ESA Selects 2019 Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award Recipients

Read more about each award winner and view photos on ESA’s Ecotone blog

 

February 13, 2019
For Immediate Release

Contact: Alison Mize, alison@esa.org, (202) 833-8773 ext. 205

 

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is honored to announce this year’s Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) recipients. This award provides graduate students with the opportunity to receive policy and communication training in Washington, D.C. before they meet lawmakers.

Ten students were selected for this year’s award: Kristina J. Bartowitz (University of Idaho), Vanessa Constant (Oregon State University), Hannah E. Correia (Auburn University), Brett Fredericksen (Ohio University), Sara Gonzalez (University of California, Santa Cruz), Emily Kiehnau (University of Oklahoma), Charlotte R. Levy (Cornell University), Timothy J. Ohlert (University of New Mexico), Christopher Kai Tokita (Princeton University) and Emory H. Wellman (East Carolina University).

Students will travel to D.C. in March to learn about the legislative process and federal science funding, to hear from ecologists working in federal agencies, and to meet with their Members of Congress on Capitol Hill. This Congressional Visit Day, organized and sponsored by ESA, offers GSPA recipients the chance to interact with policymakers and discuss the importance of federal funding for science, in particular the biological and ecological sciences.

“Scientists who are confident in their ability to communicate with decision-makers are needed more than ever to bridge the gap between science and policy,” said ESA President Laura Huenneke. “The Katherine S. McCarter Graduate Student Policy Award provides real-life, hands-on experience for early career ecologists. The Society is grateful to be able to assist a number of individuals each year in advancing their effectiveness in this crucial arena.”

Click here to see a Flickr album with photos of this year’s award winners.

Read more here about the award winners on ESA’s Ecotone blog.

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The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in the science of ecology. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

Pika survival rates dry up with low moisture

In the Pacific Northwest, dry air interacts with low snow conditions to affect pika abundances at different elevations

 

February 4, 2019
For Immediate Release

Contact: Zoe Gentes, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, zgentes@esa.org

 

An American pika pokes its head above the grass in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Thomas Barlow.

Although it has been ranked as the cutest creature in US National Parks, the American pika is tough, at home in loose alpine rocks in windswept mountain regions. Related to rabbits and hares, pikas live in cold, wet climates and high terrain, spending winters in snowy homes living off of stored grasses and other forage they have gathered, only venturing out for more when weather permits.

Unfortunately for these adorable little mammals, they have a fairly severe sensitivity to overheating – they die if they are exposed to temperatures above 77°F for longer than six hours. Due to their lethal threshold for heat stress, pikas are indicators of how changing environmental conditions can affect mountain-dwelling species.

It might appear that the danger for pikas lies mostly with increasing temperatures and summer heat extremes. In some cases, however, decreased snowpack and lower air moisture may threaten pikas more.

Vapor-pressure deficit (VPD) can be likened to air’s aridity – higher VPD is drier. VPD governs the growth of many plants that pikas depend on for food, and controls cloud formation and snow. If VPD becomes higher, it will inhibit the growth of plants that pikas depend on for food, and will shrink snow packs which they use for insulation against extreme temperature. The snowpack also stores water until springtime, when it provides water for forage plants that pikas eat.

A team of researchers lead by Aaron N. Johnston of the U.S. Geological Survey sought to understand how climate change, specifically changes in snowpack and VPD, is affecting pikas. In a paper published recently in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecology, they related population abundances to weather and snowpack dynamics in the North Cascades National Park Service Complex in Washington state. In the Pacific Northwest, a place with mild summers and prevailing cool, moist conditions, pikas occur at unusually low elevations including near sea level.

A pika carries a mouthful of forage in decent weather, possibly to store it away in its home. Photo courtesy of Thomas Barlow.

The study period included a year with record-low snowpack and high VPD (very dry air) in winter of 2014-2015, a data point that provided valuable observations of these variables’ influences on the ecosystem. The researchers further studied the dynamics across differing elevations – low, middle, and high.

The results were surprisingly variable, with different dynamics acting over different elevations.

