Enhancing Conservation Outcomes and Improving Rangeland Monitoring Efficiency with RDMapper [Wed. June 1]

RDMapper is a web-based application that allows rangeland forage production to be tracked bi-weekly using remotely sensed MODIS vegetation indices. Combining these data with monthly precipitation data and annual on-the-ground monitoring records, RDMapper provides statistical and graphical information and context that supports predictions of end-of-season residual dry matter (RDM). RDM is a landscape-scale metric that has been shown to be a good predictor of rangeland productivity and overall rangeland condition, and is used by grazing managers to monitor grazing impacts, and by land trusts and agencies for conservation easement compliance monitoring. RDMapper can help reduce grazing-related compliance issues and potential conflict between landowners and easement holders, strengthening the overall relationship with cooperating landowners and leading to greater protection of biodiversity values. We developed RDMapper using software written in the R programming language, including the Shiny package. In 2015, we predicted compliance with RDM objectives across approximately 44,000 hectares of conservation easement lands held by The Nature Conservancy in California. We based predictions on past RDM compliance and our interpretation of statistics and graphics that demonstrate differences in vegetation indices and precipitation characteristics for years that were in versus out of compliance with RDM objectives. We tested a framework for adding efficiency to field-based RDM monitoring in future years by evaluating pastures that we had a high confidence would be in RDM compliance in 2015. For these pastures, our prediction of ‘in compliance with high confidence’ was correct on 109 of 110 pastures. We propose that in future years, pastures we are confident will be in compliance can be monitored with a simple visual estimate of RDM, instead of more expensive field methods. We are currently testing RDMapper at additional properties and have transitioned it to a more powerful data processing framework based on MODIS and PRISM web services and Google’s Earth Engine. 

Scott Butterfield
Senior Scientist
The Nature Conservancy


Challenges of scale when examining plant-interactions in arid ecosystems: micro, local, & regional [Wed. May 18]

In high stress environments, such as deserts, positive interactions among plants maintain biodiversity and productivity.  However, the role and mechanism of these positive interactions changes depending on the context of spatial scale.
I will discuss how positive plant-interactions in deserts change at the micro, local, and regional scale.  I also discuss the challenges associated with examining plant interactions at different spatial scales as a researcher, such as sampling techniques, community structure, and interacting factors.
Typically studies examining positive plant-interactions focus on local gradients, thereby neglecting micro or regional scales.  All spatial scales share similarities in that each have gradients that modifies the mechanism, magnitude, and direction of plant interactions.  Drawing parallels among different spatial scales and considering all three simultaneously as a response surface can provide a better understanding of positive interactions.  This can assist conservation biologist and restoration ecologists make better informed decisions when managing desert ecosystems in support of global biodiversity.

Alex Filazzola
PhD Student
York University
Toronto, Canada


Industrial Ecology: Material flows at the nature-industry boundary [Wed. May 11]

Achieving a sustainable industrial economic system is the defining challenge of our age, one that requires understanding both of human-made systems that generate stresses on the environment and of the natural systems that absorb them.   Industrial ecology (IE) is a synthesis field that seeks to understand the sustainability implications of decisions made in the context of human systems (businesses, households, public agencies).  The main organizing principle in IE research is the boundary that separates the natural environment from the domain of human activity (aka the “technosphere”).  Though natural systems are necessarily spatial, human systems are often more readily thought of as graphs, where different activities happen at distinct points in order to satisfy demand for products and services in the economy.

I will introduce the core methodologies of IE, material flow analysis and life cycle assessment, describe data collection and analysis in comparison to the natural sciences, and discuss how the operational concerns of businesses influence how IE investigations are designed and how knowledge is shared.




Brandon Kuczenski, Ph.D.
Assistant Researcher
University of California at Santa Barbara
Institute for Social, Behavioral, and Environmental Research
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-5131




Optimizing Marine Protected Area Networks: The effects of climate change on larval dispersal and connectivity [Wed. April 20]

A changing climate will make the conservation of marine biodiversity increasingly difficult as policies designed for current climatic conditions may not reflect those in the future. Larval dispersal and movements among populations is a crucial factor in planning networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) as it greatly affects population persistence and recovery. I will present some of my work quantifying larval behavior in the laboratory, to using a biophysical larval dispersal model (ROMS/LTRANS, etc) to identify patterns of larval connectivity in the present and future climate scenarios. Identifying mechanisms that drive larval dispersal and connectivity, quantifying their sensitivity to climate change, and incorporating this into planning strategies are key to developing networks of MPAs which have sound design principles that consider population connectivity and are more robust to the effects of climate change.


Remi Daigle
Post-doctoral Researcher
University of Toronto, McGill University


An Economic Valuation of Southern California’s Coastal Wetlands [Thurs. April 14]

This presentation will be by three students in the BREN Environmental Science and Management program at UCSB: Jane Ballard, Jennifer Pezda and Devin Spencer.

It is targeted towards a general audience, rather than the NCEAS community, since we are practicing for our public thesis presentations. However, we will be happy to answer any in-depth questions about our project. We are also looking for any feedback that will guide us towards greater success as we present to a public audience.

Southern California’s coastal wetlands contain a variety of habitats that provide a range of services which benefit human well-being, as well as the surrounding local and regional environment. These habitats provide ecosystem services such as flood protection, carbon sequestration, pollution buffering, and critical habitat for plant and animal species. While the physical extent of Southern California coastal wetlands is federally protected, the quality is being degraded by surrounding development, impacts from a growing population pressures, and impacts from climate change. Degraded habitats do not provide the same level of benefits and ecosystem services as healthy systems, therefore Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project (SCWRP) in conjunction with the Bren School, developed this thesis project to increase the communication and transparency of land use decisions that are impacting wetland habitats along the Southern California coast. In this presentation we will discuss the importance of valuing coastal wetlands as well as demonstrate how we went about determining the value of Southern California’s coastal wetlands.


