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The explosion of molecular data has transformed hypotheses on both the origin of eukaryotes and the structure of the eukaryotic tree of life. Early ideas about the evolution of eukaryotes arose through analyses of morphology by light microscopy and, later, electron microscopy. Though such studies have proven powerful at resolving more recent events, theories on origins and diversification of eukaryotic life have been substantially revised in light of analyses of molecular data including gene and, increasingly, whole-genome sequences. By combining these approaches, progress has been made in elucidating the origin and diversification of eukaryotes. Yet many aspects of the evolution of eukaryotic life remain to be illuminated.
Biological field stations in North America have significant potential for addressing the most pressing environmental challenges facing science and society. Many of these field stations are now actively engaged in research networks and developing environmental observatory networks. The Resource Discovery Initiative for Field Stations (RDIFS) represents a research coordination network developed to enhance data management capacity and better position field stations for the critical role they are to play in addressing environmental challenges. The RDIFS developed information resources and training programs to facilitate storage, discovery, and access to data and information that are collectively held at North American biological field stations. In this article, we highlight the capabilities and needs of biological field stations, identify specific data management challenges faced by field stations, describe the products of the RDIFS effort, and provide insight into the future of data management at field stations, especially in relation to participation in environmental observatory networks.
Understanding how biotic and abiotic factors influence the abundance and distribution of organisms has become more important with the growing awareness of the ecological consequences of climate change. In this article, we outline an approach that complements bioclimatic envelope modeling in quantifying the effects of climate change at the species level. The global population dynamics approach, which relies on distribution-wide, data-driven analyses of dynamics, goes beyond quantifying biotic interactions in population dynamics to identify hot spots of response to climate change. Such hot spots highlight populations or locations within species' distributions that are particularly sensitive to climate change, and identification of them should focus conservation and management efforts. An important result of the analyses highlighted here is pronounced variation at the species level in the strength and direction of population responses to warming. Although this variation complicates species-level predictions of responses to climate change, the global population dynamics approach may improve our understanding of the complex implications of climate change for species persistence or extinction.
Understanding environmental processes begins with mental conceptualizations of system components and interactions. Conceptualizing rivers begins with adopting one of two reference frames for observing movement: Eulerian, wherein the flux of objects is observed in a spatially bounded area, or Lagrangian, wherein specific objects are tracked through time. Mechanistic studies include Eulerian and Lagrangian data, with some negotiation of how much Eulerian and Lagrangian information may be needed to maximize the accuracy of understanding processes and the efficiency of data collection. Most studies rely on a presupposed reference frame, yet we suspect breakthroughs lurk in explicit alterations of presupposed reference frames. We analyze the importance of reference frames by contrasting the extent to which alternative reference frames have been used and combined in studies of sediment transport, fish migration, and river biogeochemistry. We show how adopting alternative or nonintuitive reference frames can facilitate novel research questions and observations, potentially triggering new research trajectories.
Regionally based, collaborative efforts from diverse stakeholders are critical to identify and address diverse and complicated environmental challenges. We present here an example from the Northern Forest Ecoregion of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, which currently is being degraded by a variety of simultaneous environmental impacts, including acid rain, fragmentation of landscapes, mercury and salt pollution of water resources, invasive alien species and diseases, and climate change. We propose five sustained, multigenerational actions to protect and restore the vital ecosystem functions of the Northern Forest Ecoregion.
Environmental problems are generally complex and blind to disciplinary boundaries. Efforts to devise long-term solutions require collaborative research that integrates knowledge across historically disparate fields, yet the traditional model for training new scientists emphasizes personal independence and disciplinary focus, Growing awareness of the limitations of the traditional model has spurred a reexamination of graduate training in the environmental sciences. Many institutions are implementing novel training approaches, with varying degrees of success. In this article, a group of current and former doctoral students evaluates our collective experience in one such program, the Biogeochemistry and Environmental Biocomplexity Program at Cornell University, funded by an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship grant from the National Science Foundation. We identify aspects of the program that contributed to our integrative research training experience, and discuss stumbling blocks that may arise in such programs. We conclude with recommendations for students and faculty interested in facilitating cross-disciplinary interactions at their home institutions.