Matt Simon: Remote Lakes and Microplastic

Wired:

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THE MICROPLASTIC MENACE is a maddening conundrum: The pollutant shows up everywhere, but science knows very little about it. Microplastic particles blow to the peaks of pristine mountain ranges. They swirl hundreds of feet deep in the sea. They clot ocean critters, from shellfish to regular fish.

Yet we have little data on how microplastic might be affecting the animals exposed to it, and we certainly don’t know how the stuff could be affecting whole ecosystems. A system of small, isolated lakes in Canada, though, could help unravel those mysteries. The International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Experimental Lakes Area, or ELA, are testing grounds that allow researchers to isolate a pocket of water within a lake and add pollutants like hormones and flame retardants—and now potentially microplastics—and watch how the ecosystem responds. The microplastics program is in its very early stages, but it could turn into a one-of-a-kind platform for testing how this omnipresent pollutant might be stressing ecosystems.

Ed Yong: Reared Monarchs Don't Migrate

The Altantic:

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By testing monarchs bought from a commercial supplier, Ayse Tenger-Trolander from the University of Chicago showed that they make terrible migrators. While their wild counterparts have a strong tendency to head south, the mail-order insects flew in random directions. Tenger-Trolander also found that wild monarchs became similarly inept if she raised them indoors, even if she tried her best to mimic natural conditions.

“It’s a powerful study,” says Sonia Altizer from the University of Georgia, a monarch expert who was not involved in the research. “It’s the first to definitively show that captive-bred monarchs won’t show the same orientation behavior that wild ones will.”

Selecting individuals to rear leads to domestication; domestication leads to trouble.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek: Mercury and Climate Change

Milwaukee Sentinel:

Sarah Whites-Koditschek, WPR

Sarah Whites-Koditschek, WPR

Watras and Rubsam walk onto frozen Little Rock Lake in Vilas County near their base at the University of Wisconsin’s Trout Lake Station. They are scientists for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Limnology and the state Department of Natural Resources.

After decades of water sampling on Little Rock Lake and two other nearby lakes, Watras concluded that climate change is causing fluctuations in the level of dangerous methylmercury in the environment. That finding added to the list of negative effects of climate change, which include making storms more powerful, increasing the Earth’s temperature and causing polar ice to melt, which causes sea levels to rise. Watras discovered that accumulations of the toxin in fish fluctuate as water cycles driven by climate change raise and lower lake levels. When the water levels go up, Watras found, levels of mercury can increase to unsafe levels in walleye, one of the state’s most prized game fish. When levels go down, concentrations in walleye go down to levels considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency...

Mark Brigham, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Mounds View, Minnesota, said fluctuating mercury levels could make it harder to know whether fish are safe to eat. People who fish could easily underestimate or overestimate the risk at any given time. “It’s entirely possible that people, when they look at the fish consumption advisories for a given lake, they could be looking at advice that’s out of date or doesn’t reflect current conditions in the lake,” Brigham said.

Mike McFeely: Bigmouth Buffalo Centenarians

Duluth News Tribune:

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Don’t call the bigmouth buffalo a “rough fish,” a common and derisive moniker slapped on species viewed as less desirable than the sainted walleye and other hotly pursued fish. “They are amazing,” said Alec Lackmann, a North Dakota State University researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences. “They are one of the most exceptional freshwater fish species in the world.”

Lackmann would know. He led an NDSU team that unearthed this amazing fact: Bigmouth buffalo can live to be more than 100 years old, making them the oldest age-validated freshwater fish in the world. Lackmann’s study included one specimen that was 112 years old, and most of the fish he researched were more than 80 years old. The oldest fish came from lakes near Pelican Rapids, Minnesota...

According to NDSU, the bigmouth buffalo is now known as the longest-lived freshwater teleost (ray-finned fish) and the oldest age-validated freshwater fish in the world. “This is a paradigm shift in how we’re looking at these fish and should open a discussion about their real value,” Lackmann said. “They should not be called ‘rough fish,’ which carries a negative connotation. They should be viewed as an ecological asset.”

Tessa Plint: The Extinct Giant Beavers

The Conversationist:

Illustration by Scott Woods/Western University

Illustration by Scott Woods/Western University

Giant beavers the size of black bears once roamed the lakes and wetlands of North America. Fortunately for cottage-goers, these mega-rodents died out at the end of the last ice age.

