November 19, 2019—Launch of the Research Working Group @ the Coalition for Private Investment in Conservation

Suresh joined a newly launched Research Working Group at the Coalition for Private Investment in Conservation.  The group is made up of experts in conservation science and finance, with participants spanning academic institutions, finance practitioners, and conservation organizations.  The working group had its inaugural meeting held at Cornell last week.  Moving forward, the Research Working Group seeks to identify key knowledge needs to address obstacles to greater private investment in ecosystem conservation.

November 12, 2019—Walruses are spread across a vast expanse of sea but maintain one genetic population

Pacific Walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) range throughout the Bering and Chukchi Sea, migrating thousands of kms annually. The animals rely heavily on the advancing and retreating sea ice as a resting and foraging platform. As the extent and timing of sea ice continues to change under global climate warming, Walruses are faced with greater geographic isolation and a shift to more shore-oriented life history. Thus, impacts of sea ice loss are a key concern for the long term status of this species. With such a large geographic range, it is possible genetically distinct subpopulations have developed over time, presenting questions about whether some subpopulations, and thus genetic diversity, may be at greater risk of impacts from sea ice loss. In a project led by Dr. Bill Beatty and the Conservation Genetics Lab at the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska, we recently completed analysis investigating whether Pacific Walruses exhibit genetic population structure. Using samples collected during a massive seascape-scale collaborative sampling effort from 2013-2017, we genotyped over 8000 walruses and found no evidence supporting genetic structure across the species. This indicates that this gregarious social animal has maintained a panmictic population across its vast geographic range; however, as sea ice dynamics continue to change, Walrus migration behavior will shift shoreward, potentially altering the social structure and thus the evolutionary forces maintaining panmixia in this arctic sea mammal.

September 25, 2019—North Pacific Research Board Science Panel

Suresh was recently appointed to the North Pacific Research Board Science Panel.  The NPRB supports research for ecosystem management in the Arctic, Bering Sea, and Gulf of Alaska waters around Alaska.  The organization has played a key role in supporting science, outreach, and education in the region since 1997.  Science Panel members provide strategic and technical assistance to the NPRB and serve four year terms.

September 20, 2019—Is hydropower a green energy option? Location, location, location.

Over 351 large hydropower dams have been proposed for development in the Amazon, a global freshwater biodiversity hotspot. Dams impact aquatic ecosystems by blocking the flow of rivers, altering physical, biogeochimcal, and ecological processes, and thus sustainable hydropower development will require consideration of a suite of important benefits and disadvantages. While hydropower can be a source of low-emissions energy, this is not always the case.  We recently published an analysis led by Atkinson Center Postdoctoral Fellow Rafael Almeida and Cornell professors Alex Flecker and Carla Gomes that found hydropower dams vary widely in their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Dams with large reservoirs release significant amounts of methane, and these projects tend to be at low elevations where rivers have lower gradients and require water storage to produce energy.  Using cutting edge computational approaches applied to river networks, we find that optimal dam planning for proposed energy expansion in the Amazon that identifies low-emissions dam portfolios can dramatically improve aggregate hydropower emissions performance and meet UN 2030 Agenda green energy goals.  In contrast, ad hoc planning can lead to significant carbon emissions, where some dams would produce GHG emission at rates equivalent to gas and coal-fired plants.  Thus, the fate of hydropower as a low-GHG energy portfolio to satisfy S. American electricity needs rests critically on strategic planning at basin-wide scales. The  paper is available at Nature Communications.

Aug 20, 2019—Alternative income generating activities to fishing in tropical communities

Widespread overharvest and overcapacity have led to rapidly declining fishery catches and marine ecosystem degradation in many tropical communities.  To allow stocks to recover and transition towards sustainable fishing, reducing fishing effort remains a grand challenge in ocean sustainability.  The development of Alternative Income Generating Activities represents an important strategy for reducing the economic reliance of coastal communities on fishing, and potentially reducing pressure on wild stocks.  Marine ecotourism derives non-extractive benefits from the same natural capital supporting fisheries, and thus has potential as a complementary or alternative income generating activity to fishing.  In collaboration with Environmental Defense Fund and the Atkinson Center, we recently assessed the conditions under which marine ecotourism can enable alternative income generating activities to fishing in Moalboal, Philippines, a coastal tropical community in the Coral Triangle. Importantly, while marine ecotourism typically centers around large animals like sharks and rays, a combination of nearshore coral reefs and a dense school of herrings provide a large tourism draw in this community. We estimate that marine ecotourism generates an estimated 20.7 million USD in revenues annually to the Moalboal community annually, supporting employment opportunities for ~1,000 community members, including fishers.  In contrast, we estimate the extractive value of the herring shoal would be 100 times smaller (0.033 – 0.115 million USD) than the flow of benefits supported through marine ecotourism related to these fish. From the Moalboal experience, we find a key set of enabling conditions support marine ecotourism as a potential livelihood diversification or alternative to extractive fishing.  Stay tuned for a full report on this effort, and big thanks to the community of Moalboal for working with us!

