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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In India, vaccination, sterilization of stray dogs curbs rabies better than culls
Aug14

In India, vaccination, sterilization of stray dogs curbs rabies better than culls

When people encounter stray dogs in Jaipur, India, they cross the street to put distance between themselves and a potentially deadly bite. Street dogs are endemic in Indian cities and experience has taught citizens caution. The incidence of rabies in the stray population is uncomfortably high, resulting in about 20,000 human cases every year. Most cities have tried to solve the problem by killing the dogs, but a few communities are now experimenting with capturing, vaccinating, sterilizing, and then releasing the dogs back to the streets. The more expensive vaccination and sterilization strategy works better, says wildlife biologist Andrew Yoak of the Ohio State University, who presented the results of his work to model and understand the population effects this afternoon at the Ecological Society of America’s 99th Annual Meeting, held this year in Sacramento, Cal. “If you are trying to stop a disease spread by fighting, you don’t want to create a population vacuum that a bunch of new dogs will rush to fill – leading to a big peak in fights for new territory,” Yoak said. Sterilization means fewer puppies, but also reduces the number of conflicts with people, because mother dogs bite to defend their puppies. Rabies cases are the most numerous just after whelping season. Kids in poor neighborhoods are the most likely to be bitten. Yoak described ways managers can use modeling and population surveys to get the most bang for their vaccination buck.   Contributed oral session 121-1: Catching dogs with turtles: Using agent based modeling to optimize street dog control Thursday, August 14, 2014: 1:30 PM 314, Sacramento Convention Center Andrew James Yoak, Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University, Columbus,...

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Connecting the global to the local – agricultural landscapes from field to orbit
Jul29

Connecting the global to the local – agricultural landscapes from field to orbit

More Agro-ecology at ESA’s 2013 Annual Meeting in Minneapolis by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer   Big changes in agriculture are visible on the global scale – changes in crop yields, dietary choices, water use, fertilizer application, soil retention, and nutrient pollution. In some parts of the world, yield lags, revealing opportunities to get more out of land already in production. In others, crop production has sagged or plateaued. Will yields keep increasing as they have in the past? It’s hard to see trajectories without local context, said session organizer Kate Brauman of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Site-specific field work fills in details. “Agronomy has been working very successfully for a long time, and it’s been focused on practitioners,” said Brauman. “And global analysis can be hard for someone in the field to interpret. How can we take insights from the local to the global scale and make them useful?” Ecology has great scientists studying the very local, applied art and science of getting more yield out of our crops and the local ecological effects of agriculture, and great scientists studying global trends, said Bauman. It does not have much of a history of cross-pollination between the groups. This session aims to bridge gulfs of scientific culture and of scale, connecting the satellite’s eye view of global change to the view from the field; computational modeling to on-the-ground experimentation; and snapshot observations to daily, seasonal, annual, and decadal change. Symposium 20: Integrating Agro-Ecological Research Across Spatial and Temporal Scales Thursday, August 8, 2013: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM Organizer: Kate Brauman More>>> PS-29: Agriculture            Tuesday, August 6, 2013: 4:30 PM-6:30 PM, Exhibit Hall B (Poster session) COS 1: Agriculture I         Monday, August 5, 2013: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM, room L100I (Contributed Oral Session) Grasslands, coffee, excess nitrogen fertilizer COS 18: Agriculture II      Tuesday, August 6, 2013: 8:00 AM-11:30 AM, room 101C Biodiversity, weeds, spatial organization COS 80: Soil Ecology        Wednesday, August 7, 2013: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM, room M100GD Includes soybean symbiosis, prairie grazing gradients, and bioenergy constraints. COS 77: Land-Use And Land-Use History               Wednesday, August 7, 2013: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM, room L100H Consequences of armed conflict, restoration ecology, and shifting away from beef(?). OOS 24: Managing Belowground Processes In Agroecosystems  Thursday, August 8, 2013: 8:00 AM-11:30 AM, room 101B (Organized Oral Session) The invisible world of roots, fungi, insects, arthropods, microbes, and decomposing plants matter matter very much to crop success and environmental health. This session will evaluate the state of the science and “alternative” agro-ecological systems, and discuss management opportunities. COS 126: Pollination        Friday, August 9, 2013: 8:00 AM-11:30 AM, room L100G Cranberries, blueberries, and parasitoid...

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Predicting peak cropland

Can we control our destiny? by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer Population by Total Fertility (millions). The United Nations predicts 10.1 billion living humans will inhabit the Earth by 2100. Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2011): World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision. New York. Joe Fargione, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s North American Region, wants to know how to feed 10 billion people. More specifically, he wants to know how much of the Earth’s land we will need to devote to crops to feed us all in the foreseeable future, for values of “foreseeable” converging on about one century hence. Ten billion and growing is the most recent UN global population projection for the year 2100. Fargione is a little more optimistic about reaching a population peak before the end of the century. Population has an intimate, complicated relationship to land use, and sparing wildlands from the plough is, of course, a topic close to TNC’s heart. “We currently crop an area equivalent to all of South America,” (about 1.5 billion hectares) Fargione said, explaining his (as yet unpublished, as far as I can discover) efforts to model “peak cropland” at World Wildlife Fund headquarters in Washington, D.C., on February 28. “We don’t have another South America to put into production.” As the human population continues to grow, and grow wealthier, more land will be converted to agriculture. But how much more, and when will it stop? Predicting peak cropland, the year when the greatest extent of Earth’s lands will be sown in crops, requires a metaprojection interpolating growth in population, food consumption, wealth, technology, and efficiency with the uncertain effects of a changing climate.  How many humans we will be, and how much and what kinds of food we will eat? Will we grow until we reach carrying capacity and world population is checked by the hard limits of starvation, or can we control our destiny? Fargione thinks it doesn’t have to come down to a Malthusian equation. He’s using predictions of a demographic transition from exponential population growth to static, stable numbers in the 21st century, counting on the non-compulsory drop in fertility observed in relatively wealthy nations to spread throughout the world. Japan and several European nations are currently below replacement rate (approximately 2.1 children per woman). Associated with the demographic transition is an uncertain tangle of influences: wealth, security, urbanization, and the education of girls. That last bit, the education of girls, is an angle Fargione thinks has been under appreciated and under emphasized by conservationists. A projection of straight numbers of humans is not sufficient to predict...

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