ESA Policy News: March 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS ADMINISTRATION PRIORITIES The House Science, Space and Technology committee recently convened hearings that examined the science and research investments outlined in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal. During a Feb. 17 hearing that focused on research and development, there was a consensus among committee leaders on certain investments while views differed sharply on where the administration’s priorities should lie. “I continue to believe that while it is true that prudent investments in science and technology, including STEM education, will almost certainly yield future economic gains and help create new jobs of the future, it is also true that these gains can be hindered by poor decision-making,” said Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX). Hall expressed his concern for increases in programs he views as “duplicative and wasteful” as well as increases for climate change related research. Hall also expressed concern for the National Aeronautical and Space Administration’s (NASA) request, which would cut funding by $59 million. Committee Democrats were overall supportive of the budget, mindful of the current political climate that has members of both parties urging some manner of fiscal restraint. “Investments in research and development and STEM education are critical to fostering innovation and maintaining our nation’s competitive edge.  But these are also fiscally challenging times,” stated Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “We will have some concerns and disagreements, but let me be clear.  This is a good budget for research, innovation, and education under the circumstances,” she added. With regard to the administration’s budget request for the National Science Foundation (NSF), austerity concerns from the majority were somewhat more tepid. “While a nearly five percent increase for NSF in FY 13 shows stronger fiscal constraint than the FY 2012 request at 13 percent, I remain concerned that our federal agencies still are not doing enough to encourage austerity and properly prioritize scarcer federal funds,” stated Research and Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). “NSF has a long and proven track record, one in which we are all proud, and I have every reason to believe NSF will continue this good work with whatever budgets are forthcoming from Congress,” he concluded. View the R&D hearing here. View the NSF hearing here. BUDGET: EPA ADMINISTRATOR CRITICIZED OVER REGULATORY EFFORTS The week of February 27 brought Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to Capitol Hill for congressional hearings concerning the agency’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request. Funding for EPA under the president’s budget request would be cut by one percent for a total of...

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URBAANE: An urban environmental conference for communities of color
Jul12

URBAANE: An urban environmental conference for communities of color

This post contributed by Kellen Marshall-Gillespie, University of Illinois-Chicago, NSF-IGERT LEAP Fellow and 2011 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winner. As an active member of the Ecological Society of America and its Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program and environmental justice (EJ) section, I understand and support the Society’s vested interest in accomplishing meaningful broader impacts. As a member of the steering committee of “Urban Resolutions for Bridging African Americans to Natural Environments” (URBAANE) 2011, I am pleased to have connected the philosophies of the EJ section of ESA to the scope of the overall conference. I share with the ESA community a powerful grassroots conference that surely will resonate within the Society. It represents the potential for us as scientists to connect with communities of color in a way that advances the Society’s goals, as well as moves forward resolutions that are beneficial to diverse audiences. On Saturday June 4, 2011, professionals, students and community members gathered in a historic meeting of the minds to discuss resolutions to urban environmental issues in the Chicago metro area. Chicago State University, together with Fuller Park Community Development and a host of generous sponsors, put together a stellar event titled “Urban Resolutions for Bridging African Americans to Natural Environments” (URBAANE). The conference theme was “Connecting the Lots: Minorities and Urban Land Issues.” Speakers and presenters discussed their work as it related to land issues, including the uses of vacant lots, the spatial distribution of natural resources or the quality of spaces for various greenspace uses. URBAANE 2011’s mission was to develop a conference that discussed perspectives, research and solutions related to environmental justice, environmental education, green jobs, green development/industry and urban agriculture. Designed as a community conference, attendees varied in age, education levels and professions. The goal was to engage a diverse audience, foster networking between community groups and academia as well as student populations and government agencies. The findings and action plans resulting from URBAANE 2011 will contribute to establishing an agenda for African Americans and people of color on urban socio-ecological issues in the Chicago metro area. As exciting as it was to plan the conference, it was a true delight for me that one hundred percent of URBAANE speakers and panelists were people of color. All too often the voices of communities of color are whispers in environmental conversations amongst the booming voices of those in the scientific community.  Held in the New Academic Library on the campus of Chicago State University, the venue could not have been more ideal. Along with its strong environmental program—including biological sciences, geography and chemistry—the campus houses an award-winning...

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Brown faces, urban places and green spaces: achieving diversity in environmental fields
Mar30

Brown faces, urban places and green spaces: achieving diversity in environmental fields

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2009 Programme for the International Student Assessment results showed the United States ranking 19th in math and 14th in science out of 31 countries. Following this news, President Obama announced a $250 million proposal to increase funding for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. As he stated in his budget message, “In a generation, we’ve fallen from first place to ninth place in the proportion of our young people with college degrees. We lag behind other nations in the quality of our math and science education.” The following post, contributed by Kellen Marshall-Gillespie, graduate student at University of Illinois-Chicago and recent recipient of ESA’s 2011 Graduate Student Policy Award, tells how diversity in environmental fields shows promise for the future of science. The student diversity was astounding, beautiful brown faces with shining eyes sat attentive and hanging on every word of the career panelists. This was the scene at last year’s Green College and Careers Fair organized by the Ecological Society of America and The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program. The goal was to diversify environmental and ecological careers by reaching out to underserved communities: The hope is to change the face and fields of environmental careers by providing opportunities to those who traditionally lack access. The career fair was hosted at The New School in New York City—over 100 high school students (from 9 schools around the New York-New Jersey area) were treated to a highly professional career fair, including structured school-to-college workshops. The event was made possible with support from the Toyota USA Foundation. Students received information about environmental and natural resource careers and topics such as research ethics, laboratory work tips, resume guidelines, reference letters and tips on being successful in college. Other sessions included exhibitor presentations, a financial aid workshop, mock job interviews and a career panel. The career panelists—Victor Medina, Kellen Marshall-Gillespie, Charlee Glenn and Ann-Marie Alcantara— were young professionals and alumni of both the LEAF and ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program. They addressed more than just traditional college talk—they got to the heart of being minorities in fields where they are underrepresented. Glenn, a panelist and SEEDS alumna, shared her story of how ecology became an interest, which subsequently developed into her current position as Diversity Programs Assistant for ESA’s SEEDS program. Medina, a LEAF alumnus, discussed how he uses his educational and personal success to influence others within his community to do better—not only for themselves but for the environment as well. Alcantara, also a LEAF alumna, talked about her goals of being...