May 27, 2019—Estimating survival of fish at large in the sea with pop-up tags
Fish survival is a fundamental demographic process that can inform fisheries ecology and management—but the ocean is a big place and observing fish survival for marine species is difficult.  Previous efforts often relied on marking fish with tags, releasing them, and then re-capturing marked individuals; a costly and labor-intensive approach with high risk of failure if insufficient recaptures are achieved.  Recent advances in applications of archival tags (see this work by collaborator Dr. Julie Nielsen) provide a new approach to this problem, providing ability to track the fate of individual fish through continuous data recording.  In a recently completed study in collaboration with FishNext research (Dr. Craig Rose), U of AK, Alaska Pacific University, the Halibut Commission, and Bering Sea fishing operators, we fitted Pacific halibut with archival satellite tags with onboard accelerometers.  Tags recorded summaries of fish movements (accelerations) and transmitted data via satellite after a 60-day programmed release.  By examining time series of fish movement, we could monitor survival—basically, flatlines indicate mortality events.  Our results published in CJFAS provide first ever direct assessment of survival for halibut at large in the ocean and are providing information to inform discard management for Bering Sea fisheries.  This novel use of tag acceleration data has promise to advance survival modeling for marine species regardless of the spatial extent of their movement range.

April 1, 2019— Seascape scale benthic habitat disturbance modeling

Twenty percent of global wild capture seafood production—32 million metric tons per year—is harvested using bottom-tendered fishing gear such as trawl and dredge with potential to impact seafloor ecosystems. Presently, spatial closures (marine reserves) which prohibit fishing are the dominant policy tool used to manage seafloor impact; however, fishing gear modifications to reduce bottom contact may provide a biologically and economically sustainable alternative. In collaboration with fishery managers and fishing stakeholders, we have been implementing a suite of efforts to develop seafloor impact modeling tools and utilize these advances to assess relative tradeoffs in implementing spatial closures versus fishing gear modifications to reduce seafloor contact.  PhD student Scott Smeltz recently published the ‘Fishing Effects’ modelling framework in CJFAS. This spatially explicit model captures the impact and recovery dynamics of commercial fishing impacts on benthic ecosystems, and is already being utilized by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to evaluate long-term impacts to the seafloor from fishing.  Next up we are working on implementing the framework for other U.S. fishery management councils, and are looking towards global fishery impact analyses.  Stay tuned!

January 17, 2019—Taking advantage of industrial monitoring to inform the ecology of threatened Beluga whales

Cook Inlet in Alaska is home to a unique population of Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas).  Beluga populations in the inlet continue to decline, prompting their listing as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.  Presently, oil and gas exploration, shipping, and commercial fishing, all occur in Cook Inlet, and there is concern about the overlap between anthropogenic activities and Beluga whales.  As migrating diving whales, Belugas are difficult to observe.  In a recently complete project, we worked with energy production firms to make use of required industrial monitoring aerial surveys to assess the spatial ecology of Belugas in Cook Inlet.  While industrial monitoring data is not perfect, for example lacking corrections for whale detection, these surveys occur at high temporal and spatial frequency.  In fact, over a 2 year study period, we benefited from 109 aerial survey days carried out by a single energy firm.  With high frequency coverage, industrial monitoring data showed clear seasonal distributions of whales following a sequential portfolio of target prey fields.  This suggests potential for separating anthropogenic activities over both space and time to minimize overlap with whale activities.  Moving forward, partnering with industrial monitoring programs which are mandated by federal regulations may provide a useful auxillary data stream to augment scientific surveys in assessing marine mammal ecology.  A paper on the project is available in Wildlife Society Bulletin, and also highlighted in a science news piece from The Wildlife Society here.

