Distant volcanic eruptions foster saguaro cactus baby booms
Jul26

Distant volcanic eruptions foster saguaro cactus baby booms

One hundred and thirty years ago, the volcano Krakatoa erupted in what is now Indonesia, unleashing a cataclysm locally and years of cool temperatures and rain globally. On the far side of the world, a bumper crop of saguaro cacti were getting their start in life in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. Many of the large exemplars of the famous cacti standing spiny and tall with arms akimbo in the Southwest today started their lives in the shadow of the 1883 eruption. Biogeographer Taly Drezner believes that distant volcanic paroxysms and the emergence of bountiful saguaro age-mate cohorts are connected. Volcanic climate perturbations that delivered disastrously cold and stormy weather to much of the Northern Hemisphere generated a combination of conditions in the Sonoran Desert that were just right for the delicate young cacti. Drezner will present her research on the first known example of regional population effects on a species from volcanic eruptions in distant parts of the world on 9 August 2016 at the 101st Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America, gathering this year in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “The saguaro is key to the survival of many species. Almost every animal in the Sonoran uses them in some way, as a nest site, or food, or a cool refuge,” said Drezner, a professor at York University in Ontario, who studies, among other things, how heat and aridity shape the community of life in the desert. Temperatures can easily exceed 40 C (104 F) every day for weeks in summer, when saguaro seedlings have just germinated. A keystone species of the Sonoran ecosystem and charismatic cultural emblem of the arid southwestern United States, the saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) is sturdy in maturity but delicate in the early years of its life. Though mature individuals can top 12 meters (40 feet), new cacti grow only a few millimeters in the first year. Tiny young saguaros are susceptible to heat and cold, vulnerable to drying out or freezing in the extremes of their desert environment. For a critical two to three years, until they grow large enough to withstand cold and drought, they demand cool summers, mild winters, and sufficient rain: a combination of weather conditions at the outer edge of normal for the Sonoran in every dimension. A summer may be relatively cool, but too dry. A winter wet, but too cold. In most years, all the baby saguaros die. In the year after Krakatoa, summer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere fell 1.2⁰C below average. The eruption violently disgorged tons of ash and sulfur dioxide gas into the stratosphere. Dust particles and sulfuric acid droplets rode winds through the upper...

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ESA Policy News March 17: US, Canada announce climate pledge, IPBES seeks experts, Obama court pick supports EPA authority
Mar17

ESA Policy News March 17: US, Canada announce climate pledge, IPBES seeks experts, Obama court pick supports EPA authority

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  WHITE HOUSE: US, CANADA ANNOUNCE CLIMATE CHANGE PLEDGE On March 10, the President Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced their two countries have agreed to a series of efforts to cut methane emissions in the oil and gas sector to mitigate the impacts of global climate change. They also reinforced their commitment to joining and implementing the Paris climate change agreement. Both nations plan to reduce methane emissions 40-45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025 and will work to reduce their hydrofluorocarbon emissions. The statement called for increasing renewable energy investments and “conserving Arctic biodiversity through science-based decision making.” The two nations also called for all oil and gas development in the Arctic to align with science-based standards. Click here to view the full statement. NSF: BATTELLE CHOSEN TO MANAGE NEON NSF selected Battelle to complete the construction, commissioning and initial operations for the $432 million project National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) project. Battelle is a nonprofit organization with the mission of translating scientific discovery and technology advances into societal benefits. They currently manage seven national laboratories and have a long history of managing large and complex technical projects. For the next 90 days, Battelle will be in a transition period to develop an organizational/management structure to prepare for the next steps to complete construction of the network in 20 ecologically distinct zones across the United States, from Alaska to Puerto Rico. IPBES: NOMINATIONS SOUGHT FOR GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY, ECOSYSTEMS ASSESSMENT The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is seeking nominations of experts and fellows for its global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Nominated experts should “have expertise in one or more disciplines within natural science, social science or humanities, represent or have expertise in indigenous and local knowledge systems, or be policy experts and practitioners.” Nominations are due May 5, 2016. IPBES began a three-year study into humanity’s impact on ecosystems and biodiversity on March 1, 2016. The study, due in 2019, will examine a wide array of lifeforms, habitats, and measure progress towards meeting commitments under the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity of the United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity. It released its first summary on pollinators in late February 2016. Click here for additional details on how to submit a nomination. Click here to read the unedited advanced summary for policymakers for the pollinator report. SUPREME COURT: OBAMA NOMINEE SUPPORTIVE OF EPA RULES On March 16, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, Chief Justice of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to...

