Restoration Handbook for Sagebrush Steppe Ecosystems, Part 1 - Understanding and Applying Restoration
Mountain big sagebrush - or Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana - is a sub-species of big sagebrush that is found in primarily at higher elevation and colder, drier sites between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascades and Sierra Nevada. (High resolution image)
CORVALLIS, Ore. — Heightened interest in advancing sage-grouse conservation has increased the importance of sagebrush-steppe restoration to recover or create wildlife habitat conditions that meet the species’ needs. Today, the U.S. Geological Survey published part one of a three-part handbook addressing restoration of sagebrush ecosystems from the landscape to the site level.
"Land managers face many challenges in restoring sagebrush-steppe landscapes to meet multiple management objectives," said David Pyke, USGS ecologist and lead author of the new USGS Circular. "Many wildlife species require multiple types of habitat spread over many scales – landscape to local site level. Managers are challenged to know where, when and how to implement restoration projects so they are effective across all these scales."
The new handbook describes a sagebrush-steppe habitat restoration framework that incorporates landscape ecology principles and information on resistance of sagebrush-steppe to invasive plants and resilience to disturbance. This section of the handbook introduces habitat managers and restoration practitioners to basic concepts about sagebrush ecosystems, landscape ecology and restoration ecology, with emphasis on greater sage-grouse habitats.
Six specific concepts covered are:
- similarities and differences among sagebrush plant communities,
- plant community resilience to disturbance and resistance to invasive plants based on soil temperature and moisture regimes,
- soils and the ecology critical for plant species used for restoration,
- changes that can be made to current management practices or re-vegetation efforts in support of general restoration actions,
- landscape restoration with an emphasis on restoration to benefit sage-grouse and
- monitoring effectiveness of restoration actions in support of adaptive management.
"Restoration of an ecosystem is a daunting task that appears insurmountable at first," said Pyke. "But as with any large undertaking, the key is breaking down the process into the essential components to successfully meet objectives. Within the sagebrush steppe ecosystem, restoration is likely to be most successful with a better understanding of how to prioritize landscapes for effective restoration and to apply principles of ecosystem resilience and resistance in restoration decisions."
Pyke noted that the blending of ecosystem realities – such as soil, temperature and moisture – with species-specific needs provides an ecologically based framework for strategically focusing restoration measures to support species of conservation concern over the short and long term.
Part one of the handbook sets the stage for two decision support tools. Part two of the handbook will provide restoration guidance at a landscape level, and part three, restoration guidance at the site level.
The handbook was funded by the U.S. Joint Fire Science Program and National Interagency Fire Center, Bureau of Land Management, Great Northern Landscape Conservation, USGS, and Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies with authors from the USGS, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon State University, Utah State University and Brigham Young University.
Greater sage-grouse occur in parts of 11 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces in western North America. Implementation of effective management actions for the benefit of sage-grouse continues to be a focus of Department of the Interior agencies following the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the species is not warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Jennifer LaVista ( Phone: 303-202-4764 );
Grass carp egg survival is compromised when they settle on streambeds and are potentially covered by sediments, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey. It has been long assumed that the eggs of Asian carps, including grass carp, must be carried in the water current in order to hatch successfully, but no previous scientific studies have proven that theory.
This information is critical in helping resource managers mitigate effects of an Asian carp invasion. Results can be used to improve models that help predict where and when carp might successfully reproduce. Findings support the idea of engineering settling zones as a potential control mechanism. The full report is available online.
"Many assessments of the potential for Asian carp invasion are based on the assumption that if eggs fall to the sediment, they die," said USGS scientist Duane Chapman. "This study constitutes the first actual evidence that falling to the sediment is detrimental to Asian carp eggs, allowing scientists more confidence in predicting where these fish could reproduce."
