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Ecological Society of America

Research highlights to be presented at the Ecological Society of America annual meeting.

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California water conservation watertables Biologists supported by NSF conduct research in many related areas: from development of national observing systems to understand regional- and continental-scale ecological changes; to climate change and its effects on biodiversity; to the ecology of infectious diseases; to the spread of invasive species. Some of the research highlights presented at the conference included:

National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)

Infrastructure to advance ecological theory and the interconnectedness of life The overall goal of NEON--a regional- to continental-scale network of instruments--is to provide information about the interactions among the biosphere, geosphere and atmosphere.

In addition to developing a better understanding of ecological theory, NEON scientists will pursue such questions as: how will ecosystems and their components respond to changes across a range of space and time scales? What is the pace and pattern of those responses? How do biogeochemistry, biodiversity, hydroecology and biotic structure and function interact with these changes?

Climate change: Animal and plant population responses

How populations of plants and animals will respond to global warming is a major concern as Earth heats up. New research results on phenology--the study of the influence of climate on annual events like budding of lilac trees and timing of ice-out in lakes--will be presented in a session on climate change and population responses.

Ice freeze and break-up dates in lakes across the Northern Hemisphere, for example, show consistent and widespread changes. Over a 150-year period, 1855-2005, freeze dates in lakes in winter have become 8.4 days/century later, and break-up dates in spring 8.5 days/century earlier, according to Barbara Benson, Olaf Jensen and John Magnuson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Rates of change have been greatest in the last 30 years. The scientists have studied these long-term trends at NSF's North Temperate Lakes Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site in Wisconsin, one of 26 such NSF LTER sites, and across the Northern Hemisphere.

Sudden oak death, Lyme disease and other diseases on the march

Phytopthora ramorum, is its name. Better known as the pathogen that causes sudden oak death and has resulted in die-offs of countless oak trees on the West Coast, it's on the march and is affecting other trees and shrubs, from bay laurel to redwoods to tanoaks, according to Dave Rizzo of the University of California at Davis.

Dynamics and diversity of animal and plant communities

Many numerical tools exist for describing plant and animal community structure and how that structure changes over time, according to biologist Scott Collins of the University of New Mexico. Using data from three of NSF's 26 Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites--Sevilleta in New Mexico, Konza Prairie in Kansas, and Cedar Creek in Minnesota--Collins used rank clocks, in which the rank order abundance of each species is plotted at each sample date in a clockwise direction, to display and quantify changes in species abundances.

A rank clock is a way of visualizing changes over time in a ranked order of any set of objects, where the ordering is from large to small. The sizes of cities, of firms, the distribution of incomes, and other social and economic measures, all display "rank clock" distributions.

Rank clocks and rank abundance statistics provide important insights into plant and animal community dynamics, insights that are hidden in traditional statistical approaches, say Collins and colleagues. At Cedar Creek, for example, fertilized plots showed high initial species shifts that rapidly decreased to rates below those of unfertilized plots. And species shifts were higher in unburned vs. annually burned grassland at Konza Prairie, and throughout time in grassland compared to shrubland at Sevilleta.

Partnerships between scientists and artists enhance ecological research, art and ecological restoration

Although the disciplines of science and art are often placed on opposite ends of the continuum of "ways of knowing," the two approaches share many goals and activities: observing and recording nature; moving an audience to gain a deeper awareness, understanding of and appreciation for nature; and sharpening technical skills.

Commercial trade of plants and wildlife in a changing world: research to inform policy

Humans are responsible for transporting plants, animals and their associated pathogens worldwide, through global commerce. Each year, 250 million live animals and 300 million garden and house plants are imported into the U.S. This transport is now widely cited as a major threat to biodiversity. Scientists are trying to understand the extent of this trade, and its cascading ecological consequences.

In a session on the commercial trade of plants and animals, researchers will discuss the commercial movement of amphibian pathogens in the bait trade; the role of the aquarium trade in species introductions; and the role of international trade in wildlife in the spread of infectious diseases.

How does climate change relate to disease ecology, and to restoration efforts? Amphibians, coral reefs, prairie dogs are affected

Climate change has been implicated in the recent emergence of several infectious diseases, and climate often influences parasite abundance. What do these conclusions mean for restoration ecology? For ecological restoration to succeed, say Chris Ray and Sharon Collinge of the University of Colorado, co-organizers of a session on climate change and disease ecology, effects of disease must be factored in.

In a talk on the possible role of climate change in triggering disease outbreaks of chytridiomycosis in amphibians, Karen Lips of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale will discuss whether climate change may lead to these disease outbreaks, and what new information is needed to determine whether climate is a culprit. Alternatively, chytridiomycosis may be an emerging pathogen spreading along wavelike fronts through amphibian populations, unrelated to climate change.

SOURCE: NSF Ecological Society Annual meeting

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