Oysters of New York
Jan09

Oysters of New York

Denitrification heroes?
The dense urban life of Queens surrounds Jamaica Bay, NY, where Timothy Hoellein and Chester Zarnoch measured the effect of oysters on the nitrogen cycle. Can oysters help remove an excess of the nutrient from the bay?

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Call for nominations! Joan Ehrenfeld Award for Best Student Presentation in Urban Ecology
Jul18

Call for nominations! Joan Ehrenfeld Award for Best Student Presentation in Urban Ecology

At the annual Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, MN next month, the Urban Ecosystems Ecology (UEE) section will present its second annual student presentation award in honor of the late Dr. Joan Ehrenfeld. The award is open to both undergraduate and graduate students giving an oral presentation in the field of urban ecology at the annual meeting. Students interested in being considered for this award, should send the following items to the UEE section vice-chair (Myla Aronson) by Thursday, August 1, 2012: first and last name title of talk time of presentation location of presentation degree being sought (BA/BS, MS, PhD) your accepted abstract e-mail address Short Summary from UEE: Joan Ehrenfeld was one of the pioneers of urban ecology whose contributions helped shape our knowledge of urban ecosystems. Her work spanned many taxa and systems, ranging from novel work on urban wetlands to the role of people in shaping urban ecosystem processes. Her former students and postdocs are continuing this work around the globe. In recognition of her many contributions to urban ecology, the best oral presentation in urban ecology given at the annual Ecological Society of America meeting is named in her honor. UEE will only be considering urban ecology presentations for the award. Please send your application materials with the subject line “Ehrenfeld Award” to: Myla Aronson, UEE Section Vice-Chair myla.aronson@rutgers.edu If you have any questions, please feel free to contact...

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Baltimore’s Watershed 263 experiment in socioecology
Jan16

Baltimore’s Watershed 263 experiment in socioecology

Ecological restoration makes city dwellers happier and healthier. by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer IN the first summer after my move from the cool green climes of western Washington State to Washington, DC, I gained a primal, physical understanding the urban heat island effect. Summer in the District of Columbia is a hot, humid shock for a native northwesterner, and last summer was record-breaking hot. Cycling away on humid summer evenings from the baking concrete and asphalt canyons of downtown, the steady progression into increasingly leafy residential neighborhoods felt like an essential reward, without which the long, sweaty uphill climb would not be psychologically tenable. A patch of woods, one of the many remnant forts of mostly forgotten historical significance dotting our nation’s capital, seemed to breathe blessed, refrigerated air over me as I turned the corner on the last leg of my journey. Thank you, elder generations, for this gift of evapotranspiration! That patch of woods is, of course, contributing more than a cool breeze to passing commuters. It is an ecological refuge, an absorbent surface during intense thunderstorms of the midatlantic summer, and a sponge for nitrogen and phosphorus washing off city streets and lawns. It’s an all-season draw for joggers, dog-walkers, and folks out for an evening stroll.  Parks, playgrounds and tree-lined streets make this working class (though, like much of Washington, rapidly gentrifying) neighborhood a pleasant place to live. And having a pleasant place to live is not trivial, nor is it just a marker of safety and economic privilege. It confers better health and well-being. “We had this hypothesis that there is a link between the social revitalization and ecological revitalization of urban neighborhoods,” said Peter Groffman, a microbial ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. Organizations like the USDA Forest Service and Baltimore’s Parks & People Foundation had observed the connection for many years, he said. The people on the ground say that projects that improve water quality by planting vacant lots, parking strips, and other urban spaces with trees and community gardens also bring people out of doors and teach local kids about their environment – and do so at lower cost than traditional engineering solutions to sewage management and stormwater runoff. When you bring neighbors outdoors to work on a shared community problem, the project brings people together. It creates, as the sociologists like to say, “social cohesion.” People see that they have power over their environment – that, as a group, they have access to power and city services. They start to demand access to other services that residents of wealthier parts of the city...

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Where the ecologists are: a Field Talk podcast with Erle Ellis
Nov26

