Laura Martin and Bernd Blossey Published in Oecologia

DNR graduate student Laura Martin and faculty Bernd Blossey recently published an article in Oecologia on how secondary compounds leached from plant litter affect larval amphibians.

Laura Martin was one of five graduate students selected to participate in a National Evolutionary Synthesis Center workshop on the evolutionary biology of the built environment. The working group brings together thirty biologists, architects, and anthropologists to develop a framework for a comprehensive understanding of the evolution of the species we most intimately interact with. It aims to better understand both how to prevent the extinction of beneficial species and to favor the evolution of lineages and species with beneficial attributes, whether those be ecological functions, health benefits or simply aesthetic value.

The article can be read at:

New Paper in Biodiversity and Conservation by Laura Martin and Bernd Blossey

This month’s Biodiversity and Conservation includes an article by DNR grad Laura Martin and Dr. Bernd Blossey in which they use economic choice experiments to model the impact of invasive plants on the desirability of lands for conservation acquisition. Read more at:

Florida Explores the Public Trust Doctrine

Recently the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) held a workshop, discussing the public trust doctrine (PTD). PTD is the principle that natural resources are not owned by anyone, but rather, the government is the ‘trustee’ and citizens are the ‘beneficiaries.’ According to this concept, decisions regarding natural resources should not be made to benefit the ecosystem itself, but to benefit the present and future generations. The workshop was moderated by Dr. Dan Decker, DNR. DNR’s Dr. Bernd Blossey and Ph.D. candidate Darragh Hare were participants in the workshop.

Read the full article about the PTD workshop here.

CLIMATE: As the ground shifts, conservationists weigh options

Land Letter

Laura Petersen, E&E reporter

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.V. — How can people “protect” the environment for the long term when climate change, development and other shifts make a moving target out of the goal?

That’s a question ecologists grappled with this week at a conference hosted by the Ecological Society of America on conservation in a changing world.

“Trying to preserve the status quo at some point in time is arbitrary and I would say indefensible,” said Bernd Blossey, an ecologist from Cornell University who helped organize the gathering of 75 scientists, policymakers and land managers at the Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia.

One approach that can work for both conservationists and on-the-ground land managers is to frame such protection as enhancing nature’s capacity for self-renewal, Blossey said. A concept championed by conservation giant Aldo Leopold in the 1940s, it lets managers out of rigidly defining a target composition of species in a given ecosystem and allows them to focus on allowing natural processes to play out by protecting habitats.

One policymaker eloquently put it in more Shakespearian terms — the players may come and go, but the stage remains.

Another approach embraced by many ecologists and policymakers is to plan for multiple future scenarios, rather than just one. Avoiding specific predictions on how a refuge or species will cope with change helps wildlife managers adjust as conditions evolve, and can protect their credibility with the public, as well.

“We also need to prepare for inevitable surprises,” said Stephen Jackson, a paleoecologist from the University of Wyoming. Pointing to the recent mountain pine beetle outbreak that has killed vast forests across the West, Jackson said such catastrophic events can be expected to take place over time, and anticipating them can help managers respond.

Several attendees noted that even with the huge influence that humans have on the environment, including being the cause of rapid species extinction, there is reason for hope because nature has proved itself incredibly resilient over millions of years.

However, species are facing an unprecedentedly fast rate of climate change that could outpace their ability to adapt, which opens a door for more active intervention, some noted.

Ben Minteer, a specialist in environmental ethics and policy at Arizona State University, suggested that a shift is taking place in the conservation paradigm from a traditional focus on preserving species in their native habitats to a more aggressive, interventionist approach.

Assisted migration is a prime example, he said. Some conservationists advocate introducing species in locations where they have not historically existed as a means of boosting their chances for survival as climate conditions change. But while several presenters said this has been done for decades, others in the audience reacted viscerally to the potential for unintended consequences from such tinkering.

Many conservationists also appear to moving beyond the traditional strategy of protecting certain areas while keeping people away from wild places, presenters said. Instead, there is new interest in expanding conservation beyond the borders of national parks and refuges to also address large private lands, farms and even backyards.

As Cornell’s Blossey pointed out, “We can’t squeeze the Earth’s biota into 10 to 20 percent of the Earth’s land surface.”

Time to stop fighting?