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ESA Policy News November 25: Scientific Societies defend NOAA, Apply for 2016 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award
Nov25

ESA Policy News November 25: Scientific Societies defend NOAA, Apply for 2016 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  HOUSE: ESA JOINS OTHER SOCIETIES IN DEFENDING SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH ESA and six other leading science societies sent a letter to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) concerning his ongoing inquiries into the climate-change research of Thomas Karl and colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). At issue is the nearly unprecedented nature of the congressional inquiry into the study. Karl and NOAA colleagues used updated and corrected global surface temperature data to dispute the existence of a recent pause in global warming.  Since its publication, Chairman Smith and NOAA have been embroiled in a very public dispute related to a subpoena he sent to NOAA demanding the release of internal communications between NOAA scientists about the climate study. Smith is among those House members who are skeptical of the scientific evidence on climate change. The chairman believes it is possible that NOAA scientists manipulated data to advance the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan. In the Nov. 24 letter to Chairman Smith, the science societies expressed concern that politically-motivated inquiries could hinder the ability of government researchers to fulfill their agencies’ scientific missions and constrain federal agencies’ capacity to attract quality scientific talent. “Scientists should not be subjected to fraud investigations or harassment simply for providing scientific results that some may see as politically controversial,” stated the letter. “Science cannot thrive when policymakers—regardless of party affiliation— use policy disagreements as a pretext to attack scientific conclusions without public evidence.” Click here to view the scientific societies letter. Click here to view Administrator Sullivan’s letter to Chairman Smith. Click here to view Ranking Member Johnson’s letter to Chairman Smith. Click here to view Chairman Smith’s response to the Johnson letter. APPROPRIATIONS: ESA REQUESTS ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH FUNDING INCREASE FOR FY 2016 On Nov. 20, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) sent a letter to House and Senate appropriators requesting a 5.2 percent discretionary spending increase for federal agencies that fund scientific research. The letter notes the role the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the US Geological Survey and other agencies play in supporting ecological research. It also calls upon appropriations leaders not to include riders that would hinder the ability of federal agencies to make policy decisions informed by scientific research. “The Society hopes that Congress can reach a bipartisan appropriations agreement that is free of provisions that would circumvent environmental assessments, impede climate change research or make determinations for endangered species listings that bypass the collaborative process involving researchers, state and local resource...

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Baron on earth stewardship and promoting a sustainable society
Jun16

Baron on earth stewardship and promoting a sustainable society

A key component of advancing earth stewardship involves communicating ecological science to stakeholders outside the ecological community. Continued outreach to policymakers at all levels of government is critical for sustaining investment and resources for all fields of science as well as building relationships that foster collaboration. Yet, now more than ever, success in the advancement of earth stewardship efforts necessitates engaging the ecological community with a diverse array of stakeholders who, in addition to policymakers, can include city planners, landowners, religious leaders and businesses. During the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, ESA past president Jill Baron reflects on her work to advance the Earth Stewardship Initiative, which she carried forward from former Presidents Mary Power, Terry Chapin, Steward Pickett and Scott Collins. She also discusses her work as an ecosystem ecologist with the United States Geological Survey Fort Collins Science Center and her history of involvement with the Ecological Society of America. Baron also reflected on her 2014 annual meeting special session on engaging with business and industry to promote earth stewardship. Perhaps surprising to some, the business community has long been working on climate resiliency efforts that lower the cost of insurance, save energy, promote green infrastructure and other efforts that decrease their carbon footprint and help local economies adapt to climate change. Baron stresses the importance of ecologists practicing their science by reaching out to communities in need of environmental science knowledge and encourages young scientists to pursue careers in the corporate world, particularly in light of declining opportunities in academia and government. “There are great ecology students coming out of the pipeline, but only a fixed number of academic positions, and a dwindling number of federal service positions like my own. There is, however, a growing need for people with ecological background to inform and work on sustainability issues with corporations.  ESA can help show ecologists the many career opportunities that will make a difference, not just in the corporate world, but for the products they provide to society, and ESA can also show corporations there’s a need for this kind of knowledge as they move towards sustainability.” “We have in this country wonderful environmental regulations and those are incredibly important to maintain and strengthen, but in order to actually move sustainability activities forward, we must increasingly engage with the businesses that provide the products of daily life, not just...

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State of the Union 2015: Obama calls out climate skeptics, urges expansion of educational opportunity, civility
Jan21

State of the Union 2015: Obama calls out climate skeptics, urges expansion of educational opportunity, civility

A common refrain from skeptics of the severity of humanity’s contribution to climate change over the past year is “I’m not a scientist.” During his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama responded to that sentiment head on, suggesting climate skeptics should actually get to know some scientists and suggested a few places they could go to find them, including institutions within their own communities. “Well, I’m not a scientist, either.  But you know what, I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and at NOAA, and at our major universities,” said President Obama.  “And the best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration and conflict and hunger around the globe.” The president used the Oct. 2014 Department of Defense report on climate change to reaffirm the urgency of tackling the issue and the various actions he’s taken to protect public lands and waters and build international support to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.  We should act like it,” he said. President Obama also called for Congress to find common ground on how to pay for federal investments that stimulate innovation and job creation, including scientific research. “Now, the truth is, when it comes to issues like infrastructure and basic research, I know there’s bipartisan support in this chamber.  Members of both parties have told me so.  Where we too often run onto the rocks is how to pay for these investments.” The president suggested Congress increase federal revenue by closing tax loopholes that disproportionately benefit large corporations. The president also touched on his plan to expand access to community college, which he stated is the route that 40 percent of college students have taken when they pursue higher education. “Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible.  I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today,” said the president. In a more somber and reflective moment, President Obama acknowledged that he hadn’t lived up to his 2008 presidential campaign pledge to foster more unity and break the partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill. Even still, citing recent cases where Americans have remained optimistic in the face of adversity, he challenged lawmakers to “better reflect America’s hopes.” “If...