Salmon management and responses to water quality changes in Alaska [Wed. March 23]

This week’s Roundtable features two talks about salmon ecology and management in Alaska by Drs Milo Adkison and Anne Beaudreau, both of whom are members of the Gulf of Alaska Portfolio Effects working group.

Why is salmon management so hard?

Dr. Milo Adkison

Managers of Alaskan salmon fisheries open and close fisheries on short notice, with the objectives of maximizing catch and achieving their goal for spawners escaping the fishery. Uncertain run strength has long been recognized as an impediment to their success. I’ll show that uncertain run timing is just as big of a problem. Finally, I’ll examine a constant fishing schedule as an alternative to the current management approach.
University of Alaska Fairbanks
235 O’Neill
Fairbanks, AK 99775

Long-term community responses to nutrient additions and water quality changes in Afognak Lake, Alaska

Dr. Anne Beaudreau

The Afognak Lake sockeye salmon run historically supported one of the largest subsistence fisheries in the Kodiak Archipelago, Alaska. Declining abundance during the 1980s led to a decade of lake fertilization (i.e., additions of phosphorus and nitrogen) and intermittent stocking. The central goal of this study was to characterize changes in prey and habitat quality for lake-rearing juvenile sockeye salmon in Afognak Lake since the late-1980s. We synthesized long-term data collected by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to address two questions: (1) What environmental and ecological factors explain patterns of production for zooplankton and juvenile sockeye salmon in Afognak Lake? (2) Are patterns of production consistent with the expected community response to fertilization? We found that total phosphorous concentration was an important predictor of variation in density and size of dominant zooplankton species. Primary and secondary production showed a response to lake nutrient additions, but there was no discernable effect of fertilization on juvenile sockeye size and condition. Additionally, there was little support for the hypothesis that larger size at outmigration led to enhanced survival in the ocean. As a whole, our results suggest that nutrient additions are unlikely to result in increased population productivity of Afognak sockeye and that the ecological role of insects, which compose a large proportion of sockeye fry diets in Afognak Lake, deserves greater attention.

Beaudreau halibut_photo
University of Alaska Fairbanks
17101 Point Lena Loop Road
Juneau, AK 99801


Coral reef management and island conservation: interdisciplinary environmental projects [Wednesday Feb 24]

This roundtable will be divided into two segments. In the first part I will discuss ideas for coral reef management that came out of the Future of Reefs in a Changing Environment project that I was involved in. In the second part I will give some of the background to a conference on ‘Humans and island environments’ that I am helping to organise. I will discuss the importance of islands for environmental conservation, the diverse research that is done on islands, and their role at the forefront of conservation solutions. This will lead into a discussion on the highs and lows of conferences, as I would like to get people’s thoughts on the most important aspects of a good conference.

If possible, please can everyone bring a device that can access the internet – I hope to have some not so fancy interactivity during the discussion!

Jason Flower

Research Assistant
Foundation for Environmental Conservation |foundationforec.org


Conserving mobile species [Wed Feb 17]

Many species move around land and seascapes. In this talk I’ll look at how these patterns of movement change the way we design conservation projects, and the outcomes for migratory species in contemporary conservation schemes. Often these species cross jurisdictions, and collaboration across diverse groups of people is essential to their persistence in a rapidly changing world.
I’ll explore these issues with three case studies – nomadic desert birds, a critically endangered koala population and mining development in southern Australia.
Be prepared for gratuitous photos of birds and cute fluffy things.


Claire Runge
Postdoctoral Scholar
SNAP Better Land-Use Decisions working group
National Center for Ecological Analysis & Synthesis (NCEAS),
University of California Santa Barbara
Center of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED), University of Queensland
Twitter @Claire_Runge | runge@nceas.ucsb.edu | clairerunge.wordpress.com

Hunting in the tropics: examining hunter rationality [Wed, Feb 3]

Excessive hunting pressure is a major threat to tropical vertebrates. Research on hunters has broadly assumed that hunters are rational economic agents, willing to switch to more attractive alternative activities. However, my study in Southwest China demonstrates that villagers may be highly unwilling to stop hunting, despite low expected catch rates and stiff penalties for hunting and gun ownership. I will primarily discuss a project that used quantitative and qualitative interviews to elucidate the behavior of hunters, as well as the application of novel techniques to analyze these data. I will also discuss ongoing research that combines field data with theoretical models to explore how resilient prey may subsidize the continued harvest of rare game species. I am eager to receive feedback and share ideas with audience members.

Charlotte Chang
PhD candidate | Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Princeton University


A primer on natural history collection digitization and data sharing.

Natural history collections contain both historical and contemporary
information about the ecology of our natural and urban areas. The
research and instructive potential of these data are rapidly becoming
more relevant as more and more collections become digitized.

I managed the digitization of over 3 million plant and insect
specimens for the National Science Foundation Tri-Trophic Thematic
Collection Network project from 2011 until 2015. The focus of this
high-throughput digitization effort was on the hemipteran herbivorous
insects (aphids, scales, hoppers, cicadas, and true bugs), their host
plants, and related parasitoids.  At this NCEAS roundtable, I plan to
present to review of contemporary standards in natural history
collection digitization, highlight some of the exciting derivative
research, and outline many of the ongoing challenges natural history
collection digitization still faces.

Katja Seltmann, PhD
Katherine Esau Director / Entomology Curator
Cheadle Center for Biodiversity & Ecological Restoration (CCBER)