ESA donates $16,615 in carbon offsets to Minnesota re-forestation project
Oct04

ESA donates $16,615 in carbon offsets to Minnesota re-forestation project

Two years ago, Lee Frelich was sitting in a committee meeting when the idea came to him: the Ecological Society should plant a forest. ESA sets aside $5 for every person attending the Annual Meeting to offset the environmental costs of travel to the meeting location. This year, on Frelich’s advice, the Society wrote a check to a Minnesota non-profit devoted to restoration of local lands and waters.

Read More

ESA Policy News: November 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. 2012 ELECTION: RESULTS PRODUCE SAME PLAYERS, ADDED POLARIZATION The 2012 elections resulted in the continuation of a divided government with both parties more or less playing with the same hand they held before the election. President Obama remains in the White House, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retains control of the Senate (albeit with a slightly more cushioned majority) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) retains control of the House with a substantial majority of over 230 Republican members. White House The re-election of President Obama generally means no significant policy changes for federal agencies. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) continues its National Oceans Policy, the Department of Interior’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative remains intact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will continue its regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions and its current Clean Water Act and mountain-top removal mining policies will be sustained.  The Department of State will continue its review of the Keystone XL pipeline with its early 2013 date on whether it will approved. The great unknown is who among the federal agency heads will be staying on to implement these policies. House US House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is expected to retain his role as is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Congress’s first order of business, upon returning for its lame-duck session next week will be to address the fiscal cliff, a combination of automatic spending cuts enacted under the Budget Control Act and a series of expiring tax cuts enacted under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. Speaker Boehner has declared that House Republicans are prepared to embrace a deficit reduction deal that includes revenue increases so long as those increases are coupled with further non-defense discretionary spending cuts and mandatory spending reductions. The Speaker has forewarned, however, that any revenue increases should be made through reforms to the tax code that closes loopholes, not through tax increases on the wealthiest Americans or small businesses. Republican control of the House means that many of the attempts to legislatively delist species from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, prohibit funding for NOAA’s proposed climate service, roll back Department of Interior and EPA regulations intended to protect the environment and cut or limit discretionary spending on certain science initiatives, will also continue over the next two years. House committee oversight hearings that are highly critical of various administration regulations and initiatives will also continue under the current majority. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retains control of the Senate, partially due to...

Read More

In ecology news: bats, antbirds, wildfire recriminations, and retractions

by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer Cheatgrass, Bromus tectorum, evolved in the old world, but has been very successful in the new, with a talent for colonizing disturbed rangeland. It fuels early season range fires. Credit, Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé “Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz,” 1885. http://www.biolib.de/ Bats & Birds (& Ants) The Nature Conservancy has built a bat bunker, a cleanable, climate-monitored refuge, near Bellamy Cave in TN. They’re hoping the clean cave can buy time for immunity or science to intervene in the deadly fungus outbreak sweeping through North America, attacking bats in their sleep. Awake, bats resist the infection. But in hibernation, slow metabolism, low body temperature, and the close press of companions make the bats vulnerable. James Gorman “Building a Bat Cave to Battle a Killer” NY Times – 24 Sep 2012 Antbirds trail after army ant swarms, stealing the ants’ hard earned harvest of grasshoppers, beetles, and spiders. Butterflies follow the birds to eat their poop. Natalie Angier talked to ecologist Janeene Touchton in Panama, and cited Touchton’s and James Smith’s 2010 paper in Ecology. Natalie Angier “Feathered Freeloaders at the Ant Parade.”  NY Times 24 Sep 2012 Species loss, delayed numerical responses, and functional compensation in an antbird guild. Janeene M. Touchton and James N. M. Smith. Ecology 2011 92:5, 1126-1136 Tempers ignite over wildfire management Bill Baker of the University of Wyoming says megafires predate fire suppression, logging, and other management interventions blamed for recent conflagrations in North America – contradicting current management practices and a larger body of research. In a podcast, intern Emily Guerin describes (unsympathetically) vitriol from wildfire ecologists toward Baker’s position on fire in the west. Nature told a more canonical story about how “Forests in the American west are under attack from giant fires, climate change and insect outbreaks. Some ecosystems will never be the same.” Emily Guerin “Fire scientists fight over what Western forests should look like.” High Country News 17 Sep 2012. Cally Carswell, Emily Guerin, Neil LaRubbio “West of 100: Fire & Brimstone.” (audio) High Country News 25 Sep 2012. Mark A. Williams and William L. Baker Testing the accuracy of new methods for reconstructing historical structure of forest landscapes using GLO survey data. Ecological Monographs 2011 81:1, 63-88 Michelle Niihuis “Forest fires: Burn out.” Nature News 19 Sep 2012 Ira Flatow, on location at Boise State University, was also talking about wildfire last week. “Nearly a million acres are burning in the West right now.” Range fires. Who’s to blame? Is this a new thing? Today, we’re blaming Cheatgrass. Flatow talks to Jen Pierce, a paleo fire ecologist, and Mike Pellant,...

