Restoring prairie and fighting wildfire with (drone launched) fire(balls)
Aug01

Restoring prairie and fighting wildfire with (drone launched) fire(balls)

To restore the grasslands of the Great Plains, a Nebraska ecologist says, bring back high intensity fires Ecologist Dirac Twidwell wants to change the way we think about prescribed burns. The University of Nebraska professor says he can harness extreme fire to restore grasslands on the Great Plains—and, with the help of the Nebraska Intelligent MoBile Unmanned Systems (NIMBUS) Lab, he has created a small drone that launches ping-pong balls-sized “dragon eggs” of fire to help him do it safely and cheaply. The two-pound hexacopter could be used to aid in wildfire suppression as well as to ignite prescribed burns for management of wildlands and rangeland, he says, taking on dangerous jobs currently carried out by helicopter pilots and ground crews. In an article published today (1 August 2016) in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Twidwell and colleagues review the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in fire management. Twidwell will speak more broadly about innovations in fire management and his experiments across the Great Plains with high intensity fires during severe drought on Friday, 12 August 2016 at the 101st Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Nobody is really studying high intensity fire, because everyone would think you are crazy. We have always been told that high intensity fires during drought are bad. That’s the problem: we have been studying fire when we were told it is OK to ignite and control fires on landscapes. To me, it’s a job for scientists to do. If we are going to understand the role of fire in nature, we need to study a bigger range of intensities, and we need new approaches to do it,” said Twidwell. Fire shaped the prairie ecosystem of the Great Plains. Historically, fires naturally ignited by lightning swept regularly through the grasslands, killing off the seedlings of trees and shrubs and promoting the dominance of fast-germinating native grasses, which are adapted to frequent fire. Fire releases nutrients that fuel more vibrant regrowth, a pattern recognized by native peoples who set grass fires to improve browse for buffalo. Successful fire suppression has changed that scenario, allowing woody shrubs like juniper to gain a stubborn foothold. Like grasslands and savannas around the world, the Great Plains’ grass sea is on a path to becoming a canopy of shrubs. The shrub infiltration is a tricky problem for ranchers working to maintain quality grazing lands for their livestock and wildlife managers tasked with maintaining native habitat and ecosystem services. Both groups employ fire as a tool, sometimes working together to set the prairie ablaze under controlled conditions and regenerate the grasses. As...

Read More
Asian tiger mosquito thrives in New York
Jul26

Asian tiger mosquito thrives in New York

The aggressive, day-biting Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, has spread with global trade from its native home in the tropics and subtropics of Southeast Asia. First observed in Houston, Texas, in 1987, it rapidly spread through the interstate system in the the United States. Its range is pushing northward into New York and Pennsylvania. Does Ae. albopictus crowd out other mosquito species? Katz surveyed the mosquito species present at sites in southern New York State and will report on her results at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America this August. PS 2-24 -The community assemblage of tree-hole mosquitoes in southern New York State Monday, August 8, 2016, ESA Exhibit Hall, Ft Lauderdale Convention Center Marly B. Katz, Fordham University, New York City, NY Browse more presentations about mosquito ecology at the 2016 Annual...

Read More
Battle at the bloodmeal lek #ESA2016
Jul25

Battle at the bloodmeal lek #ESA2016

Invasive Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus are the principal vectors of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika viruses in the Americas. These species often find themselves in competition for mates and resources for their young. Cross-mating between the species creates infertile eggs and permanent sterilization of A. aegypti females. Lounibos and colleague Steven Juliano of Illinois State University described the causes and consequences of coexistence in south Florida. Lounibos will present their results in a session on Invasion: Species Interactions at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America, in southern Florida. COS 84-1 -Where vectors collide: Effects of interspecific competition on worldwide niches of invasive Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus Thursday, August 11, 2016: 1:30 PM, room 209/210, Ft Lauderdale Convention Center L. Philip Lounibos, Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, University of Florida, Vero Beach, FL Browse more presentations about mosquito ecology at the 2016 Annual...

Read More
Invasive mosquito helps break the spread of a parasite
Jul21

Invasive mosquito helps break the spread of a parasite

Some species of mosquitoes spread dangerous human diseases. But mosquitoes have their own parasites, like the protozoan Ascogregarina barretti, which is related to the organisms that cause malaria and toxoplasmosis, and infects the native North American mosquito Aedes triseriatus. The invasive mosquito, Aedes japonicus, a recent arrival in North America, does not contract As. barretti. Will the presence of Ae. japonicus dilute the prevalence of the parasite in the native mosquito? Find out this August at Katie Westby’s talk during ESA’s 2016 Annual Meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. COS 6-6 -Interactive effects of species invasion and habitat quality on parasite prevalence: Evidence of a dilution effect Monday, August 8, 2016: 3:20 PM, room 124/125, Ft Lauderdale Convention Center Katie M. Westby, Tyson Research Center, Washington University in St. Louis, Eureka, MO Browse more presentations about mosquito ecology at the 2016 Annual...

