ESA Policy News: July 27

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. SENATE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS ON NATIVE AMERICANS On July 19, the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing on the impact climate change is having on Native Americans and tribal lands as well as what resources are available to adapt to changes in the environment. Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI) spoke of the importance of “Malama Aina,” which is Hawaiian for “caring for the land.” Chairman Akaka said that Native Americans hold the oldest record for being environmental stewards of the nation as it has been a foundation of their culture and world view “over thousands of years” and “hundreds of generations.”In his opening statement, he noted that “while environmental changes are widespread, studies indicate that native communities are disproportionately impacted because they depend on nature for traditional foods, sacred sites and to practice ceremonies that pass on cultural values to future generations.” Most of the witness testimony focused on the impacts climate change is having on their specific communities. Chief Mike Williams of the Yupiit Nation noted that 86 percent of indigenous Alaskan villages are threatened by flooding and erosion due to warming temperatures. Malia Akutagawa, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Hawaii – Manoa said that climate change has reduced the number of good fishing days for Native Hawaiians, led to a 15 percent decline in rainfall, drying of forests, crop loss, beach erosion from sea level rise, increased destruction from wildfires, and increased surface air temperature. She also noted that climate change has affected plant flowering and animal migration cycles. Akutagawa called for federal assistance for increasing Hawaiian food security, family farms and coastal zone management programs. There was a general consensus from the witnesses representing indigenous communities that the federal government needs to increase or improve consultation with tribal leaders. View the full hearing here. HOUSE: COMMITTEE REVIEWS FEDERAL DROUGHT MONITORING EFFORTS On July 25, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing to review the status of federal drought forecasting efforts. The hearing comes as the existing authorization for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) is due to expire this year. In his opening statement, Chairman Hall (R-TX) sought to keep the focus on drought mitigation efforts and steer clear of climate change discussions. “Debating the causes of drought is not in front of us today,” he said. “The real question is:  What can be done to provide better and timelier information to help enable federal, state...

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The rising of the sun and the running of the deer

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer In November, Norwegians Arnoldus Schytte Blix, Lars Walløe and Lars Folkow brought us the news that running reindeer cool themselves through open-mouthed panting, as Sara Reardon explains at ScienceNOW. Their heavy winter coats are so effective at insulating the animals from arctic temperatures that they have trouble dumping excess heat through their skin. Deep cooling breaths through their noses aren’t enough when reindeer are working hard. At speed on Blix et al’s treadmill, reindeer tongues loll from open mouths to cool their blood through evaporation, just like hard racing reindeer neck-and-neck in a skijor competition in northern Finland, documented in exciting, goofy, copyrighted detail by photographer Henri Bonell. Do Reindeer bite their giant tongues? “Fortunately they only have bottom incisors, although their molars are sharp so I imagine they avoid closing their mouths until their tongues are safely inside,” said veterinarian Christina Ramirez. Deer have a bony plate in place of top teeth in the very front of their mouths. A big gap separates the few pointy teeth at the front of the bottom jaw from molars in the back. As Permafrost Thaws, Scientists Study the Risks In reindeer (known as caribou in the New World) territory, climactic change is palpably present. Melting permafrost is a vivid symptom. Tilting buildings and falling trees, undermined by the thaw, are big reminders of the invisible frozen soil that underlies much of the arctic and molds geology, ecology and human construction. In a long article in the New York Times, Justin Gillis describes an invisible consequence of melting permafrost: methane, a potent greenhouse gas, emanating from rotting plants released from frozen ground. Microorganisms are busy decomposing leaves and branches that have been on ice for thirty thousand years, producing methane as a byproduct of their gluttony. The US Department of Energy is investing $100 million dollars in an attempt to estimate the amount of carbon frozen in the soil and predict the future of the arctic. A slideshow of working scientists, and beautiful images of methane bubbling up from new Alaskan lake beds and collecting under surface ice, accompanies the article. NOAA’s year of extreme weather: 12 disasters. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association says it’s been a record year for disastrous weather in the US, with a succession of tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, wildfires, heatwaves and flooding hitting the country. Re-experience it on their website. 12 Days of Christmas-y Citizen Science Projects The folks at Talking Science, a non-profit partner of NPR’s Science Friday, list twelve ways to participate in research, from sifting data from the Milky Way to counting your (prairie) chickens....