Using sand, the effects of varying sediment levels on grass carp eggs were tested at different developmental states and temperatures. Survival was low in the partial burial (5–10 percent) and very low (0–4 percent) in the full burial treatment. In treatments where eggs rested on the sediment surface but had no sediment over them, survival was higher (15-35 percent) but, as in all treatments with settled eggs, hatching was severely delayed compared to eggs suspended by current. Many settled eggs lived until the end of the three separate study periods but did not hatch. Deformities, such as missing heads and heart conditions, occurred at high rates in the partial and full burials.
Scientists with the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) and the U.S. Geological Survey recently studied silver carps’ reaction to sound at the USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center (UMESC) in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The researchers found that silver carp reacted strongly to complex noises such as underwater recordings of boat motors, consistently swimming away up to 37 times in succession. The results are published in the journal Biological Invasions.
“Silver carp threaten many waterways in the Great Lakes basin by competing with native species,” said USGS UMESC Director Mark Gaikowski. “Understanding silver carp behavior is critical for determining effective techniques to minimize the ecological and economic damage of this invasive species.”
Brooke Vetter, a UMD graduate student and lead author of the report, positioned speakers at both ends of outdoor concrete ponds. She compared the carps’ response to pure tones, which sound like a dial tone, to their response to more complex noises. The fish adjusted to the pure tones, never swimming away more than two consecutive times, but continuously responded negatively to complex sound.
“Our complex noise findings suggest that certain sounds could be used to divert silver carp away from strategic points on waterways or herd them into nets,” Vetter said.
Results from this study have provided the foundation for the UMD, USGS and Illinois Natural History Survey to conduct field trials testing the efficacy of complex noise as a silver carp control tool in the Illinois River.
Silver carp are reshaping river ecosystems through competition with native fish and mussels for the plankton that form the base of aquatic food webs. In regions of the Illinois River where carp populations are the most abundant, carp account for a large percentage of the river's biomass.
Silver carp also present a danger to boaters because fish as large as 20 pounds can jump 10 feet out of the water, causing injury and damaging boats.
OAKHURST, Calif. -- Overall fire threats to greater sage-grouse habitat are much higher in the western part of the species’ range than in the eastern part, according to a U.S. Geological Survey fire threats assessment study published today.
The USGS report provides a scientific assessment of a 30-year-period of comprehensive fire data (1984-2013) across sage-grouse management zones (see map) and vegetation types that include sagebrush as a major component. Researchers evaluated the implications of these findings for conservation and management of the greater sage-grouse in wildland areas across the species’ range.
The greater sage-grouse’s range is split up into seven management zones. The four western zones are distinguished from the three eastern zones due to differences in rainfall and vegetation, which affect fire regimes. Overall, the results indicate that fire threats are higher in the four western zones than in the three eastern management ones.
Fires have the potential to degrade habitat conditions for the greater sage-grouse, and there isevidence that fire is becoming increasingly more prevalent in the western United States, in many cases associated with the spread of invasive annual grasses.
“During recent decades, fire area and fire size have increased across large portions of the western zones, hindering recovery of sagebrush and threatening sage-grouse habitat,” said lead author Matthew Brooks, a USGS fire expert and research scientist at the USGS Western Ecological Research Center. “In contrast, parts of the eastern zones were less impacted by fire, and may actually have less fire than historically occurred.”
Sage-grouse rely on sagebrush habitat for food and breeding. This research focused specifically on sage-grouse habitat within sage-grouse population areas across the species’ 11-state range so that the research could best inform sage-grouse conservation and management efforts.
For example, noted Brooks, the fire history, vegetation type and soil moisture data developed in this study can be combined with other data to create science-based potential risk assessment maps for the establishment of a grass/fire cycle or habitat degradation information for the greater sage-grouse. “Also,” he added, “in light of these findings, it may be useful for managers to reconsider the relative importance of wildfire as a threat to greater sage-grouse in the eastern management zones.”
- Among the four western management zones, the Snake River Plain and the Columbia Basin ranked slightly higher than the Southern Great Basin and Northern Great Basin in terms of fire effects on sage-grouse habitat. These results support the previous high ranking of fire as a threat to the greater sage-grouse in the western region.
- The eastern zones were less impacted by fire, and may actually have less fire than historically occurred, especially in the Grassland vegetation type.
