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long-term research on freshwater ecosystems provides insights that can be difficult to obtain from other approaches. Widespread monitoring of ecologically relevant water-quality parameters spanning decades can facilitate important tests of ecological principles. Unique long-term data sets and analytical tools are increasingly available, allowing for powerful and synthetic analyses across sites. long-term measurements or experiments in aquatic systems can catch rare events, changes in highly variable systems, time-lagged responses, cumulative effects of stressors, and biotic responses that encompass multiple generations. Data are available from formal networks, local to international agencies, private organizations, various institutions, and paleontological and historic records; brief literature surveys suggest much existing data are not synthesized. Ecological sciences will benefit from careful maintenance and analyses of existing long-term programs, and subsequent insights can aid in the design of effective future long-term experimental and observational efforts. long-term research on freshwaters is particularly important because of their value to humanity.
Lost biomass of anadromous forage species resulting from the seventeenth to nineteenth century damming of waterways and from overharvest in the northeastern United States contributed to significant changes in coastal marine—terrestrial ecosystems. Historic alewife populations in Maine for the years 1600–1900 were assessed using analyses of nineteenth and twentieth century harvest records and waterway obstruction records dating to the 1600s. Obstructed spawning access in nine watersheds reduced the annual alewife productivity per watershed to 0%–16% of virgin estimates, equaling a cumulative lost fisheries production of 11 billion fish from 1750 to 1900. Including preharvest production, our estimates suggest a lost flux of anadromous forage fish increasing from 10 million fish per year in 1700 to 1.4 billion annually by 1850. Our results suggest a realignment of current restoration goals is needed to recognize oceanic and freshwater ecosystem interdependence and the gap between current targets and potential productivity.
Managed relocation is defined as the movement of species, populations, or genotypes to places outside the areas of their historical distributions to maintain biological diversity or ecosystem functioning with changing climate. It has been claimed that a major extinction event is under way and that climate change is increasing its severity. Projections indicating that climate change may drive substantial losses of biodiversity have compelled some scientists to suggest that traditional management strategies are insufficient. The managed relocation of species is a controversial management response to climate change. The published literature has emphasized biological concerns over difficult ethical, legal, and policy issues. Furthermore, ongoing managed relocation actions lack scientific and societal engagement. Our interdisciplinary team considered ethics, law, policy, ecology, and natural resources management in order to identify the key issues of managed relocation relevant for developing sound policies that support decisions for resource management. We recommend that government agencies develop and adopt best practices for managed relocation.
A focus on ecosystem services (ES) is seen as a means for improving decisionmaking. In the research to date, the valuation of the material contributions of ecosystems to human well-being has been emphasized, with less attention to important cultural ES and nonmaterial values. This gap persists because there is no commonly accepted framework for eliciting less tangible values, characterizing their changes, and including them alongside other services in decisionmaking. Here, we develop such a framework for ES research and practice, addressing three challenges: (1) Nonmaterial values are ill suited to characterization using monetary methods; (2) it is difficult to unequivocally link particular changes in socioecological systems to particular changes in cultural benefits; and (3) cultural benefits are associated with many services, not just cultural ES. There is no magic bullet, but our framework may facilitate fuller and more socially acceptable integrations of ES information into planning and management.
Although differently formatted cladograms (hierarchical diagrams depicting evolutionary relationships among taxa) depict the same information, they may not be equally easy to comprehend. Undergraduate biology students attempted to translate cladograms from the diagonal to the rectangular format. The “backbone” line of each diagonal cladogram was slanted either up or down to the right. Eye movement analyses indicated that the students had a general bias to scan from left to right. Their scanning direction also depended on the orientation of the “backbone” line, resulting in upward or downward scanning, following the directional slant of the line. Because scanning down facilitates correct interpretation of the nested relationships, translation accuracy was higher for the down than for the up cladograms. Unfortunately, most diagonal cladograms in textbooks are in the upward orientation. This probably impairs students' success at tree thinking (i.e., interpreting and reasoning about evolutionary relationships depicted in cladograms), an important twenty-first century skill.
Genetically engineered (GE) microalgae are nearing commercial release for biofuels production without sufficient public information or ecological studies to investigate their possible risks. Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) and eukaryotic green algae are likely to disperse widely from open ponds and, on a smaller scale with lower probability, from enclosed photobioreactors. With powerful molecular techniques, thousands of algal strains have been screened, hybridized, and redesigned to grow quickly and tolerate extreme conditions. Some biologists do not expect GE microalgae to survive in the wild. However, thorough ecological and evolutionary assessments are needed to test this assumption and, if the algae do survive, to confirm that their persistence is highly unlikely to cause environmental harm. Cyanobacteria are especially difficult to evaluate because of the chance of horizontal gene transfer with unrelated microbes. Before novel GE algae enter the environment, key biosafety and environmental risk issues should be formally addressed by teams of experts that include ecologists.