Making cows more environmentally friendly

Posted: 29 Mar 2017 09:26 AM PDT ScienceDaily summary here

An important discovery surrounding plants used to feed livestock has been released by scientists. They report that plants growing in warmer conditions are tougher and have lower nutritional value to grazing livestock, potentially inhibiting milk and meat yields and raising the amount of methane released by the animals. Higher amounts of methane are produced when plants are tougher to digest — an effect of a warmer environment. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, around 25 times better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. More than 95% of the methane produced by cows comes from their breath through eructation (belching) as they “chew the cud.”

“Our research has shown that cultivating more nutritious plants may help us to combat the challenges of warmer temperatures. We are undertaking work at Kew to identify the native forage plants that are associated with high meat and milk production and less methane, attempting to increase their presence on the grazing landscape. We are also developing our models to identify regions where livestock are going to be exposed to reductions in forage quality with greater precision. It is going to be important to put plans in place to help those countries exposed to the most severe challenges from climate change to adapt to a changing world” said Dr Mark Lee.

Mark A. Lee, Aaron P. Davis, Mizeck G. G. Chagunda, Pete Manning. Forage quality declines with rising temperatures, with implications for livestock production and methane emissions. Biogeosciences, 2017; 14 (6): 1403 DOI: 10.5194/bg-14-1403-2017

Local cooling value of forests: fighting global warming more than previously understood

Local cooling value of forests affirms need for greater forest conservation, protection

Posted: 27 Mar 2017 08:46 AM PDT  ScienceDaily article here

Forests take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. At the same time, forests promote the turbulent mixing of air near the surface and transpire large amounts of moisture to the atmosphere. A new study exposes the importance of these processes in keeping much of the planet’s surface cool….

Ryan M. Bright, Edouard Davin, Thomas O’Halloran, Julia Pongratz, Kaiguang Zhao, Alessandro Cescatti. Local temperature response to land cover and management change driven by non-radiative processes. Nature Climate Change, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate3250

Restoration resilience: buffering against climate change

Posted: 29 Mar 2017 11:57 AM PDT  ScienceDaily article here

A new paper by the University of Washington and NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center aims to provide clarity among scientists, resource managers and planners on what ecological resilience means and how it can be achieved….

….Timpane-Padgham scoured the scientific literature for all mentions of ecological resilience, then pared down the list of relevant articles to 170 examined for this study. She then identified in each paper the common attributes, or metrics, that contribute to resilience among species, populations or ecosystems. For example, genetic diversity and population density were commonly mentioned in the literature as attributes that help populations either recover from or resist disturbance…[they then] grouped the various resilience attributes into five large categories, based on whether they affected individual plants or animals; whole populations; entire communities of plants and animals; ecosystems; or ecological processes…

The researchers say this work could be useful for people who manage ecosystem restoration projects and want to improve the chances of success under climate change. They could pick from the ordered list of attributes that relate specifically to their project and begin incorporating tactics that promote resilience from the start.

Specifying resilience attributes that are appropriate for the system and that can be measured repeatably will help move resilience from concept to practice,” Klinger said…”The threat of climate change and its impacts is a considerable issue that should be looked at from the beginning of a restoration project. It needs to be its own planning objective,” Timpane-Padgham said….

Britta L. Timpane-Padgham, Tim Beechie, Terrie Klinger. A systematic review of ecological attributes that confer resilience to climate change in environmental restoration. PLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (3): e0173812 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0173812

Extreme weather events linked to climate change impact on the jet stream

Posted: 27 Mar 2017 05:31 AM PDT  ScienceDaily article here

Unprecedented summer warmth and flooding, forest fires, drought and torrential rain — extreme weather events are occurring more and more often, but now an international team of climate scientists has found a connection between many extreme weather events and the impact climate change is having on the jet stream. “We came as close as one can to ,” said Michael Mademonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather eventsnn, distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State. “Short of actually identifying the events in the climate models.”

The unusual weather events that piqued the researchers’ interest are things such as the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Pakistan flood and Russian heatwave, the 2011 Texas and Oklahoma heat wave and drought and the 2015 California wildfires….

