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

 

Elephants take to the road for reliable resources

In a national park, researchers study African elephant movement and vegetation using satellites


January 9, 2018

For Immediate Release

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

 

An elephant never forgets. This seems to be the case, at least, for elephants roaming about Namibia, looking for food, fresh water, and other resources.

The relationship between resource availability and wildlife movement patterns is essential to understanding species behavior and ecology. Landscapes can change from day-to-day and year-to-year, and many animals will move about according to resource availability. But do they remember past resource conditions? Just how important is memory and spatial cognition when seeking to understand wildlife movement?

Researchers in Etosha National Park, Namibia, examined this question through an iconic mammal. “African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are ideal for this study – they have excellent cognitive abilities and long-term spatial memory,” lead author Miriam Tsalyuk of University of California Berkeley explained, “which helps them return to areas with better food and water. African savannas are unpredictable with a prolonged dry season, where knowledge of the long-term availability of resources is highly advantageous.” The study was published today in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecological Monographs.

A group of African elephants moves across the Etosha National Park in Namibia, Africa. Photo courtesy of Miriam Tsalyuk.

Using GPS collars, the researchers tracked the movement of 15 elephant groups for periods ranging from 2 months up to a little over 4 and a half years. Key to this study, Tsalyuk emphasized, were satellite-based imagery and observations, which were used to create detailed data on vegetation types and biomass. Together with maps of surface water and man-made constructs, Tsalyuk and her colleagues then correlated these variables with the elephant movement data to look for patterns in behavior.

“Most ecological research to date examines how wildlife respond to the current environmental state,” she said. “However, animals use spatial and social memory to return to locations that have been beneficial in the past. Satellite imagery provides information about these past conditions and unravels the complexity of wildlife spatial use.”

Their analyses revealed that the elephants certainly seem to remember where to find the best food and reliable water. Long-term information (up to a decade) on forage conditions was a bigger factor in elephants’ decisions where to go than current conditions, particularly in the dry season.

“The results were very surprising indeed,” Tsalyuk said. “We thought that if we could capture the vegetation conditions as close as possible to the time the elephants passed there, we could better explain preference for a particular location. But we found the complete opposite – elephants have a stronger preference for locations where forage conditions have been better for many years, over the forage availability they see around them at the moment.”

The researchers were also surprised about the variability of the elephants’ preference for resources – different vegetation types and water sources – over time of day and over seasons.

Elephants’ strong inclination to be close to water is expected in the semiarid environment of Etosha. Preference for permanent water sources increases as rainfall declines. As the dry season progresses, elephants become increasingly dependent on artificial (human-made) water sources, such as bore holes. 

Collared African elephants like this one near a water source helped supply movement data for the study. Photo courtesy of Miriam Tsalyuk.

Somewhat less expected was the elephants’ fondness to walk close to roads.

“Roads are often dangerous to wildlife,” Tsalyuk said. “However, this research was performed within Etosha National Park, where most of the roads are dirt roads with relatively little traffic.” Elephants highly preferred to travel along roads in the dry season, when road conditions are best and when the elephants need to move farther between water and vegetation resources. It seems they use roads as easy walking terrain to conserve energy.

It’s possible that they may also take advantage of browsable plants in roadside ditches, or could position themselves behind tourist vehicles as a potential shield from predators.

The elephants in Etosha prefer areas with higher grass biomass, but lower tree biomass. When food is abundant, the elephants feel more comfortable to explore the landscape for greener patches or higher quality forage. In the dry season, however, when food becomes scarcer and less nutritious the goal becomes reducing the risk of starvation, and the elephants restrict themselves to areas where forage productivity has been favorable for many years.

Elephants are important ecosystem engineers – they control habitat conditions or availability of resources to other organisms. For example, they enhance plant diversity by suppressing tree cover and promote seed dispersal and nutrient transport, while dense elephant populations may cause vegetation degradation and tree damage. Unfortunately for these integral animals, elephant populations throughout Africa are in steep decline in the last decade due to poaching and greater restriction of their range.

If we want to better understand the changes in elephant–savanna vegetation dynamics and to improve land management, it is crucial to account for the variation in the movement-related responses of elephants to changing resources.

 


Journal Article

Miriam Tsalyuk, et al., 2018. “Temporal variation in resource selection of African Elephants follows long term variability 2 in resource availability.” Ecological Monographs. DOI: 10.1002/ecm.1348.

 

Authors

Miriam Tsalyuk, Department of Environmental Sciences, Policy & Management, University of California Berkeley

Werner Kilian , Etosha Ecological Institute, Namibia

Björn Reineking, Université Grenoble Alpes, France

Wayne Marcus Getz, School of Mathematical Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

 

Author Contact

Miriam Tsalyuk      miri.tsa@gmail.com

 

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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.