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The tiny, diligent gardeners of the Amazon

The gardeners described here are not concerned with trimmed topiaries or manicured lawns—though, like designers of landscape gardens, these workers are exceptionally picky. And they have to be if they are going to survive. That is, ants such as Myrmelachista schumanni and Camponotus femoratus of South America depend on certain plants for shelter, and in return, they offer these plants nutrients and protection from predators. As a result, they have developed a mutualistic relationship that has led to an incredible resilience for both species. For example, the ant M. schumanni has kept the plant Duroia hirsute alive in one area of the Amazon, known as a devil’s garden to locals, for more than 800 years. This particular type of ant-plant dependency is plentiful in the Amazon and it creates eerie patches of monoculture gardens amidst the rest of the lush, diverse rainforest. As biologist and photographer Alex Wild described in a recent Myrmecos blog post (complete with photos): I had been following an army ant raid for half an hour through dense tropical forest when the trees unexpectedly parted to reveal a small clearing. Sun broke through the canopy and fell on a low tangle of furry plants. It was a monoculture, looking as though planted by a reclusive sort of gardener. I had stumbled into a Devil’s Garden. Local lore holds that malevolent forest spirits create these unnatural crop circles, but the truth is just as weird. Devil’s Gardens are [cultivated] by ants. The plant species that compose these gardens—mostly in the genera Tococa, Clidemia, and Duroia—sport swollen structures filled by the nests of tiny Myrmelachista ants no more than 3 millimeters long. The ants are meticulous about caring for their hosts, removing [pesky] herbivores and injecting formic acid into the saplings of competing plants. Another ant species, C. femoratus, gathers the seeds of particular plants to cultivate in its nests, called ant gardens, and made of a mixture of animal feces, digested plants and other organic material. These nests are attached to vines, the sides of trees and even high up in the tree canopy. As Elsa Youngsteadt explained in the podcast Curiouser and Curiouser, ants followed chemical signals given off by seeds of certain plants, collected the seeds, carried them back and embedded them in the walls of the nests. The plants benefitted from the fertilizer mixed in the nest, and in turn, the roots helped to add structure to the ant garden. In addition, the leaves protected it from heavy rains that would otherwise have caused the material to disintegrate. “There are about ten plant species that are in ant gardens regularly that you don’t...

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Living video games, seed science and bat rescues

Video games that guide the movement of paramecia, dogs trained to aid in data collection, the evolution of seeds in the Amazon Rainforest, environmental degradation captured as art and the successful rescue of more than 100 bats stranded by the devastating floods in Australia. Here are stories in ecology for the third week in January 2011. PAC-mecium: Stanford University researchers have developed, not a life-like video game, but a video game that incorporates life into its programming, according to New Scientist. “A game called PAC-mecium is Pacman with a twist: players use a console to change the polarity of an electrical field in a fluid chamber filled with paramecia, which makes the organisms move in different directions,” explained the article. As shown in the above video, the user shapes the behavior of the organisms according to what the game board shows, such as avoiding “Pacman-like fish.” Read more at “Play Pacman, Pinball and Pong with a paramecium.” Beautiful and dangerous: There has been quite a bit of news surrounding an increase in the prevalence of jellyfish in China, Australia, North America and around the world; the population boom has been linked to ocean acidification, overfishing and climate change. Researchers suggest that the jellyfish numbers indicate a larger issue of imbalanced ecosystems and an overall decline in ocean health. While often times beautiful, jellyfish can also pose a risk to humans and other marine life and have even caused power outages. Scat hunters: According to The New York Times, researchers have been using dogs to sniff out scat, making it easier to collect population distribution data. A study published recently in The Journal of Wildlife Management examined factors that would affect the dogs’ abilities to detect scents in the field. “Trained dogs can detect scat up to 33 feet away about 75 percent of the time, the researchers found,” wrote Sindya Bhanoo. “Humans, on the other hand, can see scat only within three to five feet.” Read more at “Four-Legged Assistants Sniff Out Wildlife Data.” The science of seeds: Botanists examined some of the seeds found in the Amazon Rainforest and cataloged the evolution, distribution and role that these seeds play in the most diverse rainforest in the world. “Some [of the seeds] look like brains, some like arrowheads, others like beads, propellers or puffs of cotton,” began the Scientific American article. “Seeds have evolved many of these striking features to help them propagate in the wild.” Read more at “Seeds of the Amazon” or view the slide show. Degradation as art: The New York Times highlighted the work of photographer J. Henry Fair, who collects aerial images of environmental degradation...

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Pittsburgh bioblitz: biological inventory of an urban high school’s oasis

Just down the street from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh—where the Ecological Society of America (ESA) is holding its 95th Annual Meeting this week—is a vacant lot adopted by the City Charter High School. Last Sunday, ESA ecologists and students visited the lot which is being restored by the 10th graders of the City Charter High School in coordination with the Student Conservation Association (SCA).

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Spreading SEEDS, growing diversity

SEEDS is an education program of Ecological Society of America (ESA), and Iman is one of several SEEDS students who will be attending and presenting research at ESA’s upcoming Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh.

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