Building with Nature: the Dutch Sand Engine
Jan27

Building with Nature: the Dutch Sand Engine

“Cities are emergent systems, with only 5 to 7 thousand years of history, mostly during the relative climatic stability of the Holocene,” said guest editor Kristina Hill, an associate professor at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design. “We’ve never tried to operate a city during a rapid climate change, especially not on the scale of population we now have, with our largest cities housing upwards of 20 million people.”

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Wiring food webs at Lake George
Nov12

Wiring food webs at Lake George

A collaborative project at Lake George, NY, merges sensory, experimental, and natural history data to develop a better model for environmental monitoring and prediction in lake ecosystems around the world. Guest post by Matt Schuler, a 2013 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winner currently working as postdoctoral researcher in Rick Relyea’s lab at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. The clear waters of Lake George offer an unobstructed view of the claw-like Ponar Grab Sampler as it reaches the sandy lake bottom, 15 feet below our boat. Kelsey Sudol, an undergraduate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) pulls sharply upward on the rope attached to the grab sampler, triggering a spring-loaded mechanism. The trap clamps shut around the soil and invertebrates that live in and on the soil, and she draws them to the surface. After we have separated mollusks, arthropods, and insect larvae from the soil with a sieve, this will be one of 30 samples taken from around the lake each month. We will use the data from these samples to understand how invertebrate biomass, diversity, and composition change across space and time. Our invertebrate surveys are part of a food web study that is measuring the complex interactions of the organisms living in Lake George, from the smallest plankton to the largest lake trout. However, measuring and modeling the food web of the 44-square-mile lake is only one component of the Jefferson Project at Lake George. The Jefferson Project is a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort between RPI, IBM, and the FUND for Lake George. Researchers in ecology, engineering, computer science, and the arts and humanities – among other fields – are working together to build a better understanding of lake ecosystems around the world. The project combines new technologies, including an Internet of Things (IOT) computational platform, with observational and experimental data, in developing a new model for environmental monitoring and prediction. The IOT computer platform captures and analyzes abiotic data from a series of “smart” sensors located in and around the lake. The sensor data are combined with food web data and experimental data to form a comprehensive picture of how Lake George functions as a complex ecosystem. This new model can be emulated around the world, helping to redefine how we monitor ecosystems, understand the impact of human activities, and provide insight for the protection of freshwater resources. These lofty goals would not be possible without 35 years of water quality and chemistry monitoring data collected by researchers at Rensselaer’s Darrin Freshwater Institute, with support from The FUND for Lake George. Those data indicate that the water quality of Lake George is changing – with noticeable increases in salt, algae,...

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Biomimicry: how nature serve as a guide for technological advancements
Sep22

Biomimicry: how nature serve as a guide for technological advancements

Human civilization has long used nature to inspire technological innovation. This process is called biomimicry, creating sustainable solutions to human challenges by adopting patterns and strategies found in nature. During the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, 2015 Graduate Student Policy Award winner Sydney Blankers discusses her research into urban and environmental planning. She also touches on the benefits of biomimicry, using an example of mimicking the patterns of shark skin patterns that deflect parasites and bacteria. Blankers noted that emulating this pattern has helped hospitals design fabric that deters the spread of harmful bacteria, such as E. coli and Staphylococcus A. There are numerous examples where mimicking patterns found in the natural world has led to technological innovations: Sharkskin alone has inspired multiple innovations, including improved Olympic swimsuits. Studying how termite dens maintain their temperatures amid extremely cold or warm outside weather has helped a Zimbabwe architect construct a building that uses less than 10 percent of the energy of a conventional building of its size. Velcro, created in 1941, was modeled after burs, prickly seeds known to get attached to animals and clothing upon contact. Scientists have discovered that the V-formation many bird species fly in actually saves energy for the birds at the back of the line.. Scientists believe aircraft traveling from coast-to-coast could one day mimic the V-pattern and save as much as 15 percent less fuel than flying solo. Similar to the shark skin, mimicking the bumps of the lotus flower has led to the development of a type of house paint that is more resistant to water and dirt. The fact that so many technological breakthroughs take inspiration from the natural world highlights the importance of ecological research. It also reaffirms the notion that taking steps to conserve the environment and the plant and animal species that inhabit it can have both observable and unforeseen benefits for human...

