Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tuesday at the 100th Meeting of the Ecological Society of America

I moved between a few different sessions on Tuesday, August 11, 2015 at #ESA 100.  There were so many great urban ecology research talks to choose from, many of which have direct applications to how we build and manage gardens and other urban or suburban greenspaces.  A few highlights are below.

OOS13 - New Perspectives for Ecology during the Anthropocene: new paradigms, technologies and collaborations

#3:  Friedman et al. 'Modeling qualitative social data: collaborative approaches for and continuing challenges to crossing the qualitative-quantitative divide':  I sat in on this talk, because I am in the midst of my own qualitative-quantitative data divide.  Qualitative data includes the stories or narratives that people tell to researchers.  Quantitative data includes numbers and statistics.  I'm much more comfortable working with quantitative data, but I'm working on a project where the principle investigator works primarily with qualitative data.  Coming to a common understanding how to approach research questions, gather data and build analytical models has been a chore!  I was hoping that this talk would give me some tips for how to cross a disciplinary divide, so that we can maximize the impact of our project.  Friedman is an anthropologist and a researcher at the Center for Applied Social Research at the University of Oklahoma.  He presented a case study from one of his interdisciplinary projects, where the narratives (qualitative data) were used to identify the variables that should be quantified to build an explanatory model.  For complex problems or issues, where the outcome is the result of many factors (e.g. childhood obesity, water levels in reservoirs, urban pollution) ~ this can help to efficiently and specifically target research efforts to factors that are most meaningful to the people who are living and experiencing the problems that are being studied.

#8:  Ellis 'Ecology in an anthropogenic biosphere: new tools for anthropocene ecologists':  this talk presented an overview of Ellis' recent paper in Ecological Monographs.  Ellis argues that humans have transformed ecological relationships, and that sociocultural niche construction has played an important role in the development of human societies, but has also been responsible for the transformation of the biosphere.  Ultimately, Ellis argues that to study ecology, we need to understand and study human socio-cultural processes.  As an urban ecologist, I loved this presentation.  Ecology divorced from human culture, social interactions and behavior is missing a huge piece of the picture.  I'm thrilled to see more and more ecologists arguing for a truly integrated socio-ecological approach to the study of nature.  A few things that stuck with me from Ellis' talk:

  • Darwin was the first to note that culture evolves faster than genomes.  Ellis cited BronyCon (which was sharing convention space with ESA) as an example of this phenomenon.  
  • The term for anthropogenic biomes is anthromes.  This was a new term for me.

OOS19 - Green Roof Biodiversity and the Food Web

#5:  Snodgrass 'Plant selection on ecological green roofs'.  Snodgrass runs a commercial nursery that specializes in green roof plants ~ the only nursery in the United States to do so!  He's also written two Timber Press Books on green roofs, and consults on green roof projects around the United States.  Things that stuck with me from Snodgrass' talk:

  • from a design point of view, it's important to decide if you want your green roof to function as a garden (e.g. looks beautiful), or to function as a machine (e.g. filters water or insulates a building).  That decision will guide your design choices.
  • successful green roof plants often come from pioneer communities whose succession is arrested or halted, because of poor growing conditions that inhibit other species.  Successful green roof plants tend to be specialists, and not generalists.
  • green roof media reaches its wilting point 48 hours after a rain event.  So, green roof plants must be able to tolerate going from flood to drought conditions in a short period of time.
  • can you grow vegetables on a green roof?  You can, but is it a good idea?  Vegetables need nutrients, and what will you do with the nutrients coming off of the roof?  You should also measure deposition of atmospheric pollutants that land on the roof, to determine if it is a safe site to grow food.

OOS32 - Contributions of Urban Agriculture to the Urban Ecosystem

#1 Harada: 'Biogeochemistry of the Brooklyn grange, and urban rooftop farm'.  The Brooklyn Grange is a 0.6 ha farm on top of an 11-story building that used to be part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  I felt lucky to hear this talk, immediately after Snodgrass' talk in another session.  Since Snodgrass asked 'what do you do with all of the nutrients coming off of the roof?', I wanted to hear what Harada and colleagues found.  Indeed. they documented that an urban rooftop farm is a 'leaky' system.  You apply a lot of water, and a lot of water comes off of the roof.  You apply a lot of fertilizer (in the form or compost and other organic nutrients), and a lot of nitrogen comes off of the roof.  The Brooklyn Grange has a ton of potential as a demonstration of successful urban farming, but it will be interesting to hear how the farm managers respond to the data that shows that a lot of nitrogen is coming off of the roof, and flowing directly into local waterways.  If urban, rooftop farming is going to be a sustainable practice ~ we need to do a better job managing water loss and nutrient leaching.