Michael E. Mann, Stefan Rahmstorf, Kai Kornhuber, Byron A. Steinman, Sonya K. Miller, Dim Coumou. Influence of Anthropogenic Climate Change on Planetary Wave Resonance and Extreme Weather Events. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 45242 DOI: 10.1038/srep45242

Satellites reveal bird habitat loss in California- Point Blue joint publication

New publication co-authored by Point Blue scientists

Posted: 27 Mar 2017 01:49 PM PDT See full ScienceDaily article here

Reduced seasonal flooding of wetlands and farm fields in California’s Sacramento Valley threatens a key stopover site for migratory shorebirds, a new study shows. Landsat satellite images reveal that flooded habitat is most limited during peak spring migration when the birds urgently need resting and feeding sites. Near the peak of migration, an area of seasonally flooded land twice the size of Washington, D.C. has been lost since 1983….

The researchers’ analysis of historical biweekly NASA Landsat satellite images of the valley reveals that flooded habitat near the peak time of spring migration has shrunk by more than twice the size of Washington, D.C. over the last 30 years.

“On average, we’re losing an area about four times the size of Central Park each year, during a critical window of time in late March,” said Danica Schaffer-Smith, a doctoral student at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who conducted the study with researchers from the nonprofit Point Blue Conservation Science.

More than half of all shorebird species in the Western hemisphere are now in decline, Schaffer-Smith noted….

…During the worst of the recent drought years, conservation organizations [The Nature Conservancy, Point Blue Conservation Science, CA Rice Commission, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and others] joined forces to launch BirdReturns, a payment-for-services program that compensated farmers for flooding their fields to provide additional habitat for birds, Schaffer-Smith said. The new study’s findings could help guide the future timing and location of such initiatives.

“Years of drought have heightened scrutiny of water use in California to the point that even rice farmers have begun to explore a switch to drip irrigation to conserve water, but these fields provide important habitat where wetlands have been lost,” she said. Schaffer-Smith and her colleagues published their peer-reviewed paper this month in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment. The study is freely available online through May 3, 2017.

“Satellite imagery can help us get the biggest bang for our buck by targeting conservation initiatives in a specific window of time at key locations,” she said. “Landsat is the longest running Earth observation satellite system we have, and free access to this data enables researchers to look at the effects of seasonality, climate cycles, and long-term trends in land-use change.”

Danica Schaffer-Smith, Jennifer J. Swenson, Blake Barbaree, Matthew E. Reiter. Three decades of Landsat-derived spring surface water dynamics in an agricultural wetland mosaic; Implications for migratory shorebirds. Remote Sensing of Environment, 2017; 193: 180 DOI: 10.1016/j.rse.2017.02.016

Note: Dr. Matt Reiter is a Point Blue Quantitative Ecologist and Blake Barbaree is a Point Blue Avian Habitat Ecologist. Danica is supported by a PhD fellowship from NASA that Dr. Matt Reiter helped her with in early 2013.

Asian dust providing key nutrients for California’s giant sequoias

Posted: 28 Mar 2017 05:29 AM PDT ScienceDaily article here

Dust from as far away as the Gobi Desert in Asia is providing more nutrients than previously thought for plants, including giant sequoias, in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, a team of scientists have found. The scientists found that dust from the Gobi Desert and the Central Valley of California contributed more phosphorus for plants in the Sierra Nevadas than bedrock weathering, which is breaking down of rock buried beneath the soil. Phosophorus is one of the basic elements that plants need to survive, and the Sierra Nevadas are considered a phosphorus-limited ecosystem.

The study may help scientists predict the impacts of climate change which is expected to increase drought and create more desert conditions around the world, possibly including California. If that happens, based on these findings, scientists expect a lot more dust moving in the atmosphere, and likely bringing phosphorus and important nutrients to far flung mountainous ecosystems….

…The percentage of Asian dust ranged from 20 percent on average at the lowest elevation, to 45 percent on average at the highest elevation. The percentages were higher at the higher elevation sites because dust tends to travel high in the air stream and not fall unless it hits an object, such as a mountain. The researchers found that the amount of dust from Central Valley sources was greater at lower elevations compared to higher elevations. That was expected, but they also found that more Central Valley dust was entering higher elevations later in the dry season than just after the spring rains….

…The researchers believe their findings will hold true for other mountainous ecosystems around the world and have implications for predicting forest response to changes in climate and land use.

