Ecologists don their research in an ‘eco-fashion’ show #ESA2016
Aug04

Ecologists don their research in an ‘eco-fashion’ show #ESA2016

Ecological scientists are not known for elevated fashion sensibilities. Many take pride in a sartorial identity rooted in a field work chic of practical hats, cargo pants, and judicious applications of duct tape. Button-downs in botanical prints and ties in tiny repeating motifs of anatomically correct fish are favored formal attire when researchers gather for the Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) each August. But this year, ESA’s leadership will sport designer frocks inspired by the living objects of their research, breaking out of their comfort wear comfort zones to excite curiosity about science and the natural world outside of their usual cultural niche. They will model their eco-finery on the runway in an eco-fashion show directly following the first scientific plenary (“Ecological homogenization of Urban America”) on Monday, 8 August 2016 from 10:15–11:30 AM in the Greater Fort Lauderdale/ Broward County Convention Center, in southern Florida. “I love it when I wear my jacket and people stop me on the street to ask me about it,” said organizer Nalini Nadkarni, a professor at the University of Utah and ESA’s vice president of education and human resources. Spangled in overlapping leaves, her jacket evokes the forest canopies of Costa Rica, where she conducts research high up in the trees. Nadkarni will narrate the fashion show with fellow organizer and master of ceremony Doug Levey, a program director at the National Science Foundation, explaining the research connections as the scientists walk the runway. Reporters are welcome to come for the show and stay for the 2,000 research presentations scheduled throughout the week on biodiversity, animal behavior, climate change, coastal communities, mosquito ecology & infectious disease, and more. With a theme of “Novel Ecosystems in the Anthropocene,” this year’s meeting has a wealth of presentations on the ecological communities in our urban spaces. Designer Brenda Van der Wiel and tailor Eugene Tachinni will be on site at the fashion show to talk about translating scientific research into styles that are beautiful and compelling conversational focus points. The design team learned about ecology in order to create personalized garments for each scientist, but the learning flowed both ways; Nadkarni said she gained a new respect for the art of apparel design. A self-professed thrift store shopper, she said that before embarking on the project she did not appreciate the self-expression many people invest in their attire. “Ecologists don’t care much about what we shlup around in in the field,” said Nadkarni. “But other people care. It’s a lesson about listening. By adopting something I had not valued, I gained a portal into new conversations.” Nadkarni has a history of...

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Volunteer ‘eyes on the skies’ track peregrine falcon recovery in California
Sep11

Volunteer ‘eyes on the skies’ track peregrine falcon recovery in California

Datasets from long-running volunteer survey programs, calibrated with data from sporadic intensive monitoring efforts, have allowed ecologists to track the recovery of peregrine falcons in California and evaluate the effectiveness of a predictive model popular in the management of threatened species. In recovery from the deadly legacy of DDT, American peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus anatum) faced new uncertainty in 1992, when biologists proposed to stop rearing young birds in captivity and placing them in wild nests. Tim Wootton and Doug Bell published models that year in Ecological Applications, projecting population trends for the falcon in California, with and without direct human intervention in the falcons’ reproductive lives. They concluded that the birds would continue to recover without captive rearing, though the population growth rate might slow. Fledgling introductions had bolstered wild falcon numbers and genetic diversity, but survival would ultimately depend on cleaning up lingering DDT contamination to create healthy conditions for wild birds, they argued. This month, they return to their 1992 predictions to see how the American peregrine falcons have fared over the last two decades, with a new report featured on the cover of the September 2014 issue of Ecological Applications. Though falcon numbers are lower than hoped for, data from volunteer survey programs, calibrated with more intensive surveys by wildlife biologists, confirmed a recovery trajectory well within the trends Wootton and Bell predicted. “The challenge was to come up with data,” said Wootton. “Once a species falls off the endangered species list, there is not a lot of funding to track how management, or lack of management, is doing,” he said. “There was limited data that was appropriate being collected on the falcon, so we turned to a couple of well-known bird censuses that cover wide geographic areas.” The follow-on study provided insights in the use of volunteer-generated data as well as an important test of population viability analysis, a tool increasingly used to evaluate alternative management plans and identify conservation priorities for endangered species, including sea turtles, grizzlies, and desert tortoises. It supported the importance of considering the health and behavior of geographic groups of a threatened species within a larger population. The 1992 paper identified falcon population “sinks” in parts of Southern California where chemical contamination lingered and the birds could not maintain numbers without migrants from healthier areas. Unfortunately, the falcon’s recovery has continued to lag in these areas. Once widespread across North America, the world’s fastest bird had disappeared from the east by mid-century and was near extinction on the continent by 1975, when a survey found only 159 breeding pairs of American peregrine falcons. Chicks often did not survive to...