Read More
ESA Policy News: Science groups discuss climate on the Hill, Smith seeks more NOAA data, Interior publishes invasive threat framework
Mar02

ESA Policy News: Science groups discuss climate on the Hill, Smith seeks more NOAA data, Interior publishes invasive threat framework

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  POLICY ENGAGEMENT: ESA SCIENTISTS MEET ON CAPITOL HILL TO DISCUSS CLIMATE SCIENCE In February, ESA participated in Climate Science Days, an annual outreach event sponsored by the Climate Science Working Group (CSWG) to advance understanding of climate change research among lawmakers on Capitol Hill.  ESA is a CSWG member as are other scientific associations. Multiple teams of scientists, paired by geographic location, met with over 100 House and Senate offices and committee staff. Meetings with Republican Senate and House members were given priority along with lawmakers who serve on committees with jurisdiction over climate science issues. ESA member participants included Matthew Hurteau (University of New Mexico), Knute Nadelhoffer (University of Michigan) and Adam Rosenblatt (Yale University). Other participating CSWG organizations included the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Chemical Society, American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, American Society of Agronomy, American Statistical Association, the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, the Geological Society of America, the Soil Science Society of America and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXPANDS REQUEST FOR NOAA CLIMATE SCIENCE DOCUMENTS On Feb. 22, House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) demanding more documents related to the agency’s analyses of global temperature data. This follows a previous subpoena sent to NOAA by the Committee on October 13, 2015. So far, NOAA has given the committee 301 pages of emails between NOAA officials (excluding scientists’ emails) regarding a study published last year in the journal Science. “The integrity of federal scientists’ research published in the journal Science is being questioned despite a lack of public evidence of scientific misconduct. The progress and integrity of science depend on transparency about the details of scientific methodology and the ability to follow the pursuit of scientific knowledge,” the letter states. Although the Committee is no longer seeking communications from NOAA scientists, the sparring between NOAA and the House Science Committee is likely to continue. So far, NOAA has not made a public statement about the recent request although the original deadline of Feb. 29 to submit the documents to the Committee has passed. INTERIOR: NEW FRAMEWORK SEEKS TO IMPROVE FEDEARL RESPONSE TO INVASIVE THREATS The Department of the Interior (DOI) released a report on Feb. 18: Safeguarding America’s Lands and Waters from Invasive Species: A National Framework for Early Detection and Rapid Response.  The National Invasive Species Council (NISC) assisted DOI in the report’s development, including the US Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency, State...

Read More
De-Extinction, a risky ecological experiment
Feb19

De-Extinction, a risky ecological experiment

Genetic engineering may allow us to rebirth close facsimiles of extinct species. But would bringing back a few individuals of a famously gregarious bird like the passenger pigeon truly revive the species, when the great oak forests that sustained them are gone? And if it succeeds, what if the birds don’t fit in anymore in our changed world? Experience with biological invasions leads guest writer Dave Strayer, a distinguished senior scientist at the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, to advocate for caution. De-extinction (bringing extinct species back from the dead) has been riding a wave of enthusiasm, fueled by Steward Brand’s TED talk and several prominent books and articles. But for a project that aspires to use materials from the past to build a better future, de-extinction is doing a poor job of using past experience with biological invasions to temper that enthusiasm. The basic idea of de-extinction is to use bits of genetic material salvaged from an extinct species (museum specimens, frozen mammoths) in cutting-edge biotechnology to create living animals in the lab, and use these lab-created specimens to re-establish populations of the extinct species in the wild. Actually, as Beth Shapiro described in her excellent book How To Clone a Mammoth, the end product isn’t literally the extinct species, but an animal with some of the genes of the extinct species (the passenger pigeon) and some of the genes of a living relative (e.g., the band-tailed pigeon), which hopefully looks and acts something like the extinct species. We might call this new species “passenger pigeon v.2.0”. I don’t need to explain the appeal of “de-extinction”. Besides using our powers to bring back charismatic species, de-extinction could restore vital functions that these lost animals performed, and thus benefit other inhabitants of their ecosystems. De-extinction is also almost irresistibly cool (come on! Bringing mammoths back from the dead?). Much of the discussion about de-extinction has focused on the technical challenges of resurrecting extinct species, the problem of choosing which species to revive, and the danger that de-extinction could divert attention and resources away from badly needed programs to prevent further extinctions. These serious problems deserve careful consideration, and are well treated in Shapiro’s book and elsewhere. But focusing on these problems can distract us from what may be the central risk of de-extinction: that its ecological effects could be large, and hard to predict and manage. We have learned from biological invasions that putting new species into ecosystems can have large economic and ecological effects, sometimes positive and sometimes negative, but almost always difficult or impossible to predict or control. Familiar examples include rabbits in Australia; or zebra mussels, emerald ash borers,...

