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Advancing our mechanistic understanding of ecosystem responses to climate change is critical to improve ecological theories, develop predictive models to simulate ecosystem processes, and inform sound policies to manage ecosystems and human activities. Manipulation of temperature in the field, or the “ecosystem warming experiment,” has proved to be a powerful tool to understand ecosystem responses to changes in temperature. No comprehensive synthesis has been conducted since the last one more than 10 years ago. A new synthetic analysis is critically needed to advance our understanding of ecosystem responses to warming, to highlight experimental artifacts and appropriate interpretations, and to guide development...
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Tropical forests contain > 50% of the world’s known species (Heywood 1995), 55% of global forest biomass (Pan et al. 2011), and exchange more carbon (C), water and energy with the atmosphere than any other ecosystem type (e.g., Saugier et al. 2001). Despite their importance, there is more uncertainty associated with predictions of how tropical forests will respond to warming than for any other biome (Randerson et al. 2009). This uncertainty is of global concern due to the large quantity of C cycled by these forests and the high potential for biodiversity loss. Given the importance of tropical forests, decision makers and land managers around the globe need increased predictive capacity regarding how tropical forests...
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Ecosystems are changing worldwide and critical decisions that affect ecosystem health and sustainability are being made every day. As ecologists, we have a responsibility to ensure that these decisions are made with access to the best available science. However, to bring this idea into practice, ecology needs to make a substantial leap forward towards becoming a more predictive science. Furthermore, even for basic, conceptual questions there is a lot to be gained by addressing problems from a forecasting perspective, with more frequent data-model comparisons helping to highlight misunderstandings and reframe long-standing questions. Ecological forecasting is occurring across a wide range of ecological sub-disciplines,...
Categories: Project; Tags: Completed, Ecosystems, NEON
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Non-native insect invasions increasingly cause widespread ecological and economic damage in natural and agricultural ecosystems. Non-native insects specialized for feeding on specific plant groups are particularly problematic as they can potentially eliminate an entire genus of native plant species across a wide area. For example, emerald ash borer has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America since its accidental introduction from Asia, including more than 99% of all trees in forests near the epicenter of the invasion. However, most introduced insects do not become high-impact pests. Our goal is to develop a framework that allows us to predict whether non-native herbivorous insects in natural ecosystems...
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Amphibian populations are declining globally at unprecedented rates but statistically rigorous identification of mechanisms is lacking. Identification of reasons underlying large-scale declines is imperative to plan and implement effective conservation efforts. Most research on amphibian population decline has focused on local populations and local factors. However, the ubiquity of declines across species and landscapes suggests that causal factors at a broader scale are also important. Elucidation of the mechanisms driving population change has lagged, mainly because data have been unavailable at continental scales. We propose to address this need by assembling data to answer questions about broad-scale drivers...
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Migratory species may provide more ecosystem goods and services to humans in certain parts of their range than others. These areas may or may not coincide with the locations of habitat on which the species is most dependent for its continued population viability. This situation can present significant policy challenges, as locations that most support a given species may be in effect subsidizing the provision of services in other locations, often in different political jurisdictions. The ability to quantify these spatial subsidies could be used to develop economic incentives that internalize the costs and benefits of protecting migratory species, enhancing cross-jurisdictional cooperative management. Targeted payments...
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Nitrogen deposition is altering forest dynamics, terrestrial carbon storage, and biodiversity. However, our ability to forecast how different tree species will respond to N deposition, especially key response thresholds, is limited by a lack of synthesis across spatial scales and research approaches. To develop our best understanding of N deposition impact on tree growth and survival, we will integrate plot-­‐ level studies describing plant growth and survival responses to N inputs and plant-­‐ available soil nutrients with a continental scale analysis across a N deposition gradient. Our primary outcome will be estimates of tree response to N deposition with explicit representation of uncertainty and the identification...
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Geographically Isolated Wetlands (GIWs) occur along gradients of hydrologic and ecological connectivity and isolation, even within wetland types (e.g., forested, emergent marshes) and functional classes (e.g., ephemeral systems, permanent systems, etc.). Within a given watershed, the relative positions of wetlands and open-waters along these gradients influence the type and magnitude of their chemical, physical, and biological effects on downgradient waters. In addition, the ways in which GIWs connect to the broader hydrological landscape, and the effects of such connectivity on downgradient waters, depends largely upon climate, geology, and relief, the heterogeneity of which expands with increasing scale. Developing...
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Soils are a vast reservoir of organic carbon (C), rendering the fate of soil C an important control on the global climate system. Widespread changes in soil C storage capacity present a potentially strong feedback to global change. Yet, a comprehensive understanding of how soil C will respond to climate and/or land use disturbance remains illusive, resulting in major uncertainties in global climate models. Our working group will synthesize information on the processes controlling soil C storage across different spatial scales and develop new procedures to translate local measurements to the regional and global scale datasets used by models. These activities will improve our ability to map the vulnerability of soil...
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Wetlands provide many important ecosystem services, including wildlife habitat, water purification, flood protection, and carbon metabolism. Our ability to manage these services and predict the long-term health of wetlands is strongly linked to their carbon fluxes, of which methane (CH4) is a key component. Natural wetlands emit approximately 30% of global CH4 emissions, as their waterlogged soils create ideal conditions for CH4 production. They are also the largest, and potentially most uncertain, natural source of CH4 to the atmosphere. To understand and predict CH4 fluxes across wetlands globally, we propose the first synthesis of CH4 flux tower data accompanying a global database of CH4 emissions. By taking...