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Low oil concentrations impact Gulf fish, Jellyfishes’ rising ecosystem status and the importance of bees

Miniscule oil amounts, major biological ramifications for fish: Trace amounts of oil from a spill can have harmful and lasting biological effects, according to Andrew Whitehead, a biologist with the Louisiana State University (LSU). Whitehead, along with Fernando Galvez (also an LSU biologist), led a study examining the biological effects of low concentrations of oil on fish in the Gulf of Mexico.  Their research has previously shown that exposure to certain elements found in crude oil can cause harmful gene expression changes in killifish. Killifish are an important food source for many species, including economically important ones such as red snapper. The researchers found comparable changes in gene expression in killifish from the marshes, and in killifish embryos exposed to contaminated water samples in the lab. These changes have been shown to cause developmental abnormalities, decreased embryo survival and lower reproductive success. The findings were published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The study was funded by a National Science Foundation rapid response grant. Read the full article at Nature News. Jellyfish drifts its way to predatory dominance: In certain ocean waters, climate change, overfishing and expanding dead zones have paved the way for the ascent of a nontraditional predator: jellyfish. Biologist José Luis Acuña of the University of Oviedo in Spain and fellow researchers note that while fish use their eyes and swimming maneuverability to catch fish, jellyfish, which slowly drift through the water, consume just as much prey, when their large body masses are taken into account. The researchers found that when measured by the amount of carbon in their bodies, rather than their total weight, jellyfish consume and incorporate as much prey as do fish. Read more at Jellyfishes Shown to Be Effective Predators USDA’s bee basics: They’re an American fixture and the state insect of 17 states, but the honeybee, like most Americans, has immigrant roots. Honeybee species were brought to America via European settlers, beginning in the 1600s.  A new publication from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) expands upon many interesting facts about bees, including honeybees and native species, such as the carpenter bee and bumble bee. According to USDA, there are over 4,000 species of native bees in the United States. Native bees provide an important economic resource in that they pollinate 75 percent of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the United States. Their interaction with other plant and animal wildlife makes them a vital part of our ecosystem. The USDA publication expands upon these and other interesting facts about bees, including ways to help sustain their prevalence. Also, USGS research on climate change in...

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Tracking Pacific walrus, impacts of early-life stress, and plant traits matter more than origin

Monitoring Pacific Walrus: With the end of summer fast approaching, US Geological Survey (USGS) researchers are once again gearing up to radio-tag walruses on Alaska’s northwestern coast as part of the agency’s ongoing study of how the marine mammals are coping with declining sea ice. “Sea ice is an important component in the life cycle of walruses.  These tracking studies will help us to better understand how top consumers in the arctic ecosystem may be affected by changes in sea ice habitats,” said USGS Alaska Science Center research ecologist Chad Jay in yesterday’s USGS press release. Walruses, which can dive hundreds of feet in search of food, rely on sea ice to rest between dives.  When sea ice is not available, the animals haul out on beaches, something they have been doing more frequently as the extent of sea ice has decreased in recent summers.  Read more at www.usgs.gov/blogs/features/ Far-reaching impact of stress: A new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. shows that when zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) are briefly exposed to stress early in life, the jolt of stress hormones reduced not only their own lifespan, but that of their breeding partner as well.  Pat Monaghan (University of Glasgow) and co-authors report that “only 5 percent of control birds with control partners had died after 3 years, compared with over 40 percent in early stress pairs. Interestingly, a pair’s reproductive success did not seem to be compromised by the early-life exposure to stress. Traits trump plant origins: Nonnative plants often get a bad rap as being a potential threat to wildlife habitat and many state agencies spend time and energy getting rid of them.  An In Press study with Ecological Applications suggests that might be a misplaced effort in some cases.  Jillian Cohen (Cornell University) and colleagues compared the impacts of native and nonnative wetland plants on three species of native larval amphibians.  They found no difference in metamorphosis rates and length of larval period between habitats dominated by native and nonnative plants.  Say the authors: “We suggest that to improve habitats for native fauna managers should focus on assembling a plant community with desirable traits rather than only focusing on plant origin.” Rising sources of nitrate to Gulf of Mexico:  The results of a new study by the US Geological Survey (USGS) published in Environmental Science and Technology found that in spite of decreases along some portions of the Mississippi River Basin, overall efforts to curb this nutrient have been unsuccessful.   Excessive nitrate contributes to the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zones—areas unable to support marine life because of minimal oxygen.  The USGS study...

