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As human populations have expanded, Earth's atmosphere and natural waters have become dumps for agricultural and industrial wastes. Remediation methods of the last half century have been largely unsuccessful. In many US watersheds, surface waters are eutrophic, and coastal water bodies, such as the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, have become increasingly hypoxic. The algal turf scrubber (ATS) is an engineered system for flowing pulsed wastewaters over sloping surfaces with attached, naturally seeded filamentous algae. This treatment has been demonstrated for tertiary sewage, farm wastes, streams, and large aquaculture systems; rates as large as 40 million to 80 million liters per day (lpd) are routine. Whole-river-cleaning systems of 12 billion lpd are in development. The algal biomass, produced at rates 5 to 10 times those of other types of land-based agriculture, can be fermented, and significant research and development efforts to produce ethanol, butanol, and methane are under way. Unlike with algal photobioreactor systems, the cost of producing biofuels from the cleaning of wastewaters by ATS can be quite low.
Rapid, extensive, and ongoing environmental change increasingly demands that humans intervene in ecosystems to maintain or restore ecosystem services and biodiversity. At the same time, the basic principles and tenets of restoration ecology and conservation biology are being debated and reshaped. Escalating global change is resulting in widespread no-analogue environments and novel ecosystems that render traditional goals unachievable. Policymakers and the general public, however, have embraced restoration without an understanding of its limitations, which has led to perverse policy outcomes. Therefore, a new ecology, free of pre- and misconceptions and directed toward meaningful interventions, is needed. Interventions include altering the biotic and abiotic structures and processes within ecosystems and changing social and policy settings. Interventions can be aimed at leverage points, both within ecosystems and in the broader social system—particularly, feedback loops that either maintain a particular state or precipitate a rapid change from one state to another.
Environmental hazards are distributed in nonrandom patterns; therefore, many biologists work to predict future hazard locations from the locations of past incidents. Predictive spatial models, or risk maps, promise early warning and targeted prevention of nonnative species invasion, disease spread, or wildlife damage. The prevention of hazards safeguards both humans and native biodiversity, especially in the case of conflicts with top predators. Top predators play essential ecological roles and maintain biodiversity, but they can also threaten human life and livelihood, which leads people to eradicate predator populations. In the present article, we present a risk map for gray wolf (Canis lupus) attacks on livestock in Wisconsin between 1999 and 2006 that correctly identified risk in 88% of subsequent attack sites from 2007 to 2009. More-open habitats farther from any forest and closer to wolf pack ranges were the riskiest for livestock. Prediction promotes prevention. We recommend that the next generation of risk mappers employ several criteria for model selection, validate model predictions against data not used in model construction before publication, and integrate predictors from organismal biology alongside human and environmental predictors.
The Invaders of Texas program is a successful citizen science program in which volunteers survey and monitor invasive plants throughout Texas. Invasive plants are being introduced at alarming rates, and our limited knowledge about their distribution is a major cause for concern. The Invaders of Texas program trains citizen scientists to detect the arrival and dispersal of invasive plants in their local areas and to report them into an online, statewide mapping database. In order to test the value of citizen scientists' data, we compared Invaders of Texas citizen scientists' observations of Arando donax (giant reed) with previously recorded A. donax observations in Texas and found an increase in the reed's overall distribution. A comparison with observations from the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England, a similar citizen science program, confirmed that, given proper training, citizen scientists are able to detect and report invasive plants in their local areas, and the data they collect can be used by professional scientists.
In response to the need to prepare students to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, new models of graduate education are being developed across the country. One model is provided by the National Science Foundation's Graduate Teaching Fellows in K—12 Education (GK—12) program, which broadens graduate students' training beyond their traditional research programs. We explored the impact of an ecologically focused GK—12 program at The University of Montana and the broader impacts of a set of other environmental-science-oriented GK—12 programs in the United States. These types of programs are urgently needed to ensure that future leaders of the scientific enterprise are well equipped with the tools to conduct science as skilled collaborators, to address the key interdisciplinary questions that arise from complex environmental challenges facing society, and to better communicate their science with diverse audiences well beyond their scientific peers.
We explore the connections among indigenous climate-related narratives, documented temperature changes, and climate change impact studies from the scientific literature. We then propose a framework for enhancing synthesis of these indigenous narratives of observed climate change with global assessments. Our aim is to contribute to the thoughtful and respectful integration of indigenous knowledge with scientific data and analysis, so that this rich body of knowledge can inform science and so that indigenous peoples can use the tools and methods of science for the benefit of their communities if they choose to do so. Improving ways of understanding such connections is critical as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report process proceeds.