Does mountaintop removal also remove rattlesnakes?

Mining operations in Appalachia permanently alter habitat availability for rattlesnakes

 

January 3, 2018
For Immediate Release

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

 

Timber rattlesnakes, according to the study’s author, are among the most docile creatures in Appalachia. Photo courtesy of Thomas Maigret.

On the Cumberland Plateau in eastern Kentucky, surface coal mining is destroying ridgelines and mountaintops, and along with them, the habitat of a surprisingly gentle reptile species – the timber rattlesnake.

“Timber rattlesnakes may be the most docile, calm animals of their size in eastern US forests,” Thomas Maigret, a researcher from the University of Kentucky, said. “On several occasions, I’ve witnessed spiders using a rattlesnake as an anchor for a web. Females, especially, move very infrequently, and pose almost no threat to a careful human.”

Unfortunately for the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) and other species in this region – both plant and animal – surface coal mining requires complete removal of mature forest cover and the upper soil layers. This means that soil is scraped away, rocks disturbed and dug out, plants and trees removed, or the ridgetop landscape flattened and made more uniform to reach the coal buried in the earth. This alteration eliminates many diverse, unique places for animals to live and hibernate. The central Appalachia region spans eastern Kentucky, northeastern Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and southern West Virginia and is one of the most diverse non-tropical ecosystems in the world with thousands of plant and animal species, many that are only found there.

Maigret and his colleagues tracked timber rattlesnakes in a study published today in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The researchers implanted radio transmitters in snakes of the Cumberland Plateau and tracked their movements until they retreated to hibernation sites in the fall. The data gathered provided a roadmap for identifying other potential hibernating sites, or “hibernacula,” across the study area.

“Snakes of the eastern U.S. vary in their hibernacula selection behavior, and for many species not much is known about hibernacula preferences,” Maigret explained. “For example, many aquatic snakes prefer damp hibernacula near the streams where they reside during the summer. But for other species, any warm, protected crevice they can fit into seems to suffice.”

By analyzing remote-sensing and satellite imagery, mining maps, and permit data from the USGS and other sources, the researchers were then able to determine how mining might affect a wide range of hibernation sites.

Timber rattlesnakes choose places to hibernate that are more likely to be surface mined due to their ridgetop locations. Mining thus puts this species at a disadvantage and reduces the biodiversity of the area. Photo courtesy of Thomas Maigret.

They found that because timber rattlesnakes tend to hibernate in the same places that make ideal mines, surface mining disproportionately alters or eliminates their preferred habitat. “Other species with habitat preferences similar to timber rattlesnakes – including some snakes – may also be affected disproportionately by mining. On the other hand,” Maigret said, “species associated with middle or lower slopes will not be affected by mining to the same extent.”

In other words, the mining operations here are selecting against timber rattlesnake habitat, effectively cutting into the region’s biodiversity.

The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 does not require mining companies to reforest the area to the original mountaintop landscape after mining has wrapped up. The law does dictate that the “approximate original contours” of a site be re-established, in an attempt to not leave the area uninhabitable by the species that once lived there. However, it is rare for forests and biodiversity to fully recover from mining-related disturbances, to the detriment of many animals and their habitats.

Is the damage done to mountain-tops irreversible? While researchers are actively improving the ability to restore habitats on reclaimed mine lands, surface mining acts as an eraser of unique ecosystems, creating a uniform landscape where there once were diverse habitat options. In the Cumberland Plateau, mining leaves conservation and management efforts very little to work with even after an operation restores the approximate original mountaintop landscape.

Still, Maigret is optimistic about the future of restoring mined areas for the docile rattlesnakes. “Coal mining in central Appalachia has serious economic headwinds,” he stated, “and may never return to the rates of surface mining of the late 20th century. Timber rattlesnakes are resilient, and their ability to adapt to previous landscape changes – including massive deforestation in the 19th and early 20th century – should not be underestimated.”

 


 

Journal Article

Maigret T.A., Cox J.J., and Yang J. 2019. Persistent geophysical effects of mining threaten ridgetop biota of Appalachian forests. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. DOI: 10.1002/fee.1992

 

Authors

Thomas A. Maigret, Department of Biology, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Kentucky          

John J. Cox and Jian Yang, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Kentucky  

 

Author Contact

Thomas A Maigret (thomas.maigret@uky.edu)

 

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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.

Birds can mistake some caterpillars for snakes; can robots help? 

Researchers observe a defense mechanism for caterpillars can attract unwanted attention

December 17, 2018 
For Immediate Release  

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

 

During the night, this caterpillar (Oxytenis modestia) moved onto and began feeding on a leaf directly above the nest of a rufous-tailed hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl), whose comings and goings disturbed the caterpillar, causing it to expand and reveal its “eyes” and rear up into its snake-mimic posture. Photo courtesy of James Marden.

