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With gray wolves restored to Yellowstone National Park, this ecosystem once again supports the full native array of large ungulates and their attendant large carnivores. We consider the possible ecological implications of wolf restoration in the context of another national park, Isle Royale, where wolves restored themselves a half-century ago. At Isle Royale, where resident mammals are relatively few, wolves completely eliminated coyotes and went on to influence moose population dynamics, which had implications for forest growth and composition. At Yellowstone, we predict that wolf restoration will have similar effects to a degree, reducing elk and coyote density. As at Isle Royale, Yellowstone plant communities will be affected, as will mesocarnivores, but to what degree is as yet undetermined. At Yellowstone, ecosystem response to the arrival of the wolf will take decades to unfold, and we argue that comprehensive ecological research and monitoring should be an essential long-term component of the management of Yellowstone National Park.
Human production of food and energy is the dominant continental process that breaks the triple bond in molecular nitrogen (N2) and creates reactive nitrogen (Nr) species. Circulation of anthropogenic Nr in Earth’s atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere has a wide variety of consequences, which are magnified with time as Nr moves along its biogeochemical pathway. The same atom of Nr can cause multiple effects in the atmosphere, in terrestrial ecosystems, in freshwater and marine systems, and on human health. We call this sequence of effects the nitrogen cascade. As the cascade progresses, the origin of Nr becomes unimportant. Reactive nitrogen does not cascade at the same rate through all environmental systems; some systems have the ability to accumulate Nr, which leads to lag times in the continuation of the cascade. These lags slow the cascade and result in Nr accumulation in certain reservoirs, which in turn can enhance the effects of Nr on that environment. The only way to eliminate Nr accumulation and stop the cascade is to convert Nr back to nonreactive N2.
The northeastern United States receives elevated inputs of anthropogenic nitrogen (N) largely from net imports of food and atmospheric deposition, with lesser inputs from fertilizer, net feed imports, and N fixation associated with leguminous crops. Ecological consequences of elevated N inputs to the Northeast include tropospheric ozone formation, ozone damage to plants, the alteration of forest N cycles, acidification of surface waters, and eutrophication in coastal waters. We used two models, PnET-BGC and WATERSN, to evaluate management strategies for reducing N inputs to forests and estuaries, respectively. Calculations with PnET-BGC suggest that aggressive reductions in N emissions alone will not result in marked improvements in the acid–base status of forest streams. WATERSN calculations showed that management scenarios targeting removal of N by wastewater treatment produce larger reductions in estuarine N loading than scenarios involving reductions in agricultural inputs or atmospheric emissions. Because N pollution involves multiple sources, management strategies targeting all major pollution sources will result in the greatest ecological benefits.
Concern is resurfacing in the United States over the long-term effects of excess nitrogen (N) deposition and mobility in the environment. We present here a new synthesis of existing data sets for the northeastern United States, intended to answer a single question: Is N deposition altering the N status of forest ecosystems in this region? Surface water data suggest a significant increase in nitrate losses with N deposition. Soil data show an increase in nitrification with decreasing ratio of soil carbon to nitrogen (C:N) but weaker relationships between N deposition and soil C:N ratio or nitrification. Relationships between foliar chemistry and N deposition are no stronger than with gradients of climate and elevation. The differences in patterns for these three groups of indicators are explained by the degree of spatial and temporal integration represented by each sample type. The surface water data integrate more effectively over space than the foliar or soil data and therefore allow a more comprehensive view of N saturation. We conclude from these data that N deposition is altering N status in northeastern forests.
Nitrogen (N) deposition in the western United States ranges from 1 to 4 kilograms (kg) per hectare (ha) per year over much of the region to as high as 30 to 90 kg per ha per year downwind of major urban and agricultural areas. Primary N emissions sources are transportation, agriculture, and industry. Emissions of N as ammonia are about 50% as great as emissions of N as nitrogen oxides. An unknown amount of N deposition to the West Coast originates from Asia. Nitrogen deposition has increased in the West because of rapid increases in urbanization, population, distance driven, and large concentrated animal feeding operations. Studies of ecological effects suggest that emissions reductions are needed to protect sensitive ecosystem components. Deposition rates are unknown for most areas in the West, although reasonable estimates are available for sites in California, the Colorado Front Range, and central Arizona. National monitoring networks provide long-term wet deposition data and, more recently, estimated dry deposition data at remote sites. However, there is little information for many areas near emissions sources.
In the western United States vast acreages of land are exposed to low levels of atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition, with interspersed hotspots of elevated N deposition downwind of large, expanding metropolitan centers or large agricultural operations. Biological response studies in western North America demonstrate that some aquatic and terrestrial plant and microbial communities are significantly altered by N deposition. Greater plant productivity is counterbalanced by biotic community changes and deleterious effects on sensitive organisms (lichens and phytoplankton) that respond to low inputs of N (3 to 8 kilograms N per hectare per year). Streamwater nitrate concentrations are elevated in high-elevation catchments in Colorado and are unusually high in southern California and in some chaparral catchments in the southwestern Sierra Nevada. Chronic N deposition in the West is implicated in increased fire frequency in some areas and habitat alteration for threatened species. Between hotspots, N deposition is too low to cause noticeable effects or has not been studied.
Rodents have been studied extensively in the laboratory as model species to address and, in some cases, develop paradigms in mammalian behavioral biology. However, the laboratory environment presents obvious limitations that can compromise results, inferences, and application to evolutionary theory and the species’ natural history. Here I revisit several research areas that have been developed in the laboratory that either have never been tested in the field or, when they were tested, did not support laboratory results. Some of these studies include the Bruce effect, scent marking, mate choice, artificial selection, predator-induced reproductive suppression, and other behavioral anomalies. Whether laboratory results for these and other studies have produced facts or artifacts is equivocal, but they warrant critical evaluation. Rodents are excellent model systems for testing hypotheses in behavioral ecology. However, to improve our confidence in results from laboratory studies, the behavior being studied should be documented in the field, subjected to alternative hypothesis testing, applied to evolutionary theory and the species’ natural history, and field-validated.
Larger US river–floodplain ecosystems are severely degraded. We analyze how public proprietary interests in streambeds and floodplains afford enormous untapped opportunity to protect them. We estimate that states hold in trust for the public approximately 500,000 kilometers of streambeds and hundreds of thousands of hectares of island-derived floodplains that continue to form at thousands of hectares annually. We find that although courts in 42 states have enforced public proprietary interests in submerged lands and floodplains, only three states have inventoried public streambeds, and no state has a comprehensive program to find, claim, and manage public streambeds and floodplains. We describe a legally and scientifically sound strategy to limit human interference with fluvial geomorphic processes, thereby regenerating diverse habitats and securing their myriad benefits, and we show how numerous successes in claiming and protecting public submerged lands and floodplains in dozens of states confirm the validity and power of this strategy.