Now extinct, the giant beaver was once a highly successful species. Scientists have found its fossil remains at sites from Florida to Alaska and the Yukon.

A super-sized version of the modern beaver in appearance, the giant beaver tipped the scales at 100 kilograms. But it had two crucial differences. The giant beaver lacked the iconic paddle-shaped tail we see on today’s modern beavers. Instead it had a long skinny tail like a muskrat. The teeth also looked different. Modern beaver incisors (front teeth) are sharp and chisel-like; giant beaver incisors were bulkier and curved, and lacked a sharp cutting edge...

Towards the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago, the climate became increasingly warm and dry and wetland habitats began to dry up. Although the modern beavers and the giant beaver co-existed on the landscape for tens of thousands of years, only one species survived. The ability to build dams and lodges may have given the modern beaver a competitive advantage over the giant beaver. With its sharp teeth, the modern beaver could alter the landscape to create suitable wetland habitat where it needed it. The giant beaver couldn’t.

Advancing aquatic vegetation management for fish

Lake and Reservoir Management Journal:

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ABSTRACT
Despite the known linkage between aquatic plants and fish communities, research that quanti- fies the relationship between aquatic habitat and fisheries management is lacking, particularly for lakes. Lake management is often driven by recreational interests and fails to evaluate out- comes or identify conservation benefits. Effective management of vegetation to benefit fisheries will require information on how fish utilize aquatic plant stands, as well as how they are affected by changes in vegetation coverage or richness. Management strategies will need to account for both local and large-scale effects on aquatic plant habitat. Studies that assess the economic ben- efits of aquatic plants to fisheries will provide support for sustainable aquatic vegetation man- agement approaches. Finally, natural resources managers (including both aquatic botanists and fisheries biologists) will have to collaborate to identify priorities to implement and evaluate vege- tation management activities. Marine seagrass and fisheries research is presented as a means to provide guidance on aquatic plant inventory and monitoring, as well as potential research opportunities to better understand aquatic plant and fish relationships and the implications for lake management.

This article is available as a pdf for a limited time at this link.

John Meyers: Lake Volunteers Needed

Duluth Tribune:

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The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is looking for volunteers, nearly 700 of them, to measure water quality across many of the state’s lakes and rivers.

The PCA, which is tasked with both monitoring and protecting the state’s 12,000 lakes and 92,000 miles of streams, this year is asking for volunteers to monitor 676 high priority sites on rivers and lakes, including many in the Northland. Data gathered by volunteers is reported back to the agency and used to track the health of waterways.

Jonathan M. Gitlin: Bike Lanes Need Physical Protection

Ars Technica:

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A study from Monash University in Australia suggests that merely painting bike lanes onto the roads may be counterproductive. The researchers conducted an observational study, gathering data from 60 cyclists in Melbourne, Australia. For a week or two, the cyclists were equipped with sensors and cameras to capture data over the course of their riding. GNSS satellite navigation was used for location, ultrasonic sensors measured the passing distances of objects as the cyclists rode, and cameras allowed the researchers to classify passing events—was the bicycle passed by a vehicle, did the pass happen while the cyclist was in a bike lane, and so on. Over the study period (between April and August 2017) there were 422 trips covering a total of 3,294 miles (5,302km), 91 percent of which were on-road.

Across the entire data set, the researchers identified 18,527 instances where a vehicle overtook a cyclist. Of these, 1,085 happened with less than 39 inches’ (100cm) passing distance between bike and vehicle, a distance that’s considered “close” under Australian law. The majority of passes occurred in areas with 37mph speed limits (60km/h), with an average passing distance of 75 inches (190cm). But those distances were much closer in areas with lower limits (66 inches/168cm in 40km/h zones, 67 inches/170cm in 50km/h zones). Somewhat worryingly, drivers were also more likely to get closer (60 inches/154cm) to cyclists when passing in 100km/h (62mph) zones.

Greg Stanley: Ice and Walleyes Signal Changing Climate

Star Tribune:

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Across Minnesota, lakes are losing up to four days of ice every 10 years, according to the state climatology office. And it’s not just Minnesota: Rivers and lakes across the continent are tending to freeze later and thaw earlier. “You think of all the ways people interact with lake ice — skating, fishing derbies, iceboats,” said John Magnuson, an ecologist and limnologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “And already, in some of these lakes you have about a month less to do it.”

