‘Putting a face’ on science funding, Lear reflects on congressional visits experience
Jun06

‘Putting a face’ on science funding, Lear reflects on congressional visits experience

A guest commentary by Kristen Lear (University of Georgia), 2016 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award recipient As a 2016 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) recipient, I traveled to D.C. in late April for three days to receive hands-on exposure to the interface between science and policy. This was a departure from my “day-job” as a graduate student at the University of Georgia studying the conservation of an endangered pollinating bat species in Mexico. The other five GSPA recipients and I spent the first evening of this jam-packed two-day experience representing ESA at the Coalition for National Science Funding reception on Capitol Hill, where scientists representing their professional society or university showcase their research that is supported by federal funding. Usually “higher-up” members of ESA get to do this, but because the CNSF reception happened to fall on the dates of the GSPA trip, we had the unique opportunity to participate. We staffed a table for ESA and talked with visitors, many of whom were Congressional members or staff, about our research and ESA’s work. As a recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship for my PhD research, I can personally attest to the importance of federal funding of scientific research. Dr. France Cordova, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), stopped at the ESA exhibit. On our first full day, we got a crash-course in how federal science policy works, with guest speakers from the National Science Foundation, the Ecological Society of America, and others involved in the science policy arena. Next, we split into our geographically-paired teams to practice for the next day’s Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visit day meetings, where we would be thrown into the ring (aka Senate and House offices) to discuss the importance of continued federal funding for NSF. After some discussion among Team GA-MS (four graduate students from Georgia and Mississippi and a Team Leader), about how to approach our Hill meetings, we were as prepared as we could be for the real thing. The following morning we gathered on the Hill, dressed in our fancy business attire, and proceeded to meet with a total of seven House and Senate and offices. Many of our meetings were with the staff of the Members, but our group was lucky enough to get to meet with some of the Members themselves: Representative Jody Hice from Georgia and Senator Roger Wicker from Mississippi. During our meetings we asked for $8 billion for NSF in the FY2017 budget. This may seem like a crazy amount of money, but when you consider that federally-funded basic science research has led to the creation of...

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Persevering pikas, herbicide inhalation in farm states and prehistoric pathogens

Southern Rockies picas unaffected by climate change: A new study from the University of Colorado at Boulder has found that American pikas, despite being temperature-sensitive animals, have not been adversely impacted by climate change. The researchers who conducted the study assessed 69 historical sites known to host pikas within the southern Rockies ranging from southern Wyoming through Colorado and into northern New Mexico. The results showed that 65 of the 69 sites have retained their pika populations. The study was funded primarily by the National Geographic Society. The new study stands in contrast to a study from another research group earlier this year in Nevada’s Great Basin that showed a nearly five-fold increase in local extinction rates of pika populations in the past decade. The different results may be because the more recent study area of the southern Rocky Mountains offers habitats in higher elevations that are also more contiguous than are habitats in Nevada’s Great Basin, according to the study’s researchers. The American pika, which shares its mammal family order with rabbits and hares (lagomorpha), lives in mountainous regions including British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, California and New Mexico. In 2010, the U.S. federal government denied an endangered species listing for the American pika partially because there were insufficient data on its distribution and abundance across western North America. Federal scientists find herbicide in air, water samples: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists report that air and water samples taken from the states of Mississippi and Iowa show that there are considerable levels of a harmful herbicide in the air and water within the states. The federal agency scientists reported that there were significant levels of the chemical glyphosate (used in “Roundup” herbicide) found in every stream sample examined in Mississippi in a two-year period as well as in the majority of air samples. This means people have been inhaling the herbicide, though no known detrimental effects have been yet documented. According to USGS, it is difficult and costly to test for the presence of glyphosate, which is why there has been so little research on its impacts on air and water to date. The herbicide is the most-used worldwide where it is applied to  residential yards, golf courses and farm fields.  Scientific studies have revealed that its wide use has led to glyphosate-resistant ‘super weeds.” USGS scientists affirm that more research is necessary to document effects on soil organisms, plants, animals and people. The USGS data has been submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency for further review. Read more at “U.S. researchers find roundup chemical in water, air” Prehistoric pathogens: DNA contained in recently acquired...

