Buffo the truffle-hunting dog, night-blooming balsa trees and fire-ant-made rafts

Truffle shuffle: According to a letter published in the April issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Buffo the truffle-hunting dog made an unusual find: a one-pound Burgundy truffle in the forests of southern Germany in November. As lead author Ulf Büntgen said in a recent Wired Science article, “This wasn’t a small find, but a big and expensive truffle with lots of smaller ones around. It was strange to find it in an area where, so far, this truffle’s existence has never been reported…The season, early November, was also unusual. This led us to ask, ‘what is driving truffle growth here? Is it connected to climate?’” Read more at “Truffle-Hunting Dog Finds Jackpot in Unexpected Place.” Blooming balsa: Large, blooming balsa trees attract wildlife in the night with their nectar-laden blossoms. Natalie Angier elaborated in a National Geographic article: “When [the capuchin monkeys] look up again, their muzzles are speckled with pollen, which from the [balsa] tree’s perspective is the whole point of its flowers: to capture the attention of a pollinator long enough that the animal can’t help but be brushed with the plant’s equivalent of semen, which, if all goes well, the inadvertent matchmaker will eventually deliver to the female parts of another balsa tree’s flowers. The exchange is simple: You get drinks on the house, my gametes get a ride on your face.” Read more at “Panama’s Ochroma Trees.” Deepwater update: One year after the Deepwater Horizon explosion sent oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are still researching the longterm ecological impact of an incident that is unique in many ways. That is, “[t]he field of coral was just 11 kilometres from the Deepwater Horizon well head, which earlier in the year had spewed out more than 4 million barrels of oil and a similar amount of methane—the largest ever accidental release in the ocean,” wrote Mark Schrope in a Nature article. “The spill was unique in other ways, too. Located beyond the continental shelf and some 1,400 metres below the surface, it happened in deeper water than any other major spill in history.” Read more at “Oil spill: Deep wounds.” Peacock spots: Mate selection in peacocks may be more complex than previously thought. That is, the number of eyespots on a male peacock’s feathers is likely not the only factor responsible for female’s mate selection.“The threshold idea certainly makes sense at first glance, says Adeline Loyau, a peacock researcher at the CNRS research station in Moulis, France,” in a Science News article by Susan Milius. “The struggle to understand the long-familiar peacock, adds [Loyau], ‘suggests that we are still far from...

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How federal investment in flood management can save money

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst Is your neighborhood capable of weathering a flood? Would you still be able to drink tap water after such an event? Are the levees, dams, bridges and storm drains in your town capable of coping with a potential flood? The United States Geological Survey (USGS)–at least for the time being– has the federal resources, investment and capability to answer these questions for our nation’s communities. On April 15, USGS sponsored a briefing entitled “2011 – The Year of the Flood?”  This briefing highlighted the many flood management benefits of the USGS streamgaging program. The speakers—including Brian McCallum, Assistant Director of the USGS Georgia Water Science Center, Tom Graziano, Chief  Hydrologic Services Division of the NOAA National Weather Service, and Brian Hurt, a former City Engineer in Findlay, Ohio—discussed the many benefits of maintaining up-to-date information on surface water data. The USGS operates and maintains a nationwide streamgaging network of about 7,000 gages. The network is supported by funding through the USGS’s Cooperative Water Program, the USGS National Streamflow Information Program, other federal environmental agencies and roughly 800 state and local funding partners. Its users include a multitude of local, state and federal agencies, industry, educational institutions, non-governmental organizations and even individual citizens. The economic benefits and cost savings of adequate federal investment in streamgaging technologies is substantial.  A study from the National Hydrologic Warning Council estimated the value of hydrologic forecasts at $1.6 billion annually, and that report attributed $1.02 billion in savings to successful forecasting for reservoir operation. If three to five percent of this total is attributed to the gage network that provides that necessary data for forecasting, the benefit is $30-$50 million annually. The Army Corps of Engineers presents an annual report to Congress, with detailed information on flood damages prevented by Corps projects. The average annual flood damage prevented by Corps projects between 1983-2002 is $23.2 billion. Nearly 20,000 communities across the nation participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, which is designed to provide an alternative to disaster assistance to reduce the costs of repairing infrastructural damage caused by floods. During Friday’s briefing, Brian Hurt pointed out that methods that allow earlier flood warnings to residents allows them to preemptively secure valuables and consequently allow savings of “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in the National Flood Insurance Program. Concurrently, the National Weather Service (NWS) uses USGS streamgaging data in its flood warning program. The data reported from the NWS flood warning program provides critical lead-time ahead of impending natural disasters for emergency response agencies, and consequently citizens, to take pre-emptive measures for minimizing the...