... at the University of Wisconsin, the first school in the country to study the chemistry and makeup of inland lakes, scientists have been keeping that data for decades. The university has tracked ice coverage on Wisconsin lakes since the 1850s. In those days, ice harvesters needed to know when they could venture out on a lake to cut large frozen blocks to sell during summer; parents and school superintendents waited for ice roads that would connect Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands to the mainland.

The longer the data go back, the clearer the pattern becomes: Lakes have less ice now, said Magnuson, who is semiretired after decades with the school’s limnology office. Lake Mendota in Madison gets 30 days less ice coverage — a full month — than it did during the Civil War, the data show. And the thaws have been accelerating, Magnuson said. Six of Lake Mendota’s 10 earliest ice-outs have happened since the late 1990s.

Ice coverage is not just a function of temperatures in the spring and fall. It reflects two larger factors: the area’s average annual temperature and the depth of the lake. Every body of water is continually heating up through the summer. The deeper the lake, the more volume it has to collect and store that heat. The more warmth a lake stores, the longer it takes to freeze, Magnuson said.

For the first time, some of the deepest lakes in southern Wisconsin are starting to have years when they don’t freeze at all. As temperatures continue to climb, that will happen to more and more lakes in Minnesota as well, Magnuson said. The magic number seems to be about 47 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the average temperature for an entire year reaches that point, lakes that have historically frozen over every year start to see some years where they remain open.

Jason Bittel: Dragonfly Migrations

onEarth:

JUDY GALLAGHER  VIA FLICKR

JUDY GALLAGHER VIA FLICKR

According to a study published by the Royal Society last fall, common green darners, which are found from Cuba to Canada, make a long, complex journey that takes three generations and spans a distance of more than 1,500 miles. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how they do it, but temperature seems to play a key role in telling the animals when to move. Unfortunately, this means climate change could well wreck the whole event even before we fully understand it. Worse, it would leave much of eastern North America without an important member of its food web.

The news that dragonflies migrate probably won’t shock people who study insects, says the study’s senior author, Colin Studds, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Maryland. “We’ve had an inkling of how many insects migrate,” he says. “There are moths, there are beetles, and there are probably about 20 species of dragonflies that we have expected of migration. But we don’t know much about it other than that it’s a phenomenon.”

Judith Weis: Phragmites - A Useful Native & Non-Native Plant

The Conversation:

But despite its bad reputation, Phragmites provides many benefits that are generally unknown and unappreciated. After studying salt marsh ecology and the impacts of stressors, including invasive plants, for many years, I have concluded that removing this invasive species wherever it is found – especially along vulnerable coastlines – is a very expensive and often foolish procedure.

Phragmites actually is native in the United States, but the native form comprises only a minor component of the high marsh – the zone that typically is above water. A new genetic variety arrived many decades ago and invaded brackish marshes.

In Europe and Asia, where Phragmites is also native, it is valued as an important wetland species. In China, where Spartina alterniflora has arrived, marsh scientists and managers are concerned with the effects of that invader replacing their beloved Phragmites. Human attitudes toward invasive species can be a bit subjective.

Tom Jacobs: Mother Nature

Pacific Standard:

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“Mother Nature” is a rather antiquated way of referring to the natural world. It seems ridiculous to anthropomorphize something so huge and diffuse, let alone to assign it a gender. But new research from China suggests that reviving this image could inspire people to act in more environmentally conscious ways.

”Our results show a robust implicit association between women and nature,” writes a research team led by Ting Liu of Nanjing University. “The metaphor ‘Mother Earth’ builds on this association and leads to increases [in] one’s connection with nature, which in turn leads to increases in pro-environmental behavior.”

The results suggest that anthropomorphizing nature as a mom “could be a relatively low-cost but useful strategy in environmental promotion.” They suggest that ads or public-service announcements promoting green behaviors should consider including elements “such as a female face and body characteristics” to reinforce the connection between nature and femininity.

The paper.

Sara Chodosh: Chronic Wasting Disease and Humans

Popular Science:

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CWD appears limited to deer, moose, and elk. But University of Minnesota researchers warned local lawmakers this week that we should be taking action now to prevent the potential spread to humans. Michael Osterholm, director of the university’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Prevention, testified that “It is my best professional judgment based on my public health experience and the risk of BSE transmission to humans in the 1980s and 1990s and my extensive review and evaluation of laboratory research studies … that it is probable that human cases of CWD associated with the consumption of contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead. It is possible that number of human cases will be substantial and will not be isolated events,” according to the Pioneer Press.

