ESA Policy News: August 4

Here are some highlights from the latest Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. NATIONAL DEBT: OBAMA SIGNS MEASURE RAISING DEBT CEILING THROUGH 2012 The week of August 2, Congress passed and the president signed a bill to increase the national debt by as much as $2.4 trillion. After weeks in which a deal between leaders of both parties appeared elusive, the deal was finally announced the weekend preceding the vote, mere days before the Department of Treasury predicted a default if the debt ceiling was not raised. The plan implemented by Congressional leaders has the skeletal frame of a plan first proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in that it reduces the debt limit in phases, giving the president sole authority to increase the debt. While revenues were left off the table, the administration was able to win on its contention that the debt increase should run through the end of 2012, punting the issue through the next election. In the interim, however, the measure sets the stage for $917 billion in discretionary spending cuts to federal agencies over a 10 year period beginning in Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. It is expected that this will lead to federal agency appropriations even further below what was enacted in FY 2011. The plan provides for debt ceiling increases in two stages: The president may request a $900 billion increase now, of which $400 billion in borrowing authority is immediately available to the U.S. Treasury. This $900 billion is subject to a resolution of disapproval in both the House and Senate. The disapproval measure would be subject to a presidential veto.  Once the debt comes within $100 billion of the debt ceiling, the president may ask for at least an additional $1.2 trillion, which could rise to $1.5 trillion if a Balanced Budget Amendment is sent to the states or the joint committee process described below enacts more than $1.5 trillion in savings.  This increase is also subject to a resolution of disapproval and can also be vetoed by the president, consequently granting him authority to raise the national debt through the end of 2012. The second part of the plan involves up to an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, to be decided by a joint committee made up of 12 members (six from each chamber). Appointed by the House Speaker, Senate Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader and House Minority Leader, the committee members will be tasked with developing legislation to achieve at least $1.5 trillion in future deficit reduction by Thanksgiving. The committee members must be appointed by August 16. As part of the deal, both...

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Scientists detect aquatic ecosystem warning signal

Scientists have found what appears to be the stress signals of a lake ecosystem that is on its way to collapse. Stephen Carpenter of the University of Wisconsin, Madison and colleagues carefully monitored the food web in a Wisconsin lake as they gradually introduced largemouth bass into the ecosystem. The researchers noticed a shift in the algae populations that were directly related to the altered feeding behavior of smaller lake fish after the addition of the larger predators. “Because the smaller fish shifted to shallow waters where bass threaten them less, [Carpenter] explains, the algae that inhabit the more open waters of the lake were free of their predators and their populations fluctuate more,” wrote Jennifer Carpenter in a Science Now article. “Carpenter and his colleagues report online today in Science that these fluctuations were a warning that the lake’s food web is changing.” As explained in a National Science Foundation press release, the researchers “detected what they say is an unmistakable warning—a death knell—of the impending collapse of the lake’s aquatic ecosystem.” “We start adding these big ferocious fish and almost immediately this instills fear in the other fish,” Carpenter said in the release. “The small fish begin to sense there is trouble and they stop going into the open water and instead hang around the shore and structures, things like sunken logs. They become risk-averse.” A big indicator, according to Carpenter, was a boom in water flea populations. Carpenter and colleagues explained in the release that these signals are universal and could be incorporated into work on “rangelands, forests and marine ecosystems.” Photo Credit: Eric Engbretson,...

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Perspectives from the oil spill scientific symposium

Earlier this month at the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Scientific Symposium at Louisiana State University (LSU), scientists emphasized the importance and urgency of consulting with researchers during the remediation of the Gulf of Mexico disaster. The meeting pulled together more than 200 attendees, including officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

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ESA Policy News: May 7

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp.

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Picture Your Grant on the Hannity Show: David Inouye on why basic research isn’t a bridge to nowhere

The scientific community celebrated the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which prioritized US scientific understanding, competitiveness, and capacity by directing $3 billion to the National Science Foundation (NSF), including $2 billion for research and related activities. Part of the reason for the windfall was NSF’s large backlog of unfunded but highly ranked proposals—something that complemented the stimulus act’s emphasis on “shovel-ready” projects.

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ESA Policy News: April 23

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp.

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Human-ecosystem interactions: Perspectives from the LTER symposium

Human-ecosystem interactions are complex and ever changing, influenced by factors ranging from region to religion, family history to homeowner’s associations. And in many cases, global change is having, and will continue to have, a pronounced impact on these already dynamic relationships—not only on which ecosystem services people value, but also how they obtain, use, and protect them.

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Iron-plated Snail

This post contributed by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs  Another example of the ingenuity of nature: researchers are finding inspiration in the extraordinarily strong exoskeleton of a deep-sea snail, Crysomallon squamiferum.  The mollusk’s iron-plated shell is giving researchers insights that could lead to stronger materials for airplane hulls, cars, and military equipment. Researchers at the National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) write about the snail’s iron-plated protection in the January 19 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Also called the “scaly-foot gastropod”, Crysomallon squamiferum was discovered back in 1999, over two miles below the central Indian Ocean, deep within hydrothermal vent fields.  Fluids in these vents are high in sulfides and metals, which the snail incorporates into its shell.  The gastropod’s shell has three layers: a highly calcified inner layer, a thick organic middle layer, and an outer layer that is fused with granular iron sulfide.  It is unlike any other known natural or synthetically engineered armor. MIT project leader Christine Ortiz and her colleagues have been testing the shell’s properties, simulating predatory attacks with computer models as well as with “indentation testing”—striking the top of shells with a sharp probe to measure the hardness and stiffness of the shell. In a NSF press release Ortiz says: Our study suggests that the scaly-foot gastropod undergoes very different deformation and protection mechanisms compared to other gastropods.  It is very efficient in protection, more so than the typical mollusk. Potential predators that are found in the same regions as C. squamiferum include the cone snail, which penetrates its prey with a harpoon-like tooth before paralyzing it with venom, and sea-faring crabs, which use their claws to squeeze for days until the mollusk’s shell gives way.  The researchers write in the PNAS report that C. squamiferum’s impressive exoskeleton is: …..advantageous for penetration resistance, energy dissipation, mitigation of fracture and crack arrest, reduction of back deflections, and resistance to bending and tensile loads. Another vivid example of the evolutionary race between prey and predator which in this case also holds promise for better protective materials for humans. Photo credit: Dr. Anders Warén, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, Sweden. Yao, H., Dao, M., Imholt, T., Huang, J., Wheeler, K., Bonilla, A., Suresh, S., & Ortiz, C. (2010). Protection mechanisms of the iron-plated armor of a deep-sea hydrothermal vent gastropod Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107 (3), 987-992 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0912988107...

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