Meat, Demand, and Development

Global meat consumption is expected to rise dramatically in coming decades as consumers from emerging nations increase the amount of meat and animal protein in their diet.  The “ecological hoofprint” of the livestock industry is already enormous, and it is expected to increase.   Influential explanations on rising meat consumption (“livestock revolution,”  “nutrition transition,” “hamburger connection”) assert a correlation between meat demand and rising income.   The concept of demand requires elaboration in order to comprehend increasing global meat consumption and associated environmental and health impacts.  I will discuss the political-economic processes and cultural considerations that contribute to demand in the emerging nation of Brazil, with a secondary emphasis on China.  The aim of this project is to begin to build toward an enhanced understanding of the factors that structure the demand for meat in emerging countries and to better understand the material and discursive dimensions of development as revealed through meat.

Jeffrey Hoelle
Assistant Professor of Anthropology, UC Santa Barbara
Hoelle Culture and Environment Lab
Jeffrey Hoelle


Environmental Literacy for the Next Generation: Integrating science, pedagogy and communication

Carol Blanchette, Associate Research Biologist from the Marine Science Institute will be our Roundtable speaker next week. Please join us for a lively discussion on an interesting topic!


Abstract: “If science is going to fully serve its societal mission in the future, we need to both encourage and equip the next generation of scientists to effectively engage with the broader society in which we work and live” (Leshner 2007, AAAS CEO). This sentiment has been broadly embraced by scientists and non-scientists in recent years, along with the idea that scientists have a responsibility to share the meaning and implications of their work, and that an engaged public encourages sound public decision-making. Effective communication of science has become critically important in the environmental sciences, where public understanding of key environmental issues ranging from climate change to sustainable resource management has important policy implications.  In this roundtable I will provide a brief overview of some of my experience and activities in the realm of science education and communication, and I will provide an overview of OCTOS, a new hub for environmental communication and science education activities on the UCSB campus. I will lead a discussion focused on how we (as scientists) can help to build communication capacity, serve as resources for science educators, and how to evaluate the efficacy of these efforts.

Modelling ecosystem services to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

There is a new SNAP Working Group in town, at NCEAS, and we’re going to use this round-table to interact with the group, find out what they’re doing, and offer our ideas as well. This will hopefully be the first of several such interactions with visiting working groups, so please do come along, participate, and give us your suggestions! Here’s a description of this week’s interaction, which is being led by Sarah Jones from Bioversity International:

The SNAP workshop group on Making Ecosystems Count in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be meeting in Santa Barbara 13-16 April to define the modelling steps that are needed to make the Natural Capital Project ecosystem service assessment toolkit (InVEST) feed into selected ecosystem service indicators. The aim is for these indicators to show relative progress towards SDG targets as mediated by ecosystem services, when these services are altered by different national land use policy and infrastructure investment scenarios.

We will present the project progress so far, our target indicators and draft model workflows, then we will open it to the floor for a discussion on how these models might be strengthened and delivered within project timeframes.

Sarah Jones
Ecosystem Services and Resilience Research Assistant
Bioversity International Montpelier, France

Implications of food web constraints for community assembly in space

Spatial variation in diversity and community composition is challenging to interpret within an ecological framework that was conceptually built for local disconnected populations. The meta-community concept was, in this regard, an important achievement in community ecology. However, there remains a considerable gap between theoretical developments and empirical tests of the concept, especially for complex communities with multiple trophic levels. Using the classical Theory of Island Biogeography as a starting point, I extract predictions from theory and test these in a multi-trophic plant-insect grassland assembly experiment evaluating multiple stressors associated with landscape-level anthropogenic perturbations. In the current context of global environmental change, I argue that it is time for ecology to scale up current meta-community knowledge to the ecosystem function level, thereby providing the basis for a stronger meta-ecosystem theory.

Eric Harvey

University of Zürich, Eawag: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Department of Aquatic Ecology

Impacts of anthropogenic stressors in vegetated coastal habitats

Anthropogenic stressors are increasingly changing conditions in coastal areas and impacting important habitats.  But, when multiple stressors act simultaneously, their effects on ecosystems become more difficult to project.  Stressors from climate change, coastal development, and pollution are currently impacting coastal habitats, but understanding the interaction of these stressors is critical to knowing how vulnerable coastal habitats and the critical ecosystem functions they provide may be maintained or changed in the future. Seagrass bed and saltmarshes are two habitats that are vulnerable to stressors yet provide many things we humans value.

My research to date has shown that stressors can impact foundation plant species in predictable ways, but those impacts can vary with temporal and spatial scales.  In addition, the composition and diversity of these communities varies but can buffer certain ecosystem properties against stressor impacts.  Overall, in these habitats stressors can be context specific, non-interactive, and vary with spatial and temporal scales.

Rachael E. Blake


Do synthesis centers produce novel, potentially transformative research? Research publication diversity as an indicator of novelty and transformative capacity


a few of the topics that emerged in our analysis

For this Roundtable, I will present a poster that I presented at the recent AAAS meeting in San Jose. The project is an outgrowth of a working group jointly supported by NCEAS and NESCent and led by Ed Hackett and John Parker. Please read the abstract below for a bit of background, and then come prepared to discuss how you think academic publications (including yours!) produced through synthesis center work might be measurably different from other publications in the field. Then we’ll see if your intuitions are supported by the data we have available. Prepare yourselves to either be really proud of your keen intuitions, or to be surprised by our results!


