Jason Bittel: Dragonfly Migrations




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:

“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:

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:

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


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:

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


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:

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


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




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.

Leyla Acaroglu: Use System Thinking to Solve Our Problems


From the hypothesis-to-outcome structure of scientific investigations, through to the hyper-structured and inflexible departments of government ,  we have designed systems of silos that don’t connect to the bigger picture. These isolated systems create very linear perspectives of problems and limited approaches to solving them.

Here’s the thing: Problems never exist in isolation; they are always surrounded by other problems.

As renowned environmental scientist Donella Meadows put it: “Let’s face it. The universe is messy. It is nonlinear, turbulent, and dynamic. It spends its time in transient behavior on its way to somewhere else, not in mathematically neat equilibria. It self-organizes and evolves. It creates diversity and uniformity. That’s what makes the world interesting, that’s what makes it beautiful, and that’s what makes it work.”

If we really want to start to address the highly complex, often chaotic and incredibly urgent social and environmental issues at play in the world around us, we must overcome the reductionist perspective and build thinking and doing systems that work for all.

For more information, I suggest reading Thinking In Systems by Donella Meadows and the following website: http://donellameadows.org/systems-thinking-resources/


Lauren Chambliss: Fishing Tackle Kills Loons

All About Birds:

Roberta Olenick

Roberta Olenick

Loons still face many threats today, including the lead commonly used in fishing tackle. Decades after the U.S. government began regulating lead out of our environment through lead bans in gasoline, household paint, and the shotgun ammunition used for hunting waterfowl, the poisonous soft metal is still being directly introduced into lakes and waters via fishing tackle. In the contiguous U.S., lead is a leading cause of death in the Common Loon. And now for the first time, researchers in New Hampshire have discovered a much worse population-level impact than previously suspected.

In Minnesota, an estimated 100 to 200 loons die each year from lead poisoning. 

Leidy Klotz: Little-Known Behavioral Scientist Who Transformed Cities

The Behavioral Scientist:

Cris Tagupa/Unsplash

Cris Tagupa/Unsplash

“Why are you architects not interested in people?” Ingrid Gehl asked her new husband, Jan. “What do you think about the fact that your architecture professors take their photos at four o’clock in the morning … without the distraction of people in the photos?”

In the early 1960s, and in many cases still today, these were forbidden questions, particularly among those we think of as designers—architects, city planners, and engineers. Then and now, designers consider human needs for health, survival, safety, and comfort through building codes and best practices. Psychological needs are only an afterthought—at best.

Ingrid, however, was no conventional designer—she was a psychologist. And by entertaining such questions, Ingrid and her husband took the first steps on a journey to create city spaces for the full range of human needs. The Danish couple’s ideas have since made life better in cities like New York, Moscow, Buenos Aires, Sydney, and London. Of course, many parts of many cities still seem optimized for buildings and cars. But the story of Ingrid and Jan is a model for what partnerships between behavioral scientists and designers can look like today.

In the 1960s and 1970s, William Whyte was studying human behavior in New York City and applying similar thinking in the United States.

David Tenenbaum: Sand County Irrigation Water

University of Wisconsin-Madison:

More than 14,000 years ago, receding glaciers left a broad, deep swath of sand and gravel across central Wisconsin. Today, the Central Sands region hosts a thriving agricultural economy, but the sandy soil renders most of the crops dependent on irrigation that originates in groundwater.

About 13 years ago, streams, lakes and marshes in the Sands started to dry up, and some observers blamed the growing number of high-capacity irrigation wells. Even though the water level in these fresh waters has improved, the number of high-capacity wells continues to rise, and so the question remains: what is the best route to sustainable irrigation that serves the farm economy and the environment at the same time?

One key question is this: How much water — whether from rain or irrigation — is used by plants, and how much moves deeper, to augment groundwater?...

Already, says Isherwood, the groundwater problem is serious. “The number of high-capacity (irrigation) wells in Portage County just reached 3,000, and there are areas where some lakes are strongly impacted. I’m not one to say that I know what the solution is, but I think farmers need to understand that we have to play a part in this. I think the question becomes, what is my fair share of the aquifer to use?”

John Timmer: How a Rare Butterfly Vanished Then Returned

Are Technica:

Humans, and the invasive species we bring with us, are frequently viewed as destroyers of ecosystems. But we alter them just as often, inadvertently picking winners and losers from among the species as we transform their environment. A paper out in today’s Nature describes a case where our actions made a butterfly species a winner but then changed the game so fast that the local population went extinct. All of this because one man died and his cattle ranch shut down.

