What kind of science do we need to create sustainable pathways in the Arctic? (Oct 14)

Globalization processes coupled to the new sea transport routes, resource and infrastructure development and market integration are changing the arctic social-ecological systems at an accelerating pace. The increase in global connectedness will change the local resource-use systems thereby altering landscapes, fish and wildlife populations, and other ecosystem services important to Arctic people. While there is a rich body of research focusing on the direct effects of global warming and adaptions to climate-related changes, we have a limited understanding about how globalization and the adoption of new lifestyles, practices, technologies and institutional innovations could influence causal pathways and sustainability in the Arctic. Despite of these large gaps in understanding, researchers are expected to deliver knowledge that could enable actions and adaptations to environmental changes.

In this roundtable, I hope to spur an informal discussion about what kinds of science are needed and which research gaps we need to fill before providing reliable advice about sustainable pathways. While I will briefly introduce sustainability challenges in the Arctic by presenting the Belmont Forum project CONNECT, this roundtable will benefit from the participants broad experience from research outside the Arctic. I also encourage participants to bring their mobile or laptop in case we will use interactive polling to facilitate discussions (no software need to be installed).

Dr. Vera Helene Hausner
NCEAS Visiting Scientist
Associate Professor in Sustainability Science, UiT-The Arctic University of Norway

NCEAS / UCSB role as the new LTER Network Communications Office (Oct 7)

The National Science Foundation recently awarded the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network Communications Office (NCO) to UCSB and NCEAS (PI Frank Davis; Co-PIs Carol Blanchette, Jenn Caselle, Stacy Rebich Hespanha, Matt Jones, and Mark Schildhauer). The NCO is conceived as an integrated set of activities in three areas – Communication and Outreach, Synthesis Research, and Education and Training – that builds on NCEAS’ longstanding relationship with LTER scientists, leverages existing staff capacity and infrastructure, and takes advantage of UCSB’s strengths and resources in ecology, environmental science and management, environmental communication and media, and environmental informatics.

In this Roundtable I will summarize the key feaures of the NCO and what it will mean for NCEAS, UCSB, and the broader LTER community. I will leave ample time for discussion of NCO needs and priorities.

Frank W. Davis
Director, NCEAS
Professor, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, UCSB

When does hypoxia affect management performance of fisheries? A MSE of Dungeness crab fisheries in Hood Canal, WA

Hypoxia [dissolved oxygen (DO) < 2 mg/L] is one of the key threats to some of the most productive regions of the marine environment (e.g., estuaries). Although mortality can occur, mobile organisms have the potential to avoid the most severe low oxygen conditions, but suffer ecologically significant indirect and sublethal impacts as a result. In Washington State, USA, a fjord estuary of the Puget Sound marine ecosystem, known as Hood Canal (110 km), regularly experiences seasonal hypoxia. My dissertation addresses several important gaps in the current knowledge pertaining to the non-lethal biological effects of hypoxia on the mobile benthic and pelagic species of Hood Canal – for the sake of time and your sanity, I’ll be focusing on the benthos. Using acoustic telemetry, I quantified movement patterns and distributional shifts of Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister), an abundant and widely distributed species. Although highly mobile, Dungeness crab displayed more localized, rather than large-scale, directional movement relative to hypoxia. More specifically, the tagged crabs showed significant distributional shifts towards shallower waters. As one of the most important fisheries in Puget Sound, I wanted to then investigate the generalized relationship between hypoxia and the Dungeness crab harvest (3-S) management strategy. Inferred by the shoaling behavior from the field, an age-structured population model was constructed to test several hypoxia-scenarios with other stressors, including harvest, illegal crab fishing, and incidental capture mortality. It was found that the 3-S management strategy is most sensitive to the influence of hypoxia when other sources of demographic restrictions are considered, underscoring the uncertainty associated with a data-poor species under multiple anthropogenic and environmental stressors.

FieldWork_2010_HoodCanal Tagged_Crab


Halley E. Froehlich, Ph.D. (Halley is the untagged one on the left)

Postdoctoral Researcher

National Center for Ecological Analysis & Synthesis
University of California, Santa Barbara



Introduction to Spatial Analysis in R

Jamie Afflerback (NCEAS Assistant Specialist)
Wed Sept 23
Note location change to Main Conference Room
Ever wonder how to work with your spatial data in R? Now’s the time to learn! I will lead an informal, participatory workshop on how to do some spatial analysis in R. This session will use RStudio to introduce some of the most commonly used spatial packages/libraries to work with both raster and vector data types.