One of the biggest challenges to achieving this broader conservation vision is public participation. Blossey said many people have relegated conservation responsibilities to federal land managers and nonprofit groups. Conservationists need to figure out how to engage the public so every individual takes ownership of his or her land ethic, he said.

While major global initiatives and federal agencies have focused on benefits provided by nature such as clean water, pollination and carbon storage, Blossey said he isn’t sure that ecosystem services are the way to get people, especially children, interested in protecting the environment.

“I don’t know; do you get excited about protecting nature because of carbon sequestration?” he said. “I don’t.”

Another major challenge will be prioritizing the use of limited resources.

“We can’t conserve it all; we can’t save all the species,” acknowledged Gabriela Chavarria, science adviser to FWS Director Dan Ashe.

For Patricia Heglund, biological resources manager for the National Wildlife Refuge System’s Midwest Region, there are many questions that will need to be answered as policymakers craft climate adaptation strategies.

“The biggest thing for me is, when do we recognize there is a regime shift and stop fighting invasive species and acknowledge a new system has started?” Heglund said.

Introduction to DNR’s Post-Doc Researchers

This year the Department of Natural Resources is fortunate to have several post-doc researchers working with them. Below are short biographies of their diverse backgrounds and current research interests.

Selmin Creamer:

Selmin is a postdoctoral research associate at the Human Dimensions Research Unit and currently working on a project investigating the recreational impacts of the aquatic nuisance species (ANS) in the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi River Basins with Bruce Lauber. Two primary objectives of the project are to provide defensible economic benefit estimates associated with current recreational angling in the study area and to collect contingent behavior information from existing anglers in the study area about how their fishing activities would change in response to variations in the species composition that could result from ANS. The results are intended to generate estimates of the effects on recreational angling activity and benefits associated with management decisions regarding the spread of ANS between the Great Lakes and the Upper Mississippi River Basin through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and other aquatic pathways.

Before coming to the Department of Natural Resources, Selmin completed her PhD and MA at Washington State University. Her PhD thesis focused on forest economics. For her first paper, she conducted an econometric study using the data from U.S. Forest Service’s National Woodland Owners Survey and examined the family forest owners’ forest certification program participation behavior in the Pacific Coast and Southern regions of the United States.

For her second paper, she investigated a forest owner’s decision on when to harvest her/his forest and how much it is currently worth, using the real options framework for a representative Douglas-fir stand in the Pacific Northwest, when the carbon price was stochastic and there was a risk of fire. For her MA thesis, she conducted an econometric study for estimating and forecasting the passenger and heavy truck annual vehicle miles of travel (AVMT) on each highway functional class for Washington State.

Andrea Dávalos:

Andrea was born and raised in Ecuador, where she did my B.Sc. in Biology. After spending many years in the rainforest, working on sustainable timber management and associated conservation challenges, she decided to return to school.  Andrea came to Cornell to pursue a M.Sc. an later a Ph.D in Natural Resources, where she addressed issues in biological invasions and biological control applying a quantitative and experimental approach.  After completion, she returned to Ecuador where, together with local governments and NGOs, they developed management plans for protected areas. During that time, she also taught extensively at a local University and later became the Director of the Department of Biological Sciences. She then realized she would like spend more time doing research and therefore, decided to return to Cornell as a post-doc in Prof. Bernd Blossey’s lab. Currently, she is working on understanding the interactive effects of multiple stressors (deer overabundance, earthworm invasion and invasive plants) on populations of endangered plants, as well as examining how these factors can be manipulated to achieve successful management. Her research interests are centered on community dynamics, especially in the context of plant-herbivore interactions and the spatial and temporal scales at which they occur. Her work is motivated by a strong interest in conservation and in the development of tools to restore natural ecosystems.

Nadine Heck:

Nadine is currently a postdoctoral research associate at the Department of Natural Resources working on the human dimensions of fishery management in the Great Lakes with Rich Stedman. The main aim of the project will be to rewrite a framework on human dimensions’ research needs for the Great Lakes fisheries based on input from fishery managers and other stakeholder groups.

