Weigh in on NSF’s next strategic plan
Sep06

Weigh in on NSF’s next strategic plan

By Elise Lipkowitz, Science Policy Analyst for the National Science Board Office   It’s time again for the National Science Foundation (NSF, Foundation) to revise its Strategic Plan.   As part of this process, the Foundation is looking for feedback from the science community on NSF’s current strategic plan (FY 2014-2018) and input on possible future strategic goals for the agency. If you have suggestions, please submit your comments before September 27, 2016. The NSF Act of 1950 sets forth the agency’s mission: “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense; and for other purposes.”  The Strategic Plan expands upon this with a statement of NSF’s vision, core values, strategic goals, objectives, strategies and approaches.  The next plan will cover the period from FY 2018 through FY 2022. The Government Performance and Results Act Modernization (GPRA) Act of 2010 governs how NSF and other federal agencies develop their strategic plans, which differ significantly from those of universities and professional societies and associations. The GPRA Modernization Act spells out both the timing (production of a four-year strategic plan by the first Monday in February of the year that follows the start of a new Presidential term) and the report’s structure, which includes discussion of the agency’s mission, values, and strategic goals. The strategic plan presents long-term agency objectives, strategies to meet those objectives, and outlines how the agency will monitor progress toward those objectives. Federal agency strategic plans aim to: Publicly communicate a vision for the agency Guide internal decision making, planning, and allocation of resources Stimulate innovation to advance agency goals Provide a framework to pursue annual priorities The science community can help NSF develop its strategic plan by: Identifying the emerging science and policy issues that provide the context in which NSF operates; this input should be at the highest level and transcend any given discipline Offering feedback on the Vision, Core Values, Strategic Goals, and Strategic Objectives as outlined in the current strategic...

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Reflections on Flint and environmental justice
Mar02

Reflections on Flint and environmental justice

The Flint water crisis: a time for reflecting on the need for ecosystem resilience and human well-being in urban communities of color By Kellen Marshall, graduate student in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at and a fellow at the Institute for Environmental Science & Policy at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @greenkels. All humans deserve clean drinking water. The Flint water crisis has unearthed the reality that our most sensitive populations are not receiving the benefits of nature’s services. While the crisis itself is a result of poor decision-making, the issue nonetheless has provided an opportunity to highlight the state of urban ecological systems that serve communities of color. We lift up that the issues of pollution and environmental degradation are a system wide problem, and are not issues of the poor. Flint brings about reflection on the cost to the rest of life connected to water resources, the flyers, the diggers, and the wigglers depending on these systems. With climate change threatening all of earth’s systems, it is essential that society adopt ways of working compatible with the ecological health of both land and water on sufficient scale to support wildlife and humans. African American communities (and other groups with unfairly low political power) bear more of the costs of environmental damage to the Great Lakes watershed. For example the predominantly Latino community of Little Village on the south side of Chicago deals with the unbearable stench of the cities Collateral Channel, which suffers from a century of pollution. There is then the southeast side of Chicago, an industrial section of the city where African American anglers are more likely to fish for consumption in the polluted waters of the Calumet region than any other cultural group. The great lakes basin holds a lot of fresh water, but development has put many pressures on the system that have had costs for people and other species. The benefits and costs are not distributed evenly to the 30 million people living there. A history of segregation in the area is at the root of this inequity. Considering the connections between environmental health and human health, it is both the systems and people that are negatively influenced from poor environmental decisions. Ecology in and of cities is not just an interesting research paradigm, it directly addresses the nations most vulnerable and underserved communities. There is an immense amount of energy and intellect within our ecological community. We have contributed to the protection of endangered species, the validation of climate change drivers, best practices for sustainable food production, and the restorations of remnant prairies, wetlands and forests. We have done amazing things for...