When a caterpillar disguises itself as a snake to ward off potential predators, it should probably expect to be treated like one. 

This is exactly what happened in Costa Rica earlier this year, when researchers witnessed a hummingbird defending its nest from what it interpreted to be a snake, but was actually a larva of the moth Oxytenis modestia. The encounter is described in a new paper published in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecology

These moths — sometimes called the dead-leaf moth or the Costa Rica leaf moth — resemble flat dried leaves as adults. The caterpillars can inflate the top of their heads to expose a pair of eyespots. When disturbed, they raise their head up and move from side to side, increasing the snake-like appearance. In particular they resemble a green parrot snake, known to prey on nesting birds. 

The attacking hummingbird’s nest with eggs was about 10cm away from the caterpillar in a small tree. When the researchers went to look for an assumed snake, they instead found the caterpillar feeding on a leaf immediately above the nest. 

“Hummingbirds have a few stereotypical styles of flying: visiting flowers, preying on swarms of tiny insects, chasing each other, and mating/territorial display flights,” says lead author James H. Marden, professor with the Department of Biology at Pennsylvania State University. “Mobbing behavior directed against a threat to their nest is much less common but distinct and easy to recognize if you know their other flight behaviors… One can recognize this from a distance and only notice the source of their agitation upon close inspection.” 

Caterpillars and adults of a variety of butterflies and moths have eye-like spots that deter potential predators. Observations of how these eyespots affect animal interactions in natural settings are extremely rare. 

The interaction took place on a strip of secondary growth between the Pacific and primary rainforest on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica. The authors believe that the comings and goings of the female rufous-tailed hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl) around its nest may have disturbed the caterpillar, causing it to expose its eyespots, which in turn prompted the hummingbird to defend its nest using what is referred to as ‘mobbing behavior’ by birds — darting flights and pecking at a threat, commonly snakes. 

The caterpillar was unable to feed during the 26-minutes of nearly continuous attacks. Most of the bird’s movements were cautious and exploratory, but included quick thrusts to peck or bite the eyespots (view video clip here).  

Marden stated that it was difficult for either the bird or caterpillar to disengage from the standoff, with the hummingbird protecting its nest and the caterpillar just trying to finish its leafy meal. “A snake-like creature so near to its nest was too much of a distraction or threat to ignore for very long,” he explained. “The caterpillar seemed more irreversibly committed. When a camouflaged animal reveals itself as threatening, it is committed and cannot easily go back to camouflage. Hence, I think that it had no choice but continue looking like a snake until the threat had passed.”  

A bite directly on the false eye. Photo courtesy of James Marden.

Eventually the caterpillar gave up on eating and crawled away while still under attack, and the hummingbird resumed normal nesting behavior.  

When birds exhibit this mobbing behavior targeting snake’s eyes, it often ends with snakes being killed by repeated bites and pecks near the head and collar area. As for creatures that mimic snakes to protect themselves from being eaten, can they in turn protect themselves from this mimicry backfiring, such as in this encounter? Because the hummingbird behavior was typical anti-snake behavior, it can be considered replicable. 

Marden is fascinated by this interaction, and he believes future studies of this behavior can be conducted using a tiny, caterpillar robot to experiment with eyespots. 

“You’d want a cylindrical shape and green color, with the ability to rear up in the front and reveal an eyespot,” he outlines. It should be remote controlled, light enough to attach to a leaf or stem, and wireless. “Many experiments have done this with clay or similar material, but those models lack the ability to combine eyespots with movement and behavior. That is what a robot could add.” 

When disturbed, the caterpillar increases its internal pressure, causing the area behind the head to expand and expose a pair of eyespots. Expansion and exposure of the “eyes” is accompanied by rearing up and side to side movements, which closely mimic a small snake. Photo courtesy of James Marden.

With such a robot, researchers could vary the eye-like nature and contrast of spots on the head of the robot to test various responses of nest-defending birds. A study like this could definitively test the effects of eye-like versus other mimicry patterning for provoking or repelling defensive attacks. 

The day following the initial encounter, the researchers found the caterpillar feeding on a leaf on the same plant, as far away from the nest as possible. It had some marks by the edge of the right eyespot that may be beak marks – apparently the caterpillar learned its lesson. 


 

Journal Article 

Marden, J.H., J.F.P. Carillo. 2018. “Anti‐predator behavior by a nesting hummingbird in response to a caterpillar with eyespots.” Ecology. DOI: 10.1002/ecy.2582

Authors 
James H. Marden, Department of Biology, Pennsylvania State University  
José Freiner Perez Carillo, Campanario Biological Station, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica 

Author contact 
James H. Marden       jhm10@psu.edu 

 

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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

 

Ecologists Ask: Should We Be More Transparent with Data?