“We expected snowpack to be an important factor because it has many important ecological functions for pikas,” said Johnston. “The effect of VPD in winter was a big surprise.”

At the lowest elevations, populations declined markedly. Unusually high VPD during the snow drought dried up forage plant species accustomed to moist conditions, and lack of food may have prompted malnourished pikas to forgo reproduction. Cold exposure did not appear to affect these pikas, where absence of snowpack is common because of generally warm temperatures.

At middle elevations, it was cold stress, not dry air, that had the biggest effect. Along a narrow elevation band, about 1200-1500 meters, pika populations lacked a strong snowpack in which to seek shelter and insulation from extreme cold. However, it was a dip in reproduction the following year, not pika mortality in a single winter, that caused the population abundance to drop. Pikas may have even resorbed fetuses in response to the cold stress of the snow drought.

With their sensitivity to overheating, pikas are an indicator species for how climate change may affect mountain-dwelling wildlife. Photo courtesy of Shana Weber.

At high elevations, where snow often persists for up to 7-9 months, forage came back into play as the important driver of abundances. Populations increased, having had sufficient snow cover for insulation despite a snow drought, and having benefitting from increased forage availability due to earlier snowmelt and a longer growth season for food. Pikas were able to consume and collect enough food to increase their health and ability to produce many offspring over the following winter.

Given the pervasive influence of moisture on the physiology of plants and animals, the authors find the lack of previous studies on animal responses to VPD surprising.

“Moisture is distinct from climatic factors of temperature and precipitation that are commonly used to explain animal distributions,” Johnston stated. “Incorporating moisture into species distribution models should improve ecological understanding of species and their responses to climate change.”

Climate-indicator species like pikas provide a number of ecosystem services and play an important role in biodiversity. Pikas serve as a food source for a number of predators, including weasels, coyotes, and birds of prey. They are also ecosystem engineers – their foraging helps promote the diversity and distribution of various plant species and nutrients. Consequently, pika die-offs could have many lasting dire consequences for the environment and serve as a harbinger in forecasting potential climate change impacts on animal and plant life across the greater continental US.

As extreme events like snow drought continue to increase in frequency, how these events and their interactions with VPD will affect animal species remains largely unexplored. Support for continued research into climate indicator species such as the pika is critically important.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Barlow.

 


Journal Article

Johnston, Aaron N., et al. 2019. “Ecological consequences of anomalies in atmospheric moisture and snowpack.” Ecology. DOI: 10.1002/ecy.2638

 

Authors

Aaron N. Johnston, USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center; University of Washington School of Envrionmental and Forest Sciences

Jason E. Bruggeman, Beartooth Wildlife Research

Aidan Beers, University of Colorado Boulder Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Erik A Beever, USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center; Montana State University

Roger Christophersen and Jason I. Ransom, National Park Service, North Cascades National Park Complex.

 

Author Contact:

Aaron N. Johnston         ajohnston@usgs.gov

 

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The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in the science of ecology. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

 

Why charismatic, introduced species are so difficult to manage

Researchers say mismatches of scale between social and ecological systems are a key contributor to many conflicts involving introduced-species management

 

February 4, 2019
For Immediate Release

Contact: Zoe Gentes, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, zgentes@esa.org

 

Introduced and invasive species can present big problems, particularly when those species are charismatic, finds a recently published paper in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

People tend to have a more favorable view of species that are large; do not bite, crawl, or squirm; are not oily or slimy; or are culturally valued. Some introduced species, like zebra mussels, tend to be reviled by the public, and people willingly adhere to strict management policies.

However, if an animal has that elusive quality of charisma, people often don’t want it to be controlled, even if it’s harming the environment. Inevitably, these imbalances in public perception of introduced species influence the way those organisms are managed.

Ring-necked parakeets and feral domestic pigeons both frequent some urban areas in the UK, and people have grown used to seeing them in their local parks. Photo courtesy of Loz Pycock.