- Among the vegetation types with a dominant sagebrush component, Big Sagebrush accounted for 56 percent of vegetation burned in the 30 years examined, Black/Low Sagebrush 14 percent, Grassland 10 percent, Desert Mixed Scrub 4 percent, Mountain Brush 1 percent, and Floodplain less than1 percent. Non-Sagebrush accounted for 15 percent of the area burned.
- Increasing trends in percentage of fires in larger fire size classes were noted in the western management zones, but not in the eastern zones.
- Recurrent fire area (burning 2 or more times) encompassed 22 percent of the total fire area in the western region, most of which was in the Snake River Plain and in the Big Sagebrush vegetation type. Although the smallest amount of recurrent fire area was in the Columbia Basin, it represented 34 percent of the total fire area in that management zone.
- Fire rotation estimates were generally lower than published estimates of historical conditions for Big Sagebrush and Black/Low Sagebrush in the western management zones. In contrast, Big Sagebrush fire rotations were generally higher than historical estimates in the eastern management zone.
- The length of the fire season was fairly constant during the 30-year study period for all except the Southern Great Basin, Great Plains, and Wyoming Basin, which displayed significantly increasing trend towards longer fire seasons.
- Big Sagebrush, Black/Low Sagebrush and Desert Mixed Scrub are comprised mostly of areas that have low resilience to fire and recover slowly. Non-native annual grasses often grow back in these areas, which in turn increase fire size and frequency, decreasing suitable habitat for the greater sage-grouse.
- Floodplain, Grassland, and Mountain Brush are mostly in areas of relatively high resilience and resistance to non-native annual grasses.
This research, Fire patterns in the range of greater sage-grouse, 1984–2013—Implications for conservation and management, was authored by M.L. Brooks, J.R. Matchett, D.J. Shinneman, and P.S. Coates, all of USGS. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015-1167.
About Greater Sage-Grouse
Greater sage-grouse occur in parts of 11 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces in western North America. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is formally reviewing the status of greater sage-grouse to determine if the species is warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act.Study area showing boundaries of each of the seven greater sage-grouse management zones (based on Stiver and others, 2006) that were a primary strata for analyses in this study. The greater sage-grouse population areas also are shown which represent the geographic extent of landscapes include in the analyses.(High resolution image)
Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );
BOISE, Idaho — The network of greater sage-grouse priority areas is a highly centralized system of conservation reserves. The largest priority areas likely can support sage-grouse populations within their boundaries, but smaller priority areas will need to rely on their neighbors in the surrounding network to sustain local populations, according to new research by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Eleven western states and federal management agencies within the greater sage-grouse range have developed conservation plans that embrace the concept of priority areas – also referred to as Priority Areas for Conservation or PACs by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Priority areas are key habitats identified as having the highest number of greater sage-grouse and the resources of greatest benefit to the species. Priority areas were designed to balance the needs of sage-grouse with activities such as energy development by focusing conservation activities and regulating development in these areas.
“The development of the priority areas may represent one of the largest experiments in conservation reserve design for a single species,” said Michele Crist, USGS wildlife biologist and lead author of a new USGS Open-File Report. “We have an opportunity to understand the potential for these areas to function as a connected network to conserve greater sage-grouse populations.”
The researchers ranked the relative importance of all the priority areas using social network theory, centrality metrics, sage-grouse ecological minimums, and a range-wide map created by combining the priority area boundaries as delineated by the 11 western states within the sage-grouse range – Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Centrality metrics described the number of connections any one priority area has to another priority area as well as how that priority area acts as a bridge between priority areas. These metrics, combined with an index of sage-grouse movement through the landscape based on a combination of ecological factors necessary to support sage-grouse, were used to rank the priority areas’ relative importance to one another. Highly ranked priority areas are large in size, more centrally located within the network, and surrounded by many other priority areas of various sizes.