Open, readily-usable data sets and code will grow more important in future scientific research, saving time and effort for reviewers, investigators, and authors

 

October 26, 2018
For Immediate Release

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

 

Computational reproducibility – the ability to accurately reproduce outcomes from data sets using the same code and software – will be an increasingly important factor in future scientific studies according to a new paper released in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecological Applications.

Authors Stephen M. Powers and Stephanie E. Hampton, researchers at Washington State University, highlight the importance of adapting to, providing, and using data sets that are open to and usable by the public and investigators in ecology and other field research.

Weather events like this tornado are unique events that cannot be reproduced, posing challenges for reproducibility in field ecology data. Photo courtesy of NOAA Photo Library.

“Increasingly, peers and the public want more transparency,” Powers explains.

Ecologists, finding themselves in an inherently field-oriented science, have long faced the challenge that it is impossible to perfectly repeat observational studies of the natural world – weather conditions vary, populations change over time, and many other conditions in field work are not reproducible. The paper argues that ecologists should focus more on data sharing and transparency in the future in order to increase scientific reproducibility.

An investigator may spend considerable time, effort, and cost attempting to generate results of someone else’s study from scratch. When both data and code used to obtain statistics and results are published, the investigator saves on these efforts, and can even improve or modify the original author’s computer code. Essentially, sharing this information means less time is wasted for reviewers, editors, and authors alike.

It’s not only scientists that benefit from reproducibility and transparency; “In natural resource management and similar policy issues, high transparency is essential to maintain public trust,” says Hampton, who is also director for the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Being open about data and code from the beginning of a project can help scientists minimize post-publication work to share or clarify the products or to answer questions about contentious results from outside audiences.

The authors also emphasize that it is imperative to prepare young researchers for the computational expectations of the future by engaging them in the process now: “It takes time to develop new practices and skills so it’s important to prepare for transparency at the beginning of a project. It’s no fun to scramble and address transparency requirements at the last possible moment,” said Powers.

To facilitate these efforts, code is frequently shared through web-based services and repositories that host thousands of data sets. Such tools are now widely accessible and attitudes and norms increasingly favor data reuse.

Fire personnel learn how to use technology in the field for fire ecology research in Alaska. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

Three years ago, Ecological Applications mandated that all data associated with manuscripts must be made available in a permanent, publicly accessible archive or repository. “When science is used to support decisions, transparency is paramount and the more consequential the decision, the more important it is that all of the stakeholders be able to examine the basis of a recommendation,” the journal’s chief editor, David Schimel, says. “Our open science policy ensures that work published in our journal meets the highest standards for actionable information.”

Other policies like this include the NASA Earth Science Data and Information Policy and the Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) program. The NSF has also mandated that submitted grant proposals include data management plans as well as the details of data publication from prior NSF support.

Powers, Hampton, and others argue that these developments in data requirements allow ecologists to examine studies and ideas with unprecedented power and to foster critical inquiry and new knowledge for the benefit of society amid global change.


Journal Article

Stephen M. Powers, S.E. Hampton (2018). Open science, reproducibility, and transparency in ecology. Ecological Applications. DOI: 10.1002/eap.1822

 

Authors

Stephen M. Powers, School of the Environment, Washington State University

Stephanie E. Hampton, School of the Environment, Washington State University; Director of the Division of Environmental Biology, National Science Foundation

 

Author contact:

Stephen M. Powers                      steve.powers@wsu.edu

Stephanie E. Hampton               s.hampton@wsu.edu

 

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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.

South American Marsupials Discovered to Reach New Heights

For the first time, scientists catch on camera a tiny marsupial climbing higher than previously thought in the forest canopy

 

A monito del monte peers down from a tree. This marsupial has a prehensile tail that aids in climbing and eats mostly insects, fruit, and seeds. Females can carry up to five of their young in a well-developed pouch. Photo courtesy of Andres Charrier.

October 18, 2018
For Immediate Release

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

 

In the Andean forests along the border of Chile and Argentina, there have long been speculations that the mouse-sized marsupial monito del monte (Dromiciops gliroides) climbs to lofty heights in the trees. Yet, due to the lack of knowledge about the region’s biodiversity in the forest canopies, no previous records exist documenting such arboreal habits for this creature.

Some tree-climbing researchers are changing that.

Javier Godoy-Güinao and colleagues set motion-sensing camera traps in the tree canopy to capture photographic evidence confirming the high-climbing theories surrounding this miniature mammal. The findings are published today in a new study in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecosphere.