Osterholm would know; he’s seen this kind of thing before. For a long time, experts thought another prion disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease, couldn’t infect humans. Then they discovered that it actually was possible (though extremely rare) for humans who ate infected meat or came into contact with infected tissue to contract a variant of the human prion disease Creutzfeldt-Jakob. Osterholm was one of the experts who sat on British review panels at the time of the mad cow disease scare, and predicted the prions could make the leap into humans.

Prioritizing Lakes for Conservation

Lake and Reservoir Management:

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Abstract:
Identifying lakes in which to invest water quality conservation efforts can help more effectively target efforts and more efficiently utilize limited resources. The objective of this study was to compare different approaches to prioritize Minnesota lakes primarily for water quality protection or restoration. Lakes were objectively ranked using a multi-criteria values-based model that included phosphorus-loading resilience, level of watershed degradation, and feasibility of water quality protection or restoration. We explored how the list of priority lakes might change when incorporating benefit:cost ratios that used a hedonic model to predict land value increases with total phosphorus loading reductions. In addition, we examined the influence of including data on lakes with unique or high-quality biological communities. The multi-criteria values-based model was moderately correlated with the benefit:cost ratio approach; however, the exclusion of benefits and cost in the prioritization would likely result in the loss of a modest amount of potential benefit ($20%). A focus on impaired waters would likely result in considerable forgone benefit ($80%) and substantially higher costs. We provide recommendations on how to combine prioritization approaches along with a peer review process to produce lake priority lists that are both defensible and practical.

This article is available as a pdf for a limited time at this link.

Andrew Freedman: Only 5% of the Earth's Landscape Remains Unaltered

Axios:

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Humans have a greater influence on the world’s landscape than previously thought, according to a comprehensive new high-resolution analysis of human modification of the planet. The map, published in the journal Global Change Biology, is meant to guide conservation strategy in the coming years. Why it matters: The new study finds that just 5% of the Earth’s land surface is currently unaffected by humans, far lower than a previous estimate of 19%.

The study found the least modified biomes tend to be in high latitudes and include tundra, boreal forests, or taiga and temperate coniferous forests. On the other hand, the most modified biomes include more tropical landscapes, such as temperate broadleaf and mixed forests, as well as mangroves.

Ibram X. Kendi: To the Deniers of Reality

The Atlantic:

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The disbelievers do not believe that either climate change or racism is real. Or they do not believe they are caused by emissions of greenhouse gases or racist policies. Or they do not believe that regulating them would be better for society.

All this disbelief rests on the same foundation: the transformation of science into belief. It is a foundation built from the economic, political, and ideological blocks that stand the most to lose from the aggressive reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions and racial inequities. These defensive voices engage in the same oratorical process, attack the credibility of scientists, disregarding their consensus and reducing their findings to personal beliefs.

The effect: Science becomes belief. Belief becomes science. Everything becomes nothing. Nothing becomes everything. All can believe and disbelieve all. We all can know everything and know nothing. Everyone lives as an expert on every subject. No experts live on any subject. Years of intense and specialized training and research and reflection are abandoned, like poor Latino immigrants, like the poor body of our planet...

Signs reign in the realm of belief. Belief reigns in the realm of what we cannot or do not know. Let me say it differently. I know because of science. When I do not know, I believe or disbelieve. As such, the end game of the transformation of science to belief is the execution of knowing. And the end of knowing is the end of human advancement...

Fascinating article, and read his conclusion. Nassim Taleb stated “you will never fully convince someone that he is wrong, only reality can”. I guess since our climate is changing at long time scales, many deniers can stick with their false beliefs for a long time. This is why civic leaders are so important — leaders can articulate the needs and push the necessary change forward.

Maddie Stone: Drilling to Reach an Antarctic Lake

Gizmodo:

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the Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access (SALSA) team announced they’d reached Lake Mercer after melting their way through an enormous frozen river with a high-pressure, hot-water drill. The multi-year effort to tap into the subglacial lake—one of approximately 400 scientists have detected across Antarctica—offers a rare opportunity to study the biology and chemistry of the most isolated ecosystems on Earth.

The only other subglacial lake humans have drilled into—nearby Lake Whillans, sampled in 2013—demonstrated that these extreme environments can play host to diverse microbial life. Naturally, scientists are stoked to see what they’ll find lurking in Lake Mercer’s icy waters.