Before coming to Cornell she did a PhD in geography at the University of Leeds (UK) in collaboration with the University of Victoria (CA). Her thesis focused on the identification and selection of indicators for evaluating temperate marine protected areas (MPAs) in British Columbia, Canada. The thesis also examined distinct evaluation information needs of diverse stakeholder groups and protected area managers as well as their opinions on the design of an evaluation and monitoring constraints. In addition, she investigated how far stakeholders would like to participate in MPA evaluation activities and which factors are influencing stakeholders’ opinions on MPA performance and participation. Since marine jurisdictions in Canada are very complex and often overlapping, a significant part of her research focused on governance aspects for marine conservation efforts.

Dan Ilut:

Dan did his undergrad work at Cornell (class of ’97) in physics and philosophy, followed by several years as a software developer, and eventually doctoral work in plant biology (once again at Cornell) with prof. Jeff Doyle.  He is currently a postoc working with Matt Hare (DNR) and Kelly Zamudio (EEB) under a grant from the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future ( Dan’s main research interest is genome archaeology: identifying older evolutionary events whose fingerprints are still present in a species’ genome, along with the relationship these events might have to current ecological niches occupied by those species.  Previous work included a comparative transcriptomics project among wild relatives of soybean in order to try and understand the “polyploid advantage” (Ilut et al. 2012; as well as an angiosperm-wide comparative study of key genes and taxa involved in the evolution of floral organs (Floral Genome Project;  His work in the Hare lab involves the development of bioinformatics methods for high confidence SNP detection using genotype-by-sequencing (GBS) in highly heterozygous non-model organisms such as sea squirts and oysters. In addition, he is working with Kelly Zamudio on research involving the global pandemic strain of the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a pathogen that is currently eradicating frog populations worldwide.

Sarwat Ismail:

Sarwat is a Plant Ecologist, who received her Ph.D.  from University of Karachi, Karachi, Pakistan. During her Ph.D. she studied Heavy Metals pollution in different Mangrove Habitats of Pakistan.  In her Post-Doctoral research from Cornell University, she worked on identification and localization of copper transporters  in plants. Currently, at Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, with Dr. Shorna B. Allred  she is studying conservation of degraded  mangrove forest of Pakistan through community forestry for sustainable management of natural resources and to analyze the socio-political dimensions of mangrove forest conservation. The purpose of this project is to bring the local community in a common vision for the area development that leads towards linkage between poverty and environmental degradation. At the same time the values of the Mangrove Ecosystem should be communicated at both the local and national level to encourage support for mangrove management and conservation.

Blossey keynote speaker at the Northeast Invasive Plant Species Forum

Dr. Bernd Blossey of the Department of Natural Resources will be the keynote speaker at the NE Invasive Plant Species Forum.  The Forum is scheduled for March 21-22, 2012 at the USDA ARS Beltsville Campus in Maryland.  The purpose of the Forum is to bring together researchers and Extension educators from multiple disciplines and Land Grant functions in a think tank approach to define opportunities for regionally coordinated research and extension programming in support of invasive species management in the Northeast.  The concept of the Forum evolved from discussions at a NERA meeting two years ago where the need to have broader representation from our institutions on a multistate proposal in the area of invasive species was suggested.

Read more about this event here.

Emerging Issues Conference

Next month, the Ecological Society of America will host its second Emerging Issues conference, “Developing Ecologically-Based Conservation Targets Under Global Change.” The conference, conceptualized by Bernd Blossey and Laura Martin of DNR and Dov Sax of Brown University, will bring together one hundred ecologists, social scientists, conservation practitioners, and graduate students to (1) identify existing and novel conservation targets that are ecologically sound in light of rapid global change, and (2) develop a framework for assessing the inherent trade-offs, risks, and benefits involved in achieving those conservation targets. The ultimate objective is to provide science-based, practical decision tools for those charged with implementing conservation strategies throughout North America and internationally.

The conference will be held on February 27-March 1, 2012, at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, WV. The conference organizing committee also includes Cornellians Susan Cook-Patton (EEB), Ashley Dayer (DNR), Harry Greene (EEB), and Karim-Aly Kassam (DNR).

In 2007, the ESA Governing Board announced a new conference series to provide ESA members the opportunity to organize special conferences highlighting emerging, exciting ideas in ecology with the endorsement and support of the Society. The series, originally named the Millennium Conference Series and renamed the Emerging Issues Series, is intended to address high-visibility issues of wide interest in the science community. Organizers are encouraged to work across disciplinary boundaries, to engage compelling speakers, and to produce high-quality publications.