The monito del monte (Spanish for “little monkey of the bush,” although not a monkey at all) is a small, inarguably cute marsupial that is found solely in the temperate rainforests of Argentina and Chile. It eats mostly insects with some fruit and seeds and nuts, and it also hibernates, which is unusual for marsupials. Females can carry up to five young in a pouch, and a prehensile tail makes it adept at climbing. It is listed as “Near Threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Researchers thought this marsupial may live in the canopy because of its mobility in the vegetation above the forest floor, called the understory. “However,” Godoy-Güinao writes, “all previous studies on D. gliroides have been conducted from the ground, with no documentation of this species’ ability to climb trees, or how high they may reach.” Following the clues from reported sightings, he and his colleagues found the mystery intriguing and decided it worth finding out first hand just how high they climb.

Along with Ivan Díaz, professor in charge of the Laboratory of Canopy Ecology and Biodiversity (CanopyLab) of the Universidad Austral de Chile, and Juan Luis Celis-Diez, professor at P. Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Godoy-Güinao began studies in 2017 in Bosque Pehuén Park. The park is a protected area owned by the Mar Adentro Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to promoting conservation of and education on biodiversity, and to cultural development in the region.

Researchers climbed high (12-21 m) into the treetops to install the camera traps and patiently waited to capture images of this elusive marsupial. After months of waiting and collecting data, the tiny creatures appeared within the highest camera trap’s view, and it snapped hundreds of photos.

A group of monitos in a nest. Photo courtesy of Andres Charrier.

Armed with proof that it is a frequent climber to the highest point of the tallest trees, Godoy-Güinao argues that the role of the monito del monte in the canopy is much more relevant to the biodiversity of the ecosystem than originally thought.

One of its large role lies in seed germination and dispersal. In the treetops of Chilean forests, previous studies by the CanopyLab showed a great variety of air plants such as orchids, bromeliads, lichens, mosses, and ferns that grow within the trees. The monito del monte is a seed disperser of most of these plants; it eats wild fruits and swallows the seeds whole, which then pass through its digestive track and are ready to germinate upon excretion. Given the frequency with which the species visits these high places, it could be the main sower of the plants that make up this vertical garden. Additionally, it is an avid consumer of the insects that attack the foliage of these trees.

Godoy-Güinao hopes that continued study will shed light on the importance of the monito del monte in the treetops, as well learn more about the species. For now, he says, “this evidence suggests that [it] is perhaps the main or only mammal of the region that ventures into the heights of trees, and it can have a very influential role in the biodiversity of the southern South American temperate rainforests.”


Journal Article:

Javier Godoy-Güinao, et al. (2018) “Confirmation of arboreal habits in Dromiciops gliroides: a key role in Chilean Temperate Rainforests.” Ecosphere. DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.2424.

 

Authors:

Javier Godoy-Güinao, Laboratory of Canopy Ecology and Biodiversity (CanopyLab), Universidad Austral de Chile, Chile

Iván Díaz, Laboratory of Canopy Ecology and Biodiversity (CanopyLab), Universidad Austral de Chile, Chile

Juan Luis Celis-Diez, Pontifica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Chile

 

Author contact:

Javier Godoy-Güinao     jagodoyg@gmail.com

 

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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.

Alaskan Carbon Assessment Has Implications For National Climate Policy

A special article collection in Ecological Applications looks into how the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases stored in forests, permafrost, lakes, and rivers interact

 

Meandering Beaver Creek (a tributary of the Yukon River) in the autumn in central interior Alaska, with extensive coverage of birch (yellow) and spruce (dark green)
trees and various deciduous shrub species (crimson), underlain by permafrost. Photo courtesy of Mark Dornblaser, USGS.

October 5, 2018

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

 

Alaska’s land mass is equal to the size of one-fifth of the continental United States, yet stores about half of the country’s terrestrial – both upland and wetland –  carbon stores and fluxes. The carbon is not only stored in vegetation and soil, but also in vital freshwater ecosystems even though lakes and ponds, rivers, streams, and springs only cover a small amount of landmass in Alaska.

Alarmingly, recent studies show that Alaska is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the country. The fate of the large state’s plentiful carbon, and how carbon management policy is structured there, has implications on national, and even international, scales.

A collection of articles in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecological Applications provides a synthesis of the Alaska terrestrial and aquatic carbon cycle. “Taken as a whole, the set of papers in the invited feature provide a comprehensive view of a critical region, and one that could be a model for other regions within the U.S. and globally,” USGS researcher David McGuire writes in the feature’s introduction.

The warming climate in northern ecosystems such as Alaska’s can release carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases into the atmosphere through many pathways, including but not limited to the thawing of methane-laden permafrost and increased carbon emissions from more frequent wildfires.

Left: Crumbling blocks of permafrost along the Beaufort Coast, Alaska (Photo courtesy of USGS). Right: Methane bubbles trapped in thermokarst lake ice. When ice-rich permafrost thaws, former tundra and forest turns into a thermokarst lake as the ground subsides. The carbon stored in the formerly frozen ground is consumed by the microbial community, which release methane gas. When lake ice forms in the winter, methane gas bubbles are trapped in the ice (Photo courtesy of Miriam Jones, USGS).