“We don’t know what we’ll find,” John Priscu, a biogeochemist at Montana State University and chief scientist for SALSA, told Earther via satellite phone from the SALSA drill camp on the Whillans Ice Plain. “We’re just learning, it’s only the second time that this has been done.”

Karla Lant: The National Lakes Assessment

Environmental Monitor:

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The EPA (and others, such as this separate analysis from Dr. Dina Leech) are now reporting on observations of conditions and changes from 2007 to 2012. For most indicators, no change occurred, but changes in total phosphorus, two algal toxin indicators, and a physical habitat indicator are exceptions.

“While EPA did not observe changes in the condition categories for the nutrient phosphorus, Leech et al. 2018 found an 18.2 percent decline in the percentage of oligotrophic lakes (very clear lakes with less than 10 μg/L of total phosphorus) and an overall increase in the median concentration of phosphorus across all lakes,” comments Lynn. “The NLA 2012 Assessment Report observed a change within algal toxin measures. An analysis of cyanobacteria cell density, a measure of the density of cells that could produce cyanotoxins, showed a statistically significant increase (+8.3%) in the percentage of lakes in the most disturbed category between 2007 and 2012. The NLA identified a significant increase in the detection of microcystin among lakes in 2012 (+9.5%). However, concentrations of this algal toxin remained low and rarely exceeded WHO recreational levels of concern (<1% of the population) in both assessments.”

The NLA 2012 Assessment Report also found fewer lakes in the least disturbed category and more lakes in the moderately disturbed category for the habitat complexity indicator—which has to do with lakeshore habitat and buffering qualities.

Michael J. Coren: Monarch Butterflies in the West

Quartz:

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There’s not much to be grateful for after the great Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count this year. The three-week volunteer effort in California dispatches scores of volunteers to hunt in their woods, backyards, and fields in search for the colorful migrating butterfly. This year, signs of trouble came early.

Far fewer of the insects were heading south this year, and those that have arrived did so a month late, according to Xerces, a non-profit conservation group for invertebrates. One researcher said it was the fewest monarch butterflies in central California in 46 years. Surveyors at 97 sites found only 20,456 monarchs compared to 148,000 at the same sites last year, an 86% decline. It’s possible more insects will make the journey late this year, says Xerces, but that now seems unlikely.

Curt Stager: Walden Pond's Mud

Nautius:

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I see no whirligigs here this early in the year, but they are easy to spot on a lake such as Walden when the water is still and they can gather in close, swirling clusters. They overwinter on the bottom and emerge in spring to breed, producing new generations that grow to fingernail length within a few weeks. Each beetle uses flattened legs to paddle quickly through the thin surface film, guided by compound eyes that are each divided, with one-half aimed above the water line and one-half below. Most fish leave whirligigs alone because they leak bitter chemicals when handled, and I have seen newly stocked brook trout, brazen and ignorant from life in the hatchery, snatch whirligigs from below and then spit them back out again like slippery watermelon seeds. Whirligigs often gather in groups that help to discourage predators by pooling more watchful eyes in one place, and the whirling dances within the clusters are not as random as they seem. The individuals on the perimeter are generally searching for fallen gnats, emerging midges, or anything else edible, and they emit ripples like radar to home in on struggling prey. In adult swarms, those closer to the center are more likely to be cruising for mates, using their ripples to communicate with one another and avoid collisions.

Much more has been said and written about Thoreau’s philosopher-poet side than his naturalist side, but as a scientist I am more interested in the latter. The journals that he kept from 1837 to 1861 were so full of natural history observations that they might have become a major scientific work if he had not died of a lung ailment at age 44. He probably thought so, too. Two months before his death in 1862 he wrote a letter to a friend, saying, “if I were to live, I should have much to report on Natural History generally.”

During the winter of 1846, Thoreau drilled more than a hundred holes through the ice of Walden Pond and lowered a weighted line to produce what may be the first map of the floor of an American lake, thereby identifying Walden’s deepest point in the western basin near his cove. In August 1860, he also sent a thermometer down in a stoppered bottle to measure the layered structure of the water column, a first formal analysis of the thermal stratification of the lake. He was amazed at the temperature difference between the upper and lower layers, and he speculated on what it might mean for the resident fish. “What various temperatures, then, the fishes of this pond can enjoy,” he wrote. “They can in a few minutes sink to winter or rise to summer. How much this varied temperature must have to do with the distribution of the fishes in it.”

A great article about the stories that the mud of a lake tells a scientist.