Take the ring-necked parakeet (Psittacula krameri) for example. The pet trade has led to an established population of parakeets in Europe, far outside the species’ native range. Even though parakeets can transmit diseases to native birds, compete with them for nesting cavities, and are recognized as a crop pest, the public enjoys seeing them in parks, gardens, and homes. Introduced parakeets tend to be released in cities, but the parakeets actually exact the most damage in rural areas. But because people have grown used to them, they are likely to oppose eradication efforts that take place before the birds become an established nuisance.

Opposition to the management of charismatic species can be exacerbated by these “social–ecological mismatches” – differences between the scales of interacting social and ecological systems. In the parakeets’ case, the introduced birds have not been around for more than a few decades, which is not a long time on an ecological scale. But it is long for humans – many have grown up knowing the parakeets are part of their neighborhood, and so oppose efforts to manage them.

A group of researchers from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and universities in the US and UK explored how public perception and management actions toward charismatic, introduced species are often at odds with the ecological characteristics of these populations.

The paper argues that scale – and specifically for mismatches of scale between social and ecological systems – is a key influence on many conflicts involving introduced-species management. In a nutshell, the average citizen or policymaker experiences things in “human time” while ecosystems and introduced species experience things in “ecosystem time.” The same goes for differences in spatial scale; humans experience things on a human scale – their neighborhood, their city, things at the level of their own experience – while ecosystems and invasive species have more far-reaching consequences that are tough for people to comprehend. This makes it difficult to enact policies that are in line with the way ecosystems behave and species invasions occur.

The researchers explore other cases of introduced species and suggest ways to establish science-based strategies for managing them while also maintaining public trust.

Horses have been integral to human life throughout history, and hold widespread cultural significance. But horses are not native (at least in the modern era) to many of the places where they currently roam. Photo courtesy of Steve Petersen.

Free-roaming horses (Equus caballus) are another example. Horses have been integral to human life throughout history, and hold widespread cultural significance. But horses are not native (at least in the modern era) to many of the places where they currently roam, and many of their populations have high growth rates. Some nations, like Australia, cull their wild horse populations in an attempt to control grazing impacts on indigenous plants. In an Argentinian provincial park, wild horses have reduced native plant cover and allowed invasive pines to gain a foothold – a result that conflicts with the park’s fundamental management goal of preserving the native grasslands.

In the US, there are nearly three times as many horses on rangelands than the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has said is appropriate. One of the more socially acceptable management practices is to relocate them to holding facilities, but these can be overcrowded and take up a considerable portion of BLM funding.

Lead author Erik A. Beever of USGS explains that, as with the parakeets, social and ecological scales are at odds with each other for these iconic mammals. Management approaches can be standardized at the state or national level, yet the differences in how horses’ influences play out in nature illustrate the importance of locally-relevant approaches. “Horses can move very far,” he said, “but their management areas can be small and the boundaries do not shift over time or account for seasonal movement.” Additionally, management decisions and projects may take months to years to come into effect, while natural events can shift horse populations in days or weeks.

These differences in the scales at which social and ecological systems interact with introduced species create multi-faceted management and conservation challenges. However, Beever and his colleagues hope that shedding some light on this fundamental problem will aid management tactics in the future.

“There are tools, techniques, and approaches that can help to bring progress and even resolution to these situations,” he says. “Addressing social–ecological mismatches will be an important element to effectively manage introduced species; this will require early, meaningful communication about complex management issues among researchers, managers, and the public, and a collaborative search for practical solutions and compromises.”

 


Journal

Beever, Erik A., et al., 2019. “Social–ecological mismatches create conservation challenges in introduced species management.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. DOI: 10.1002/fee.2000

 

Authors

Erik A. Beever and Robert Al-Chokhachy, US Geological Survey, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center; Department of Ecology, Montana State University

Daniel Simberloff, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee

Sarah L. Crowley, Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter

Hazel A. Jackson, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent

Steven L. Petersen, Plant and Wildlife Sciences Department, Brigham Young University

 

Author Contact:

Erik A Beever     ebeever@usgs.gov

 

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The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the worlds largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org

 

Study predicts warmer, drier mountains pose double whammy for cold-adapted amphibians

By Simon Fraser University
1/25/2019

A species of frog endemic to the Pacific Northwest faces a 50 per cent increase in the probability of extinction by the 2080s due to climate change, according to a new study published by SFU researchers.