However, other aspects of the carbon cycle could counter the increased carbon release. Warmer, longer growing seasons and more available nutrients may result in more green growth to take up more atmospheric CO2, providing a sink. The types of forests that grow at high latitudes could shift from more flammable conifer forest to less flammable deciduous forest, meaning fewer wildfires.

Together, the papers provide new syntheses of Alaskan carbon stores and fluxes, fire dynamics, vegetation change, forest management, permafrost soil thaw, and many other facets of historical (1950-2009) and projected (2010-2100) carbon balance in these sensitive ecosystems.

USGS scientists conducting research on a boat on the Yukon River, between Eagle and Circle, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Mark Dornblaser, USGS.

These papers stem from efforts by the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, and university scientists to assess past and future carbon fluxes as mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The original report, a first-of-its-kind assessment published in 2016, revealed the vulnerability of carbon stored in high latitude ecosystems and how soil carbon losses in Alaska are amplified by wildfires with the warming Arctic climate.

McGuire explains ways in which future assessments can be even more comprehensive, such as modeling the future methane emissions from lakes and including the effects that fire disturbances have on insects and abrupt thawing. In addition, he recommends that future assessments extend to 2300 given that many effects of permafrost thaw and elevated atmospheric CO2 have not yet fully manifested, and those assessments should include societal impacts of climate change in Alaska. 

As demonstrated by the 2016 report, and further emphasized by these new publications, it is absolutely vital to pursue a field-based understanding of the carbon cycle of the Earth in various settings in order to better understand both the natural and the human-influenced mechanisms of climate change.


Journal Articles:

A. David McGuire, et al. (2018) Introduction for invited feature “Alaska Carbon Cycle.” Ecological Applications. DOI: 10.1002/eap.1808

A. David McGuire, et al. (2018) Assessing historical and projected carbon balance of Alaska: A synthesis of results and policy/management implications. Ecological Applications. DOI: 10.1002/eap.1768

Hélène Genet, et al. (2017) The role of driving factors in historical and projected carbon dynamics of upland ecosystems in Alaska. Ecological Applications. DOI: 10.1002/eap.1641

Zhou Lyu, et al. (2018) The role of environmental driving factors in historical and projected carbon dynamics of wetland ecosystems in Alaska. Ecological Applications. DOI: 10.1002/eap.1755

Neal J. Pastick,  et al. (2017) Historical and projected trends in landscape drivers affecting carbon dynamics in Alaska. Ecological Applications. DOI: 10.1002/eap.1538

Sarah M. Stackpoole, et al. (2017) Inland waters and their role in the carbon cycle of Alaska. Ecological Applications. DOI: 10.1002/eap.1552

 

Author Contact:

A. David McGuire             admcguire@alaska.edu

 

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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.

The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana receives environmental offsets from the Ecological Society of America

103rd Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America: 
Extreme events, ecosystem resilience and human well-being
5–10 August 2018

August 7, 2018
For Immediate Release

Contact: Zoe Gentes, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, zgentes@esa.org
New Orleans on-site press room: 504-670-6402

 

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) will donate over $17,500 to the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) to offset the environmental costs of the Society’s 103rd Annual Meeting, held this year in New Orleans, LA. More than 3,500 attendees convene from across the globe this week to impart, discuss, and share the latest in essential ecological research and discovery.

Student volunteers participate in a CRCL fall tree planting. Since 2000, CRCL’s Habitat Restoration Program has planted more than four million native plants throughout the Louisiana coast. Credit: CRCL

With so many in attendance, the environmental footprint left behind is not small, nor is it overlooked by ESA members. The energy required to transport, house, and host these environmentally-minded participants exacts a toll on the very ecosystems that conference participants have come together to discuss.

CRCL Restorations Programs Director Dr. Deb Abibou and volunteers plant CRCL’s 30,000th tree. The tree marked end of CRCL’s third “10,000 Trees for Louisiana” campaign. Credit: CRCL

Caz Taylor, a spatial ecologist at Tulane University and the meeting’s Local Host, stated that the wetland loss in the Gulf Coast region is of huge concern. She emphasized that the destruction of wetlands, which constitutes 40-45 percent of coastal wetlands in the lower continental United States, is “already having enormous environmental and economic consequences, and I think it is one of the most serious environmental issues facing the US.”

By the year 2040, it is estimated that one-third of coastal wetlands will be destroyed by urban development. CRCL uses a multifaceted restoration, outreach, and advocacy approach to achieve its mission of driving bold, science-based action to rebuild coastal Louisiana.

“Here in Louisiana we are losing wetlands at an incredible rate—one football field every 100 minutes and New Orleans is inching closer to the Gulf of Mexico every day,” said CRCL Executive Director Kimberly Davis Reyher. “We are thankful for ESA’s commitment to give back to Louisiana’s coast during their annual meeting. Few groups think about offsetting their environmental impact.”

