Ecosystems


eco.SaveTheDate.5.4.2015

The Ecosystems Center will celebrate its 40th anniversary on June 5 and 6, 2015 at MBL.

The celebration will start with keynote talk on Friday evening, June 5, by John Holdren, Science Advisor to President Barack Obama.

A morning session on June 6 will feature invited talks on leading topics in ecosystem ecology and environmental science by people whose careers have been influenced by the Ecosystems Center. Speakers will include former Ecosystems Center Director John Hobbie, Carrie McCalley (former Semester in Environmental Science student), Breck Bowden (former graduate student and research assistant), Gillian Galford (former Brown-MBL PhD student), David Hooper (former research assistant), Suzanne Tank (former postdoc), and Angela Posada-Swafford (alumna of and advisor to the Logan Science Journalism Program).

In an afternoon session on Saturday, distinguished scientists William Schlesinger (Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies), Jerry Melillo (MBL), Penny Chisholm (MIT) and Ian Foster (University of Chicago) will present ideas about the future of ecosystem ecology and global change science in short talks and a moderated panel discussion.

All events will be held in MBL’s Lillie Auditorium and are open to the public.

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The Arctic researchers who gathered at the MBL in late February found the village in a winter deep-freeze, but this hardy group seemed nonplussed by the cold and piles of snow.

They were in Woods Hole for the Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) annual meeting, hosted by Gaius Shaver and other scientists from the MBL Ecosystems Center. Shaver directs the Arctic LTER—a consortium of environmental scientists from around the country who base their research out of Toolik Field Station, a remote outpost on the North Slope of Alaska.

“You are in the middle of nowhere,” says Samuel Miller about Toolik, which is operated by University of Alaska-Fairbanks. “Besides researchers, nobody goes up there but hunters and oil workers. It’s about as pristine and undeveloped as you can get in the United States.”

Miller, a Ph.D. student with Albert Colman in the University of Chicago’s Department of the Geophysical Sciences, went to Toolik last summer to collect soil samples from various plant communities and from plots of tundra of different glacial ages.

His research taps into a central concern at the Arctic LTER: How do soil microbial communities interact with the vast stores of carbon that are locked in the permafrost (frozen soil), and what will happen to that carbon as the climate warms?

“In a way, the fate of that reservoir of Arctic carbon is the fate of humanity,” Miller says. “It would be a huge positive feedback [to global warming] if a significant portion of it were released from the soil as methane or CO2,”—gasses that trap heat in the atmosphere.

Miller is using leading-edge methods of extracting proteins from his samples to assess the soil’s biology. “Hopefully, we can get some insight into what controls microbial processing of ancient organic matter stored in Arctic soils,” he says.

Ashley Asmus of the University of Texas at Arlington explains her poster at the 2015 Arctic LTER annual meeting at the MBL. Asmus is studying the impact of a tundra fire on the canopy insect food web. Credit: Diana Kenney

Ashley Asmus of the University of Texas at Arlington explains her poster at the 2015 Arctic LTER annual meeting at the MBL. Asmus is studying the impact of a tundra fire on the canopy insect food web. Credit: Diana Kenney

Along with other scientists, Miller showed his Toolik data at a poster session/reception in Loeb Laboratory. For much of the meeting, the 65 scientists discussed the major insights gained from the last six years of Arctic LTER research, which focused on interactions between climate and ecosystem disturbances, such as tundra wildfires. They also worked to chart a course for the next several years at the LTER, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.

John Hobbie, retired director of the Ecosystems Center, founded Toolik Field Station in 1975 with a small band of pioneers of Arctic long-term ecosystems studies. Recently, Hobbie and George W. Kling edited a volume that synthesizes forty years of Arctic LTER research at Toolik Lake, including valuable contributions to the emergent field of climate change science.

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David Johnson was standing in a salt marsh tidal creek north of Boston, Mass., when he scooped up a blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, 80 miles north of its native range. The northern migration of this commercially important species, Johnson says, could be yet another sign of climate change. Johnson, then a scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) Ecosystems Center, recently published his observations in the Journal of Crustacean Biology.

A blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, caught in Ipswich, Mass., 80 miles north of its historical range. Credit: David Samuel Johnson

A blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, caught in Ipswich, Mass., 80 miles north of its historical range. Credit: David Samuel Johnson

The historic northern limit of this species of crab (also called Atlantic blue or Chesapeake blue) is Cape Cod, Mass. They typically weren’t found in the Gulf of Maine due to its cold Canadian waters. From 2012 to 2014, however, scientists and resource managers observed blue crabs as far north as northern Maine and Nova Scotia, Canada. Johnson hypothesizes that warmer ocean temperatures in 2012 and 2013, which were 1.3°C higher than the previous decade’s average, allowed the crabs to move north.