The study shows that the loss or fragmentation of one of the larger, highly ranked priority areas could have a disproportionally large influence across the priority area network. The study also identifies linkages and narrow corridors between priority areas where landscape conditions are favorable for sage-grouse movement and may be important for sustaining sage-grouse movements among the priority areas. Other lower-ranking priority areas may also be important stepping stones along habitat corridors to connect smaller more isolated priority areas to allow movement of sage-grouse between priority areas.
“The current priority area network consists of large and small areas that collectively and individually address requirements important for maintaining greater sage-grouse populations,” said USGS research ecologist and co-author Steve Knick. “This study’s findings may help predict impacts to connectivity when priority areas are lost, degraded, or fragmented.”
Knick noted that it is critical for strategies focused on conserving greater sage-grouse to assess not just the size of the priority area and the number of connections, but also how sage-grouse are linked together to function as a viable population.
The study was funded by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and was prepared in cooperation with Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
Greater sage-grouse occur in parts of 11 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces in western North America. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is formally reviewing the status of greater sage-grouse to determine if the species is warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
A new analysis of the largest known deposit of carbonate minerals on Mars helps limit the range of possible answers about how and why Mars changed from a world with watery environments billions of years ago to the arid Red Planet of today.
The modern Martian atmosphere is too thin for liquid water to persist on the surface. A denser atmosphere on ancient Mars could have kept water from immediately evaporating. It could also have allowed parts of the planet to be warm enough to keep liquid water from freezing. But if the atmosphere was once thicker, what happened to it? The new detective work makes one suspected route for atmospheric loss look less likely.
Christopher Edwards, a former Caltech researcher now with the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Bethany Ehlmann of the California Institute of Technology and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported the findings and analysis in a paper posted online this month by the journal Geology.
Carbon dioxide makes up most of the Martian atmosphere. That gas can be pulled out of the air and sequestered in the ground by chemical reactions with rocks to form carbonate minerals. Years before the series of successful Mars missions in the past two decades, many scientists expected to find large Martian deposits of carbonates holding much of the carbon from the planet's original atmosphere. Instead, these missions have found low concentrations of carbonate distributed widely, but only a few concentrated deposits. By far the largest known carbonate-rich deposit on Mars covers an area at least the size of Delaware, in an area called Nili Fossae.
"The biggest carbonate deposit on Mars has, at most, twice as much carbon in it as the current Mars atmosphere," said Pasadena-based Ehlmann. "Even if you combined all known carbon reservoirs together, it is still nowhere near enough to sequester the thick atmosphere that has been proposed for the time when there were rivers flowing on the Martian surface."
Their estimate of how much carbon is locked into the Nili Fossae carbonate deposit uses observations from numerous Mars missions, including the Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter, the mineral-mapping Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) and two telescopic cameras on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter.
Edwards and Ehlmann compare their tally of sequestered carbon at Nili Fossae to what would be needed to account for an early Mars atmosphere dense enough to sustain surface waters during the period when flowing rivers left their mark by cutting extensive river-valley networks. By their estimate, it would require more than 35 carbonate deposits the size of the one examined at Nili Fossae. They deem it unlikely that so many large deposits have been overlooked in numerous detailed orbiter surveys of the planet. While deposits from an even earlier time in Mars history could be deeper and better hidden, they don't help solve the thin-atmosphere conundrum at the time of valley network formation.
One possible explanation is that Mars did have a much denser atmosphere during its flowing-rivers period, and then lost most of it to outer space from the top of the atmosphere, rather than by sequestration in minerals. NASA's Curiosity Mars rover mission has found evidence for ancient top-of-atmosphere loss, based on the modern Mars atmosphere's ratio of heavier carbon to lighter carbon. Uncertainty remains about how much of that loss occurred before the period of valley formation; much may have happened earlier. NASA's MAVEN orbiter, examining the outer atmosphere of Mars since late 2014, may help reduce that uncertainty.
An alternative explanation, favored by Edwards and Ehlmann, is that the original Martian atmosphere had already lost most of its carbon dioxide by the era of valley formation.