– Your own personal laptop
– Familiarity with R and RStudio. This is not an introduction to R so participants should already be using R.
– The most up to date versions of R and RStudio

The workshop is set up to walk through a script I prepared, line by line. Participants can choose to code as we go along, or just step through the coded script. If you’d like to participate please send an email to afflerbach@nceas.ucsb.edu by Monday September 21. More details will be sent out next Tuesday.

For a preview, you can find all code and data held in this GitHub repository. Please note that being familiar with GitHub is not a requirement to participate.

Environmental and Social Sustainability: How High A Priority for Environmental Organizations? (Sept 16)

This will be an informal discussion related to sustainability issues for organizations such as our own. Please come prepared to share your experiences, opinions and ideas! I hope that through this discussion we might come up with some concrete ideas about what we, as individuals, can do to help to promote sustainability within our current and future organizations.

Some questions we might use to guide the discussion include:

– Do organizations that focus on environmental issues have a responsibility to be environmentally (and socially) sustainable? Do they have special responsibilities in these areas because of the environmental focus of their work?
– What is meant by ‘sustainability’? What does environmental and social sustainability for an organization like NCEAS look like?
– How do environmental organizations know if they have achieved sustainability, or are making progress toward a goal? What responsibilities do they have (if any) to monitor sustainability performance?
– Do individuals who work for environmental organizations have a responsibility to invest effort in contributing to the sustainability of those organizations? If so, what kinds of actions can they take?

If you have ideas for additional questions we might discuss, please send them to me and I’ll add them to the list.

Dr. Stacy Rebich Hespanha
NCEAS Research Associate

Bundling multiple ecosystem services in agroecosystems: Insights from a historical perspective (Sept 9)

The need to reconcile food production, multiple ecosystem services (ES) and biodiversity conservation has spurred the search for more sustainable ways of farming. In this context, my approach consists in getting insights from the past to support the management of present and future agroecosystems.

First, I investigated how past agricultural practices can affect current ecosystem functioning. A better understanding of such legacy is of key importance for predicting human environmental impacts. In some South American wetlands, I found that humans have created favorable habitat for crops, but also for a high diversity of organisms that today maintain the vestiges of fields against erosion since they were abandoned hundred years ago. Based on these results, I came to understand how to exploit synergies between human actions and those of natural soil organisms (such as social insects, earthworms and plants) to design agroecosystems that support food production, biodiversity and soil fertility.

Second, I tested how a historical perspective on ES can help meet the challenge of managing multiple ES simultaneously. To do this, I reconstructed the provision of nine ES (including food production, carbon storage, flood regulation, recreational activities) over the past 35 years in an agroforested landscape in Quebec, Canada. My results demonstrated that individual ES, ES assemblages, and interactions among ES changed across both time and space, driven by combination of policy changes, biophysical and socio-economic characteristics of the study region. My approach led to a better understanding of how multiple ES interact, how trade-offs and synergies emerge, and how interactions may shift through time as social-ecological conditions change.

Dr. Delphine Renard
McGill University & Quebec Center for Biodiversity Science

Habitats, coastal protection and the SNAP Coastal Defenses Working Group

For this round-table, I’ll start by giving an overview of a number of topics around the fascinating field of coastal ecosystems and coastal risk reduction. I’ll give an update on the activities of the SNAP Coastal Defenses Working Group and my work within this group, touch upon a closely coastal hazards assessment exercise in Papua New Guinea and an upcoming project on mangrove restoration for coastal resilience. I would like to combine this talk with a discussion on the challenges of small data; of bringing together diverse disciplines to bear on a single issue and; of finding ways to tie these disparate strands together.

For a sneak preview, here is an outline of some results from an almost (but never) complete meta-analysis:

We synthesize global evidence from field measurements of wave and storm surge reductions in natural coastal habitats and data on the costs and benefits of habitat restoration projects targeted at coastal protection. 76 field measurements show that coastal habitats can reduce wave heights up to 79% (or wave energy up to 96%). Coral reefs are the most effective habitats for wave reduction, followed by salt-marshes, mangroves and seagrass and kelp beds. In addition to waves, coastal mangrove and marsh wetlands can reduce storm surge heights by up to 70% over extents of several kilometers. We find a strong relationship between incident wave heights and wave reduction extents for all habitat types. Other critical biophysical parameters that influence wave reduction include habitat width (coral reefs and seagrass/kelp) and vegetation height (mangroves, salt-marshes). We also discuss the influence of a few engineering ratios (e.g. the ratio of wave height H over water depth, h) on wave reduction extents. We conduct the first global review of the costs and benefits of past and on-going habitat restoration projects targeted at coastal protection. The projects provide a wide range of coastal protection and risk reduction benefits including reductions in erosion, flood damage and engineering costs. Quantitative assessments of benefit-cost ratios and comparisons to engineering structures suggest that mangrove projects are the most cost-effective and are, on average, twice as cheap as comparable engineering structures for wave reduction.

