Science in Action: The Colorado River Basin Study

Sunrise on the Colorado River at Lee's Ferry, Arizona.

Sunrise on the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona. Photo: L. Reynolds

By Lindsay Reynolds

The Colorado River supplies water to people and ecosystems in 9 western states in the US and Mexico, including almost 5.5 million acres of irrigated lands and nearly 40 million people1. The Colorado, with headwaters in the snowy Rocky Mountains and a path through some of the most arid regions in North America, is one of the most intensively managed river systems in the world. For many years now, research scientists have been warning of impending water shortages in the basin2,3. Last week, the non-profit conservation group American Rivers named the Colorado the most endangered river in the nation. Population growth in combination with limited water and the potential effects of a changing climate are leading down a road to a very dry future. Continue reading

How to apply a concept from ant ecology to other disciplines…. or a post about organismal fidelity

The ant: study species of choice. Photo Credit: Alex Wild

The ant: study species of choice. Photo Credit: Alex Wild

By Jane Zelikova

I love it when things come together. This is exactly what happened to me just the other day. To start at the beginning, I took an Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) graduate tropical biology course in 2003. It was a great course, I learned a lot, and I made some great friends. While a lot of my memories from the course are a bit murky (many many late nights working on projects, writing papers, and drinking cervesas has put a fog on the course), looking through the course book has brought some things back into focus. Turns out, my personal claim to fame was extreme organismal fidelity. You know those people who always ask a question related to their study organism, even if the subject being discussed is completely unrelated? For example, the seminar might be about jaw bone development in fish and the person I’m talking about asks about plant secondary chemicals …. and receives a blank stare from the speaker. Ok, apparently, the person asking those annoying and distracting questions was me, and my inquiries always (and I mean always!) came back to ants. At the end of the course, we gave each student an award and I got “The Taxonomic Fidelity Award” for my ability to guide any scientific discussion toward ant seed dispersal. That being said, it is not a huge surprise that my ability to turn things back to the ants has stayed with me, despite my scientific departure from the world of ants. Continue reading

ScienceNOW Coverage of Ecosystem Dynamics in Yellowstone NP

Dr. Kristin Marshall measuring willow stems in Yellowstone National Park.

Dr. Kristin Marshall measuring willow stems in Yellowstone National Park.

Our very own Dr. Kristin Marshall is getting quite a bit of press these days. This past week, she published an article in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences on the dynamics of riparian ecosystems following wolf re-introduction in Yellowstone National Park. This 10-year study concludes that the story of species interactions within the Park is not as simple as we once thought. Turns out, the beaver plays a crucial role in both willow growth and ecosystem functioning! Check out the ScienceNOW coverage of the story, and read Kristin’s own communication of her research right here.

Trees on the Move? Debating Assisted Migration in Climate Change Mitigation

Tree Crossing. Borrowed from Clint Peters.

Tree Crossing. Borrowed from Clint Peters.

By Sarah Bisbing

Trees on the move?! I know you’re thinking, “Come on, Sarah. Trees can’t move.” And, generally, you would be correct in that statement. Tree species are now, however, in a position where movement may be necessary for survival under changing climatic conditions. How trees will move is under debate within the ecological community, but why trees will move is accepted as a survival strategy related to the adaptation of species. Continue reading

In our own backyard

By Kelly S. Ramirez

Hello Readers, Happy New Year and welcome back to Early Career Ecologists! We are excited to get back into our normal posting schedule. Here’s to a productive and stimulating 2013.

Over my holiday break I read The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. (I finally got around to reading it after hearing this NPR interview). Briefly, The Dog Stars is a novel about a man, Hig, living in post apocalyptic Colorado, nine years after a plague has wiped out most of the human population; he is left with his dog, the stars and a neighbor with a massive weapons arsenal.

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What I found so great about the novel, first, was Heller’s use of poetry and disjointed prose to highlight Hig’s loss – of his family, his surrounding environment, really the entire world. Amidst the sorrow though, Heller maintains a sense of hopefulness and lightheartedness that makes this a beautifully written and enjoyable novel.

But I am not here to write a book review- check out here and here if you stumbled upon this page for that reason. Though if you are wondering, I would say the catastrophic feel of this book falls somewhere between The Road, by Cormac McCarthy* and WALL×E, the lighthearted animated Disney film about a futuristic robot. This post is instead focused on the role of literature and film in public understanding of climate change. Continue reading

An Early Career Ecologist in The NY Times = Science Communication at its Best

A toy wagon transports scientific equipment to Toolik Field Station on the North Slope of Alaska (parked here beneath the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline). Photo Credit: Mike SanClements, 2012.

Field work is often the basis of ecological research. It allows researchers to directly assess the natural world and its many complexities. It also gives us access to many things we rarely encounter in our daily lives . . . Adventure? Definitely. Awesome landscapes? Duh. The Arctic? Yep. Wait, what? No, way. Who works in the Arctic? Now, that’s worth writing home about!

And, that is precisely what one of our very own ecologists, Dr. Mike SanClements, did following his most recent trip to the Toolik Field Station in Alaska’s Arctic Tundra. Check out his field notes on his adventures in climate change research via The New York Times’ Dot Earth blog: Creating a Vital Long View for Gauging Environmental Change. The best science (and scientist) is pounding the pavement and communicating with the masses. Go, Mike!