CRCL is a boots-on-the-ground restoration organization that has engaged more than 13,000 volunteers through its Habitat Restoration Program. Volunteers have planted more than 3.5 million native trees and plants throughout coastal Louisiana. CRCL also administers the state’s only Oyster Shell Recycling Program which collects oyster shells from participating New Orleans restaurants and uses them to build living shoreline oyster reefs. These reefs encourage oyster settlement, provide fish and wildlife habitat and most importantly act as a breakwall to stabilize the Louisiana coastline. CRCL is also engaging the local fishing industry in its restoration work. Louisiana produces 30 percent of the fish consumed in the US.

CRCL Volunteers bagging Oyster Shells in Buras, Louisiana. The bagged shell is used to build living shorelines to rebuild oyster habitat and protect the coast from erosion and store surge. Credit: CRCL

As the oldest statewide coastal restoration organization in Louisiana, CRCL also advocates for coastal policy at the local, state and national levels and works to promote Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, which is the state’s blueprint for restoring its coast. This 50-year plan calls for the construction of over a hundred projects including hydrologic restoration, marsh creation, and sediment diversions.

Community and science-based restoration efforts are at the core of the work accomplished by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. These are values mirrored by the Ecological Society of America and its members. This funding will allow the CRCL to further its commitment to coastal restoration.

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2018 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana
Extreme events, ecosystem resilience and human well-being
5–10 August 2018

Ecologists from 50 U.S. states, U.S. territories, and countries around the world will converge on New Orleans, Louisiana this August for the 103rd Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America. Up to 4,000 attendees are expected to gather for thousands of scientific presentations on breaking research and new ecological concepts at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on August 5 – 10, 2018.

ESA invites press and institutional public information officers to attend for free. To apply, please contact ESA Public Information Manager Zoe Gentes directly at zgentes@esa.org. Walk-in registration will be available during the meeting.

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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.

Charcoaling manure and greening neighborhoods: ecological approaches to cleaner water in the Chesapeake Bay watershed

ESA 100th Annual Meeting, August 9-14, 2015 in Baltimore, Md.
Ecological Science at the Frontier

Ecological science at the frontier: Centennial logoFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

Conference website
Program
Native Apps
More press releases for the 100th Annual Meeting

 

When ecologists gather in Baltimore, Md., this August for the 100th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America, special attention will fall on the local Chesapeake Bay watershed, with field trips and research presentations exploring its rich wildlife and social history. At symposia, poster exhibits, and site visits, ecologists will have opportunities to discuss the latest research and experiences working with stakeholders in the region to improve the health of the nation’s largest estuary.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed and major river basins. Credit, US Geological Survey.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed and major river basins. Credit, US Geological Survey.

Chesapeake Bay bears a heavy pollution burden from the growing metropolitan centers and vibrant agricultural activity in the watershed. In the last fifty years, too many nutrients have poured into the watershed, causing large fish kills and habitat damage in the bay.

Nitrogen and phosphorus draining from farm fields, livestock manure, sewage treatment plants, industry, and car exhaust are powerful fertilizers that feed blooms of algae in the bay. Sudden population explosions of algae pull oxygen from the water in the bay and change its acidity, which stresses aquatic animals and can even lead to “dead zones” empty of economically valuable fish and shellfish. Murky water can block enough sunlight to harm or kill native aquatic plants, destroying critical habitat for Chesapeake Bay fish and other aquatic animals. Some algae are toxic, presenting a direct threat to the health of people and wildlife.

Roughly 100,000 streams and 50 major creeks and rivers drain into the bay form the enormous 64,000-square-mile watershed, flowing through agricultural lands, industrial centers, and some of the oldest and densest municipalities in the United States, including Washington, Baltimore, and Richmond. Encompassing parts of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington D.C., the Chesapeake watershed is home to 27 million residents.

On December 29, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, acting under the authority of the Clean Water Act, instituted a comprehensive “pollution diet” to address the slow progress on water quality problems in the watershed. The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) sets pollution limits for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment loads entering water bodies and includes accountability measures.

Manure from the many poultry farms in the Chesapeake watershed is a major source of excess nitrogen entering the bay. Maryland alone has 574 large-scale operations, each concentrating 37,500 or more birds in one place. Many are on the Eastern Shore. Disposing of all that chicken waste is a big problem for the farms; nearly one in five large operations has been fined by the State of Maryland recently for violating reporting requirements.

Nutrient solutions for agriculture: engaging rural residents and farmers

Cooking chicken manure into charcoal, or biochar, can turn a pollution problem into a potential farming resource. Biochar is an organic fertilizer that retains nitrogen in soil longer than inorganic nitrogen fertilizers and also captures the carbon in the manure in a stable form, returning it to the soil.