October 17, 2018—Conservation aquaculture: restoring native fish diversity in New York
Lakes across North America are experiencing a suite of landscape stressors including climate change, invasive species introductions, and changes in nutrient inputs.  In the Finger Lakes region of NY, we are exploring opportunities to restore native fish diversity as a means to improve lake resilience to these stressors.  In one example, we are part of a large effort to re-introduce extirpated Cisco, Coregonus artedi, in the Finger Lakes region.  Working with the NY Department of Environmental Conservation and the USGS Tunison Aquatic Labs,  we released some 75000 juvenile Cisco to Keuka Lake today [see video below–fish immediately sound upon release].  This is the first of a series of annual releases planned to re-establish this native forage fish in the area.  To understand how the fish survive in their new environment, we are utilizing new acoustic tag technology which is now miniaturized sufficiently to allow for tag deployments in small fish.  Over the next six months, we’ll monitor the movement and survival of Cisco, providing key information needed to guide conservation aquaculture practices for Coregonine restoration in the great Finger Lakes and Great Lakes region.


August 30, 2018— Supporting tropical fisheries management with tech
Fish play a central role in the culture and food supply of the ocean nation of the Philippines, yet these fisheries involve many thousands of harvesters spread out over an archipelago of 7,000 islands.  Fisheries management in this context is difficult and data limited, but new technologies and a commitment to science-based regulations can improve the long term sustainability of these incredible ocean resources.  In a collaboration between Cornell, the Environmental Defense Fund, and SUNY-Stony Brook funded by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, we are investigating passive and active acoustics tools to support Philippines fisheries management.  Working with our colleagues at the Bureau of Fish and Aquatic Resources, this summer we conducted pilot sampling to assess stocks of small pelagic fish in the Visayan Sea.  Active acoustic sampling led by Dr. Joe Warren (Stony Brook) has demonstrated positive initial results where we were able to assess dense sardine shoals in a marine reserve in Moalboal.  In another fishing site at Estancia Bay, we found Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) were dense enough to change the distribution of small pelagics into a point-based grid.  In the coming months, we will be exploring the feasibility of passive acoustic sound recordings to augment fisheries assessments.  Ultimately, we hope to cooperate with BFAR to design and implement an acoustics-based assessment program to support sustainable fisheries management in the Philippines.

July 24, 2018— Can we count individuals with eDNA?
While genetic material derives from individuals, mixtures of DNA from multiple contributors abound in the environment.  We have been leading work to extend a statistical model from criminal forensics that can be used to estimate the number of individuals within a DNA mixture sample.  See our recent paper in Methods in Ecology and Evolution here.  If reliable genotypes for DNA mixtures can be obtained, our work indicates the estimates of the number of contributing individuals can be achieved across a range of scenarios, potentially providing new opportunities to use genetics to inform ecology.  In one pilot study, we used our DNA mixture model to estimate the number of yellow perch prey in largemouth bass stomachs and compared this to traditional visual-assessment based counting of prey items. DNA mixture analysis, which doesn’t require visual identification of diet items, estimated perch predation rates that were 5-fold higher than the traditional visual diet assessment method which can miss-identify partially digested items.  Presently, we are exploring the feasibility of counting individuals from eDNA samples which can contain genetic material from multiple specimens.  This would expand the tools available for eDNA work, moving beyond presence/absence analysis to inform count-based ecological inference.

May 30, 2018— Separating capture versus tagging related impacts on salmon by observing the unobservable
A key goal of fish tagging is to provide information on the ecology of fish at large.  For salmon, radio tags have proved useful for understanding migration and spawning behavior.  But tagging studies require a strong assumption that tagged fish behave as unhandled fish.  We recently completed a project to examine whether esophageally implanted radio tags impacted salmon migration behavior.  Importantly, we used a novel statistical model to fit arrival curves to salmon run information (Sethi and Bradley 2016) to estimate migration behavior for fish never captured and handled for tagging.  By fitting run curves to indices of fish arrival, we can compare reference dates at two sites along a migration route to get an estimate of travel times for fish never directly handled.  This provides valuable information to separate capture versus tag-related impacts to salmon freshwater migrations.  In fact we found evidence that radio tags had negligible impact on chum salmon migration performance once deployed, but that gillnet-based capture itself may be implicated with migration delays. Results are being published in Fisheries Management and Ecology.