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Teach your children well
Jan20

Teach your children well

In another great guest post, landscape ecologist Lisa Schulte Moore shares stories of infusing everyday kid activities with a connection to science and nature—and, most importantly, having fun doing it.

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In phenology, timing is everything
Jul02

In phenology, timing is everything

If you’ve ever thought that botany doesn’t involve enough time travel, you are not alone. Plant ecologists studying climate change and and the timing of flowering are constantly wondering ‘is this happening when it used to happen?’ My job would be infinitely easier if I had access to a time machine.

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A unified field theory for public participation in scientific research
Jul26

A unified field theory for public participation in scientific research

Disparate citizen science disciplines come together at the Public Participation in Scientific Research conference by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer The idea of a big, cross-disciplinary meeting had been floating around citizen science circles for a while. Though public participation in scientific research has deep roots in the history of science, in the last few years it has taken off spectacularly from launch pads across the disciplines of science and education, fueled by advances in communications technology and a sea change in a scientific culture now eager to welcome outsiders as collaborators. There was a feeling that the time had come to muster the leadership from their independent community science fiefdoms for an intellectual potlatch. Citizen science, crowd-sourced science, DIY research, volunteer monitoring, community participatory action research – the variety of banners flying over participatory science projects reflects the diversity of their origins, from astronomy to zoology. Workshops had been organized before, notably by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, but they were small, field-oriented, and unable to meet growing demand. “The participatory science field has been growing, but in isolated silos. Even within the environmental sciences, the water quality people self-organize separately from the biology people,” said Abe Miller-Rushing, a science coordinator for the National Park Service up at Acadia National Park, in Maine. “We really wanted to have an open-invite meeting that emphasized innovation, and could kick-start conversations.” So Miller-Rushing and a handful of scientists and educators hatched a plan to make their dream meeting happen. It all comes together on August 4th-5th as a conference-within-a-conference at ESA’s 2012 annual meeting in Portland, Oregon: the “Public Participation in Scientific Research Conference” (technically ESA’s “workshop #1” for organizational purposes, it starts early on Saturday morning, before ESA’s main event kicks off with the Sunday evening keynote). “Jennifer and I were talking about this at a meeting, and I think Rick was there too, and we decided – hey, let’s just do it.” [Update, 8/2/2012: Rick Bonney phoned me to correct the record: the PPSR conference was actually conceived over a large pot of chili at Jennifer’s house, out in the woods near Ithaca, NY. The three (and Jennifer’s husband Sam, famous chili artist) got to rehashing the need for an open-invite meeting. “And Abe said, you know, I really think that we could pull this off if we worked with ESA on it.” –Thanks for the update, Rick!] Miller-Rushing will open the upcoming conference with a presentation on the history of public participation in scientific research. He has a paper on the same topic, with Richard Primack of Boston University and Rick Bonney of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology,...