Read More

The Great Backyard Bird Count

By Liza Lester, ESA communications officer A brown pelican, photographed during the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count by Bob Howdeshell, of Tennessee. Used by permission. ______________________ THIS WEEKEND, as the US celebrated President Washington’s birthday, the National Audubon Society, Bird Studies Canada, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology were celebrating birds, with the fifteenth annual Great Backyard Bird Count. As the name implies, this four-day event includes the backyard observations of bird-feeding enthusiasts and birding newbies, as well as the more far-flung reports of sturdy winter hikers and wilderness refuge visitors. The organizers distinguish between “stationary counts” made in backyards and “traveling counts” taken by birders strolling through parks, and provide printable bird checklists organized by zip code. You can watch the data come in on the Bird Count’s live-action map, until data entry closes on March 5th (the counts must have been made between Feb. 17th and Feb. 20th, however). As of today, participants have observed 597 species and submitted 79,176 checklists. Since even couch-bound, self-quarantined residents of urban habitats like our nation’s capital can join the fun, I took my cold medicine and Kleenex, bundled up in a down vest, and settled in on my porch to look for my feathered neighbors. During my hour on the porch (the program asks that you spend at least fifteen minutes, and note the exact time and location), the sun went down, and five specimens of the ubiquitous American Robin bounced about the lawn, flashing their distinctive ruddy chests. To avoid counting the same birds twice, the program instructs participants only to report the largest grouping of a species seen at one time, which did make deciding how many robin were bouncing around easier. I glimpsed a white-black-white fan of tail-feathers retreating into a neighbor’s shrubbery. After consulting with the Cornell Lab’s online bird guide, I guessed that it was a Dark-eyed Junco. A flock of birds too small to see perched in the high branches of a maple. This bird-counting game was harder than it sounded! For new recruits interested in getting deeper into birding, the robust website includes articles about bird-feeders, bird identification, and binoculars. The site is packed with photos, information about birds, and educational ideas. How does the program integrate counts from noobs like me with ecological models and data from experienced birders, who know their Fox Sparrows from their Field Sparrows? It combines the thousands of reports to build of snapshot of bird presenteeism across North America’s winter landscape. Linking bird sightings to locations and dates allows scientists to map bird population movements to coincident phenomena like weather, or disease. They can look for changes...

