Monthly Archives: March 2007

Bio Blitz Project Proposal From JLS

Blogger Bio Blitz Proposal for HWY 168

I want to participate in the Bio Blitz Project, but I particularly wanted to sample the terminal point of HWY 168 in the Sierra Nevada’s (and maybe Dr. Crosbie’s property). I know the first proposal is a long way away but I still want to drive up there, as far as the weather and climate may permit, or do a transect of several sites on HWY 168. If any of you have anything to say about this please leave a comment.

Important meeting

Hey Everyone,

We (those of us in reconciliation ecology and biogeography) have decided to meet on Wednesday, April 4 at 6pm in Science 211 to discuss our footprint project.

Because the CCRS is Thursday, April 12 (right after spring break), we need to finalize some preliminary results (trend data in the variables we have discussed). Greg will look up any conversion factors he may come across in “Our Ecological Footprint”; however, I think we should also delve into the literature and see if we find anything.

Check out these very relevant publications:

Can City and Farm Coexist? The Agricultural Buffer Experience in California

Urban Development Futures in the San Joaquin Valley

Craig, Karl and Vanessa hope you can make it.

Because Science Never Sleeps: Greed vs Morality

Response to the Troll’s Opinion (Anonymous comment to the previous post on global warming), expand and read the post below.

Whether or not global warming is occurring is a matter of opinion, hopefully your opinion is based upon the evidence that is presented and your interpretation of it, not someone’s else view. So far from my understanding, I happen to believe that global warming is occurring, along side the degradation environment at a global level. However, regardless of my opinion or yours (whom ever), conservation and environmental protection are actually moral issues. These issues are blind to religion, and are based on standard practices of just being a decent person.

The issue of global warming, in most part if not all is based on the carbon emissions caused by the combustion of fossil fuels. Even if it was discovered those fossil fuels cause no change in the atmospheric environment, we as a global society need to reduce the amount of oil based products we use daily. The reason is quite simple, the amount of crude oil that is left in the Earth is limited, and there is not doubt about this. It may last between 10 or 100, or even 1000 years (very unlikely) more. However, due to this uncertainty WE ALL need to help in the effort to conserve this limited resource. This is not an issue of foreign versus domestic oil; it is an issue pertaining to the world as a whole. The same thing goes for the environment, it is a limited resource which must be conserved not destroyed and over used, like it was something going out of style.

Hopefully, what you get out of reading this short editorial is that conservation/protection of the environment is not a political issue it is an issue of doing the right thing. The simplest analogy is this: Oil consumption is like a buffet at a wedding, restaurant, etc. When you go to the trays you don’t extend your arms to the side and tell the rest of the patrons that you are not going to allow them to eat until you’ve had your fill of the top 2 or 3 items. Instead, you go up to the table(s), serve what you think you can eat and the other people do the same. Oil comsumption is the same, it is something that you should be utilizing only to satisfy your needs not your wants (which will never be met, just like in economics).

Global Warming Is Not a Crisis!

I learnt last night that that beloved liberal media darling, NPR, staged a debate that convinced a number of people that Global Warming Is Not a Crisis! So we can all go home now.

This was part of a new series of Oxford Style Debates NPR is bringing home to its audience in its new program Intelligence Squared U. S., available for download as a podcast at the website. I caught a few minutes at the end of the above debate broadcast on KVPR last night on my way home from our class (did anyone else in class hear this also?) – just a couple of the closing statements, including one by Michael Crichton, and the remarkable result of the concluding poll of the audience which found that the number of people in support of the proposition (that Global Warming is not a crisis) went up from 30% to 46% with a corresponding decline in opponents.

Now such a public debate (even if it is tagged with the name of Oxford) is no way to settle any question in science, of course, but it is likely to have some impact on public perception of the scientific debate (if there even is any). And since winning these debates relies more on rhetorical skills than on more mundane things like, oh, you know, doing some actual science (collecting data, conducting experiments, testing hypotheses, and similar tedious activities), they tend to be popular with deniers of science, e.g., Intelligent Design advocates (remember the great Fresno Oxford Debate about Darwin last year?), and, of course, climate change deniers. I’ll withhold my judgment on the new NPR show for now, and you can listen to this one (and others, including one about whether America is too damn religious) to make up your own minds.