Rebecca Ryals of Brown University has compared plant growth and nutrient retention agricultural fields fertilized with biochar, raw manure, composted manure, and inorganic nitrogen fertilizer (urea). Her presentation is part of an organized session of talks about “Putting agroecology to work: from science to practice and policy,” on Wednesday morning, August 12. Farmers are often willing to try new methods that improve ecological outcomes, but need economic and logistical support to make implementation practical. Ryals will also talk about the opportunities and barriers to implementing biochar use in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Mari-Vaughn Johnson, an agronomist at the US Department of Agriculture’s Blackland Research and Extension Center in Temple, Texas, will follow Ryals with a USDA National Resources Conservation Service case study report on conservation gains through voluntary actions by private land owners in the Chesapeake Bay region.

EPA regulations on TDMLs of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment in Chesapeake waterways are powerful tools for encouraging land use practices based on ecological science. But unequal pressures to adopt Best Management Practices have often left the agricultural community feeling unfairly blamed for nutrient pollution problems in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  On Monday afternoon, Kalla Kvalnes of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science will talk about outreach events engaging farmers and residents in rural Chesapeake Bay communities to better understand the stumbling blocks to adoption of Best Management Practices.

Ryal’s colleague, Amy Teller, will present further data on the biochar project at a poster session on sustainable agriculture and forestry on Wednesday afternoon. Maya Almaraz, also of Brown University, will report on seasonal effects on nitrogen and nitrous oxide gas emissions from the experimental farm fields Ryal treated with different fertilizers during a Monday afternoon session on new paradigms in nutrient cycling in a variety of ecosystems.

A true color composite image of Chesapeake Bay, created from Provisional Surface Reflectance data collected by the USGS satellite Landsat 8 in the fall of 2014. Sediment suspended in the water along the coast and in the rivers of the Chesapeake watershed appears light blue or green. Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C., and the I95 corridor are bright grey stars to the left of the Bay. Credit, US Geological Survey.

A true color composite image of Chesapeake Bay, created from Provisional Surface Reflectance data collected by the USGS satellite Landsat 8 in the fall of 2014. Sediment appears light blue or green, suspended in the water along the coast and in the rivers of the Chesapeake watershed. Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C., and the I95 corridor are bright grey stars to the left of the Bay. Credit, US Geological Survey.

 

Revitalizing urban neighborhoods

Simple urban improvements like replacing the concrete of an empty lot with greenery have the potential to improve the health and happiness of neighborhood residents as well as the quality of the water draining from these urban surfaces, and ultimately into the bay.

The Parks & People Foundation in Baltimore has a long history of fostering partnerships between academics, government agencies, and citizens to improve the city’s open spaces. On Sunday, August 9, Alan Berkowitz and Bess Caplan of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Christina Bradley from Parks & People, and Morgan Grove with the USDA Forest Service will co-lead a field trip on Sunday, August 9, to the site of an urban Long Term Ecological Research project investigating the connections between social and ecological revitalization in storm sewer watershed 263 (WS263), a “sewershed” in Baltimore encompassing 11 neighborhoods housing 28,214 people. The group will discuss approaches to environmental education while visiting bio-infiltration projects, lot renovations, and other green infrastructure features in WS263.

ESA’s Applied Ecology Section will also be visiting parts of WS263 on Sunday for its annual Urban Bioblitz, approaching from the Middle Branch Trail on the Patapsco River. The group will observe the diversity of plants, birds, insects, and aquatic invertebrates resident in the watershed while discussing the land planning, management, and maintenance.

Improving the health of the Bay can only come about with active participation from residents of the watershed. Amina Mohamed worked with 20 students from environmental clubs at two high schools in the Anacostia and Patuxent River watersheds (part of the larger Chesapeake watershed) to better understand community attitudes about the health of their environment. Through the participatory program Photovoice, originally developed for public engagement in public health, students photographed local environmental issues, choosing 10 photos to further describe in brief narratives. 

Mohamed analyzed the photo sets and texts for themes reflecting the perceptions and priorities of the student participants and their communities. Images of the Anacostia study area featured pollution and trash more prominently, while the Patuxent images indicated more community awareness of connections to the greater Bay region. She will present the results of her study in a poster session dedicated to ecological education on Friday morning.

 

Other meeting sessions related to water quality in the Chesapeake watershed:

Field Trips

ESA invites press and institutional public information officers to attend the Annual Meeting for free. To apply, please contact ESA Communications Officer Liza Lester at llester@esa.org. Please visit our conference website for details on press credentials and pressroom operation. Walk-in registration will be available during the meeting.

The complete conference program, including abstracts for oral and poster presentations, is available on the conference website.

Meeting abstracts are not embargoed.

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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 10,000 member Society publishes six 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.