"Maybe the atmosphere wasn't so thick by the time of valley network formation," Edwards said. "Instead of a Mars that was wet and warm, maybe it was cold and wet with an atmosphere that had already thinned. How warm would it need to have been for the valleys to form? Not very. In most locations, you could have had snow and ice instead of rain. You just have to nudge above the freezing point to get water to thaw and flow occasionally, and that doesn't require very much atmosphere."
Arizona State University, Tempe, provided the TES and THEMIS instruments. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, provided CRISM. JPL, a division of Caltech, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, and managed the Mars Global Surveyor project through its nine years of orbiter operations at Mars. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the three orbiters.
For more information about USGS work with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, visit the Astrogeology Science Center website.
For more information about USGS work, visit the Mars Odyssey mission website.Rocks Here Sequester Some of Mars' Early Atmosphere.
This image combines data from two instruments (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment and Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars) onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to map color-coded composition over the shape of the ground within the Nili Fossae plains region of Mars. Carbonate-rich deposits in this area (green hues) hold some carbon formerly in the atmosphere's carbon dioxide, while sand dunes (brown hues) are composed of olivine-bearing basalt and purple hues are basaltic in composition. (Larger image) Multiple Instruments Used for Mars Carbon Estimate.
The left image of this pair presents data from the Thermal Emission imaging system onboard NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. The color-coding indicates thermal inertia -- the physical property of how quickly a surface material heats up or cools off. Sand, for example (blue hues), cools off quicker after sundown than bedrock (red hues) does.
The right images of this pair presents the regional composition from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars onboard the NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Green hues are consistent with carbonate-rich materials, while brown/yellow hues are olivine-bearing sands, and locations with purple hues are basaltic in composition. The gray-scale base map is a mosaic of daytime THEMIS infrared images. (Larger image)
From the 1880s to the 1950s, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) engraved information from its surveys on metal plates (usually copper) as part of a lithographic printing process to reproduce topographic and geologic maps, geologic cross sections, and other illustrations. The engraved plates show point and line symbols and text for topography, hydrography, geology, and cultural features.
The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is selling by auction to the public 1,795 sets of excess USGS engravings. (A set includes the engravings that USGS used to reproduce an illustration.) The available sets portray mapped areas in most States and Puerto Rico. This effort follows the successful auction of sets that GSA conducted last spring.
Because of the large number of sets, GSA will auction the sets in four sales. Each sale will auction about 450 sets. The auctions will occur online through the GSA Auctions web site.
The first sale, for sets that map areas in the western United States, started on August 28 and will end on September 11, 2015. A new sale will start about every 30 days.
After the reserve price is met, the price for each set will be decided by the highest bid. In addition to the amount bid, successful bidders will incur the cost of receiving and shipping their sets from Herndon, Virginia, where the sets are located.
To support the auctions, USGS posted the inventory of sets, notes about the sets, map files that show the areas mapped by most sets, and other information. USGS also posts status updates and a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) weekly. All this information is publicly available in files that can be downloaded from the Engravings FTP site.
Trends in pesticide concentrations in 38 major rivers in the U.S. during 1992-2010 reflect large-scale trends in pesticide use and regulatory changes, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The study, the first to rigorously compare riverine pesticide concentrations with trends in pesticide use at the national scale, examined 11 pesticides that have sufficient historical data for trend analyses and that are among the top 20 most frequently detected in rivers and streams in the United States. Most of the 11 long-used chemicals had primarily downward trends in concentrations in most regions over the study period. Focusing on this group of 11 pesticides with the most extensive concentration data affords a unique opportunity to study the relations between river concentrations and use or other factors that may influence trends.
Trends in pesticide concentrations followed agricultural usage patterns and regulatory restrictions on use for pesticides used primarily on agricultural crops — cyanazine, alachlor, atrazine (and its degradate, deethylatrazine), metolachlor, and carbofuran.
"In major river basins, the overall influence of agricultural pesticide use is so strong," said Karen Ryberg, USGS statistician and lead of the study, "that any changes in other causes of trends in pesticide concentrations in the water — changes that might be traced to enhanced agricultural management practices — are difficult to discern, especially without improved data on both the use of specific pesticides and the timing, location, and extent of management practices."