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Loveliest of Trees
Mar22

Loveliest of Trees

Project Budburst: Cherry Blossom Blitz kicks off in the midst of an unusually early bloom. by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer IT’S the first week of spring, and Washington DC’s Tidal Basin is rimmed with snowy petals. Thousands of cherry trees bloom along the water – a week ahead of schedule. Hurried along by a streak of 80 degree (F) days and warm nights, the trees are in full bloom, the earliest since 2000, and petals will be falling by the time the centennial Cherry Blossom Festival* starts on March 24th. Much to the distress of festival organizers. A gift from the City of Tokyo in 1912, the cherry trees have brought out their spring finery around the 4th of April, give or take a few weeks, for 100 years. But a few weeks’ give is often too much leeway for the coordination of major city events, planned months in advance. The Washingtonian reported earlier this month that the city is expecting 100s of thousands of tourists, bringing 100s of millions of dollars, to arrive for the festival. So predicting the bloom is no trivial matter. Unfortunately, predicting it more than ten days in advance is entirely luck, according the National Park Service. Cherry trees are exquisitely sensitive to the vagaries of early spring weather. “This has been a wonderful learning opportunity. If the cherry blossoms don’t show up for their very own parade, people take notice,” said Sandra Henderson, director of the National Ecological Observatory Network’s (NEON) Project BudBurst. Festival organizers have sounded considerably more morose about this lesson than Henderson in the flood of recent news reports. But they are interested in different things. Henderson doesn’t have a festival to run; she just wants to map the blossoming of your backyard cherry to latitude, longitude, and date, with the option to cross-reference it to weather and climate trends. Henderson co-founded the citizen science project in 2007 with Kayri Havens-Young of the Chicago Botanic Garden, and Carol Brewer, emeritus professor of biology at the University of Montana (and now on NEON’s board of directors, among other activities). The project collects data worldwide. They’re interested in “phenology”: the study of seasonal changes and their environmental cues. The eponymous “bud burst” of new leaves unfurling on the branches of deciduous trees is one such phenomenon, or phenophase, “but don’t let our name fool you; we’re interested in plants throughout the year,” said Henderson. It’s just that “project leaf dye-off” didn’t have quite the same enticing cache. BudBurst records the first unfolding of leaves, stages of bloom, the pale green new needles at the tips of fir trees, showers of pollen,...

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Great Lakes Worm Watch

By Liza Lester, ESA communications officer. RYAN Hueffmeier wants to talk to you about the humble earthworm. Trusty fish bait, friend to schoolchildren, gardeners and composters, the earthworm is no friend to the hardwood forests of the Great Lakes. It is a European invader, and its decomposition services, well known to gardeners, are not helpful to the forest ecosystems that have evolved without them. Hueffmeier is program coordinator for Great Lakes Worm Watch, a citizen science project based at the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota, and he is well versed in explaining the earthworm situation to audiences of a broad range of ecological and vermicological familiarity. There are no earthworms native to the northern reaches of North America. Land that lay under heavy ice during the last ice age lost any worms it may have had (the fossil record is thin on soft-bodied creatures). Native earthworms do trawl the soils farther south, but their advance is slow; they had not re-colonized the upper Midwest and Canada at the time Europeans began to colonize North America. Researchers suspect the worms hitchhiked across the Atlantic in the ballast of ships and the root balls of imported shrubs. Earthworms have now arrived in the Great Lakes vicinity—not everywhere, some earthworm-free places remain, but the worms are spreading, and humans are their vector. Ecologists can sometimes see the advance of the worm front in the drought-like symptoms of infested forests. The European species seem to do well everywhere they go, even pushing into the historical territory of native earthworms. To understand how earthworms affect the ecosystems of the Great Lakes, it would be great to know where the worms are and are not, and in what abundance and species variety. But sampling all of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Indiana is a vastly labor intensive task. “The beautiful thing about citizen science is that you can get a lot of people to collect a lot of data,” said Hueffmeier. UM researcher Cindi Hale chartered the project in 2000 as Minnesota Worm Watch, and it has expanded to the entire Great Lakes region and beyond. They now have so much data that the problem has become how to organize and display it without a dedicated data manager on the job. By next year, they hope to have developed a more muscular interactive map, interconnecting different kinds of information. But their website has plenty of information and project ideas to poke through already— and there is still plenty of territory to cover on the way to understanding earthworm ecology and gaining public help in managing the spread of the worm....

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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...

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