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Ecological Society of America
The largest professional society of ecological scientists, founded 1915.
The largest professional society of ecological scientists, founded 1915.

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A River Ran Through It and Brought Life, At Least for a While: Results from these studies will be used to assist and inform future bi-national cooperative efforts as the two countries work together to protect resources on both sides of the border. Research on the effects of the 2014 pulse flow is ongoing, but some results of the flow have recently been uncovered by USGS scientists and their collaborators. The Colorado River’s Interrupted Flow The Colorado River starts in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and, until the construction of Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams, flowed continuously into Mexico and to the Gulf of California. A century ago, the Colorado River Delta was navigable by large boats. Today, upstream diversions and dams in both countries control the Colorado River’s flow, and little to no water is released into the channel downstream of Morelos Dam, which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border. The now mostly dry Colorado River Delta was once a thriving wetland ecosystem where water and sediment delivered from the Colorado River watershed reached the Gulf of California. Due to the lack of persistent flowing water, much of the Colorado River Delta contains dried out wetlands and degraded riverbanks. The delta provides critical habitat for wildlife and migrating birds, including the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. Letting the Colorado River Flow Again to Rejuvenate the Delta From March 23 to May 18, 2014, 106,000 acre-feet of water were released from the pulse flow, enough to fill about 52,000 Olympic sized swimming pools. An acre-foot is the volume of water required to cover one acre of land to a depth of one foot. Colorado River at Southerly International Boundary days before the pulse flow, March 20th, 2014.  Colorado River at Southerly International Boundary during the pulse flow, March 29th, 2014.                    This engineered release of water was the culmination of years of negotiations led by the U.S. and Mexican Sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Interior, and in conjunction with the seven U.S. Colorado River Basin states, Mexican government agencies, and a wide array of municipal agencies, non-governmental organizations and universities from both the U.S. and Mexico. A Pulse of Life Delivered to the Delta Did plants grow or become more established as a result of the pulse flow? USGS scientists and collaborators from Mexico and the University of Arizona used satellite data to determine how green and wet the Colorado River Delta became after the flow. Their results indicated that enough water entered the delta to benefit plants. The pulse also recharged groundwater in the delta, an important resource for some native tree and shrub species. “We observed something very interesting,” said Chris Jarchow, USGS scientist and lead author of the greenness and moisture studies. “In the southern part of the delta, the greenup occurred within the area where the water flowed overland, or the inundation zone. However, in the more northern portion of the study area the greenup occurred well beyond the zone of inundation. These findings support groundwater-level measurements that showed the aquifer rose in response to the pulse, allowing vegetation to take advantage of the shallower water table.” Satellite images showing the condition of vegetation (greenness) after the pulse (2014) in the southern portion of the Colorado River Delta. A significant greenup was observed in the year following the Minute 319 pulse release.  Satellite images showing the condition of vegetation (greenness) before the pulse (2013) in the southern portion of the Colorado River Delta.                                      The Colorado River Delta was greener after the 2014 pulse flow compared to 2013 pre-flow conditions, indicating the pulse flow increased the amount of vegetation in the delta. Although greenness declined in 2015, it was still greener in 2015 compared to 2013, indicating that the single pulse flow in 2014 stimulated plant growth for at least one year. Sediment in the Pulse USGS scientists measure streamflow and collect sediment samples on part of the normally dry Colorado River along the United States-Mexico border. Photo credit: Erich Mueller, USGS  Other USGS scientists and collaborators from Mexico and Utah State University evaluated how the pulse influenced the physical features of the delta or the transport of soil particles in water (sediment). Understanding sediment movement is important because the combination of flowing water and sediment can bury plants and alter the path of river channels, creating sandbars. Newly created sandbars can serve as habitat for plants and aquatic species. Study results showed the pulse flow was too small to generate large channel changes. In fact, the pulse flow, although historic, was only five percent of the magnitude and 10-15 percent as long in duration as seasonal peak flows typical during the early 20th century. Scientists only found small changes (at the scale of a few feet) to the riverbed with some sediment removed and redeposited short distances away. “Following the completion of upstream dams in the mid 20th century, the river channel in the delta was completely transformed, and the drastic reduction in water and sediment supply caused the waterway to narrow and become deeper,” said Erich Mueller, USGS scientist and lead author of the sediment study. “As a consequence, sediment erosion and deposition during the pulse flow was restricted to the relatively narrow channel with deeper depths and faster flows.” Optimism for the Colorado River Delta? Although the 2014 pulse flow was too small to generate changes in the physical features of the Colorado River Delta, it did rejuvenate the vegetation in the delta for at least a year. This rejuvenation is important because native trees, like Goodding’s willow and Fremont cottonwood, rely on floods for seed germination. Additionally, a recent study by the University of Arizona and USGS suggests that bird species in the Colorado River delta appear to prefer native trees over the nonnative tamarisk (also known as salt cedar) when foraging, and the enhanced vegetation that resulted from the pulse flow has expanded the feeding habitat birds are utilizing. It is not clear how long the effect of a single pulse flow lasts or what the long-term effects of multiple pulse flows will have on the Colorado River Delta. Ongoing studies are being conducted by the USGS, as well as other federal and state agencies, Mexican collaborators and universities to determine the full effects of the pulse flow. Aerial view showing the intense greenup of restoration plots in the lower Colorado River Delta following the 2014 Minute 319 pulse flow. Photo credit: Chris Jarchow, USGS  #usgs #news

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Frontiers Focus:

Invasion hotspots for reptiles and amphibians appear to be more concentrated in and around “biodiversity hotspots,” or areas rich with species that do not live anywhere else. Indeed, the potential number of species of alien reptiles and amphibians per unit area is 1.4 times higher in biodiversity hotspots than in other regions.