Read More

Murmurations of starlings and wren duets

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer   On the slopes of the Antisana volcano in Ecuador, the plain-tailed wren sings a sophisticated song. It is not a solo, but a duet, a rapid-fire call-and-response so fast that you might mistake the singers for a single bird, even if you have the luck to stand betwixt them and hear it in Dolby surround. Duet of the plaintailed wren. The female motifs are magenta, the male motifs are blue. In the November 4th issue of Science, Eric Fortune and colleagues explain that the singers follow neural notations of the entire song, though they sing only their own part. The authors discovered the mental songs by monitoring neural impulses in the HVC, or “song control nucleus,” in the brains of mated pairs. The birds heard their own duets, recorded before capture, and versions with one partner’s part removed. The authors expected the birds to respond most strongly to their own parts—but this was not the case. Full duets elicited the strongest neural activity. Comparisons of duets to solos show that both singers adjust their timing to match their partner, but the female leads. They coordinate through complicated mental orchestration. How do wrens use this expensive neurological inheritance? Why did duetting evolve? Hypotheses pose duetting as an affirmation of the bond between mates, or as an aggressive warning to interlopers who might try to come between them. Others suggest the birds are calling locations to each other, or defending territory. There are a lot of ideas, but not a lot of data. To attack the data problem, ornithologists Dan Mennill and Sandra Vehrencamp deployed an array of microphones in a Costa Rican forest to triangulate rufous-and-white wrens, singing invisibly in the canopy. The rufous-and-whites used their songs to stay in contact with their mates, and perhaps to cement pair bonds, but also to aggress toward other birds (the rufous-and-whites often divorce, the authors say, so jealous warnings may be called for). The authors believe that the duet is a multipurpose tool, adaptable to different needs and circumstances, and not only by wrens. Other species likely have their own uses for the music.   In further bird synergy last week, two girls, a canoe, and a murmuration of starlings exploded across the internet. [I was certain that James Lipton invented “murmuration” for his 1968 collection of collective birds, An Exaltation of Larks, but it seems that Middle English can claim the credit. It appears in the fifteenth century Book of St Albans (whose authors may have made it up).]   Murmuration from Sophie Windsor Clive on Vimeo. Also in the news:...

Read More

New report highlights mercury pollution impacts on ecosystems

Earlier this week, the Ecological Society of America, in partnership with the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), the Great Lakes Commission and the Northeast-Midwest Institute, cosponsored a Congressional briefing entitled: “Mercury and Air Pollution Impacts on Ecosystems: Policy-Relevant Highlights from New Scientific Studies.” The briefing sought to highlight the findings of a recent report from BRI highlighting mercury pollution in the Great Lakes region. The featured speakers included Charles Driscoll, a National Academy member and professor at Syracuse University and David Evers, Executive Director and Chief Scientist at BRI.  Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) kicked off the briefing with some opening remarks noting the detrimental health effects mercury pollution can have on families in the Great Lakes region. According to the report, emissions of mercury to the air (and subsequent deposition) are now the primary source of mercury pollution to the Great Lakes region. Twenty-six percent of mercury deposition in Canada and the continental United States is from the Great Lakes region, with the highest concentrations in Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin. The presence of methylmercury (inorganic mercury that has been altered by bacteria in the natural environment) affects the entire food-chain of an ecosystem. Plants take up the toxin and are subsequently fed upon by plant-eating insects and fish, which in turn are consumed by insectivores and fish-eating animals, including songbirds, waterfowl and humans. A number of bird species were found to have “high sensitivity” to mercury pollution, including the American Kestrel, the American White Ibis, the Snowy Egret, the Osprey and the Tri-Colored Heron.  The study notes that the U.S.  national bird, the Bald Eagle, is also negatively impacted by mercury, with effects that  include “subclinical neurological damage.” The Bald Eagle was removed from being listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2007. It was declared a federally endangered species from 1967-1995. The speakers noted that fish polluted with mercury can have detrimental impacts on the local economy and human health. “In recent years, we’ve come to appreciate that pollution from mercury and acid rain affects wildlife health as well as human health,” said Evers. Among 15 fish species in the region consumed by people and wildlife, six species have average mercury concentrations above 0.30 parts per million. The report notes that five states in the region “have issued statewide consumption advisories for mercury in fish from all fresh waters, two have issued statewide advisories for mercury in fish from all lakes, and one has issued advisories for specific water bodies.” According to the BRI study, “sport fishing in the eight Great Lakes states supports more than 190,000 jobs and annually has a total economic impact of more...