The mountain-dwelling Cascades frog thrives in extreme climatic conditions, ranging from dozens of feet of snow in winter to temperatures in excess of 90°F in summer. Cascades frogs are explosive breeders and their role as predators of flying insects is critical to aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

SFU biologist Wendy Palen, along with co-authors Mike Adams of the United States Geological Survey and Maureen Ryan and Amanda Kissel of Conservation Science Partners, set out to understand the effects of climate change on these unique amphibians.

Specifically, they aimed to assess how the warmer and drier temperatures occurring with climate change affect the survival of two distinct aspects of the frog’s life cycle: in the aquatic stage where the frogs develop as tadpoles in shallow ponds, and in the terrestrial environment stage where they live as adults.

Read more here: http://www.sfu.ca/sfunews/stories/2019/01/warmer-drier-mountains-double-whammy-for-cold-adapted-amphibians.html

ESA Tipsheet for January 31, 2019

Upcoming research in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

 

Wednesday, 30 Jan 2019
For Immediate Release

Contact: Zoe Gentes, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, zgentes@esa.org

 

Get a sneak peek into these new scientific papers, publishing on January 31, 2019 in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

  • Parks for sharks are most successful when humans aren’t around
  • Fisheries management efforts are responsible for recovering fish populations in the Northeast Atlantic
  • Building best management practices for drinking water and air quality
  • Coral reefs can benefit from probiotics, too
  • Why it’s harder to manage parakeets than zebra mussels

 

Banning fishing isn’t enough for sharks on the Great Barrier Reef

Photo courtesy of Ashley Frisch.

On the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, sharks often receive priority status in conservation programs, but their populations have still declined across much of the region. Over the past forty years, a number of marine reserves (“parks”) have been established to protect sharks from being fished, and a few restrict human entry entirely. Researchers from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and from the University of Tasmania compared different types of reserves encompassing a range of ages to determine the conditions that are most conducive to shark population recovery. Even though it is illegal to kill sharks in all of the reserves they studied, the researchers found that shark populations improved significantly more when all human entry was prohibited, suggesting that illegal extractive activities in the less stringent “no-take” reserves, where it is easier to get away with fishing, may be responsible for the projected disparity in shark recovery.

Author Contact: Ashley Frisch (ashley.frisch@gbrmpa.gov.au)

  • Frisch A and Rizzari JR. Parks for sharks: human exclusion areas outperform no-take marine reserves. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. DOI: 10.1002/fee.2003

 

Regulation – not natural change – is responsible for improving Northeast Atlantic fish populations 

Photo courtesy of Fabian Zimmerman.

Overfishing isn’t the only thing that is harmful to fish, so when dwindling fish populations do recover, it can be difficult to determine whether the improvements are due to tougher regulations on fishing, or if the populations simply bounced back because of environmental changes and natural fluctuations. A study of fishing areas across the Northeast Atlantic examined fishing reports, along with biomass and survival data, back to 1960 to determine whether the recent recovery of fish stocks in this area can actually be attributed to stricter regulations. The researchers found that reductions in fishing effort after the year 2000 were more strongly correlated with fish population recovery than natural changes in recruitment, and suggest that climate change-induced shifts in species distributions will amplify the need for science-based marine management strategies.       

Author Contact: Fabian Zimmermann (Fabian.zimmermann@hi.no)

  • Zimmermann F and Werner KM. 2019. Improved management is the main driver behind recovery of Northeast Atlantic fish stocks. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. DOI: 10.1002/fee.2002

 

Using people’s locations and preferences to help prioritize ecosystem services

Photo courtesy of Bonnie Keeler.

