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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By Chris Neill

Logan Science Journalism fellows Codi Kozacek (left), Susan Phillips and Nick Clark help Baltimore Ecosystems Study research assistant Heather Goodman collect water from trash in an abandoned lot in inner Baltimore. Tiny amounts of water in trash serve as breeding habitat for mosquitoes. The BES studies the relationship between income levels, urban habitat and the composition and abundance of urban mosquito communities. Credit: Chris Neill

MBL Logan Science Journalism Environmental fellows Codi Kozacek (left), Susan Phillips and Nick Clark help Baltimore Ecosystems Study research assistant Heather Goodman collect water from trash in an abandoned lot in inner Baltimore. Tiny amounts of water in trash serve as breeding habitat for mosquitoes. The BES studies the relationship between income levels, urban habitat and the composition and abundance of urban mosquito communities. Credit: Chris Neill

In urban West Baltimore, the mosquito Aedes albopictus is an increasing nuisance. Another species, Culex pipiens, is an important vector for West Nile virus. Both species are more common in low-income neighborhoods because they breed in ephemeral standing water created by trash, such as plastic cups and old tires.

Six MBL Logan Science Journalism Program (SJP) Environmental Fellows, led by Baltimore Ecosystems Study (BES) scientist Shannon LaDeau and BES researcher Heather Goodman, sampled larval mosquitoes and surveyed mosquito habitats in two inner-city blocks in West Baltimore last week. Back in the laboratory, they identified mosquito species under dissecting microscopes.

The SJP Environmental Fellows ventured to inner-city Baltimore to participate in one of the world’s largest coordinated studies of urban ecosystems. The BES is one of the National Science Foundation’s 26 Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) projects.

The Baltimore Ecosystems Study examines how the human-built ecosystem of a large U.S. city influences ecological process such as nutrient flows in watersheds and plant species composition along gradients from the inner city to outlying “exurbs,” and how peoples’ attitudes to green space and other ecological features shape the structure of city neighborhoods.

The Environmental Fellows spent two days with BES scientists. They also collected water samples from streams running from the inner city to an outlying area with Peter Groffman, and from storm-water detention ponds managed in different ways by neighborhood associations with Chris Swan.

The Logan Science Journalism Program’s Environmental Hands-On Research Course is led by MBL Ecosystems Center Director Chris Neill and Ecosystems Center Senior Research Assistant Richard McHorney. The Environmental Fellows are joining the SJP Biomedical Fellows at the MBL this week to complete their fellowship in Woods Hole.

Jerry Melillo, distinguished scientist at the MBL's Ecosystems Center, leads a panel discussion of the National Climate Assessment yesterday at the White House. Melillo is chairman of the advisory committee that prepared the assessment for interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program. Screen shot by Gina Hebert.

Jerry Melillo, Distinguished Scientist at the MBL’s Ecosystems Center, leads a panel discussion of the National Climate Assessment yesterday at the White House. Melillo is chairman of the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee. Screen shot by Gina Hebert.

The major messages of the Third National Climate Assessment released yesterday — climate change is already here, its impacts are being felt in every U.S. region, it is caused by human activity, and it is not too late to take action — were discussed far and wide, in thousands of news articles and broadcasts across the nation. For scientists like the MBL’s Jerry Melillo who have spent decades documenting global climate change, this is a great leap forward. This White House infographic summarizes some of the major findings of the Assessment, and outlines national plans to prepare for climate change impacts, reduce carbon pollution, and lead international efforts to address global climate change. Melillo is chairman of the federal advisory committee that prepared the assessment for the interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program.

 

By Jane Tucker
Senior Research Assistant, MBL Ecosystems Center

Note: MBL senior scientist Anne Giblin was recently named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science. This post by Jane Tucker was originally published on The TIDE Project blog, edited by MBL assistant research scientist David S. Johnson.

Anne Giblin’s recent election as an AAAS Fellow is well deserved, and if there were a companion award for outstanding achievements in kindness, generosity, and commitment to others, she would rightfully be awarded that, too. I have had the privilege of working closely with Anne for over 20 years at the MBL Ecosystems Center, and I should know.

From left, Jane Tucker, Anne Giblin, and Sam

From left: Jane Tucker, Anne Giblin, and MBL research assistant Sam Kelsey. Credit: William “Mac” Lee

Anne Giblin “speaks ” biogeochemistry, thermodynamics, biology, physical chemistry–really, all the “hard” sciences–as a first language. They seem to be part of her innate intelligence. But she is not a desk scientist. She loves to be in the lab, or even better, out in the field conducting experiments or collecting samples.

Adverse field conditions are Anne’s forte! She is not stopped by freezing temperatures or clouds of mosquitoes on the North Slope of Alaska, nor by tropical heat, “no-see-ums,” or scorpion stings in Panama. She does not let little things like utter darkness in the cold depths of Adirondack lakes or a blanket of sewage sludge on the bottom of Boston Harbor dampen her enthusiasm for collecting more mud and adding dives to her SCUBA log. She does not send her students or employees out to do this work for her: she jumps in first. She does all of this to keep adding pieces to the scientific puzzle of element cycling in sediments, particularly with respect to nitrogen, carbon, and her first love, sulfur.