Alachlor concentration trends in major rivers, for example, declined nationwide from 1992-2010 as the use of alachlor, a herbicide most commonly applied to corn, dropped from about 20,000 to 2,500 metric tons. The introduction of a new herbicide (acetochlor) and the increase in use of glyphosate-resistant corn and soybeans contributed to the nationwide decline in alachlor use.
For pesticides with substantial use in both agricultural and urban areas — simazine, chlorpyrifos, malathion, diazinon, and carbaryl — pesticide concentration trends in major rivers reflect both agricultural and nonagricultural usage patterns.
Urban contributions of pesticides have marked effects on concentration trends of some pesticides in major rivers, despite there being a much smaller area of urban land compared to agriculture in most river basins.
More than 400 pesticides are used in agriculture each year. Regulatory changes, market forces, and introduction of new pesticides continually alter the use of these pesticides over time. The USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program currently monitors less than half of the pesticides currently being used for agriculture because of resource constraints. However, USGS is working to fill these gaps by monitoring new pesticides that come into use, such as the neonicotinoid and pyrethroid insecticides.
The article, "Trends in Pesticide Concentrations and Use for Major Rivers of the United States" by Karen Ryberg and Robert Gilliom, has recently been published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
National maps and trend graphs that show the distribution of the agricultural use of 459 pesticides for each year during 1992-2012 in the conterminous U.S. are available online.
Spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) are omnivores, often feeding on fruits and insects. (High resolution image)
In a paper released today in Science, a new model presents a common mathematical structure that underlies the full range of feeding strategies of plants and animals: from familiar parasites, predators, and scavengers to more obscure parasitic castrators and decomposers. Now ecologists can view all food-web interactions through the same lens using a common language to understand the natural world.
“Physicists use ‘string theory’ to decipher the universe, economists use complex regression methods to model the global economy, but what about the animals and plants that supply our food and that clean and produce the air we breathe?” said co-author Andrew Dobson, a professor in Princeton University’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
The model captures the structure of all the consumer-resource links, plants capturing sunlight, predators eating prey, and parasites eating hosts, that connect species in food webs. “It rolls a century’s worth of food-web mathematics into a single model,” said U.S. Geological Survey Ecologist and lead author Kevin Lafferty.
Although ecologists have previously assumed that different food web links had different structure, for example lions eating zebras operate in different ways than viruses causing disease, this new research finds that they share a common structure, but with distinct characteristics. Insights from past ecological research as well as new ecological models can now be viewed through a common framework akin to physics or chemistry. Co-author Armand Kuris of University of California Santa Barbara considers this “the first development of a unifying theory for ecology. With this approach we can now see the entire elephant, not just some of its parts.”
“Ecologists have long used mathematical equations to study how predators and diseases affect plant, animal and human populations,” said co-author Cheryl Briggs of UC Santa Barbara, “But these approaches have been idiosyncratic, limited in scope and full of hidden assumptions.”
The model emerged from a National Science Foundation sponsored working group organized by Lafferty and Dobson at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, a think tank at UC Santa Barbara where ecologists tackle big problems about the environment. The group first set out to reveal the hidden role of parasites in food webs. Early discussions took the group down the same road travelled by others - trying to find different functions to fit different types of parasites and predators.
After several years, the group realized that there was a consistent mathematical backbone underlying their efforts. Out of a jumble of seemingly unrelated and complicated mathematical expressions, they found a simple solution that generalized across a comprehensive range of ecological reactions and revealed previously unobserved similarities and hidden assumptions in classic ecological models. The solution provides a general mathematical framework for food-webs. Ecologists can use this general model to develop a deeper understanding of how the world functions ecologically; this will have profound implications for infectious diseases, fisheries, conservation and humans manage natural ecosystems.
The team anticipates their work will lead to a new generation of food web models that examine ecological structure more acutely and how that structure is responding to global change.
The paper “A General Consumer-Resource Population Model” published today in Science included authors from UC Santa Barbara, Stanford University, University of Bristol, Princeton University and the Santa Fe Institute.