"be not too eager to deal out death in the name of Justice ... even the wise cannot see all ends.” Gandalf, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

One wonders if our in haste to control non-native species at almost all cost that our selection of so-called "good" species might be misplaced and unwise.


Vinicius J. Taguchi et al.: Urban Stormwater Phosphorus Dynamics

University of Minnesota:

There is evidence that aging stormwater ponds can become net sources of phosphorus to receiving waters during high flow events. For example, the total phosphorus (TP) concentration in the pond should be equal to or less than the typical inflow TP concentration (due to settling). To evaluate this, we examined data from the Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed District (RPBCWD) in Minnesota. Between 2010 and 2012, the RPBCWD surveyed 98 ponds and observed high TP concentrations in a number of them...

All of the pond sediments released ortho-P under low DO conditions (< 0.5 mg/L) , as shown in Table 1 and Figure 5). By contrast, ortho-P release was negligible under high DO conditions (not shown). We used the calculated P flux rates for each pond to approximate the potential impact on the overall TP concentration in the pond (Table 1)... Stratification during the summer with turnover and mixing in the fall and spring are normal in large lakes, but small ponds were thought to turn over diurnally or at least during large storm events. Instead, regular manual temperature profiles throughout 2017 revealed evidence of stratification throughout most of the year, with DO concentration below 0.5 mg/L at the bottom sediment surface.

Phosphorus concentration is unusually high in roughly 1/3 of urban stormwater ponds, indicating that they are not performing as designed. Rather than capturing P, these ponds seem to be releasing P and polluting downstream waters. We believe the reason is the sediments are releasing ortho-P to the water column, a process known as internal loading. Phosphorus release from the sediments of ponds may be facilitated by low DO concentration. It appears that many ponds in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area are stratified through most of the summer by accumulation of road salt in winter and spring snowmelt, therefore leading to low DO concentration that promotes internal loading.

Cody Nelson: The Boundary Waters Future


The Boundary Waters may seem unchangeable and stoic. But humankind’s actions over time are far too much for nature. If you know where to look, you can already see the Boundary Waters transforming from a lush forest into a desolate grassland. Warmer temperatures caused by human greenhouse gas emissions are letting maple and oak to start invading the region.

”Later on when the summers get really hot, because it’s shallow rocky soil, most of the trees will die and it will end up being savannah,” said University of Minnesota forest ecologist Lee Frelich. “So grassland with scattered oak trees.” The Boundary Waters’ eventual transition to a savannah, as predicted by research from Frelich and others, is a stunning example of how climate change will affect Minnesota...

Jennifer-Anne Pascoe: The World's Largest High Arctic Lake Changes


A 1 C increase in temperature has set off a chain of events disrupting the entire ecology of the world’s largest High Arctic lake. “The amount of glacial meltwater going into the lake has dramatically increased,” said Martin Sharp, a University of Alberta glaciologist who was part of a team of scientists that documented the rapid changes in Lake Hazen on Ellesmere Island over a series of warm summers in the last decade.

“Because it’s glacial meltwater, the amount of fine sediment going into the lake has dramatically increased as well. That in turn affects how much light can get into the water column, which may affect biological productivity in the lake.”

The changes resulted in algal blooms and detrimental changes to the Arctic char fish population, and point to a near certain future of summer ice-free conditions.

Adam Rogers: Our Engineering Made Mississippi River Floods Worse


Scientists and anyone who lives within a hundred miles of the winding Mississippi River will tell you—have told you, repeatedly, for 150 years—that efforts to tame the river have only made it more feral. But scientists would like more than intuition, more than a history of 18th-century river level gauges and discharge stations, more than written and folkloric memory. They would like proof...

So climate change causes floods, right? Hah! Too easy. Muñoz’s group ran a statistical model, based on the climate over the entire period of time they now had flood records for, estimating how much more worse flooding should have gotten based on climate change alone. “It comes up with a little bit of an increase, like a 5 percent increase in how big the biggest floods should be,” Muñoz says. “But not all the increase.”

Overall flood risk has gone up 20 percent, the team says. But 75 percent of that risk comes from human engineering of the Mississippi for navigation and flood control.