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

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.

Yellowstone wolves, elk, willows… and beaver

By Kristin Marshall

Everyone loves a good story. But all good writers know that a really great story is a balancing act between creating a trajectory that your audience can connect with, and including all the relevant facts and details. Stray too far in one direction and the story becomes overly stylized and not believable, too far in the other leaves you with a pile of facts and no story at all. The same can be said for doing science.  We want to boil down all of our observations to a simple theory that explains what we observe, but we also want to balance that simple theory with the complexity we know exists in the natural world.

This post is about finding the sweet spot in telling an important conservation success story: the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park.
Continue reading

Early Career Ecologist Profile: Meet Lindsay Reynolds

Hiking out of Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. A small orchard and riparian forest visible in the background.

I’ve always enjoyed being outside, and despite growing up in the big city, I knew I wanted a job someday that involved working outside. In high school, the most “outdoorsy” job I could find was working at a plant nursery, watering acres of petunias and giving advice on what customers should plant in their gardens. Little did I know that 15+ years later I’d be launching a career studying plants! Continue reading

Dam good science? Searching for the human dimension in ecology

Chinle Wash, AZ

Chinle Wash, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, AZ. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Reynolds, 2005

By Lindsay Reynolds, PhD

The first seminar I took in grad school was taught by a senior ecologist and the topic of the seminar was very broad, something like “issues in ecology.” During one of our (no doubt) invigorating discussions, the professor commented that when he started out as an ecologist (thirty plus years ago), if you had any kind of human dimension to your research or studied human impacts on natural systems you were considered a hack. These days, you’re considered a hack if you don’t incorporate the human dimension, on some level, in your research.

Whether your study systems are influenced by recent changes in atmospheric carbon or annual cattle grazing, incorporating the human factor can be very challenging! And yet, it is absolutely essential in order for our ecology to be relevant. Continue reading