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Floods and foods, dogs protecting cats and microbial munchers

This post contributed by Molly Taylor, ESA Science Writing Intern. Tiny critters: Though all smaller than a millimeter in size, four critters highlighted by Neatorama are much larger in effectiveness. When there is no oxygen around to speak of (or to breathe in), shewanella inhales the likes of uranium and chromium. The bacterium exhales the toxic metals with a few extra electrons, which prevents the toxins from moving through ground water. By surrounding toxic waste sites with the bacteria, scientists are hoping to protect lakes and streams from pollutants. And despite the harsh reputation, E. coli is not all bad either. Not only is it one of the most important bacteria inside the human intestinal tract, its rapid reproduction time has contributed to research exploring the role of chance in evolution. And there is a wormier side to the fountain of youth. A transparent, low-maintenance roundworm that shares 35 percent of human genes may reveal the key to diminishing the effects of aging. Read more at “4 Little Creatures That Pack a Big Scientific Punch.” Floods and foods: Floods, such as those in the Mississippi River valley, raise concerns about food safety. According to a recent Scientific American article, “the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] doesn’t allow any flooded out crops—organic or otherwise—to be sold or consumed by people,” and the FDA policy governing farmers’ response to floods is designed to make sure that consumers have access to safe food. According to a group of Italian researchers working in the Swiss Alps, however, we can expect more floods as long as the global temperature continues to rise. The study showed that global warming does increase flood risk significantly, with so-called “100 year floods” increasing in frequency by as often as every 20 years. Read more at “Sop Soil: Have the Recent Record Floods Compromised the Safety of Organic Farm Produce?” Active learning: Graduate student David Haak wanted to boost the performance of educationally and economically disadvantaged students in introductory science classes. Disadvantaged students were previously more than twice as likely as their classmates to fail the huge intro lecture courses that serve as key portals to higher-level sciences. To address this challenge, Haak turned to the latest K-12 teacher books to design a more structured course, including small group discussions, short weekly exams and class-wide quizzes that enable instructors to get instant feedback on the class’s comprehension. The new design, which was based on an active learning model, saw improved learning for all students, especially the disadvantaged students. “Even as class size more than doubled, lab time was cut by 30 percent and the ratio of teaching assistants-to-students fell...

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Mississippi floods out humans and wildlife

In late April, two major storm systems across the Mississippi River watershed brought about one of the most catastrophic floods upon the Delta region in generations. Thousands of homes have had to be evacuated and there have been a number of deaths. President Barack Obama has declared bordering counties in Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky as federal disaster areas. The flooding along the Mississippi River has also sparked a great migration among the numerous species of wildlife. In one of the worst cases of overflow since the Great Depression, the Mississippi River has flooded three million acres across Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. The Mississippi River has the third-largest drainage basin in the world, absorbing 41 percent of the drainage from the 48 contiguous United States, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The massive river covers more than 1,245,000 square miles. According to the National Weather Service, a number of cities are currently experiencing record flood levels. In Natchez, Mississippi, the water now stands at 58.3 feet, shattering the 1937 watermark of 53.04 feet. In Memphis, the Mississippi crested May 9 at 47.8 feet, just under a foot below the city’s record, set in 1937. A wide range of wildlife is on the move, trying to escape the rising waters.  Animals such as deer have been frequently spotted swimming across stretches of water in search of higher ground. Wild turkeys, which nest this time of year, have lost nesting spots and hatchlings to the floodwaters. Other creatures swept up in the floodwaters include alligators, spiders, rats and even fire ants. Venomous water moccasins have been reportedly appearing everywhere from residential trees to yard porches and sheds. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, it is also mating season for the water moccasins, making the reptiles more aggressive than usual. The Tennessee government has issued a press statement advising residents to avoid the displaced snakes and offering tips on how to treat snake bites. However, some species may benefit from the floods. Biologists have noted that flood waters, which wash increased amounts of worms and insects into the water, provide extra food to fish such as catfish, common carp, bluegill and crappie. However, an aggressive non-native species, the Asian carp, is also expected to flourish. Contamination of the water is also a concern, with the Tennessee and Mississippi State Departments of Health warning residents to steer clear of the water for health reasons.  The greater Mississippi River is expected to contain a number of contaminants, from trash and farm runoff to untreated raw sewage and chemicals. Testing performed by ABC News found E. coli and coliform at 2,000 times the...

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Scientists sampling for Gulf oil recovery

As volunteers train and policymakers debate, scientists are pooling their datasets for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It is the behind the scenes portion of region-wide preparations for the impending arrival of oil on land. Along the Gulf coast states, researchers are offering years of sediment, water and plankton samples to the cause of assessing pre-impact conditions in the Gulf. Meanwhile, researchers from the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology (NIUST) are collecting samples from the seafloor and water column closer to the source of the leaks.

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Taking action: what is being done and what you can do for the Gulf

As the oil leak continues, many of us feel helpless to mitigate the ecological impact of the spill. But this is just the beginning of the cleanup efforts and there is plenty that can be done right now. Here is the breakdown of what is currently being launched regarding response efforts for the Gulf oil spill, and what we can do to contribute.

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