#6, MacIvor and Packer 'Bee hotels to enhance native pollinators: a premature verdict?'.  This talk examined the efficacy of bee hotels for attracting native pollinators.  The full methods and data are accessible in this PLOS paper.  Highlights:

  • you'll find more wasps than bees in a 'bee' hotel
  • perhaps we should stop calling them 'bee' hotels and instead call them biodiversity hotels, because these structures provide habitat for more than just bees
  • only ~ 30% of all bees nest in cavities, such as those provided by bee hotels.  If we're really serious about conserving bees, we need to look to the ground . . . since the vast majority of native bees are ground nesters.  This last point has tie-ins to my own research, which I presented on the last day of the meeting.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Monday at the 100th Meeting of the Ecological Society of America

I last attended a meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting in 2005.  That year, a few of my graduate students and I travelled to Montreal, Canada to present our research on insect diversity in New York City gardens.  I enjoyed reconnecting with friends and colleagues, but I left feeling like the ESA didn't have a place for us or our developing research program in urban ecology.

Fast forward 10 years:  I was thrilled to see that this year's meeting ~ the 100th meeting of the ESA ~ was full of opportunities to learn from and network with ecologists, engineers, geographers, designers, sociologists, educators and spiritual leaders who are keenly invested and involved in understanding how to build more sustainable, just and healthy cities.

What did I learn from #ESA100?  What inspired me?  Over the next few days, I'll put together my day-by-day impressions.  First up . . .

Monday, August 10, 2015

I started my morning by slipping into the Plenary session. Esteemed ecologists David Tilman and Margaret Palmer were joined by former US Representative and current Chief Executive of AAAS Rush Holt to set the stage for a conversation on 'what will a successful environmental agenda look like for the next 5, 10, 100 years?'.

Notables from the plenary session:

  • David Tilman on ethanol:  'I thought we'd be hard pressed to make a fuel worse than gasoline, but we've done it'.
  • David Tilman on the importance of agriculture to sustainability: suggested that to feed the world while conserving biodiversity, we need modern, precision agriculture and a healthier diet.
  • David Tilman on the impact of diet on the environment:  asked a rhetorical question 'how can we convince 11 billion people to change their diet?', and suggested that a Nobel Prize should go the chef who can create healthy, delicious and sustainable dishes.
  • Rush Holt on the status of science, today:  'Americans have lost their reverence for evidence.'
  • All speakers noted the importance of making science accessible to all.  I could not help but notice the irony of sitting in a hotel conference room with a mostly white audience . . . not too far from where the Baltimore riots occurred.  I grew up not too far from where we sat.  As a child, I didn't know anyone who was a scientist.  I never would have believed that *I* could be a scientist, if it weren't for a teacher who took the time to cultivate the confidence I needed to believe that a career in science was possible, for a kid like me.  Taking the time to reach out to others, inviting them to participate, and providing them with opportunities, mentoring and support is so incredibly important if we are sincere about diversifying science and the field of ecology.  Judging from the demographics of those at #ESA100, we still have a ways to go.
  • POTUS wished the ESA a happy birthday, and thanked ecologists for our contributions to society.  

In the afternoon, I moved between several different sessions.  Some interesting tidbits:

  • Lindell et al. 'Birds in orchards: economic, biological, and social aspects of ecosystem services':  birds such as starlings cause a lot of damage to fruit orchards.  The researchers installed nesting boxes to attract kestrels that might help control the fruit-eating birds.  Analysis of kestrel diet showed that they mostly eat insects and mammals, but that they occasionally eat starlings.  They then surveyed consumers to see what type of control they would prefer for pest birds.  Consumers preferred, and would be willing to pay more, for fruit that was protected from pest birds by kestrels . . . compared to the use of pellet guns or other deterrents for bird control.
  • Lopez et al. 'Drivers of plant species composition in an urban landscape: which variables matter most?':  looked at plant species composition in forest fragments along an urban gradient. Among other factors, researchers found that distance to urban centers was positively related to the prevalence of invasive species in forest fragments.  This suggests that horticultural use of non-native species played an important role in the introduction of invasive species into forest fragments.
  • Thorn et al. 'Quantitative scenarios for land cover change in New Hampshire: what is the potential impact on ecosystem services?':  for this series of simulations, ecosystem service degradation seemed to take hold when the percent of paved surfaces in the landscape surpassed 10%.
  • Cattell Noll et all. 'How does consuming organic products affect my nitrogen footprint?': the University of Virginia has developed an online tool that you can use to calculate your nitrogen footprint.  How cool!