Hope to see you there!


A spectral framework for forecasting near term inland fisheries in the Mekong River under climate change

John Sabo, a visiting researcher from Arizona State University, will be presenting this week’s roundtable! He will be telling us about his work in the ecologically and economically important Mekong River Basin. We will be continuing the climate change theme from last week’s talk, but moving onto its impacts on fisheries instead. He will also discuss how dams have impacted the river and fisheries.

Abstract:  Inland capture fisheries on the Mekong River provide a majority of the animal protein and vitamin A to the diets of over 40M people in the Lower Mekong River Basin.  The productivity of this fishery is fueled by the monsoon flood pulse which creates wetlands the size of small US states in Cambodia and Vietnam.  The region is experiencing rapid development, including the planning and impending construction of over 20 hydropower facilities, some already built.  Climate change will also likely change the intensity and timing of the South Asian Monsoon, with implications for the extent of the ensuing flood pulse and the fishery that depends on it.  In this roundtable I will address two topics.  First, I present the results from a century scale analysis of change in hydrologic variation and key aspects of the flood pulse on the Mekong River including an assessment of current dams.  This analysis is done within a novel spectral framework that allows for identification of baseline stationarity and decomposition of the linear, seasonal and stochastic components of change in daily discharge.  Second I link spectral measures of hydrologic variation to catch data from the fishery using a 15-year dataset of the Dai fishery on the Tonle Sap River (Cambodia) and a second time series approach—a multivariate autoregressive state space (MARSS) model.   The spectral-MARSS framework is then used to forecast the fishery under near time climate change.   Daily discharge variation and key aspects of the flood pulse have been experiencing natural change for over a century. Existing dams have modified discharge in spite of a shifting baseline.  Fisheries catch varies with several spectral measures of daily discharge variation.  Surprisingly, low flows have equal if not higher positive effect sizes than high flows on catch in this flood pulse system and spectral measures outperform “first moment” measures of flood pulse extent.  Moreover, antecedent hydrology—the flood drought sequence from the previous 1-2 years—significantly affects current catch in the fishery.  These results suggest that the spectral-MARSS framework may provide a robust tool for forecasting fisheries production in the future.

Trey Riel 2

Assessing effects of climate change on ponderosa pine forests in California’s Sierra Nevada

Ian McCullough is from the UCSB Bren school and will be presenting on his PhD research. Join us for this timely talk on climate change and California forests.

Co-author credits: Frank Davis, Lorraine Flint, Alan Flint, John Dingman

Abstract: Climate change has emerged as a potent threat to forests worldwide, resulting in heightened concern for the sustainability of timber resources, ecosystem services, structure and function. In this study, we investigate the effects of long-term climate change on the growth and distribution of ponderosa pine in the Sierra Nevada of California using tree-rings and statistically downscaled climate models. We focused initial efforts on a small, declining population at Tejon Ranch, near the species’ southern range limit. Subsequently, we incorporated published tree-ring chronologies from the International Tree-Ring Data Bank to assess climate-growth relationships along a Sierra Nevada latitudinal gradient. Climatic controls on growth have varied historically across the gradient. Although precipitation was the primary limiting factor at all sites, more northern sites were more sensitive to fall temperatures, whereas southern sites were more sensitive to climatic water deficits (measure of unmet evaporative demand for water). Given that trees cannot live where they cannot grow, we are currently exploring ways to use the climate-growth relationship to infer the potential future distribution of ponderosa pine based on locations of favorable growing habitat.


July 8: Integrating Traditional Ecological Knowledge into Resource Management and Research at Pinnacles National Park

In December 2011, an important cultural and ecological process was reignited in Pinnacles National Park when the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band gathered alongside agency fire crews and land managers to burn a stand of native deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens). Throughout California, California Indian people traditionally burned selected areas to manage and promote food and fiber. This project is unique in that it incorporates two distinct knowledge systems and welcomes an indigenous perspective in park research and management. From the project’s beginning, tribal partners participated in establishing research questions and goals of the project. Tribal members, and especially tribal youth, regularly participated in collecting data and implementing treatments. The burn is one of several highlights of this integrated program at Pinnacles that aims to gain a better understanding of California Indian management practices and its role in shaping the landscape over centuries of time, and how this awareness influences today’s management.

Brent Johnson
Park Botanist, Acting Chief
Research and Resource Management Division
Pinnacles National Park