You can access the poster on figshare using this link:

Update: To initiate discussion prior to the meeting, I’ve put a question up on Tricider, and I welcome you to use the link below to add your ideas, comment on others’ ideas, and/or vote on the ideas that have been suggested. The question is the following:

“How would you expect academic publications that report on synthesis research to differ from publications resulting from other research approaches?”
Here is the link:
Synthesis is an emerging synthetic method for producing transformative research, and publications centers to promote synthesis are on the rise in the US and around the world. New analytic tools and techniques are needed to assess the originality and transformative potential of synthesis. We propose that research outputs produced within synthesis centers will exhibit distinctive qualities that distinguish them from other publications in their fields. To explore this possibility, we conducted a topical analysis of titles, abstracts, and keywords for approximately 400,000 articles published in 108 leading journals from the fields of Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Biodiversity Conservation, Forestry, and Fisheries. We then described each document as a proportional combination of the discovered topics, and used the Rao-Stirling heuristics to estimate, for each document, various measures that illuminate contrasting aspects of diversity (i.e. variety, balance, and disparity). We then compare diversity metrics for the synthesis center documents with those for all other documents in our corpus to evaluate whether and how the measured diversity of synthesis center publications differs from that of other publications in the relevant fields.

When big data and complex workflows meet the reality of finite data storage: a discussion of best practices for data management

"tapes, backup" CC-BY-SA 2.0 by Martin Abblegen via flickr

“tapes, backup” CC-BY-SA 2.0 by Martin Abblegen via flickr

Scientific workflows — for many of us, it’s a love/hate relationship. We love the fact that they help us keep our stuff organized, but hate the overhead required to maintain them. And then when we find out that our meticulously maintained workflow hasn’t captured some important detail? Oh the frustration!!

This discussion will be broadly about managing scientific workflows, and I hope to hear from everyone about the tools and tricks you have for keeping track of which outputs match with which inputs to an analysis, with which models, and which parameters, which figures, papers, and projects all of those things are connected to. It would be great to hear about a wide range of strategies ranging from how you organize and name your files to how you’ve implemented a workflow management tool like Kepler.

I also hope that we can spin up ideas for workflow management problems people may be facing, so if you have a workflow-related issue or question that you’d like to get input on, please let me know. I’ll make sure you get a few minutes to describe your problem or question so that you can get ideas from the crowd.

And if you’re reading this and thinking “I’m a workflow management pro, and don’t need any help with or ideas for managing my workflow,” then please come to the discussion! We (well, at least I) need your help. I have a homegrown scripted workflow management system for the text analyses I do, which does a great job of capturing a lot of details and documenting relationships between inputs and outputs, but requires me to purge unused outputs (e.g., outputs for all but selected runs of a model) manually. How do the rest of you keep track of which files you can throw away down the line and which need to be kept indefinitely? I need to downsize my data storage and am a little worried about making mistakes when I do this manually, so would love to hear ideas about how to build functions like this into my system.

Hope to see you all for a fun discussion!

Research in the coastal temperate rainforest, by Dr. Allison Bidlack

Juvenile Bald Eagle in Tree near Haines

Juvenile Bald Eagle in Tree near Haines

Join us for our March 11th Roundtable with Dr. Allison Bidlack from the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center!

The north Pacific coastal temperate rainforest (PCTR) ecosystem extends from central British Columbia to southcentral Alaska, includes the largest remaining old-growth forests in North America, supports some of the most robust fisheries on the continent, and is home to tens of thousands of people who depend on a resource and tourism-based economy for their livelihoods. It is also a region characterized by an intricate geologic and evolutionary past, a rich cultural history, and complex linkages among ecosystem components. The social-ecological systems of the PCTR are being transformed by climate change, as well as by global economic drivers such as tourism, energy prices, and timber demand.  Given the current rates of ecosystem change and the potential for profound systemic shifts and economic upheaval in the region and beyond, a more holistic understanding of these patterns, processes and impacts is essential for the effective management of resources and the resilience of communities. This talk will provide a brief introduction to the region and some of the integrative work being performed, with an emphasis on regional projects involving existing datasets.


From the top of the mountain to the top of the world: vegetation change in the tundra

Join us for our roundtable discussion on March 4th with Dr. Anne Bjorkman from he German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv).

Abstract: Identifying large-scale patterns in functional traits has become a hot topic in community ecology over the past decade, as understanding current biogeographical patterns can help us predict future shifts under climate warming. In the Arctic, where temperatures are warming faster than anywhere else on the planet, shifts in vegetation and associated functional traits can have direct consequences for ecosystem function. For example, increases in shrub cover could affect summer and winter soil temperatures and thus influence the depth of permafrost thaw, while specific leaf area (SLA) and leaf nitrogen concentration can influence decomposition rates, relative growth rates, photosynthetic rates, and carbon fixation, all of which in turn influence carbon cycling and net primary productivity (NPP).

As part of an international synthesis effort based at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (“iDiv” – the German equivalent of NCEAS, or at least we like to think so), we are investigating patterns of functional traits across climate space and over time by combining a circumpolar vegetation database with a large and growing tundra plant trait database. This is very much a work in progress, so I will present some of our work so far and would love to have your feedback!

Anne at her study site

Anne at her study site