The results are in. And the public clearly wins.
In April 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Blue Legacy International (a nonprofit organization) challenged solvers to use open government data sources to create compelling visualizations that would inform individuals and communities about nutrient pollution (high-levels of nitrogen and phosphorous that cause excessive growth of algae).
Nutrient pollution is one of America’s most widespread, costly, and challenging environmental problems. It degrades the nation’s waterways, municipal and industrial water resources, wildlife, recreation, and fishing. Nutrient pollution is far reaching and affects more than 100,000 miles of rivers and streams, close to 2.5 million acres of lakes, reservoirs, and ponds, and more than 800 square miles of bays and estuaries in the United States.
The ultimate goal for the visualization challenge is to inspire citizens to take action at the local watershed level to reduce nutrient pollution and thus help to prevent algal blooms and hypoxia.
Here are the results of the 2015 Visualizing Nutrients Challenge.
A Resource Out of Place: The Story of Phosphorus, Lake Erie, and Toxic Algal Blooms
This visualization, created by Matthew Seibert, Benjamin Wellington, and Eric Roy, of Landscape Metrics, uses USGS monitoring data to inform individuals and communities about phosphorus runoff to Lake Erie. The authors sought to “inspire multiple stakeholders to strive toward both better resource management and improved environmental quality.”
Demonstrating creative use of open water data and effective storytelling, the following visualization submissions warranted special recognition.
Short film illustrating nutrient levels on the Los Angeles River using a digital elevation model.
Catherine Griffiths, Isohale
How does increasing nutrients affect you?
Animated illustration and interactive nitrogen concentration tool.
Dr. Zofia Taranu
Interactive chart illustrating water quality results on the Loxahatchee River.
The Silent Predator of the Deep Blue: Hypoxia
Infographic explaining hypoxia.
Kayla Brady - Computer Aid, Inc.
Sathya Ram - Computer Aid, Inc.
Michael Ruiz - Computer Aid, Inc.
Matthew Peters - Computer Aid, Inc.
Thaumas Mathew - Computer Aid, Inc.
VizNut48: Nutrient Pollution in the US Surface Waters and Management Actions
ArcGIS map of US surface water plotting nutrient pollution results.
Visualizing Water Pollution Data Using Beck-Style Flow Path Maps
Illustration of water systems and site results modeled after public transit maps
Prof. Edward Aboufadel
Department of Mathematics, Grand Valley State University
Daniel P. Huffman
* These Challenge submissions can be viewed online.
First Place will receive $10,000. Both the Challenge Winner and Runners Up visualizations will be highlighted in a number of important forums, including a showcase at the Nutrient Sensor Summit in Washington, DC on August 12, 2015.
The Visualizing Nutrients Challenge is part of the broader work of the Challenging Nutrients Coalition. The coalition was formed in 2013 when the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy convened a group of federal agencies, universities, and non-profit organizations to seek innovative ways to address nutrient pollution.
This Challenge marks the starting point for further discussion and application of data visualization tools to help tell the stories of our water. Blue Legacy International, a water advocacy organization championed by global explorer Alexandra Cousteau, will promote the results of the Challenge across a variety of digital platforms, where anyone can join the discussion to advance three critical areas of data visualization for public awareness:
- Reliable and accurate use of water data,
- Effective and clear communication of water issues supported by data, and
- Transformation of complex water issue into relatable, tangible stories that inspire and activate the public.
Visualizing Nutrients builds on the activities of the Open Water Data Initiative that seeks to further integrate existing water datasets and make them more accessible to innovation and decision making. The Open Water Data Initiative works in conjunction with the President's Climate Data Initiative.
For additional information, visit the prize competition website.The results of the 2015 Visualizing Nutrients Challenge can be viewed online
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In the 20th century, Baranof Island in Southeastern Alaska has drawn attention for its gold, chrome and nickel deposits, timber industry, potential activity of the dormant Mount Edgecumbe volcano, and for numerous commercially developed hot springs. In addition, Baranof Island is known for its outstanding scenic fjords, pristine rainforests, and prolific fishing grounds.