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Policy News: April 8

  Here are some highlights form the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: NO COMPROMISE IN SIGHT HOURS BEFORE POTENTIAL SHUTDOWN As of the morning of Friday, April 8, repeated meetings at the White House fostered no definitive agreement between House and Senate leaders to fund the government through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011. Lawmakers and the president have until Friday evening at midnight to avoid a shutdown of the federal government. On Thursday, April 7, 2011, the House passed H.R. 1363, a bill that would fund the Department of Defense through the remainder of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2011 and fund all other federal agencies for an additional week through April 15. The legislation would cut discretionary spending by $12 billion. It also includes language that would bar the District of Columbia from using local government funds to pay for abortion services. The bill passed by a vote of 247-181. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) offered an alternative measure that would provide a clean extension of government spending at current levels for an additional week. The measure came to a vote and failed completely along party lines 236-187. The abortion restrictions, which serve to rally conservative House Republicans, ultimately helped doom the bill’s chances of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) planned to offer an amended Senate version of the House one-week extension, similar to Hoyer’s measure. In the process of considering the latest funding bill, the House Rules Committee voted to waive a requirement included in House Rules stating that a measure must be introduced three days before it is considered on the House floor. The temporary rule gives the Speaker of the House additional capacity to avert or shorten a government shutdown. While both President Obama and Congressional leaders seem to agree that talks were “progressing” as of Thursday evening, no definitive number or compromise had yet been reached. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has called on the White House to sign the temporary funding measure. However, President Obama reaffirmed his veto threat against the bill. Majority Leader Reid blamed the stalemate on a partisan dispute over Planned Parenthood and other controversial riders that were included in the House-passed bill. As of April 8, the numerical differences amounted to $5 billion, roughly 0.14 percent of the $3.5 trillion annual budget. Speaker Boehner is pushing for a deal that would include about $39 billion in spending cuts compared to fiscal year (FY) 2010. Reid and Obama are pushing for about $34 billion in cuts, although there have also been recent...

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Addressing climate change may foster economic recovery

Several Congressional hearings have been held this year on climate science and potential policy actions such as  federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. There are those in Congress who argue that regardless of whether or not they are convinced that human activity is leading to changes in the atmosphere, the United States  cannot afford to address it amidst a soaring budget deficit and high unemployment. Given these economic concerns, numerous scientists have recently pointed out that addressing climate change and working to create jobs and fuel the economy are not mutually exclusive. One of those scientists is Dr. Knute Nadelhoffer, Director of the University of Michigan Biological Station in Pellston, MI in the center of the Great Lakes Basin. In the latest edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Dr. Nadelhoffer discusses his experience testifying before a congressional committee. During the podcast, he also notes how previous attempts to address environmental challenges  led to new  jobs. “The Clean Air Act created jobs. It created technologies,” he said. “It developed entrenprenuer enterprises that led to new products and improved our effeciencies, so I think the precedent is that we will create jobs” through the implementation of greenhouse gas regulations. In his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee, Dr. Nadelhoffer outlined a series of economic impacts of climate change in the Great Lakes region, which are happening now. He stated that: “The economy of the eight states and Canadian provinces that surround the Great Lakes are the third or fourth largest in the world and in our region, we interact intimately with our natural resources to sustain our economy and our culture, so we pay close attention to what happens around us.” Dr. Nadelhoffer went on to testify that the temperature of Lake Superior, the deepest and largest lake in the western hemisphere and second largest in the world, has risen by 4.5 degrees Farenheit in the past 30 years. He stated that increased flooding associated with climatic changes leads to increased amounts of sediment and fertilizers entering waterways, which are associated with toxic algae blooms that consume oxygen, kill fish, create aquatic dead zones and increase costs of water treatments. He also noted the significant infrastructure cost borne by storm systems that were built 50 years ago in cities bordering the Great Lakes such as South Haven, Michigan and Milwaukee, Wisconsin that are no longer able to cope with this increased flooding. Dr. Nadelhoffer had been called to testify partly because of a letter to Michigan’s congressional delegation he helped spearhead.  In total, the letter had 178 signatures from scientists in prominent universities across the state,...