Read More
Kill da wabbit
Feb15

Kill da wabbit

A New Brunswick family helps remove invasive snowshoe hares from a group of remote Bay of Fundy Islands, five decades after introducing them as Bowdoin professor Nathaniel Wheelwright recounts in the February Natural History Note for Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Too much of an adorable thing. Snowshoe hares like this one, photographed in its winter finery in Denali National Park, are native to North America and range across the north of the continent from Alaska to the coast of Maine, but had not colonized the remote islands of the Bay of Fundy, 15 miles off the coast of Maine, without human help. Credit, NPS Photo/ Tim Rains. Snowshoe hares arrived on tiny Hay Island, at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, in 1959, traveling by boat from Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, Canada, with Wesley Ingalls and his nephew, Junior. The two fishermen had the idea that trapping hares would make an entertaining winter activity, when they were not fishing, and bring in a little extra money. With no competitors and few predators, Ingalls’ original dozen hares quickly became several hundred. When low tide opened a causeway to neighboring Kent Island, they hopped across (the Bay of Fundy is famous for having among the largest tides on earth). Junior went out to Hay two years later to harvest young balsam firs for his herring weir, as was his custom. The forest stand never grew back. A bramble of wood fern and raspberry grew up in its place, crowding out other plants and providing excellent cover for bunnies hiding from bald eagles and wintering snowy owls. Snowshoe hares are native to North America and range across the north of the continent from Alaska to the coast of Maine, but had not colonized the remote islands of the Bay of Fundy, 15 miles off the coast of Maine, without human help. On Hay and Kent their population reached 3-50 times the density of hare populations on the Maine mainland. They had an impact. Intrepid eaters, the hares mowed though young saplings as well as grass. In winter they even climbed the bases of trees to gnaw on twigs and bark. As mature trees aged and blew down in storms, no young trees grew to replace them. The hares bonsaied surviving young spruces into the shape of alpine cushion plants. For nearly five decades, the hares shaped the vegetation of Hay and Kent islands. Ingalls had unintentionally initiated and ecological experiment by introducing a keystone herbivore to the island. Kent island also happens to house Bowdoin College’s biological field research station, originally established in 1930s as a preserve for...

Read More
ESA Policy News Dec. 16: World leaders reach climate accord, Congress finalizes FY 2016 spending deal, NEON to undergo management restructuring
Dec16

ESA Policy News Dec. 16: World leaders reach climate accord, Congress finalizes FY 2016 spending deal, NEON to undergo management restructuring

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: WORLD LEADERS REACH FIRST EVER CLIMATE ACCORD On Dec. 12, over 190 countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to the first-ever international climate change agreement in Paris. The 31-page agreement sets a goal of limiting global temperature increases to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and  pursues efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Assessments on the progress of countries’ pledges will be conducted every five years, beginning in 2018. All countries will update and revise existing climate targets every five years, starting in 2020 with a goal of each target reflecting progress over the prior one. As part of the agreement, developed countries will pledge to raise $100 billion to aid developing nations in tackling climate change. For the first time, the agreement requires all countries to report on national inventories of emissions by source, allowing the general public to understand better the level of pollution generated by countries around the world. The agreement is considered a win for President Obama, who had pledged that the United States would lead by example in mitigating the effects of climate change. Click here for a summary of the agreement. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS REACHES FUNDING AGREEMENT FOR REMAINDER OF FY 2016 On the evening of Dec. 15, congressional leaders released a bipartisan $1.149 trillion omnibus spending deal that funds the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. The bill comes after enactment of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which made it possible for moderate increases in overall discretionary spending for the next two fiscal years. To prevent a shutdown, Congress passed a stopgap continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 22. The House is expected to take up the measure on Dec. 18. with the Senate expected to vote on the bill shortly after. The legislation is expected to pass both chambers of Congress and the president has indicated he will sign the measure. Most of the major harmful environmental riders from House appropriations bills were not included from the final bill. For NSF, the bill includes $7.46 billion, a $119 million increase over the FY 2015 enacted level. The bill does not include restrictions on the NSF directorates that fund the geosciences or social and behavioral sciences. The bill requires federal agency Inspector Generals to conduct random audits of grant funding to combat waste and fraud and establishes an early warning system on cost overruns and requires agencies to notify congressional committees when costs grow...

Read More