking.” Although Udall could not attend, he sent a recorded DVD message which was played on a big screen. (For the record, the Senator looks exactly like his press photo.) The ten-minute message spoke about the interface between science and policymaking, describing the differences between an institution where facts and quantities rule, and one where emotions, interests and social impact have the most clout. He spoke of his efforts to bridge that gap, and said that “science can and should produce more enlightened policy.”  He accepted the award with honor because, as he put it, “it means I’m on your team.” The Senator, who has a lifetime environmental voting record of 95 percent according to the LCV scale, was indeed a worthy recipient. We hope that he continues (as he mentioned in his acceptance speech) to push for the passage of clean energy legislation in Congress. The opening plenary speaker, Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project, then gave a riveting talk about the world’s impending water crisis. Her talk touched on the dangers of our current consumption levels for world ecosystem health, but also emphasized that engendered within ecosystem health is public health. She called for a change in the way we value water: not just seeing water as valuable when it provides energy for production or for human drinking sources, but also for the ecosystem services that water ecosystems provide, such as filtration in wetlands and recharge on floodplains. She ended with a social take that called into mind environmental justice. She said, “Everyone in the world should have enough water before anyone has more than enough.” Stay tuned for more...

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ESA Annual Meeting starts Monday

ESA’s 94th Annual Meeting will begin on Sunday, August 2 in Albuquerque, NM. The meeting’s theme is “Ecological Knowledge and a Global Sustainable Society,” and the program will include everything from talks on urban ecosystems to sessions about geoengineering to a workshop on improv comedy. We’ll be live blogging from the meeting, with updates, stories, photos, and (hopefully) some video. Check back often! If you’re blogging about the meeting, we want to know about it.  Send us an e-mail at esablog@esa.org and direct us to your post. We’ll post links to the best ones. Also, follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ESA_org and use our ESA meeting hashtag, #ESA09, if you tweet about the meeting. See you — virtually or corporeally — in...

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ESA Position Statement on economic development

ESA released a position statement today on the proper place of ecological and environmental capital in the nation’s economy.  As the United States and much of the world try to recover from the current economic crisis, ESA recommends that long-term sustainability should be prioritized in the restructuring of business models and economic growth. A key to this task, the statement says, is to take natural capital into account. Natural assets and ecosystem services — such as water filtration, pollination and carbon sequestration — lack a formal market and are often overlooked in policy and business decisions. Yet, the statement asserts, healthy ecosystems are the foundation for sound economies, sustaining human life with services such as food, fuel, and clean air. The statement recommends that three things need to be recognized by policymakers and businesspeople in order to create an environmentally sustainable economy: (1)   The value and economic impacts of ecosystem services. The statement recommends that decision makers should take natural capital into account when making economic calculations, citing as an example the World Bank’s concept of adjusted net saving, which calculates an economy’s rate of savings after factoring in natural resource consumption, pollution-related damages, and other environmental impacts. This creation of markets that value natural capital would drive more environmentally and socially sustainable investments. (2)   Environmental externalities. Environmental impacts and resource shortages resulting from economic activity often impact people and communities far removed from the source; economists refer to these external effects as externalities. Agribusiness, for example, benefits from using nitrogen fertilizers but does not bear the costs associated with oxygen-depleted dead zones in aquatic ecosystems. Examples of internalizing these external affects include property rights for environmental assets, payments for ecosystem services and liabilities for environmental damage, including carbon tax or cap-and-trade systems. (3)   Improved predictive capacity. Currently, the statement says, the capacity to predict future environmental costs of public and private investments are weak at best. The statement recommends improving these abilities, and says that such measures already exist in many national regulations and international agreements concerning human, animal and plant health. A recent example is the World Trade Organization’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement. What are your opinions about environmental sustainability and economic development? Share your thoughts in the...

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New ESA podcasts page

The ESA podcasts page has been revamped!  Check out the new look for your favorite ESA podcasts on the new ESA podcasts page. Or, if you’re an ESA podcast newbie,  here’s the rundown of the three series: Beyond the Frontier features interviews with the authors publishing in the ESA journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The authors to discuss – in their own words – their research, related implications, and/or new developments in their field. The Ecologist Goes to Washington explores the role of ecological science in public policy. This podcast features the stories and reflections of scientists who have engaged their local, state, or federal governments in addressing the broader implications of their research. Field Talk focuses on the experiences of authors who have published in three of ESA’s journals: Ecology, Ecological Applications and Ecological Monographs. Science is about more than just results, and behind every ecologist are stories of time spent in the field or at the bench. Join them on their adventures in the name of...

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Tyler Prize nominations open

The information below was submitted by Sue Anderson of the University of Southern California. The 2010 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, an international award that honors achievements and contributions in the fields of environmental science, protection, energy and medicine, is now open for nominations. The deadline is September 15. The winner will receive a gold medallion and a $200,000 cash award. The 2009 Tyler Prize was awarded to Richard B. Alley, The Pennsylvania State University and V. Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California.  Alley and Ramanathan were recognized for their research on anthropogenic global change, including oceanic, glacial and atmospheric phenomena. The Tyler Prize Executive Committee would like to extend an invitation to you to submit a nomination for the 2010 Tyler Prize; please see the requirements for nominations. For more information on the Tyler Prize please visit the Tyler Prize web site or contact the Tyler Prize office at (213) 740-9760 or tylerprz@usc.edu. The winners will be announced in April...

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