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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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Immersed in the clouds: Interview with tropical cloud forest researcher

There is a world within the canopy of a tropical cloud forest that not many people get to see. In this unique ecosystem—maintained by the exceptionally wet microclimate of cloud cover—orchids, moss, lichens and other epiphytes grow in every crease and pocket of the supporting tree branches. Here, hundreds of species of birds, along with monkeys and other mammals navigate the aerial landscape, scattering seeds along the way (see below video). (Resplendent Quetzal Canopy in the Clouds from Colin Witherill on Vimeo.) Greg Goldsmith, tropical plant ecologist from the University of California, Berkeley, spends his days harnessed in this “canopy in the clouds”—also the name of the interactive, educational website he is currently working on with photographer Drew Fulton and cinematographer Colin Witherill. The website, which explores the topical montane cloud forest in Monteverde, Costa Rica, will be launching a Spanish version called “Dosel en las Nubes” in the next couple of weeks. Goldsmith, who is the host in the Canopy in the Clouds videos, explains the microclimates, landscape, plants, pollinators, insects and the many other fascinating aspects of the forest. “I am still absolutely blown away by the sheer quantity of green that you see when you first walk into one of these forests,” said Goldsmith in a recent Ecological Society of America Field Talk podcast. “I am still amazed and still totally enthralled by the idea of seeing something I have never seen before, every single day. And that is a function of the incredible biodiversity that exists in this part of the world.” Thanks to the many hours of work from the crew, Canopy in the Clouds has numerous panoramic photographs embedded with short videos that describe a specific process or aspect of the forest. According to Drew Fulton’s photography website, “This group spent over 200 days in the field, bringing together [their] passions in pursuit of a new generation of science education media…” It was the first time Fulton and Witherill worked in the tropics. With the website completed, Goldsmith can guide visitors to experience a unique perspective within and above the canopy at the highest elevation—an area that is largely inaccessible without careful training. So, instead of telling a student that “the canopy is almost always immersed in this beautiful layer of clouds,” as Goldsmith said in the podcast, he is able to show them firsthand. Photo Credit: All photos copyright of Drew...

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ESA Policy News: January 13

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN TO REFOCUS PRIORITIES, PROBE CLIMATE SCIENCE Among the new priorities of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in the 112th Congress will be an  investigation of climate science. Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) opposes cap-and-trade policies and the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Hall has repeatedly suggested that so-called “Climategate” e-mails between climate scientists posted on the Internet in 2009 raise doubts about the overall quality of climate science, a stance that landed him on the liberal Center for American Progress’ list of “climate zombie” lawmakers who question the scientific consensus on global climate change. Hall said his committee’s vice chairman, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), an outspoken climate skeptic and former committee chairman, will take the lead on the issue. Sensenbrenner also served as the top Republican on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which was abolished this year when his party took control of the House. EPA: HOUSE AND SENATE LEADERS SPAR OVER CLIMATE RULES Committee leaders within the House and Senate have already begun sparing over legislative attempts to block the Obama administration’s global climate change and air pollution rules. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) criticized the House GOP majority for targeting rules covering healthcare and the environment. Chairwoman Boxer asserted that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is following the will of Congress in implementing its carbon regulations, she said, pointing to a 2007 Supreme Court decision that found that the Clean Air Act grants the agency the authority to do so. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) is planning an early series of hearings on the Obama EPA rules that target power plants, petroleum refiners and other major stationary industrial sources. He’s also said that he’s considering legislation that would stop the agency’s efforts until a series of lawsuits have been resolved. PUBLIC LANDS: HOUSE CHAIRMAN TO TARGET BLM ‘WILD LANDS’ POLICY Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee,  plans to contest whether the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has the authority to impose temporary wilderness restrictions on federal lands in the West. GULF SPILL: PANEL RELEASES RECOMMENDATION REPORT ON OFFSHORE DRILLING The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, tasked by President Obama to investigate the causes and effects of the disaster in the Gulf, released its final report Jan. 11. The commission report concludes that the...

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ESA Policy News: December 22

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.

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