Read More

The story of the fig and its wasp

Inside the rounded fruit of a fig tree is a maze of flowers. That is, a fig is not actually a fruit; it is an inflorescence—a cluster of many flowers and seeds contained inside a bulbous stem. Because of this unusual arrangement, the seeds—technically the ovaries of the fig—require a specialized pollinator that is adapted to navigate within these confined quarters. Here begins the story of the relationship between figs and fig wasps. The queen of the fig wasp is almost the perfect size for the job—except, despite her tiny body, she often times will lose her wings and antennae as she enters through a tight opening in the fig. “The only link the fig cavity has to the outside world is through a tiny bract-lined opening at the apex of the fig, called the ostiole, and it is by means of this passage that the pollinating fig wasp gains access to the florets,” as described in Figweb, a site by Iziko Museums of Cape Town. Once inside, the queen travels within the chamber, depositing her eggs and simultaneously shedding the pollen she carried with her from another fig. This last task, while not the queen’s primary goal, is an important one: She is fertilizing the fig’s ovaries. After the queen has laid her eggs, she dies and is digested by the fig, providing nourishment. Once the queen’s eggs hatch, male and female wasps assume very different roles. They first mate with each other (yes, brothers and sisters), and then the females collect pollen—in some species, actively gathering it in a specialized pouch and in others, accumulating it inadvertently—while the wingless males begin carving a path to the fig’s exterior. This activity is not for their own escape but rather to create an opening for the females to exit. The females will pollinate another fig as queens. The males will spend their entire lifecycle within a single fruit. While this tree-wasp relationship may not be common knowledge to all fig-eaters, it is well-known to biologists as one of the most solid examples of coevolution. “One of the best activities to do with an introductory biology class is to pass around Fig Newtons, let them take a bite and then tell them the story of the fig wasp life cycle,” said tropical plant ecologist Greg Goldsmith as we recently hiked through a cloud forest in Monteverde, Costa Rica. “It’s a fascinating story.” After learning the story of the fig and its wasp, the most common question is, “Do we eat wasps when we eat figs?” The short answer is that it depends—that is, some figs are parthenocarpic, meaning they are...

Read More

National Parks, dance lessons from a spider and bellybutton biodiversity

National Parks Week: In addition to Earth Day activities, this week is also National Parks Week. Allie Wilkinson of the blog Oh, For the Love of Science! paid tribute with a mini-travel guide on Acadia National Park in Maine; the post is complete with trail information and scenic views (see below video). “Maine may as well be my home away from home,” Wilkinson wrote. “I’ve gone up just about every year since I was a baby, at LEAST once a year (but usually end up going 3 times a year), and I always go to the same spots.  Each year, the big trip in August takes me to Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park.” Read the full post at “National Park Week: Acadia National Park.” Busy billionaire: Richard Branson has moved from space to deep sea exploration, and, most recently, he has made the news for his plan to introduce endangered ring-tailed lemurs to Moskito Island in the Caribbean. Branson stated in The Guardian that the decision is intended to “…create a second island habitat [for lemurs in Madagascar,] and the conditions on Moskito are perfect.” However, many are concerned about the ecological consequences of releasing these omnivores. As explained in Smithsonian’s Surprising Science blog, “Conservation plans rarely begin with (or even include) the introduction of a non-native species. And though lemurs surely are adorable, they ‘could damage native flora and fauna on the island, particularly reptiles such as the stout iguana, turnip-tailed gecko, and dwarf gecko, as well as birds’ eggs,’ [conservationist Erik Patel] says.” Dance lessons: While we tend to think of dancing as a source of rhythmic self-expression, just like in other animal species, dancing can also be an effective way to attract a mate. Small, songless birds called manakins, for example, display an impressive moonwalk to attract a mate. And, as described in the blog immunoBLOGulin, “If you want to learn some sweet moves, take a lesson or two from the Australian Peacock Spider. While it’s less than 1cm in length, it can really put on a dancing show…” The jumping spider (Maratus volans) has a colorful flap used during the dance (see below video). Read more at “Lessons from the Peacock Spider: How to attract a mate.” Bright bills: “When it comes to mallard bills, brighter is better: A bright yellow bill is duck-speak for ‘I’m healthy,’ attracting more female ducks than dingy green ones,” Patrick Morgan reported for Discover’s Discoblog. That is, researchers found that male ducks with brighter bills had semen with greater antibacterial properties, reducing the female ducks’ risk of contracting bacteria-related sexually transmitted diseases. The researchers discoved that...

Read More