S. M. Aciego, C. S. Riebe, S. C. Hart, M. A. Blakowski, C. J. Carey, S. M. Aarons, N. C. Dove, J. K. Botthoff, K. W. W. Sims, E. L. Aronson. Dust outpaces bedrock in nutrient supply to montane forest ecosystems. Nature Communications, 2017; 8: 14800 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms14800

Note: Co-author, Dr. Chelsea Carey, is Point Blue’s Soil Ecologist.

Accelerating Nature-Based Solutions for ‘Negative Emissions’ and other Benefits

with Dr. Grant Ballard, Chief Science Officer, Point Blue Conservation Science

submitted to 2017 National Adaptation Forum

Human-caused impacts on ecosystems, from changes in land-use to climate, are accelerating, already exceeding some planetary boundaries or tipping points.  The speed and severity of environmental change pose unprecedented challenges to wildlife and human communities.

While life as we know it is totally reliant on nature’s services to sustain us, public policy- globally, nationally and regionally- is only recently beginning to recognize and prioritize the value of adding nature-based approaches to the climate-change solutions tool box.

Climate-smart ecological restoration and conservation management approaches that not only maintain but accelerate the production of benefits from functioning ecosystems, such as carbon sequestration (“negative emissions”), replenishing groundwater, enhancing biodiversity and sustaining our communities, are required to secure our future. Examples of innovative and climate-smart conservation practice from the Sierra Nevada to the Pacific Ocean will be shared. The presentation will conclude with a hopeful vision for our future.

Science not Silence: Point Blue and the March for Science

  • Science is essential to democracy
  • Scientists should advocate for science
  • Point Blue supports its staff in advocating for science and attending the March for Science, April 22, 2017

March 10, 2017  by Ellie Cohen

Recent efforts to silence government scientists and decimate research budgets, particularly around climate change, are deeply disturbing. These attacks raise serious questions about the role of scientists in a democracy. Should scientists advocate for science? Or by doing so, do they add to fuel to the fire of partisan politics and weaken public support for science?

There is a growing movement to speak out within the science community. A recent march in Boston drew thousands with placards including Science not Silence, Science Does Not Discriminate, and Facts Matter. The next focal point is the “March for Science” in Washington, DC and across the country, on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22.  It is endorsed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Ecological Society of America, among others.

Science is inherently non-partisan, built on systematic, transparent and peer-reviewed inquiry, observation and evidence.  In that light, I believe scientists should advocate for science and scientific findings. However, there is an enormous divide between how most scientists view the world versus the general public.  Scientists need to significantly improve how we communicate what we do and the value of our work to society.

The March is an opportunity to instruct and catalyze scientists to reach out across the political and social spectrum. Just as science builds bridges across cultural divides in ways that few other disciplines can, the March for Science offers an opportunity for cross-boundary community-building. It is a chance to tell our stories about how science drives human understanding, economic innovation and our collective well-being.

The March also provides a platform to communicate the foundational nature of science to a healthy, vibrant democracy. We need to share how science helps humanity discover and illuminate truths upon which policy makers can act to better the lives of the people they serve.

It seems to me that advocating for science is especially urgent today in the face of accelerating climate change and the loss of ecosystem services which threaten life as we know it.

Along the lines of Rabbi Hillel’s sage words from 2,000 years ago, if scientists don’t stand up for science, who will? And what better time than now?

Note: Point Blue Conservation Science supports its science staff in attending the March for Science and advocating for science.

TNC distributing $6m for climate-smart land trust efforts in West

Conservation group maps land protection strategy in West

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — …The Nature Conservancy (TNC) says it has $6 million from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation that it’s now distributing among land trusts that must come up with five times the amount in matching funds for approved easements or acquisition… “We’re protecting lands in the three states that are identified as being resilient,” said Ken Popper, senior conservation planner with The Nature Conservancy. “In the short term, we’re looking at wildlife movements and in the long term movements of habitats….”

…the information is the result of dozens of data sets that include soil maps, vegetation maps, species distribution, moisture, elevation and the locations of roads, powerlines, cities and towns. He said the maps, available to the public, took four years to create at a cost of $350,000. The idea behind the project is for local land trusts to use the information to identify private lands that could be strongholds for species threatened by climate change. “Those refugia areas will allow plants and animals to adapt to climate change as it occurs,” Popper said….

TNC maps and data available here