What got my skepticism meter buzzing about this particular debate was the composition of the debate panels – in particular the inclusion of the pulp writer Michael Crichton, clearly the least qualified to talk about this subject on either side. But hey, didn’t he write a big fat sci-fi novel, with plenty of footnotes (which makes it more science-ey, don’t it?), about how global warming is a conspiracy by environmentalists? And didn’t he have an MD in a past life? So that must make him equivalent to any practicing scientist then, from any field! I wonder how much his presence alone swayed all those in the audience who turned around to start favoring the proposition – but he did display considerable rhetorical skill, sowing plenty of doubt about global warming, even while posturing as a rational skeptic who was “kind of stranded here” because scientists had not demonstrated to his satisfaction “that CO2 is the contemporary driver for the warming we are seeing”.

So that settles that, doesn’t it? And we can stop worrying about “the planet having a fever”, right?

Now this is really acting locally while thinking globally

Speaking of Ecological Footprints, here’s a radical attempt by one family to reduce their footprint, blogged at No Impact Man. There was a story about this family experiment in the House and Home Section of the NYT last week. Apart from media attention, and attending discussion of individual level measures we can take to reduce our impacts, how much of a difference do you think this will make to larger scale (let alone global) environmental issues? How effective are individual life-style changes are likely to be as opposed to larger-scale institutional / social changes? Further, how well do you think will such an experiment work in a place like Fresno?

The EF calculation procedure

This is what I read about determining the calculations for Our Ecological Footprint.

“As previously explained, the EF concept is based on the idea that for every item of material or energy consumption, a certain amount of land in one or more ecosystem categories is required to provide the consumption-related resource flows and waste sinks. Thus, to determine the total land area required to support a particular pattern of consumption, the land-use implications of each significant consumption category must be estimated. Since it is not feasible to assess land requirements for the provision, maintenance and disposal of each of the tens of thousands of consumer goods, the calculations are confined to select major categories and individual items.”

That was the first paragraph for the calculation procedure of a EF. It states just what we’ve mentioned in class – that we need to find our resource estimates for our area before we can do any calculations. The book does give good examples on what we should take into consideration(food, transportation, services, housing, and consumer goods) as well as examples on how calculations should be done. By skimming through, I can tell that we’re going to be doing lots of calculations!


The First Annual Blogger BioBlitz

Jeremy Bruno of The Voltage Gate sent me an email over the weekend inviting participation in The First Annual Blogger BioBlitz:

In honor of National Wildlife Week, April 21 – 29, I am inviting bloggers from all walks to participate in the First Annual Blogger Bioblitz, where bloggers from across the country will choose a wild or not-so-wild area and find how many of each different species – plant, animal, fungi and anything in between – live in a certain area within a certain time.

Pick a neat little area that you are relatively familiar with and is small enough that you or the group can handle – a small thicket, a pond, a section of stream, or even your backyard – and bring along some taxonomic keys or an Audubon guide, or if you’re lucky enough, an expert in local flora and fauna. Set a time limit. Try to identify the different species of organisms that you find as well as the number of each species that you find. Take pictures if you have a digital camera, compile your numbers, make observations, set up your post however you wish as long as you include your numbers in a digestible fashion (I’ll have more details on that later) – then submit it to me and I’ll include it on the list. We will also be tallying total numbers of each species found, and then a grand total. There has also been talk of coding an interactive Google Map with distribution information, geotagging regions with a blogger’s submitted information.

This is not meant to be a contest, nor is meant to be a hard source of taxonomic data. It is meant to be a fun little excursion to highlight little pockets of biodiversity across the world. I should have a 160×160 button available for distribution in a couple days.

This event was inspired by the National Wildlife Federation’s own project, the Wildlife Watch. They will be posting a downloadable list of springtime critters in the near future that may be of use.

This sounds like a fun activity, and a good way for our fledgling blog to engage in some wider participatory research. So I’ve volunteered to participate, and Reconciliation Ecology will appear in the list of participating sites on Jeremy’s site.

We can discuss the details in class to work out how we participate, and what we can do to make this happen here in the Central Valley. If you are interested in participating, or even simply observing the process of how the network of bloggers takes shape in this project, please join the bulletin board Jeremy has set up. And if you are from the Fresno area, and interested in participating, please leave a comment here, or drop me an email so we can coordinate our local efforts here. And if you know of a cool little local habitat that you would like to learn more about, and this strikes you as an opportunity to get some data, please do share such site suggestions with us also!