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Reviving extinct Mediterranean forests
Sep09

Reviving extinct Mediterranean forests

Extinct Mediterranean forests of biblical times could return and thrive in warmer, drier future, researchers argue in a September 2015 report for Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

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Ecology from treetop to bedrock: human influence in earth’s critical zone #ESA100
Aug11

Ecology from treetop to bedrock: human influence in earth’s critical zone #ESA100

An organized session on Critical Zone Ecology at ESA’s 100th Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Md. Tuesday, August 11, 2015: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM, rm 328 Conference website Program Native Apps More press releases for the 100th Annual Meeting   On the high slopes of the Eel River watershed on California’s North Coast Range, large conifers sink their roots deep through the soil and into fractures in the mudstone bedrock, tapping water reserves that scientists are only recently learning to appreciate. These unexpected reservoirs may provide resiliency to the Eel River ecosystem in intensive droughts, such as the one California is now experiencing. “The way water is stored, intercepted, and released is critical to drought and extreme floods. Researchers are getting surprises about how important the deep fractured bedrock can be,” said Mary Power, a stream ecologist at the University of California at Berkeley and an investigator at the Eel River Critical Zone Observatory, one of ten Critical Zone Observatories (CZOs) funded by the National Science Foundation that bring together geologists, hydrologists, microbiologists, climate scientists, ecologists, and more to work on research questions that tend to lie at the interface of their disciplines. Power will report on effects on interactions of vegetation and the underlying geology on salmon and river ecosystems as part of an organized series of talks showcasing Critical Zone Ecology at the 100th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Baltimore, Md. this August 9–14. “How flashy or spongy will the watershed be when it rains? Will the storm runoff be stored, and infiltrate, or flash off downslope? What are the water storage and slow release dynamics that will—please, please—keep us going through this drought?” These are pressing questions that the interdisciplinary team is working on at the Eel River CZO, Power said. Large conifer trees span the critical zone between bedrock and atmosphere, in which the movements and actions of water, air, and a complex web of living organisms shape and transform the physical crust of the earth. Water can be stored in weathered bedrock, changed chemically during storage, and drawn up to the atmosphere by big trees. It flows down through rock fractures to supply downslope surface waters. In this relatively narrow space lie all the life-sustaining resources supporting terrestrial life on earth. Earth’s critical zone supports human societies and is deeply impacted by the actions and activities of those societies. “To ecologists, the Critical Zone is an ecosystem, a watershed,” said Kathleen Lohse, who directs the new Reynolds Creek Critical Zone Observatory in southwest Idaho and co-organized the meeting session on critical zone ecology. “I’m trained as an ecosystem scientist. My specialty is soil....

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Backyards prove surprising havens for native birds #ESA100
Aug06

Backyards prove surprising havens for native birds #ESA100

Tucked away from judging eyes, backyards are unexpected treasure troves of resources for urban birds. ESA Centennial Annual Meeting, August 9-14, 2015 in Baltimore, Md. Ecological Science at the Frontier Program Press Releases Media Registration Many of us lavish attention on our front yards, spending precious weekend hours planting, mowing, and manicuring the plants around our homes to look nice for neighbors and strangers passing by. But from the point of view of our feathered friends, our shaggy backyards are far more attractive. So found ecologist Amy Belaire when she surveyed human and avian residents in 25 Cook County neighborhoods in suburban Chicago. She will present her research during the 100th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America on August 9–14, during a session on Urban Ecosystems that also includes Caroline Dingle’s observations on how birds modulate their songs to be heard over the noise of daily life in Hong Kong, and Kara Belinsky’s exploration of how many trees it takes to make a forest (from a bird’s point of view) in suburban New York. Belaire, a natural resources manager and education and research coordinator at St. Edward’s University’s Wild Basin Creative Research Center in Austin, Tex., and her colleagues Lynne Westphal (USDA Forest Service) and Emily Minor (University of Illinois Chicago) asked people about their perceptions and awareness of birds in their neighborhoods and how they felt about having birds around their homes. They also asked about the yard design and management choices that residents make in both front and back yards. The researchers also looked at socioeconomic factors and used statistical analysis to tease out the relative importance on yard management choices of neighbors, factors like income, and perceptions of local birds. “The cool thing about this is how much it reveals about backyards,” said Belaire. “Our most interesting take-away is that backyards tend to be treasure troves of ecological resources. It’s where you find a lot of factors helpful to native birds—more vegetation complexity, more plants bearing fruits and berries—and more design with the intention of attracting birds.” When planting and cultivating their front yards, people seemed most motivated by what their neighbors were doing. But in managing backyards, perceptions of birds became important to residents. This suggests that local birds may motivate stewardship. People enjoyment of and appreciation for birds appears to translate into on-the-ground effects, at least in backyards. Belaire found a surprising 36 bird species living in or passing through the Chicago neighborhoods. In landscapes increasingly sublimated to human industry, parks and yards within cities are potentially essential habitat for local birds as well as oases for birds stopping by on long...