A new map from the U.S. Geological Survey updates the geology of Baranof Island based on field studies, petrographic analyses of minerals, fossil ages, and isotopic ages for igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks. These new data provide constraints on ages of rock units and the structures that separate them, as well as insights on the regional tectonic processes that affected the rocks on Baranof Island. This work provides stratigraphic, geochemical, and structural evidence that ties Baranof Island geologically to Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii rather than other islands in southeast Alaska.
"This report is a modern synthesis of new work and many years of topical investigations," said USGS geologist Susan Karl. "Pulling together all of this information in one product is a benefit to scientists working on similar or related studies, and is of interest to the general public for explanations of local geologic features such as the Mount Edgecumbe volcano, the Fairweather, Chatham Strait, and Peril Strait Faults, gold deposits, and hot springs."
A pamphlet complements the map and includes a geologic overview of the results of USGS studies and detailed rock unit descriptions. The map is available at the USGS Alaska Science Center website.
A new USGS study published in the journal River Research and Applications presents an extensive analysis of temporary (intermittent) streams across regions in the conterminous United States where such streams are prevalent (in the western plains and southwest) and describes their sensitivity to past climate.
Understanding how intermittent streams may be changing is important because they often serve critical — albeit impermanent — roles in supplying recharge to aquifers, transferring snowmelt water to perennial streams, accumulating agricultural and municipal effluents, and maintaining aquatic biological diversity downstream, to name a few examples.
Five distinct types of intermittent streams with record lengths of generally over 40 years and with minimal direct human influence were identified for this study based on their seasonal patterns of no-flow periods. Each type of stream had a different mixture of the physical processes that generated no-flow events. These processes included the timing of precipitation, antecedent soil-moisture conditions, snowmelt, and evaporation. Notably, the duration of wet and dry periods were found to affect the seasonality of streamflow at intermittent streams, but the intensity of precipitation events had little effect.
The temporal patterns of streamflow regimes at these intermittent streams were shown to closely reflect climatic patterns. However, the lack of trends in historical variations in precipitation at natural watersheds for this investigation has produced no clear trends in flows at intermittent streams. Nevertheless, the sensitivity of streamflows to variability in precipitation suggests that potential future drying and wetting patterns in precipitation would impact streamflows at intermittent streams.
Eng, K., Wolock, D.M., and Dettinger, M.D., 2015. Sensitivity of intermittent streams to climate variations in the United States: River Research and Applications, 35 p. Online
Images of Intermittency
A typical intermittent stream — Cedar Creek near Cedar Point, Kansas. On Aug. 13, 2013, it flowed at 303 cubic feet per second (left). A year earlier, Aug. 1, 2012, there was only standing water with no flow (right). USGS images. (High resolution image)
The National Water-Quality Tool offers graphical forms of historical and current information about: water quality in the Nation's rivers and streams (top panel); nutrient loading in the tributaries of the Mississippi River (middle panel); and nitrate loads and yields in coastal rivers (bottom panel). (high resolution image)
A new USGS online tool provides graphical summaries of nutrients and sediment levels in rivers and streams across the Nation.
The online tool can be used to compare recent water-quality conditions to long-term conditions (1993-2014), download water-quality datasets (streamflow, concentrations, and loads), and evaluate nutrient loading to coastal areas and large tributaries throughout the Mississippi River Basin.
"Clean water is essential for public water supplies, fisheries, and recreation. It's vital to our health and economy,” said William Werkheiser, USGS associate director for water. “This annual release of water quality information in graphical form will provide resource managers with timely information on the quality of water in our rivers and streams and how it is changing over time.”
Graphical summaries of nutrients and sediment are available for 106 river and stream sites monitored as part of the USGS National Water-Quality Network for Rivers and Streams.
This tool was developed by the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program, which conducts regional and national assessments of the nation’s water quality to provide an understanding of water-quality conditions, whether conditions are getting better or worse over time, and how natural processes and human activities affect those conditions.