May 1, 2018— Coping with extreme climate: ecosystem service modeling for conservation planning in African freshwater systems
Teaming up with the Nature Conservancy’s Africa program, we were fortunate to join a collaboration under the NatureNet Fellows program to support postdoctoral research on climate adaptation strategies for freshwater ecosystem service management in the African Great Lakes.  As a postdoctoral NatureNet Fellow at Cornell, Diana Rypkema is leading a project to explore ecosystem service risk management strategies in the face of press and pulse climate stress.  Combining fisheries and aquaculture planning with climate projection data, the project will explore opportunities to proactively buffer against climate shocks in maintaining freshwater ecosystem service portfolios.  Diana will be collaborating with our group and Dr. Pat Sullivan at Cornell, and will work closely with Dr. Tracy Baker at the Nature Conservancy to conduct this exciting work.  Congratulations Diana!

December 1, 2017—Characterizing the realized niche of invasive round goby in inland lakes
As art of a graduate seminar led by Suresh, Jesse Lepak, and Aaron Rice (NTRES 6940 Advanced fisheries research methods), we’re analyzing a benthic videography survey from deep Cayuga Lake to characterize the distribution of invasive round goby (Neogobius melanostomus). Round goby came to the Great Lakes basin from the Caspian Black Seas as stowaways in cargo ship ballast water.  Since their detection in the Great Lakes in the early 1990s, they’ve been rapidly expanding inland in North America.  Round goby can quickly reach high abundances—70+ fish/m2 in Cayuga Lake (Finger Lakes, NY) less than a decade after their introduction.  There are a number of open questions about how large of a trophic impact this introduced fish may have on invaded inland lakes.  To address that, we are investigating the habitat use of round goby in the Finger Lakes region of NY on the southern edge of the invasion front.  Our preliminary analysis indicates that while goby can reach high densities, it appears they have a very narrow realized niche during the summer/fall part of the year in deep lakes (Figure below).  Round goby in Cayuga Lake were found in a small temperature and depth band.  This indicates that goby habitat utilization in deeper lakes may be restricted to the nearshore littoral zone, whereas they may have much wider distribution and potential for impact in shallow inland lakes.  We’re continuing to analyze data and will also be conducting a winter survey early next year.  Great job NTRES 6940 students!

Sept 28, 2017—High value of ecological information for river restoration
After a couple centuries of chopping up freshwater watersheds with dams and culverts, fish passage connectivity restoration has become a top priority in river ecosystem management.  But dam and culvert mitigation is expensive.  This has led to some recent advances in optimal fish passage restoration.  Working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska and computer scientist Dr. Jesse O’Hanley, we recently completed a 5 year project integrating Pacific salmon ecology directly into optimal fish passage restoration decisions.  Our work demonstrated high value of ecological information for river restoration in terms of gains in planning efficiency.  For our study watershed in Alaska, the ecologically informed restoration planning approach could achieve the same amount of restoration benefit as planning solutions based solely on the physical stream network but with 16-28% less cost.  Investing in ecological studies may achieve win–win outcomes of improved understanding of aquatic ecology and greater watershed restoration efficiency.  Additional details on the approach can be found in our recent Landscape Ecology article.

June 26, 2017—Rapid response to invasive plants in the Arctic
The remoteness of arctic ecosystems no longer protects against invasive species introductions. Rather, the mix of urban hubs surrounded by undeveloped expanses creates a ratchet process where human activity can introduce and spread invaders, but for which the costs of monitoring and managing remote ecosystems is prohibitive. We recently published a paper in Biological Conservation examining the use of herbicides as a rapid response tool to nip invasive water plants in the bud.  In a large multi-lake experiment involving collaborators from Cornell University, Alaska Pacific University, Kenai Watershed Forum, Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Kenai Peninsula Borough, USFWS and USGS, we conducted a study to monitor for potential collateral ecological impacts associated with the use of herbicides to remove Elodea from lakes in high latitude regions.  Elodea is the first circumpolar invasive aquatic plant and it appears to be spreading quickly.  We found that herbicides (fluridone) were effective at eradicating the invader and had negligible impacts on plankton and native macrophyte communities.  While avoiding introductions through prevention may be the most desirable outcome, these applications indicated low risks of non-target impacts associated with herbicide treatment as a rapid response option for Elodea in arctic systems.
Elodea in Chena Lake, AK. Photo from USFWS.