“Climate change is lowering the thermal barriers that kept species from moving toward the poles,” he says. “Climate change presents a challenge not only for ecologists, but for fisheries managers as commercially important species shift their ranges in response to warming oceans.”

Ephemeral populations of blue crabs have been documented previously in the Gulf of Maine. Johnson notes that in the 1950s blue crabs were observed in the gulf during a time of warmer waters. But once the waters returned to average temperatures, the crabs disappeared.

“It’s too early to determine if the current blue crab population in the Gulf of Maine is permanent or ephemeral,” Johnson says. “However, models predict an increasing warming of the world’s oceans and recent observations of blue crabs may be a crystal ball into the future ecology of the Gulf of Maine.”

Other researchers have documented the northern movement of other commercially important species in northeastern United States such as lobsters, hake and flounder. Johnson’s work, however, is the first to document the movement of a commercially important species into the Gulf of Maine.

This is the second crustacean Johnson has documented as expanding into the Gulf of Maine. In 2014 he published his findings on the rapid expansion of the fiddler crab, Uca pugnax, into the gulf. “As the world’s oceans continue to warm, we will continue to see climate-driven range expansions,” he predicts.

Johnson, now an adjunct assistant scientist at the MBL, recently joined the Virginia Institute of Marine Science as an assistant professor.

Citation:

Johnson DS (2015) The savory swimmer swims north: a northern range extension of the blue crab Callinectes sapidus? J. Crustacean Biology 35: 105-110.

 

The MBL’s Anne Giblin and colleagues are watching how the salt marshes in the Plum Island Estuary in northern Massachusetts are bearing up as the climate warms, sea level rises, and coastal development stresses their ecological integrity. A senior scientist in the MBL Ecosystems Center, Giblin directs the multi-institutional Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) project at Plum Island, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

This video was produced at the NSF as part of the “Science Nation” video series, which is distributed to media outlets and K-12 content distributors throughout the world. For more information on “Science Nation,” please contact Laurie Modena Howell: lhowell@associates.nsf.gov.

 

Anne Glblin (center) at Plum Island Estuary with former MBL Semester in Environmental Science students Austin Ritter (L) and David Dodge.

Anne Glblin (center) at Plum Island Estuary with former MBL Semester in Environmental Science students Austin Ritter (L) and David Dodge.

Karin Klein, an editorial writer at the Los Angeles Times, and Kodi Kozacek, a reporter for Circle of Blue, are getting a good look at the life of ecosystems field scientists at a remote arctic outpost this week. They are observing the action during the short, productive summer season at Toolik Field Station, 350 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska, through Polar Fellowships awarded by the MBL’s Logan Science Journalism Program.  Kozacek’s first dispatch, “Where the Sun Never Sleeps (And Neither Do the Scientists)” is on the fellowship’s blog, A Toolik Field Journal.

River sampling near Toolik Field Station. Credit: Chris Neill

River sampling near Toolik Field Station. Credit: Chris Neill

Several MBL Ecosystems Center scientists are deeply involved in climate-change research at Toolik through the Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) grant from the National Science Foundation. Led by MBL Senior Scientist Gaius Shaver, the Arctic LTER is a collaborative, multi-institutional project with the long-term goal of understanding and predicting the effects of environmental change on arctic landscapes. The arctic region has warmed significantly over the past 30 years, and arctic lands and freshwaters are changing in response.

Toolik Field Station was established in 1975 by a group led by MBL Distinguished Scientist John Hobbie and Senior Scientist Bruce Peterson; Shaver joined the fledgling arctic research group a year later. Hobbie recently co-authored Alaska’s Changing Arctic: Ecological Consequences for Tundra, Streams, and Lakes (Oxford University Press, 2014), a synthesis of findings from the Arctic LTER.

Today, Toolik Field Station is operated and managed by the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, with support from the Division of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation.

Toolik Field Station is in the footholds of the Brooks Mountain Range (above) on the North Slope of Alaska. Credit: Chris Neill

Toolik Field Station is in the foothills region of the Brooks Range (above), North Slope of Alaska.                     Credit: Chris Neill

 

 

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