Because resource managers have limited funds, they sometimes have to make tough decisions when it comes to conservation. In agricultural landscapes, best management practices, or “BMPs,” are used to conserve ecosystem services like drinking water, clean air, recreation, and crop production. But there are trade-offs associated with BMPs: one BMP that would benefit groundwater quality might be implemented at the expense of another that would otherwise boost crop yields. What’s more, decisions to select one BMP over another are often made without regard to the location and well-being of the people who rely on the services in question. Researchers from the University of Minnesota, the University of Vermont, and the Nature Conservancy compared how different BMPs would affect supplies of ecosystem services in a sub-basin of a watershed in eastern Iowa, by visualizing where those supplies were located in relation to the human users who most value them.

Author contact: Bonnie Keeler (keeler@umn.edu)

  • Keeler BL, Dalzell BJ, Gourevitch J, et al. 2019. Putting people on the map improves the prioritization of ecosystem services. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. DOI: 10.1002/fee.2004

 

A healthier “microbiome” might buy corals some time  

Photo courtesy of Hannah Epstein.

The “gut microbiome” concept that is becoming increasingly popular in discussions of human health (e.g. fecal microbiota transplants or probiotic supplements) can also be applied for organisms that don’t have a “gut” at all: corals. When corals experience stress, they expel the nutrient-supplying microbes that give coral reefs their colorful palette – leading to mass “bleaching” of entire reefs. Inoculating corals with specially engineered microorganisms (e.g. those that are heat-resistant) may make it easier for coral reefs to adapt to changing ocean conditions. After reviewing the current body of literature on microbiome engineering in corals, a team of researchers from James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science identified the main research priorities that will be needed to push the field of study past the “proof of concept” stage. They suggest that while corals will be unlikely to thrive without substantial intervention in deteriorating ocean conditions, microbiome engineering may be a strategy that can at least buy corals some time.  

Author Contact: Hannah Epstein (hannah.epstein@my.jcu.edu.au)

  • Epstein HE, Smith H, Torda G, and van Oppen MJH. Microbiome engineering: enhancing climate resilience in corals. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. DOI: 10.1002/fee.2001

 

Why charismatic introduced species are so difficult to manage

Photo courtesy of Erik Beever.

People tend to have a more favorable view of species that are large, do not crawl or squirm, are not oily or slimy, and are culturally valued. Some introduced species, like zebra mussels, tend to be reviled by the public, but others are more charismatic, and these imbalances in public perception of introduced species influence the way those species are managed. For example, the pet trade has led to an established population of parakeets in Europe far outside the species’ native range. Even though the parakeets can transmit diseases to native birds and are recognized as a crop pest, the public enjoys seeing them in local parks and gardens and is likely to oppose eradication efforts. A group of researchers from the US Geological Survey and several universities in the US and UK explored how public perception and management actions towards such charismatic introduced species are often at odds with the actual ecological characteristics of the introduced populations: Introduced parakeets tend to be released in cities, and have been around just long enough for the public to become accustomed to them, but the parakeets actually exact the most damage in rural areas, and because they have not yet become an ecological fixture in the surrounding landscape, they can in fact still be managed before they become a true nuisance. The researchers explore similar cases of introduced salmonid and free-roaming horses, and suggest ways to establish science-based strategies for managing introduced species while also maintaining public trust.     

Author Contact: Erik Beever (ebeever@usgs.gov)

  • Beever EA, Simberloff D, Crowley SL, et al. Social–ecological mismatches create conservation challenges in introduced species management. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. DOI: 10.1002/fee.2000

 

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The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org

Tasmanian devil cancer unlikely to cause extinction, say experts

By Swansea University Prifysgol Abertawe
1/23/2019

A new study of Tasmanian devils has revealed that a transmissible cancer which has devastated devil populations in recent years is unlikely to cause extinction of the iconic species.

New research led by Dr Konstans Wells from Swansea University has revealed that it is more likely that the disease will fade-out or that the devils will coexist with Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) in future.

DFTD typically kills the majority of devils it infects and has wiped out around 80% of wild devils with continuous decline of existing populations since the disease was first identified.  

An international team of scientists from the UK, Australia and the USA matched field epidemiological evidence from wild populations collected over a 10-year period in north-west Tasmania with simulation studies, which revealed that DFTD is unlikely to continue causing ongoing population declines of Tasmanian devils in future.