March 30, 2017—Andean Amazon dams
Over 250 large hydropower dams have been proposed for construction in the Andean Amazon region.  Hydropower dams can produce energy benefits, however, they also impact ecosystem services.  Suresh joined a large collaboration group at Cornell University led by Drs. Alex Flecker and Carla Gomes to investigate best practices for siting hydropower dams in this biodiverse region of the Amazon basin while minimizing impacts to ecosystem services.  The project includes collaborators from ecology, computer science, economics, hydrology, and geology, among other disciplines, and includes investigators from the U.S. and South America.  We seek to develop a computational sustainability framework to investigate tradeoffs between hydropower and cumulative impacts to ecosystem services as dam proliferation expands in the Amazon.  Thanks to the Atkinson Center for funding for the project! For more information on the work, check out the project website.

January 12, 2017–What’s at the bottom of Cayuga Lake in Ithaca? Lots of invasives!
Graduate student Matt Paufve took this benthic videography on Cayuga Lake this past summer (2016).  This site is 15m deep.  The frame is covered in Dreissenid mussels and Round Goby–both invasive species.  The view area scales up to ~70 fish/m2!


Dec 27, 2016–Expert opinion measures up against fancy regression
With the continued development of approachable statistics texts and programming environments, there are available a massive range of quantitative tools with which to ply ecological data.  But is the complication always necessary?  In a recent paper, we used satellite telemetric collars to infer parturition timing for wolves in Alaska–by using timing of collar communication attempt failures, we could infer when females went into dens to give birth.  Interestingly, we compared subject expert interpretation of collar fix attempt time series against a Bayesian implementation of a Generalized Additive Modeling approach and found the human-interpretation of the data to be more accurate and precise than the statistical modeling framework (as implemented by the authors, that is).

October 1, 2016–Accurate batch-aging of juvenile salmon.
Check out a new paper from the group in Fisheries Research on accurate aging of juvenile salmonids using routinely collected fork length data.

Septeber 5, 2016–Alaska has it’s first aquatic invasive plant.  What can we do about it?
Elodea spp. are the first aquatic plant invader to Alaska.  In a paper in Hydrobiologia, we reviewed the ecology of Elodea spp. in high-latitude systems and identify pressing research and management needs for aquatic plant in subarctic and arctic systems.  We found that the remoteness of Arctic and Subarctic systems such as Alaska is no longer a protective attribute against invasions; transportation pathways now reach throughout these regions. and the high costs of operating in remote Arctic and Subarctic systems hinders detection of infestations and limits eradication or mitigation.  Thus prevention and rapid eradication or containment of invaders is critical in (sub)arctic systems.  

July 15, 2016–Top knowledge needs to inform best practices for trawl fisheries
We were fortunate to be part of a large collaborative academic-manager-industry participant group to identify top knowledge needs to inform best practices for trawl-based commercial fisheries.  These fisheries produce some 20% of global wild capture harvest.  The project was lead and organized by Dr. Michel Kaiser, Dr. Simon Jennings, and Dr. Ray Hilborn–check out the Fish and Fisheries paper here.

July 7, 2016–Working with computer scientists in ecological domains.
Suresh gave a pair of presentations on seascape-scale habitat modeling and optimal fish passage restoration decisions in stream networks at the 2016 Computation Sustainability conference hosted at Cornell University.  What’s computation sustainability? It’s cross-disciplinary application of computer science techniques to address socioecological management problems.  We’re excited about the Computation Sustainability Network and continued collaborations with computer science researchers who bring incredibly deep quantitative skills to natural resource problems.

July 1, 2016–Academic Venture funding to assess commercial fishing gear modification to reduce fishing impacts.
We received an Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future Academic Venture grant to conduct novel habitat modeling to assess tradeoffs between marine reserves and the potential for commercial fisheries gear modification to reduce impacts to the benthos.  This grant will fund part of T. Scott Smeltz’s  Ph.D. dissertation work and is a collaborative effort between Cornell, Alaska Pacific University, and Bering Sea fishing collaborators. Thanks for this opportunity Atkinson Center!


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