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Wiring food webs at Lake George
Nov12

Wiring food webs at Lake George

A collaborative project at Lake George, NY, merges sensory, experimental, and natural history data to develop a better model for environmental monitoring and prediction in lake ecosystems around the world. Guest post by Matt Schuler, a 2013 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winner currently working as postdoctoral researcher in Rick Relyea’s lab at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. The clear waters of Lake George offer an unobstructed view of the claw-like Ponar Grab Sampler as it reaches the sandy lake bottom, 15 feet below our boat. Kelsey Sudol, an undergraduate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) pulls sharply upward on the rope attached to the grab sampler, triggering a spring-loaded mechanism. The trap clamps shut around the soil and invertebrates that live in and on the soil, and she draws them to the surface. After we have separated mollusks, arthropods, and insect larvae from the soil with a sieve, this will be one of 30 samples taken from around the lake each month. We will use the data from these samples to understand how invertebrate biomass, diversity, and composition change across space and time. Our invertebrate surveys are part of a food web study that is measuring the complex interactions of the organisms living in Lake George, from the smallest plankton to the largest lake trout. However, measuring and modeling the food web of the 44-square-mile lake is only one component of the Jefferson Project at Lake George. The Jefferson Project is a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort between RPI, IBM, and the FUND for Lake George. Researchers in ecology, engineering, computer science, and the arts and humanities – among other fields – are working together to build a better understanding of lake ecosystems around the world. The project combines new technologies, including an Internet of Things (IOT) computational platform, with observational and experimental data, in developing a new model for environmental monitoring and prediction. The IOT computer platform captures and analyzes abiotic data from a series of “smart” sensors located in and around the lake. The sensor data are combined with food web data and experimental data to form a comprehensive picture of how Lake George functions as a complex ecosystem. This new model can be emulated around the world, helping to redefine how we monitor ecosystems, understand the impact of human activities, and provide insight for the protection of freshwater resources. These lofty goals would not be possible without 35 years of water quality and chemistry monitoring data collected by researchers at Rensselaer’s Darrin Freshwater Institute, with support from The FUND for Lake George. Those data indicate that the water quality of Lake George is changing – with noticeable increases in salt, algae,...

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#IAmANaturalist reclaim the name campaign celebrates natural history research
Sep08

#IAmANaturalist reclaim the name campaign celebrates natural history research

Are you a naturalist? Join the grassroots effort to reclaim the name. ESA’s Natural History section is calling on you to assert your naturalist identity with pride by tweeting a photo to #IAmANaturalist on Monday, September 8, 2014. Guest poster Kirsten Rowell explains why. [update: see some of the fantastic #IamaNaturalist photos and tweets in our September 10 collection or scroll down this post for more blog excerpts.]   I am a Naturalist — I use careful observations of the natural world to inform my daily life and research. My practice of natural history feeds my research program with questions, and answers. But I don’t think I’ve ever introduced myself as a naturalist. When was the last time you heard an ecologist introduce herself as a NATURALIST? Why do we reject that identity?  Isn’t natural history the seed of many ecological questions—and in some cases the answer? This is why we (@esanathist ) are starting a #IAmANaturalist campaign to raise awareness about the prevalence of naturalists in ecology and the importance of natural history. Without natural history knowledge, I would be lost.  In my research I look for patterns in nature and I ask questions about what shapes those patterns. In the absence of natural history information, our progress toward an understanding of complex ecological questions grinds to a halt. Impacts of climate change?  Depends on the natural history. Management of threatened populations?  The devil is in the details of how and where they live and die. Disease prevention?  Same story.  All of our sophisticated models are only as good as the natural history that informs them. The field of Ecology is young, and it stands on the shoulders of natural history. Many of the icons in ecology, such as G.W. Carver, E. Leopold, E.O. Wilson, J. Goodall, J. Lubchenco, S. Earle, R. Kimmer, etc. were and are fundamentally naturalists, observing and recording the natural world in situ and in its entirety with a keen appreciation to connections and interactions.  It is the first-hand experiences in nature that give us the ”Rachel Carlson / Gene Likens” insights that unlock mysteries and help solve major environmental solutions.  It is also the naturalist instinct that is open to the abundance of complexity in ecosystems, which fuels our passion for better scholarship. Yet most ecologists don’t teach natural history courses. Anecdotally, this seems especially true for junior faculty. Over the past decades we have seen a steady decline in the practice of natural history, perceived value of natural history, and natural history course work for biology majors (Tewksbury et al. 2014). These statistics beg the question, what will the field of ecology look like in a future without...

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From Oceans to Mountains: It’s All About Ecology… Communication!
Jun09

From Oceans to Mountains: It’s All About Ecology… Communication!

An opportunity to build your multimedia toolkit at the ESA2014 Annual Meeting in Sacramento, CA this August.

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Ill-informed prophecies and the future of women in ecology
Feb17

Ill-informed prophecies and the future of women in ecology

In May 2013, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment published a controversial article on “The future of ecology: a collision of expectations and desires?” In this guest post, Nathalie Pettorelli discusses her own response to the Lockwood paper, in the context of the broader sociological literature on women in science.

