Ecology from treetop to bedrock: human influence in earth’s critical zone #ESA100
Aug11

Ecology from treetop to bedrock: human influence in earth’s critical zone #ESA100

An organized session on Critical Zone Ecology at ESA’s 100th Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Md. Tuesday, August 11, 2015: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM, rm 328 Conference website Program Native Apps More press releases for the 100th Annual Meeting   On the high slopes of the Eel River watershed on California’s North Coast Range, large conifers sink their roots deep through the soil and into fractures in the mudstone bedrock, tapping water reserves that scientists are only recently learning to appreciate. These unexpected reservoirs may provide resiliency to the Eel River ecosystem in intensive droughts, such as the one California is now experiencing. “The way water is stored, intercepted, and released is critical to drought and extreme floods. Researchers are getting surprises about how important the deep fractured bedrock can be,” said Mary Power, a stream ecologist at the University of California at Berkeley and an investigator at the Eel River Critical Zone Observatory, one of ten Critical Zone Observatories (CZOs) funded by the National Science Foundation that bring together geologists, hydrologists, microbiologists, climate scientists, ecologists, and more to work on research questions that tend to lie at the interface of their disciplines. Power will report on effects on interactions of vegetation and the underlying geology on salmon and river ecosystems as part of an organized series of talks showcasing Critical Zone Ecology at the 100th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Baltimore, Md. this August 9–14. “How flashy or spongy will the watershed be when it rains? Will the storm runoff be stored, and infiltrate, or flash off downslope? What are the water storage and slow release dynamics that will—please, please—keep us going through this drought?” These are pressing questions that the interdisciplinary team is working on at the Eel River CZO, Power said. Large conifer trees span the critical zone between bedrock and atmosphere, in which the movements and actions of water, air, and a complex web of living organisms shape and transform the physical crust of the earth. Water can be stored in weathered bedrock, changed chemically during storage, and drawn up to the atmosphere by big trees. It flows down through rock fractures to supply downslope surface waters. In this relatively narrow space lie all the life-sustaining resources supporting terrestrial life on earth. Earth’s critical zone supports human societies and is deeply impacted by the actions and activities of those societies. “To ecologists, the Critical Zone is an ecosystem, a watershed,” said Kathleen Lohse, who directs the new Reynolds Creek Critical Zone Observatory in southwest Idaho and co-organized the meeting session on critical zone ecology. “I’m trained as an ecosystem scientist. My specialty is soil....

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Looking to large tributaries for conservation gains

By Liza Lester, ESA communications officer Mississippi River Basin. Green tributaries have sufficient flow for large-river specialist fishes, and long stretches unobstructed by obstacles of civilization. Blue tributaries fall below a critical flow threshold. Yellow tributaries discharge enough water, but are blocked by dams. On big rivers like the Mississippi, the infrastructure of modern civilization – dams, locks, dikes, power plants, cities – has made life easier for people, but harder for fish and other denizens of the river. Restoration is a tricky problem. Economic reliance on these big rivers makes fundamental reversals like dam removals unlikely. Conservation laws and projects tend to be local, on the city or state level, and the river crosses many borders, complicating the restoration picture. Large Tributaries have under-appreciated potential to compensate for habitat loss on the major concourses of the Mississippi Basin, say Brenda Pracheil and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the April issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The Platte, for example, has 577 kilometers of free-flowing, relatively intact habitat. It feeds into the heavily altered Missouri, a large mainstem river in the Mississippi Basin, and harbors many of the same fishes. Pracheil found a correspondence between the volume rate of water flow and the presence of 68 large-river fishes, including paddlefish, blue catfish, and silver chub, most of which are threatened. A steep threshold separates tributaries with large-river fish from those without; 166 cubic meters per second is big enough for roughly 80% of large river specialist species. Below the threshold, almost none of these species are around. Pracheil says this threshold could be used to target tributaries for conservation attention. Existing regulatory structures don’t allow improvements on tributaries to count toward mainstem restoration mandates. The UW scientists argue that more flexibility could, in some cases, provide a better return on investment of conservation dollars, complementing efforts on the larger rivers downstream. Learn more on the University of Wisconsin Center for Limnology blog and on the UW’s news site. Pracheil, B., McIntyre, P., & Lyons, J. (2013). Enhancing conservation of large-river biodiversity by accounting for tributaries Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 11 (3), 124-128 DOI:...

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