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ESA Policy News November 5: Senate elections shake up committees, IPCC report finds climate change effects irreversible
Nov05

ESA Policy News November 5: Senate elections shake up committees, IPCC report finds climate change effects irreversible

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  SENATE: ELECTIONS, RETIREMENTS SHAKE UP KEY SCIENCE, ENVIRONMENTAL COMMITTEES On Nov. 4, Republicans decisively gained control of the US Senate for the first time in eight years. The party managed to hold onto all their incumbents while picking up seats in Arkansas (Tom Cotton), Colorado (Cory Gardner), Iowa (Joni Ernst), North Carolina (Thom Tillis), Montana (Steven Daines), West Virginia (Shelley Moore Capito) and South Dakota (Michael Rounds). Among races too close to call, Republican candidate Dan Sullivan is leading Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska, while current Democratic Sen. Mark Warner holds a very small edge over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia. As anticipated, Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu was forced into a run-off in her race against Republican Bill Cassidy when neither candidate obtained a majority of the vote according to state rules. Senate Republicans could hold between 53–55 Senate seats next Congress after the dust finally settles at the conclusion of the Dec. 6 Louisiana run-off. The 2014 election results, as well as retirements, will mean new leadership for a handful of Senate committees with jurisdiction over issues that affect the ecological community. Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is the Ranking Member and is in line to become chair under a Republican-controlled Senate. Current Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is expected to serve as the ranking member. Appropriations Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the senior Republican is expected to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Republican Senate majority. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) would continue as Ranking Member under the new leadership. Mikulski and Shelby also hold the top spots for their parties on the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which has funding jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Commerce, Science and Transportation Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is retiring at the close of the current 113th Congress. Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD) is expected to chair the committee next year. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Cantwell are the next most senior Democrats that could serve as ranking member in January. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is the ranking member of the Science and Space Subcommittee and may take control of the subcommittee in the Republican Senate. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) currently chairs the subcommittee and could serve as ranking member. The next Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chair will have to decide on how to move forward with legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, which outlines funding priorities...

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ESA Policy News May 2, 2014: House bill boosts NSF, NOAA climate research reviewed, new USDA conservation programs
May02

ESA Policy News May 2, 2014: House bill boosts NSF, NOAA climate research reviewed, new USDA conservation programs

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE CJS BILL INCREASES SCIENCE INVESTMENT On April 30, the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee released its funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. The bill includes funding for the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce and several key federal science agencies for the coming fiscal year that starts October 1, 2014. The bill includes $7.4 billion for the National Science Foundation; a $237 million increase over the FY 2014 enacted funding level and $150 million above the president’s request for FY 2015. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $5.3 billion in FY 2015; level with its FY 2014 enacted funding level. The bill also fully funds NOAA’s two satellite programs—the Joint Polar Satellite System and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. Additional information on the bill is available here. SENATE: HEARING EXAMINES IMPORTANCE OF RESEARCH INVESTMENT On April 29, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing entitled, “Driving Innovation through Federal Investments.” The hearing focused on the important role that federal funding plays in supporting scientific research. “It’s not an understatement to argue that federal investment in research is an investment in America’s future,” stated Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). “This realization has led me, and many of my colleagues, to consider some difficult questions.” “I agree reducing the budget deficit is important, but are we being so austere that we are limiting our future growth? And as one of the greatest countries in the world, are we so preoccupied with making budget cuts that we’re heading towards an innovation deficit as well?” Federal agency witnesses testifying before the committee included Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren. He noted that while the share of funding for US research and development supported by the federal government has dropped from as much as two-thirds in the 1960s to one-third today, the federal government remains “the largest funder of the basic research that produces the seed-corn from which all applied advances in innovation grow.” Holdren noted that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is currently viewed around the world as “the gold standard” in its peer review grant-making process and argued that the agency’s existing grant-making process be maintained. View the full hearing here. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS NOAA PRIORITIES On April 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing examining the proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). While expressing support for the overall NOAA budget request, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) was...

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USGS scientist named Ecological Society of America president
Sep09

USGS scientist named Ecological Society of America president

Jill Baron takes up the chair of ESA’s governing board, which lays out the vision for overall goals and objectives for the Society.

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