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New strategic vision for field stations and marine labs

Field stations and marine labs take on the future of science In this guest post, Ian Billick, PhD,  introduces the new strategic vision, released today, for the disparate network of field stations and marine labs. Recommendations include creating virtual access to historic data archives and streamlining physical access to field sites for extramural researchers. Billick  is Past President of the Organization of Biological Field Stations and current Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. Bodega Marine Laboratory and Reserve. Credit, University of California Natural Reserve System. AS a field station director, I’m often dealing with the present, negotiating access to research sites or managing construction projects. Recently I participated in a planning effort organized by field stations and marine labs (FSMLs) to figure out what field scientists will need in the future, and how FSMLs can help. The Organization of Biological Field Stations and National Association of Marine Laboratories hosted a national workshop and conducted a survey of hundreds of place-based research sites. Perhaps the loudest call was for a stronger network among FSMLs. As research expands to more complex problems and greater spatial and temporal scales, integrating FSMLs into a coherent portfolio of national assets could help scientists take advantage of the available opportunities—from conducting research across multiple sites to integrating rich data streams. FSMLs are a critical part of the nation’s infrastructure for field science. They serve as hosts for a number of large-scale initiatives, such as the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), and the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network. Furthermore, the FSML network, almost 90% of which is not involved in these national initiatives, represents a highly flexible, decentralized network that supports field research across a broad geographic scope. More than 400 FSMLs all across the country, with $1+ billion invested in them collectively, provide logistical support, access to field sites, critical contextual knowledge, and opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration. Not only did many of the ideas and technical expertise that support national initiatives largely emerge from individual FSMLs, but many of the insights generated by national initiatives will require complementary research at FSMLs outside the programs. Each of these field stations and marine labs has historic data that is priceless. If we’re serious about understanding a changing world, we need to make these data accessible to scientists—not just the data that can be harmonized across large geographic areas, but also the idiosyncratic location-specific information that FSMLs tend to specialize in. It is precisely this incredible richness and diversity of knowledge about each site that offers the greatest potential for discovery. One of the other issues that emerged was the increasing difficulty...

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ConservationCorridor.org collects all things wildlife corridor-related
Dec20

ConservationCorridor.org collects all things wildlife corridor-related

A guest post by Heather Lessig, a ConservationCorridor moderator and research technician in Nick Haddad’s lab at NC State LANDSCAPE corridors are among the most important conservation strategies in the face of global changes such as habitat fragmentation, habitat destruction, and climate change.  Corridors are habitats that are typically long relative to their width, and they connect fragmented patches of habitat.  The main goal of corridors is to facilitate movement of individuals, through both dispersal and migration, so that genes can continuously be exchanged between different individuals and genetic diversity is maintained overall. This is critical for the survival of species, especially as habitat fragmentation results in isolated animals or plants disconnected from the rest of the population.  Corridors are able to provide a literal pathway, connecting these isolated individuals to the main group by making it easy for individuals to walk (or run or fly or glide or hop or blow in the wind) to other populated areas.  By linking populations throughout the landscape instead of leaving behind islands of good habitat in a sea of bad habitat, there is a lower chance for extinction and greater support for species richness. There are many examples of corridors. Corridors can exist naturally, such as streams and stream banks linking isolated wetlands. The endangered St. Francis’ satyr butterfly, on Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, uses stream corridors to fly between ephemeral wetlands created by abandoned beaver ponds.  Corridors can also be constructed through management practices, such as efforts to link national parks in Turkey and protect species such as the Caucasian lynx, brown bear, and Anatolian leopard.  They can be artificially constructed, such as overpasses or underpasses on highways, for the sole purpose of funneling animals or plants away from anthropogenic threat.  Banff National Park in Canada has been a leader in constructing corridors around highways, and has seen them used by numerous large mammals including grizzly bears, wolves, moose, elk and deer.  Corridors can be large, as is typical in large mountain ranges, or small, as is typical in urban landscapes. While recent years have seen a growth of scientific research on corridors, there is still a gap between what ecologists know about the science of corridors and its practical application in conservation management.  In an effort to bridge this gap, we have developed a new website, ConservationCorridor.org.  This website it based out of North Carolina State University, and is hosted by a team of scientists there with extensive experience in corridor planning and research.  Much of the content of the site is contributed by others outside of North Carolina State University, including managers, researchers, and students who all...

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