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Jerry Franklin honored with the ‪#‎ESA2016‬ Eminent Ecologist Award

Out of the classroom: Jerry lectures in a ponderosa pine forest on historical Klamath Tribes Reservation lands to an Oregon State University forestry class focused on restoration of frequent-fire forests in eastern Oregon. The forest, now a part of the Fremont–Winema National Forest, is very close to its historical condition, providing a model of what the foresters should be seeking to restore on sites where timber harvest and fire elimination have drastically altered the forests. Credit, Debbie Johnson.

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Ecologist and ESA member Simon Levin awarded National Medal of Science!

Watch the ceremony live @WhiteHouse today (May 19) at 2:30PM ET #STEMmedals

Levin focuses on complexity, particularly how large-scale patterns — such as at the ecosystem level — are maintained by small-scale behavioral and evolutionary factors at the level of individual organisms. His work uses observational data and mathematical models to explore topics such as biological diversity, the evolution of structure and organization, and the management of public goods and shared resources. While primarily related to ecology, Levin's work also has analyzed conservation, financial and economic systems, and the dynamics of infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance.

More about Levin from Princeton University's press release:

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32 essential questions for understanding the social–ecological system of forage fish: the case of Pacific Herring

A small fish at the center of a wide cultural, economic & ecological web, the Pacific herring looms large in the culture of the Haida and other native peoples of the Northeast Pacific coast. This once super abundant “cultural keystone species” forages on tiny phyto- and zooplankton and in turn feeds bigger fish, mammals, and birds—among them, commercially valuable predatory fish. The herring fishery is commercially valuable for food, bait, and particularly for its roe. Pacific herring populations swing unpredictably in size, driven in part by climate and ocean conditions, which leaves it vulnerable to overfishing. Managing and sharing the herring harvest can be fraught. The Pacific Herring Summit brought together representatives in a participatory process to promote collaborative priority-setting for this critical forage fish. This month in the journal Ecosystem Healthy and Sustainablity, Levin and colleagues report on the conceptual model of the Pacific herring social-ecological system developed by the summit and 32 questions highlighting uncertainties and unknowns about science and management of herring.

Phillip Levin ( NOAA Fisheries, Seattle, Washington),
Tessa Francis (Puget Sound Institute, University of Washington Tacoma), and
Nathan Taylor (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada)

Ecosystem Health and Sustainability is a interdisciplinary journal co-produced by the Ecological Societies of America and China.

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Slowing The Insect Invasion: Wood Packaging Sanitation Policy Yields US $11.7 Billion Net Benefit

Risk analysis in ESA Frontiers found savings for homeowners and local governments of excluding invasive pests like the emerald ash borer outweigh added cost to imported g oods

"Pennsylvania has 58 separate species of non-native forest pests threatening trees and plant life, according to a new study out Tuesday in the journal Ecological Applications.
“That’s second only to New York state in terms of the number of pests,” said lead author Gary Lovett, senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in upstate New York."

Lovett, G. M., Weiss, M., Liebhold, A. M., Holmes, T. P., Leung, B., Lambert, K. F., Orwig, D. A., Campbell, F. T., Rosenthal, J., McCullough, D. G., Wildova, R., Ayres, M. P., Canham, C. D., Foster, D. R., LaDeau, S. L. and Weldy, T. (2016), Nonnative forest insects and pathogens in the United States: Impacts and policy options. Ecol Appl. doi:10.1890/15-1176

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Sand-armoured plants rough eating for herbavores
-in the April issue of ‪#‎Ecology‬

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To celebrate the centennial of the society, ESA journals staff collected some of the most #notablepapers published in their pages—which for ESA’s oldest journal, Ecology, reach back nearly 100 years, to 1920. “Notable” papers were selected based on number of citations (90% of the score) tempered by number of downloads (10% of the score, to bolster more recent stand-outs). The editorial staff invited short commentaries on the papers from members of the society, which they published with the paper collections.

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What challenges will ecologists contend with in the 21st century? What opportunities will open our careers and outreach to society?

ESA's Student Section invites undergrad, masters and phd students of ecology to apply for their EcoFutures core working group and join them in forecasting these challenges and opportunities.

The goal of EcoFutures is to stimulate long-term thought about how to 1) ensure ecology remains a successful and fulfilling career path and 2) increase the relevance of ecology to broader society by encouraging and supporting responsible environmental-decision making. We will identify the top 50 challenges that we as 21st-century ecologists may contend with and anticipate 50 emerging opportunities we may capitalize on in our careers and outreach to society.
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