Watch this space for more as we work things out.

Predicting biodiversity: a practical alternative?

It is not necessary to restate the obvious: that species are being lost because of our seemingly careless attitude toward maintaining biodiversity or in general, the health of our environment. Too many scientific papers document the effects of our harmful influence on the environment at regional and global scales, but what are the alternatives?

Indeed, does Michael Rosenzweig offer us a convincing alternative?

Rosenzweig argues that area is an important parameter that can predict biodiversity; in most cases, a logarithmic relationship between species and increasing area yields a positive slope. Thus, a percent reduction in area would imply a percent loss of species.

These species-area relationships (SPARs) yield similar trends when regional diversity is used to predict local diversity—echo patterns. However, archipelagoes yield an asymptotic curve with local diversity reaching a plateau and not a linear increase in species. Rosenzweig argues that this might be in part because the islands are sampled as one province rather than individual regions. If this is not a question of sampling, from a solely speculative angle, might this suggest the involvement of a dynamic phase (expansion of a species range) that regulates abundance between archipelagoes? Still, these patterns remain phenomena because the mechanisms underlying the relationship between the variables are unknown.

What we do know is that a loss in area affects species in a plethora of ways—for example, habitat loss and redistribution and/or reduction of range size. But how do small range sizes imply a reduced rate of speciation? This nagging question (a statement by Rosenzweig) teases my mind to only generate further questions: what does range size have to do with the rate of speciation? And further, is Rosenzweig using range size as an assumption to hold the species-area relationship that drives the concept of reconciliation ecology? Let’s suppose that large ranges have a lower rate of speciation. Doesn’t this assumption by itself undermine the species-area relationship? Because larger areas reflect a greater number of species and since “species are nurseries for other species”, in theory, a large range would have a higher rate of speciation. It seems Rosenzweig doesn’t offer a strong theoretical or observational correlation between range size and rate of speciation.

However, we concur with Rosenzweig that some standard conservation efforts are not effective and we all know Dr. Stoner’s perspective on the issue. Our modified ecological landscape presents us with the perception that humans exist amid these island-like patches of biodiversity or the idea that nature somehow exists decoupled from human habitation. Here, the concept of reconciliation ecology informed by the basis of SPARs finds its footing. The modified landscape (for e.g., from loss of area) can be used to maintain biodiversity levels. The string of examples (Rosenzweig 2003, p. 201-203) provide a convincing case for the fresh concept. But we could have ten alternatives and still be faced with the same problem because this in some sense requires a shift in our thinking, right?

Another tool for assessing changes in species distribution based on future climatic scenarios are climate envelopes. Like SPARs, climate envelopes do not address specific threats that affect the behavior and physiology of a species or human-related causes such as pollution and urban development on the redistribution of species. The Ibanez et al. review work is effective if area and climate envelopes are not used as sole indicators of change in diversity since they do not address in general, complex interactions. However, the review falls short of suggesting a particular predictive path or a pattern among the suggested approaches for estimating diversity. Rather, the focus is drawn to a series of questions that provoke a rethinking of current approaches.

Perhaps more interesting is the Butler et al. (2007) work on predicting mean risk score of farmland birds in the UK based on six components of agricultural intensification. The model assumes that the agricultural practices will have an effect on “diet, foraging habitat and nesting success”. In my opinion, it also assumes a uniform effect of agricultural intensification but in reality one of these six practices may affect a habitat more severely than another. Risk scores are related to the conservation status of the species in the UK; lower risk scores reflect a species that has a broad niche and the least severe conservation status. In addition, species with high risk scores also have a lower population growth rate.

The effects of using a genetically-modified herbicide-tolerant (GMHT) cropping system were examined; this method predicts a limited effect on farmland bird index (FBI) while reducing “above-ground invertebrates and weeds”. However, even under a 2020 scenario, current management schemes and the GMHT system will produce a positive growth rate only in a limited number of farmland species.

In some strange way, the predictive/theoretical aspect of biology seems more concrete given some failures of past efforts or the seeming lack of evaluation of effectiveness of current strategies.