Anne Giblin at Liquid Jungle Lab

Anne Giblin at the Liquid Jungle Lab in Panama. Credit: Jane Tucker

Hard work is often matched by good cheer. A long day in the marsh with Anne leading the Plum Island Ecosystem-LTER team, in itself fun, is routinely followed by a good meal (often prepared by Anne), a good local brew (often provided by Anne), and good stories (often told by Anne). Over the years, these days and stories and Anne’s optimism have become encapsulated by some memorable lines, now used affectionately by the team. Three of the classics are, “Done by noon!” (as in, “It won’t take long, we’ll be ….”); “That’s not thunder, those are jets!” (at next occurrence, accompanied by a bright flash of light); and “No herics!” (i.e. heroics. I mentioned Anne’s first language is science, not English, didn’t I? It’s really the only thing I can help her with!)

Sure, Anne has the necessary stats on her CV that attest to her accomplishments as a scientist. But the best testament to her success may be that, in an increasingly difficult funding climate, and at an all soft-money research laboratory, Anne has kept herself and her team funded for over 25 years. It is tribute to Anne as a mentor, colleague, and friend that we have all wanted to stay.

The Plum Island Ecosystem-Long Term Ecological Research project and the TIDE Project are funded by the National Science Foundation.

Anne Giblin diving in Boston Harbor

Anne Giblin and Sam Kelsey diving in Boston Harbor.

 

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One barometer of the weather is a plant’s seasonal cycles, such as the date when its leaves sprout in spring or drop off in fall. What these cyclic events, called plant phenology, might reveal about climate change is the focus of a long-term Brown-MBL study in a Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., forest.

An automated camera on a tower can record seasonal changes in overall leaf color, but photos might not always correspond to seasonal biochemical changes within leaves themselves. Credit: Marc Mayes/Brown University

An automated camera on a tower records seasonal changes in leaf color in a Martha’s Vineyard forest. Credit: Marc Mayes/Brown University

“Our overall goal is to understand the phenology of trees in a temperate, deciduous forest, and how it responds to climate change,” says MBL Ecosystems Center scientist Jianwu (Jim) Tang.

Tang and his collaborators have placed digital cameras on meteorological towers in the Vineyard’s Manuel F. Correllus State Forest, at the Nature Conservancy Hoft Farm Preserve, and in a private forest, and have been continuously capturing images of the trees and leaves since 2000.

They discovered recently that forest “greenness,” as captured by the digital images, does not necessarily correspond to direct measures of peak chlorophyll content in the leaves, which is an indicator of photosynthesis. (Photosynthesis levels, in turn, indicate rates of carbon absorption by the leaves, which is important information for modeling the impacts of climate change.) Their results are published online in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences.

“While color of leaves is important information, we found it is not sufficient to derive the real phenology change,” says Tang. They needed to supplement the imaging data by collecting leaves on a weekly basis and measuring chlorophyll levels in the lab. “This is a warning for future study,” says Xi Yang, a graduate student in the Brown-MBL Partnership and Graduate Program and lead author on the new paper. Yi’s advisors are Tang and John F. Mustard, professor of geological sciences at Brown University.

For more information, please see this press release issued by Brown University.

Citation:

Yang X, Tang J, Mustard J (2014) Beyond leaf color: comparing camera-based phenological metrics with leaf biochemical, biophysical and spectral properties throughout the growing season of a temperate deciduous forest. J. Geophys. Res. DOI: 10.1002/2013JG002460

 

 

The first annual Northeast Climate Science Center (NE CSC) Fellows Retreat is being held this week at MBL’s Marshview Field Station near Plum Island, off the North Shore coast of Massachusetts.  Sixteen graduate and postdoctoral fellows from eight states are learning about climate challenges to coastal and salt marsh habitats and meeting with federal and state managers, including stakeholders from the nearby Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, the State of Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management office, and Division of Ecological Restoration.

NE CSC Consortium leaders, including Jimmy Nelson and Christopher Neill from the MBL Ecosystems Center,  are facilitating interactive exercises in which Fellows practice science communication and engaging stakeholders in the research design process. The MBL is a founding member of the NE CSC consortium.

Jimmy Nelson of the Ecosystems Center explains results from a Plum Island, Mass., marsh nutrient enrichment experiment to Northeast Climate Science Center fellows at a retreat at MBL's Marshview Farm field station. Credit: Chris Neill

Jimmy Nelson of the Ecosystems Center explains results from a Plum Island, Mass., marsh nutrient enrichment experiment to Northeast Climate Science Center fellows at a retreat at MBL’s Marshview Farm field station. Credit: Chris Neill

The NE CSC, established in 2012, is part of a network of eight regional CSCs created to provide scientific information, tools, and techniques that managers and other parties interested in land, water, wildlife and cultural resources can use to anticipate, monitor, and adapt to climate change.  It is hosted by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and also works with a consortium of institutions: the College of Menominee Nation, Columbia University, Marine Biological Laboratory, University of Minnesota, University of Missouri, Columbia, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In addition to the host and consortium institutions, the NE CSC will also collaborate with other important partner institutions.

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