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Robert Mesta sits in a dingy office in an old converted YMCA building a few blocks from the University of Arizona campus in Tucson, pondering the answer to a reporter's question.“We are facilitators,” says Mesta, coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Sonoran Joint Venture program. “We are a collaborative partnership that works through local and regional groups in a nonregulatory way to achieve bird conservation. We represent a relatively new tool for doing science-based conservation.”
Simon A. Levin, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University, was awarded the Kyoto Prize in 2005 for “the establishment of the field of spatial ecology and the proposition of the biosphere as a ‘complex adaptive system.’” In this interview, Oksana Hlodan, editor of ActionBioscience.org (an education resource of the American Institute of Biological Sciences), explores Levin's research interests and insights.
International agreements, environmental laws, resource management agencies, and environmental nongovernmental organizations all establish objectives that define what they hope to accomplish. Unfortunately, quantitative objectives in conservation are typically set without consistency and scientific rigor. As a result, conservationists are failing to provide credible answers to the question “How much is enough?” This is a serious problem because objectives profoundly shape where and how limited conservation resources are spent, and help to create a shared vision for the future. In this article we develop guidelines to help steer conservation biologists and practitioners through the process of objective setting. We provide three case studies to highlight the practical challenges of objective setting in different social, political, and legal contexts. We also identify crucial gaps in our science, including limited knowledge of species distributions and of large-scale, long-term ecosystem dynamics, that must be filled if we hope to do better than setting conservation objectives through intuition and best guesses.
Aerial transport alone is seldom responsible for the introduction of nonindigenous species into distant regions; however, the capacity to use the atmospheric pathway for rapid spread in large part determines the invasive potential of organisms once they are introduced. Because physical and biological features of Earth's surface influence the routes and timing of organisms that use the atmospheric pathway, long-distance movement of aerobiota is largely regular and thus predictable. Soybean rust (Phakopsora pachyrhizi), potentially the most destructive foliar disease of soybean, recently invaded North America. The concepts presented in this article form the basis of the soybean rust aerobiology prediction system (SRAPS) that was developed to assess potential pathogen movement from South America to the United States. Output from SRAPS guided the scouting operations after the initial discovery of soybean rust in Louisiana. Subsequent observations ofP. pachyrhiziin the southeastern United States provide validation of the modeling effort.
The prairie pothole region (PPR) lies in the heart of North America and contains millions of glacially formed, depressional wetlands embedded in a landscape matrix of natural grassland and agriculture. These wetlands provide valuable ecosystem services and produce 50% to 80% of the continent's ducks. We explored the broad spatial and temporal patterns across the PPR between climate and wetland water levels and vegetation by applying a wetland simulation model (WETSIM) to 18 stations with 95-year weather records. Simulations suggest that the most productive habitat for breeding waterfowl would shift under a drier climate from the center of the PPR (the Dakotas and southeastern Saskatchewan) to the wetter eastern and northern fringes, areas currently less productive or where most wetlands have been drained. Unless these wetlands are protected and restored, there is little insurance for waterfowl against future climate warming. WETSIM can assist wetland managers in allocating restoration dollars in an uncertain climate future.
We add to current discussions about the interface between ecology, values, and objectivity by reporting on a novel Delphi-based study of the scientific reasoning employed by a group of eight ecologists as they collectively considered current ecological thinking. We rely on contextual empiricism, with its features of multiple ways of relating theory to reality and science as a social activity, to provide a richer understanding of scientific objectivity. This understanding recognizes the place and contributions of values and, in so doing, moves the discussion beyond whether or not science is “value neutral.”
Have employment opportunities matched the tremendous growth in the production of biological scientists? Has job growth been consistent across the various biological and agricultural disciplines? And has compensation for these highly trained professionals kept up with other fields? This article examines these issues using national data from two sources: (1) the National Science Foundation's education and employment databases, the Integrated Science and Engineering Resources Data System (WebCASPAR) and the Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT); and (2) 2004 employment and salary membership information collected by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. We find a fairly mixed picture for life scientists at the beginning of the 21st century. Degree production has continued to grow steadily at all levels of postsecondary education, led by an increasing number of women interested in the field. Current job prospects seem fairly positive overall, with low unemployment, but job opportunities vary by sector and subdiscipline. Salaries, while lagging behind those for medicine and engineering, are above national averages. Negative findings include a distinct decline in tenure rates, and a huge salary gap between men and women.
With sea levels rising under global warming, dredge-and-fill programs are increasingly employed to protect coastal development from shoreline erosion. Such beach “nourishment” can bury shallow reefs and degrade other beach habitats, depressing nesting in sea turtles and reducing the densities of invertebrate prey for shorebirds, surf fishes, and crabs. Despite decades of agency-mandated monitoring at great expense, much uncertainty about the biological impacts of beach nourishment nonetheless exists. A review of 46 beach monitoring studies shows that (a) only 11 percent of the studies controlled for both natural spatial and temporal variation in their analyses, (b) 56 percent reached conclusions that were not adequately supported, and (c) 49 percent failed to meet publication standards for citation and synthesis of related work. Monitoring is typically conducted through project promoters, with no independent peer review, and the permitting agencies exhibit inadequate expertise to review biostatistical designs. Monitoring results are rarely used to scale mitigation to compensate for injured resources. Reform of agency practices is urgently needed as the risk of cumulative impacts grows.