They say the findings of their study, published in Ecology, offers much-needed hope that the species, which is the world’s largest remaining marsupial carnivore, will not necessarily become extinct due to DFTD.

Read more here: https://www.swansea.ac.uk/press-office/latest-research/tasmaniandevilcancerunlikelytocauseextinctionsayexperts.php

An Icy Forecast for Ringed Seal Populations

New mathematical model shows dramatic decreases in ringed seal populations due to projected low snow conditions

 

January 23, 2019
For Immediate Release

Contact: Zoe Gentes, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, zgentes@esa.org

 

Arctic sea ice is now declining at a rate of 12.8 percent per decade – 2012 had the lowest amount of summer ice on record. The drastic change has numerous implications for Arctic ecosystems, from increased shipping – the first commercial container ship crossed the Arctic Ocean in fall 2018 – to changing food webs.

But for ringed seals across the Arctic, it’s not the lack of ice that will hurt them most – it’s the lack of snow.

A ringed seal pup, still covered in its white baby fur, lies exposed on the sea ice. Photo courtesy of Ian Stirling.

While ringed seals (Phoca hispida) rely on stable sea ice in order to birth pups and raise them, they also rely on sufficiently deep snow drifts in which to dig lairs, which are much like snow caves and can mean the difference between life and death. The lairs provide insulation from extreme cold and offer some protection from predators, keeping their young ones out of view from wandering polar bears – their main predator – until they are weaned. Killer whales, walruses, wolves, dogs, wolverines, sharks, and even gulls prey on pups. Along with providing shelter, there are breathing holes within the lair that allow direct access to the waters below for the seals to hunt polar and Arctic cod and a variety of planktonic crustaceans necessary for survival. During years with poor snow cover, pups can be born on the surface of the ice, but mortality of these pups that weigh only ten pounds at birth is extremely high.

Scientists have already observed and predicted that high pup mortality rates are linked to poor environmental conditions like early ice breakup and low snow. Researchers have now gone a step further by coupling these hypotheses with forecasts of future spring snow and ice conditions, developing a mathematical model, and following it to some stark conclusions for populations off the Amundsen Gulf and Prince Albert Sound in Canada.

The paper appears today in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecological Applications.

A ringed seal lies on the ice, ready to make a quick escape into the water. Note the ringed pattern on it’s coat, from which the species’ name is derived. Photo courtesy of Rinie Van Meurs.

“It was surprising to see just how little snow is forecast to be available for the construction of lairs in the future,” said lead author Jody Reimer, PhD candidate at the University of Alberta. She was surprised both by the magnitude of the projected population declines – ranging from 50 to 99 percent by the year 2100 – as well as by the fact that these declines appear to be largely driven by insufficient snow on the ice, rather than early ice breakup.

In addition to overall seal population declines, the model projects that there will be a smaller proportion of juveniles relative to adults and pups over time, as fewer pups make it to their teenage years. In general, each successive generation gets a little bit smaller, and the effects of this are seen most acutely in the juvenile stages, especially for a long-lived ringed seals with lifespans up to 43 years.

Reimer also says these results and predictions would not have been made without the new mathematical model, which revealed glaring issues with previous observations, namely adult annual survival.

“When we put the previously published demographic estimates into our model, it predicted dramatic population declines that are inconsistent with the fact that ringed seals still exist in that area,” Reimer said. Ringed seals are considered a somewhat cryptic species, being notoriously difficult to study. Estimates of survival and reproductive rates have been collected over the years, but these estimates had not been combined into a population-level model until now.

Ringed seal geographic range across the Arctic. Photo courtesy of NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

Ringed seals’ dependence on sea ice and snow makes them good indicators of

change. They are the most abundant Arctic seal, with a huge geographic distribution, and are thus exposed to a wide range of climate change impacts. Additionally, changes in the community composition of Arctic marine systems can be seen through their diet as they shift their prey in response to what is available.