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Ecological research in images

(Click the below image to view the photo gallery.) This week, the American Museum of Natural History launched the exhibit “Picturing Science: Museum Scientists and Imaging Technologies” which explores the images produced by scientists while performing research. The images range from bug genitalia to staghorn coral (see video at the end of this post). As quoted in a recent Wired Science article, “‘A lot of people come to the museum under [the] impression that we just look at stuff in dusty jars, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,’ said zoologist Mark Siddall, curator of the museum’s new exhibit. ‘There’s a lot of solid, cutting-edge research going on here with incredibly advanced technology.’” Dave Mosher explained in the Wired Science article that images like these are a large part of any scientific endeavor, but often times, these images are filed away—never to be seen by the public. Of course, there are journals that publish images alongside the research articles. While they are all accessible through searches, these images are not typically displayed like those that are being featured in the AMNH’s new exhibit. The above photo gallery presents only some of the images that have been featured in the Ecological Society of America’s journals over the last decade or so. Click on the image to scroll through and learn a bit about the research corresponding with each image. Many of the images featured in ESA journals are taken by the researchers themselves. Browse all of the cover images on ESA’s journals...

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Hybrids in the Arctic
Mar17

Hybrids in the Arctic

Hybridization has led to some of the unique, naturally-occuring species present today, such as the Mallard duck-American Black duck hybrid. Usually this natural process takes generations to produce a new distinct species; however, it is possible for hybrids to emerge within one generation. For example, interspecies breeding could be expedited due to environmental stressors caused by climate change. Species that would not normally come in contact with one another are being pushed into the same habitats—called hybrid zones—due to the removal of physical barriers, like glaciers and ice sheets. The arctic area in particular is experiencing an increase in hybridization due to habitat changes brought about   by climate change. Everyone has seen the photographs of the polar bear clinging to a shrinking piece of ice – the shrinking ice is in fact what is encouraging the influx of non-native species into the Arctic. Polar bears broke off as their own species hundreds of thousands of years ago because they were able to adapt to the colder climate and find food. Charlotte Lindqvist of the University of Buffalo found that polar bears were able to survive the last interglacial warming period; however, Lindqvist added, because the rate of current climate change is so much faster , these Arctic animals are unable to adapt quickly enough. Polar bears are essentially being hit with a 1-2-3 punch. Not only is their habitat diminishing, so too, are their food sources, —negatively impacting their  breeding success. Research has shown that, due to lack of sustenance, female polar bears produce less healthy offspring, and the offspring that survive tend to be smaller in size. Additionally, polar bears may now have to deal with an increased number of grizzly bears. Grizzly bears do not only pose a competitive threat to polar bears but a genetic threat as well. With melting Arctic ice, more polar bears are being forced to remain on land—meanwhile, the warmer temperatures and diverse food sources are enticing grizzlies to move further north. The cross-breeding of polar and grizzly bears could eventually lead to a complete loss of the unique genes of polar bears that have enabled the bear’s survival in the Arctic for so long. Grizzly bears are better suited for the warmer temperatures of the uplands of western North America—that is, compared to Arctic temperatures. With the increase in grizzly population in the Arctic due to warmer temperatures, and the decrease in polar bear population due to habitat constraints, potential cross-breeding could be more likely to occur. While the accepted rule of thumb is that hybrid offspring are unviable—or, unlikely to survive since they are unable to reproduce—there is support in...

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ESA Policy News: April 23

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp.

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