Where the ecologists are: a Field Talk podcast with Erle Ellis

The UM-Baltimore County ecologist talks about geographical context in field research and why he thinks the value of nature is more than the sum of it’s services. by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer Listen to the podcast on the Field Talk page, or download it from iTunes. Ellis collaborated with Laura Martin and Bernd Blossey of Cornell University on the Frontiers article featured in this podcast . Stay tuned to Ecotone for a longer post with insights from lead author Martin, coming up later this week. Anthropogenic biomes (anthromes): a classification of land ecosystems based on prolonged and abiding communion with people, developed by Erle Ellis and Navin Ramankutty in their 2008 paper Putting people in the map: anthropogenic biomes of the world. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment  6:8, 439-447. Map from Figure 1 of the paper. Scale = 1:160 000 000, Plate Carrée projection (geographic), 5 arc minute resolution (5′ = 0.0833°).  [click image to enlarge] _________________ GEOGRAPHICAL bias in field research matters because we’re facing global change – “these are global phenomena, so we need global information,” said Erle Ellis, a professor of geography & environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, talking about the low resolution of ecological data from many parts of the world. A review of five years of ecological field studies, published earlier this year, showed a bias toward the protected, temperate, broad-leafed forests of wealthy countries, where most ecologists make their homes. Ellis talks about some of the surprising discoveries of the review, and the challenges of defining native species ranges in a time of global change. He shares concerns about framing conservation in terms of ecosystems services, and his own journey from plant physiology through agricultural field studies in rural China, to his current work in land use and global change. _________________ Mapping where ecologists work: biases in the global distribution of terrestrial ecological observations. Laura J Martin, Bernd Blossey, and Erle Ellis. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 2012 10:4,...

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ESA Policy News: May 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. SENATE: APPROPRIATORS APPROVE ENERGY AND WATER, AGRICULTURE SPENDING BILLS The week of April 26, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its Energy and Water Development and Agriculture Appropriations bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. Energy and Water The Energy and Water Appropriations Act for FY 2013 is funded at $33.361 billion, $373 million less than FY 2012. The bill is primarily responsible for funding the Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. The legislation’s funding overall is slightly more than the $32.1 billion approved by the House in committee. For additional information on the House Energy and Water bill, see the April 20 edition of ESA Policy News here. Unlike the House measure, the Senate Energy and Water bill does not include funding for the controversial nuclear waste site under Yucca Mountain, which is opposed by the Obama administration. The Department of Energy would receive $27.128 billion, $1.38 billion more than in FY 2012 to boost research related to clean energy technologies. Agriculture The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013 includes $20.785 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2013, an increase over the $19.565 billion FY 2012 enacted amount. For additional information on the two bills, click here. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS LOCAL EFFORTS ON STEM EDUCATION On April 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a field hearing in Madison, Alabama to review science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs and partnerships at the local level and their impact on the economy. The hearing was entitled “STEM Education in Action: Local Schools, Non-Profits, and Businesses Doing Their Part to Secure America’s Future.” Among the subcommittee leadership, there was consensus on the important role STEM education can play in boosting the economy. “Our commitment to STEM education is exemplified by contributions to STEM programs in the community by the University of Alabama-Huntsville’s Propulsion Research Center and related scholarships and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s educational programs, as well as many other local initiatives supporting STEM programs for students ranging from elementary school through high school,” stated Research and Science Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) noted that fewer than 40 percent of college students who start in a STEM-related field obtain a degree in that field, leading to a shortage of qualified employees to fill positions in science and technology, for which there is growing demand in the economy. Additional information on the...

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Talking Urban Ecology at the USA Science Festival

By Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs Families with young children, teenagers, older adults, teachers, and even a pair of young Army soldiers visited ESA’s booth over the weekend of April 28 and 29 at the USA Science & Engineering Festival and learned about the ecology of Washington, DC and its nearby suburbs. Some were drawn immediately to the terrarium which housed mysterious creatures.  Never mind that they weren’t colorful or furry—children and adults alike wanted to know what was inside and some even accepted our invitation to move around the stones and moss to discover what might be hiding underneath.  Others strode up to ESA’s urban ecology game poster and wanted to know what the creature with the enormous eyes was (a jumping spider) or announced that they knew that image number four was a “roly-poly.”  Some immediately knew that the old painting depicted on our game poster was the White House but were perplexed by the creek and marsh birds they also saw in the painting. ESA President Steward Pickett of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, George Middendorf of Howard University and two of his students and several ESA staff worked the ESA booth this past Saturday and Sunday, highlighting various aspects of the ecology taking place in urban environments.  For example, they explained that the stream flowing by the White House in the 1820s was Tiber Creek and that it is one of three streams that were buried to develop the land above and provide sewer channels below. Many visitors to ESA’s booth had heard that Washington, DC had been built on a swamp.  But the real story and reason that the nation’s capital contends with flooding issues is that it lies in a floodplain, at the confluence of two rivers (Potomac and Anacostia) and atop three buried streams (Tiber Creek, James Creek, and Slash Run).  In fact, collectively, multiple federal buildings pump over a million gallons of water a day from their basements. ESA’s terrarium inhabitants—centipedes, a spider dashing around with her eggcase, earthworms, pill-bugs and beetle were also popular with visitors.  In addition to learning about some of the small animals living in urban and suburban settings, visitors also learned that coyotes and red-tailed hawks have learned how to live in big cities, including Washington, DC.  Some mistook the coyote image for a fox or a wolf and some thought the red-tailed hawk was an owl, but they knew they were predators and were often surprised to learn that they have adapted to life in close proximity to humans.  The coyotes in Rock Creek Park, in the heart of Washington, DC, drag...