So, as an indicator species, ringed seals provide information on the health of Arctic marine ecosystems. But this information relies on the ability to detect the large scale changes resulting from climatic changes. Furthermore, future ecological challenges must be anticipated. For ringed seals in particular, given their sensitivity to snow cover, a better understanding – and modelling – of factors affecting adult survival is essential for assessing population viability as the Arctic climate changes.

It appears that Reimer and her colleagues are well on their way to anticipating these changes – “I think this is an example of an instance in which modelling can really help with the interpretation of field data and help inform future field endeavors.”



Journal Article

Reimer, Jody, et al. 2019. “Ringed seal demography in a changing climate.” Ecological Applications. DOI: 10.1002/eap.1855

 

Authors

Jody Reimer, Mark Lewis: University of Alberta, Biological Sciences, Mathematical and Statistical Sciences

Hal Caswell, University of Amsterdam Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Andrew Derocher, University of Alberta, Biological Sciences

 

Author Contact:

Jody Reimer   jrreimer@ualberta.ca

 

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The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in the science of ecology. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

 

Biologists discover deep-sea fish living where there is virtually no oxygen

By MBARI
1/17/2019

Lollipop sharks have large heads and gills, which may help them absorb oxygen in low-oxygen environments. Image: © 2015 MBARI

Oxygen—it’s a basic necessity for animal life. But marine biologists recently discovered large numbers of fishes living in the dark depths of the Gulf of California where there is virtually no oxygen. Using an underwater robot, the scientists observed these fishes thriving in low-oxygen conditions that would be deadly to most other fish. This discovery could help scientists understand how other marine animals might cope with ongoing changes in the chemistry of the ocean.

The researchers described their discovery in a recent article in the journal Ecology. The lead author of the article, Natalya Gallo, is a postdoctoral fellow at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She worked closely with professor Lisa Levin and other Scripps researchers on the paper, as well as with MBARI biologist Jim Barry, who led the research cruise.

Read more here: https://www.mbari.org/low-oxygen-fish/

With fire, warming and drought, Yellowstone forests could be grassland by mid-century

By University of Wisconsin-Madison
1/17/2019

The fires in Yellowstone National Park began to burn in June 1988. A natural feature of the landscape, park managers expected the fires to fizzle out by July, when rains historically drenched the forests and valleys of the world’s first national park.

But the rains never came. Unusually hot, dry and windy that year, more fires erupted and blazed in and around the park until September. By then, 36 percent of Yellowstone was affected. Firefighting efforts topped $120 million.

Yellowstone experiences large fires every 100 to 300 years and its flora and fauna are adapted. Lodgepole pines like those at higher elevations in the park have pine cones that open in fire, releasing seeds to replenish a post-burn forest. But it takes time for trees to mature and the forests to recover — time that a changing climate has been depriving the forest of the last three decades.

new study published today [Jan. 17, 2019] in Ecological Monographs, led by Winslow Hansen and his former graduate advisor, University of Wisconsin–Madison Professor of Integrative Biology Monica Turner, shows that some of Yellowstone’s forests may now be at a tipping point. They could be replaced by grassland by the middle of this century.

Read more here:
https://news.wisc.edu/with-fire-warming-and-drought-yellowstone-forests-could-be-grassland-by-mid-century/

Ocean giant gets a health check

By University of Tokyo
1/16/2019

Whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, likely endure periods of starvation and may eat more plants than previously thought, according to the first results of a new health check developed at the University of Tokyo. Ocean scientists now have a powerful, simple tool to discover the diets, migrations, and conservation needs of this endangered species.

Whale sharks are filter-feeding, soft-bodied fish that travel tropical oceans in search of their microscopic food. They grow 12 meters (39 feet) long and weigh 21 metric tons (46,297 pounds), about as long as a public city bus and as heavy as three African elephants. Despite their conspicuous size, many details of whale sharks’ lives in the open ocean remain a mystery, even 183 years after they were first discovered.

The research team led by Alex Wyatt, a project researcher at the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, carefully monitored the growth, diet, and health of three whale sharks living in an aquarium and two whale sharks living in ocean net cages.

Read more here:
https://www.u-tokyo.ac.jp/focus/en/press/z0508_00016.html