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Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) is a critical biogeochemical process that converts inert atmospheric N2 gas into biologically usable forms of the essential nutrient nitrogen. A variety of free-living and symbiotic organisms carry out BNF, and in most regions worldwide, BNF is the largest source of nitrogen that fuels terrestrial ecosystems. As a result, BNF has far reaching effects on ecosystem properties (water quality, carbon storage), sustainability (plant growth, soil fertility), and the global climate system. Despite this cross-cutting importance, existing syntheses of BNF have major gaps, with particular challenges in upscaling local measurements across large areas. These gaps, and a corresponding lack...
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Water cycling and availability exert dominant control over ecological processes and the sustainability of ecosystem services in water - limited ecosystems. Consequently, dryland ecosystems have the potential to be dramatically impacted by hydrologic alterations emerging from global change, notably increasing temperature and altered precipitation patterns. In addition, the possibility of directly manipulating global solar radiation by augmenting stratospheric SO2 is receiving increasing attention as CO2 emissions continue to increase - these manipulations are anticipated to decrease precipitation, a change that may be as influential as temperature increases in dryland ecosystems. We propose to integrate a proven...
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Ecosystem services - the benefits that nature provides to society and the economy - are gaining increasing traction worldwide as governments and the private sector use them to monitor integrated environmental and economic trends. When they are well understood and managed, ecosystems can provide these long-term benefits to people - such as clean air and water, flood control, crop pollination, and recreational, cultural, and aesthetic benefits. Within the U.S. government, a memo issued by the White House Council on Environmental Quality in October 2015 charged agencies with incorporating these values in planning, investment, and regulatory processes. Natural capital accounting - a tool being used in dozens of countries...
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Estimating species response to environmental change is a key challenge for ecologists and a core mission of the USGS. Effective forecasting of species response requires models that are detailed enough to capture critical processes and at the same time general enough to allow broad application. This tradeoff is difficult to reconcile with most existing methods. We propose to extend and combine existing models that operate at different scales and with different levels of data complexity into a modeling framework that will allow robust estimation of population response to environmental change across a species’ range. This integrated modeling is now possible with the increasing development and application of population...
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Fibrous erionite, a zeolite mineral, has been designated as a human carcinogen by the World Health Organization and is believed to be the cause of extraordinarily high rates of malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos - related diseases in several villages in Central Turkey. A recent study by the University of Hawaii in collaboration with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency in Dunn County, North Dakota has demonstrated similar human exposures to fibrous erionite as those in found in Turkey. The source of these exposures is an erionite - bearing volcanic tuff that has been mined, crushed, and used to gravel hundreds of miles of roads. While elevated rates of mesothelioma are not yet apparent in North Dakota,...
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Resource assessments constitute a key part of the USGS mission, and represent a crucial contribution toward Department of the Interior (DOI) and broader Federal objectives. Current USGS energy and mineral assessment methods evaluate total technically recoverable resources (energy) or economically exploitable materials (minerals); the fiscal year 2010 budget for this work is $82M. To help stakeholders respond to escalating national and worldwide demand for energy, mineral, water, and biological resources, the USGS will expand existing assessment methods to include the environmental and human-health impacts of resource extraction and use, along with multi-resource dependencies and conflicts. This Powell Center working...
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Climate change is expected to cause more intense and frequent extreme weather events, but we only have a basic understanding of how these events might alter freshwater systems. Storms are likely to impact lake systems through delivery of sediments from watersheds and mixing of the water column, both of which could have important consequences for phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are the base of the food web; their community configuration and how the community changes across seasons have large impacts on ecosystem processes such as energy flow, nutrient cycling, and carbon cycling. External disturbances may abruptly alter phytoplankton community dynamics and thus impact ecosystem function. The effects of storms on the...
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While it is widely recognized that microorganisms are intimately linked with every biogeochemical cycle in all ecosystems, it is not clear how and when microbial dynamics constrain ecosystem processes. As a result, it is know clear how to apply the value of increasingly detailed characterization of microbial properties to our understanding of ecosystem ecology. Several recent papers have demonstrated how information about microbial dynamics can be incorporated into ecosystem models (Allison et al. 2010, McGuire and Treseder 2010, Todd - Brown et al. 2011a), but it is generally not clear what types of microbial data are most useful in explaining variation in biogeochemical processes and ecosystem functioning, especially...
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Forests sequester the majority of the terrestrial biosphere’s carbon and are key components of the global carbon cycle, potentially contributing substantial feedbacks to ongoing climatic changes. It is therefore remarkable that no consensus yet exists about the fundamental nature of tree mass growth (and thus carbon sequestration rate). Specifically, does tree mass growth rate increase, decrease, or stay the same with increasing tree size? The answer could have profound implications for our ability to forecast the role of forests in the global carbon cycle and to devise appropriate adaptation and mitigation strategies for forests in the face of rapid climatic changes. We will conduct the first global-scale characterization...
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Mercury (Hg) is a serious environmental problem that is impacting ecological and human health on a global scale. However, local and regional processes are largely responsible for producing methylmercury, which drives ecological risk. This is particularly true in western North America where the combination of diverse landscapes, habitat types, climates, and Hg sources may disproportionally impact the region relative to other areas in North America. Even with decades of regional Hg research and monitoring, there is still no holistic synthesis of the spatiotemporal patterns of Hg in abiotic and biotic resources across the region, nor has there been a formal, simultaneous analysis of the landscape, ecological and climatological...


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