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Hardening shorelines, polar lessons, and legal divides in the Aug 2015 ESA Frontiers
Aug05

Hardening shorelines, polar lessons, and legal divides in the Aug 2015 ESA Frontiers

Highlights from the August 2015 issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment   Armored in concrete, hardened shorelines lose the soft protections of coastal wetlands As we expand our coastal cities and armor the coast against the ravages of the sea, we lose the resiliency of the coastlines’ natural defenses. Rachel Gittman and colleagues at the University of North Carolina, NOAA, and the US Coast Guard report in the August issue of ESA Frontiers that sea walls, bulkheads, breakwaters, and the like put in place to protect coastal communities harden 14 percent (22,842 km) of the tidal shoreline of the United States. But this conservative 14 percent hides a concentration of coastal development along soft marshy estuaries, lagoons, and tidal rivers; remote rocky coasts are less likely to be bolstered with artificial structures. Gittman and coauthors Danielle Keller and Joel Fodrie will present research related to this report on shoreline habitat, hardening, and the ecosystem services trade-offs of different shoreline conditions at the upcoming 100th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Baltimore, Md. on August 9-14. Rachel K. Gittman, OOS 77-5 The living shoreline approach as an alternative to shoreline hardening: Implications for the ecology and ecosystem service delivery of salt marshes. Thursday, August 13, 2015: 2:50 PM, room 329, Baltimore Convention Center Danielle A. Keller, COS 7-9 Landscape setting affects the structure and function of oyster reefs. Monday, August 10, 2015: 4:20 PM, room 321, Baltimore Convention Center F. Joel Fodrie. COS 7-7 Landscape context effects the ecosystem-service delivery of temperate biogenic reefs. Monday, August 10, 2015: 3:40 PM, room 321, Baltimore Convention Center The ecological vibrancy of wetland habitats is valued by birders, hunters, recreational anglers, and commercial fisheries managers. Coastal wetlands succor birds, fish, and crustaceans, filter outflowing pollution, and naturally buffer the coast against storm surge and erosion. But natural dunes and salt marshes also absorb the energy of storms. Examples of natural dunes and salt marshes emerging from severe storms with little to no damage, while nearby bulkheads took a battering, suggest that storm surge protection and habitat protection need not be at odds. Nearly a third of the shoreline in the contiguous United States could be hardened by the end of the twenty-first century if the rate of shoreline hardening observed over the last century continues. On sheltered coasts, fortification of shorelines correlates more strongly with high housing density and GDP than with wave height or frequent storms. The authors project that growing populations will direct most new hardening to the US’ south Atlantic and Gulf coasts, which encompass greater that 50 percent of the remaining salt marshes and 100...

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Bite force: why islanders become giants among lizards
Jul29

Bite force: why islanders become giants among lizards

Species evolve quickly on islands. These “natural laboratories” often offer freedom from predators and competitors, isolation, and new foods and resources. Animals on islands tend to be larger or smaller than their mainland relatives. First described by Foster in 1963, this pattern is so striking that it was dubbed “the island rule” by Leigh van Valen ten years later. Many subsequent studies have investigated, debated, and refined Foster’s rule and related hypotheses explaining the evolution in body size when animals are isolated on islands. In the August 2015 issue of Ecology, Anna Runemark, Kostas Sagonas, and Erik Svensson report that diet has contributed to the development of gigantism of the Skyros wall lizard (Podarcis gaigeae) on islets around the Greek island Skyros. On the main island, Skyros lizards typically eat ants, wasps, and bees. On islets where on harder-to-chew fare like beetles and isopods were more common, and the lizards frequently dined on them, the lizards were larger, with wider heads and a correspondingly stronger bite. See more photos at...

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