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Do we love environmental horror stories too much?

Nature Conservancy chief scientist Peter Kareiva says conservation is failing, and must adapt or die. by Liza Lester, ESA Communications Officer, and Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs Anthropogenic biomes (anthromes): a classification of land ecosystems based on prolonged and abiding communion with people. Map scale = 1:160 000 000, Plate Carrée projection (geographic), 5 arc minute resolution (5′ = 0.0833°). From Figure 1 of EC Ellis and N Ramankutty (2008) Putting people in the map: anthropogenic biomes of the world. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment  6:8, 439-447. [click image to enlarge]   WRITING in the fall issue of Breakthrough Journal, Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz and Michelle Marvier attacked an environmentalist movement they described as self-righteous and puritanical, insisting “conservationists will have to jettison their idealized notions of nature, parks, and wilderness — ideas that have never been supported by good conservation science — and forge a more optimistic, human-friendly vision.” The essay largely retreads Kareiva’s talk for the National Academy of Sciences’ Distinctive Voices program, and it offers a few prescriptions for the future: deliberately integrate nature into urban and agricultural development: “development by design” stop “scolding capitalism” and work with corporations stop elevating biodiversity and choose a kind of environmental utilitarianism: “enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people, especially the poor” give up the ideal of a pristine, pre-colonialist American landscape view nature as garden rather than a wilderness (which doesn’t exist) Last week, Greenwire profiled Kareiva with lengthy enthusiasm, and Andy Revkin summarized the argument over at his NY Times blog, Dot Earth, describing it as “a refreshing call for new approaches from a community stuck on what I’ve called a “woe is me, shame on you” tune for far too long.” Kareiva meant to rile people into debate, and he has succeeded: Breakthrough and Revkin have collected and published some of the responses from the conservation community (see links, below). Several are impassioned and irate. We at EcoTone are curious about how ecologists are responding to Kareiva’s challenge. ESA hosted a conference on “Emerging Issues in Ecology” at the end of February that raised many of the same concerns about a need for new strategies, and a new conservation paradigm — one that might be more open to ideas like assisted migration and urban ecology. It seems these ideas are in the air. Here are our initial, gut reactions. What’s yours?   Liza: Kareiva et al’s argument is stuffed with distracting hyperbole and I want to hurry past the temptation to nit pick through their long essay. For me, Kareiva’s talk is more persuasive than the essay, (which is...

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No love for the lady ginkgos

Washington DC Department of Urban Forestry nips stinky seeds in the bud By Liza Lester, ESA communications officer. A male Gingko biloba in Lafayette Park, flanking the White House. Credit, Liza Lester April, 2012. As an urban arboreal companion, the ginkgo has much to recommend it. Its tall branches bring welcome summer shade, the fans of its leaves turn a lovely gold in the fall, it copes well with city pollution, lives for thousands of years, and isn’t prone to disease or insect infestation. But it has a serious drawback. In the fall, mature female ginkos produce fleshy seeds (not a “fruit” in the parlance of botany, as the ginkgo is not an angiosperm, or flowering plant), and unlike cherry season, the height of ginko reproduction is not a time of celebration. The seeds drop all over city streets, smelling “like dirty socks and vomit.” Some city dwellers hate the trees so much that they are willing to cut them down rather that endure the annual mess. Rather than massacre female ginkgo trees all over the city, this week DC’s Urban Forestry Administration will spray the trees with “Shield EC” aka “Sprout Nip” aka “chlorpropham,” an herbicide that interferes with the division of plant cells during growth. Agricultural distributors typically use chlorpropham to discourage potatoes from sprouting after harvest. Buds and shoots  – anywhere the plant is actively growing – are hotspots of cell division, and the incipient ginko seed buds fall off before they can grow stinky. At least, that’s the idea. Not all customers are satisfied. Since only female trees are a problem, it would make sense to plant only male trees. But male and female trees look identical when their reproductive parts aren’t hanging out. It can be a good two decades before a tree matures and begins to produce either pollen cones or seeds. Botanist CL Lee’s argument for an X/Y sex determination scheme (like the human mechanism), pointing to a subtle chromosomal difference between the sexes, has not been confirmed in the fifty years since he proposed it. Genetics has not provided an easy solution. Although Chinese scientists have been looking for molecular signatures that would allow botanists to sex young saplings, there is no easy test as of yet. Instead, nurseries now take cuttings of mature male trees to create “clones” of the male tree, either inducing root growth, or grafting the cutting to the roots of a young tree (sometimes this backfires when the graft fails and the root stock turns out to be female, hence reports of male trees turning female). But in the meantime there are robust, mature female trees...

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