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Ecological science has contributed greatly to our understanding of the natural world and the impact of humans on that world. Now, we need to refocus the discipline towards research that ensures a future in which natural systems and the humans they include coexist on a more sustainable planet. Acknowledging that managed ecosystems and intensive exploitation of resources define our future, ecologists must play a greatly expanded role in communicating their research and influencing policy and decisions that affect the environment. To accomplish this, they will have to forge partnerships at scales and in forms they have not traditionally used. These alliances must act within three visionary areas: enhancing the extent...
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Ecologists are increasingly discovering that ecological processes are made up of components that are multi-scaled in space and time. Some of the most complex of these processes are cross-scale interactions (CSIs), which occur when components interact across scales. When undetected, such interactions may cause errors in extrapolation from one region to another. CSIs, particularly those that include a regional scaled component, have not been systematically investigated or even reported because of the challenges of acquiring data at sufficiently broad spatial extents. We present an approach for quantifying CSIs and apply it to a case study investigating one such interaction, between local and regional scaled land-use...
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This paper provides a synthesis of the recent literature describing how global biodiversity is being affected by climate change and is projected to respond in the future. Current studies reinforce earlier findings of major climate-change-related impacts on biological systems and document new, more subtle after-effects. For example, many species are shifting their distributions and phenologies at faster rates than were recorded just a few years ago; however, responses are not uniform across species. Shifts have been idiosyncratic and in some cases counterintuitive, promoting new community compositions and altering biotic interactions. Although genetic diversity enhances species' potential to respond to variable conditions,...
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This paper presents a national-scale map of habitat suitability for tamarisk (Tamarix spp, salt cedar), a high-priority invasive species. We successfully integrate satellite data and tens of thousands of field sampling points through logistic regression modeling to create a habitat suitability map that is 90% accurate. This interagency effort uses field data collected and coordinated through the US Geological Survey and nationwide environmental data layers derived from NASA's MODerate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). We demonstrate the use of the map by ranking the 48 continental US states (and the District of Columbia) based on their absolute, as well as proportional, areas of “highly likely” and “moderately...
Global climate change is projected to produce warmer, longer, and more frequent droughts, referred to here as “global change-type droughts�, which have the potential to trigger widespread tree die-off. However, drought-induced tree mortality cannot be predicted with confidence, because long-term field observations of plant water stress prior to, and culminating in, mortality are rare, precluding the development and testing of mechanisms. Here, we document plant water stress in two widely distributed, co-occurring species, piñon pine (Pinus edulis) and juniper (Juniperus monosperma), over more than a decade, leading up to regional-scale die-off of piñon pine trees in response to global change-related drought....
Wind erosion and associated dust emissions play a fundamental role in many ecological processes and provide important biogeochemical connectivity at scales ranging from individual plants up to the entire globe. Yet, most ecological studies do not explicitly consider dust-driven processes, perhaps because most relevant research on aeolian (wind-driven) processes has been presented in a geosciences rather than an ecological context. To bridge this disciplinary gap, we provide a general overview of the ecological importance of dust, examine complex interactions between wind erosion and ecosystem dynamics from the scale of plants and surrounding space to regional and global scales, and highlight specific examples of...
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National scale aggregate indicators of ecosystem services are useful for stimulating and supporting a broad public discussion about trends in the provision of these services. There are important considerations involved in producing an aggregate indicator, including whether the scientific and technological capacity exists, how to address varying perceptions of the societal importance of different services, and how to communicate information about these services to both decision makers and the general public. Although the challenges are formidable, they are not insurmountable. Quantification of ecosystem services and dissemination of information to decision makers and the public is critical for the responsible and...
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Of the primary responses to contemporary climate change – “move, adapt, acclimate, or die” – that are available to organisms, “acclimate” may be effectively achieved through behavioral modification. Behavioral flexibility allows animals to rapidly cope with changing environmental conditions, and behavior represents an important component of a species’ adaptive capacity in the face of climate change. However, there is currently a lack of knowledge about the limits or constraints on behavioral responses to changing conditions. Here, we characterize the contexts in which organisms respond to climate variability through behavior. First, we quantify patterns in behavioral responses across taxa with respect to timescales,...
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The emergence of macrosystems ecology (MSE), which focuses on regional- to continental-scale ecological patterns and processes, builds upon a history of long-term and broad-scale studies in ecology. Scientists face the difficulty of integrating the many elements that make up macrosystems, which consist of hierarchical processes at interacting spatial and temporal scales. Researchers must also identify the most relevant scales and variables to be considered, the required data resources, and the appropriate study design to provide the proper inferences. The large volumes of multi-thematic data often associated with macrosystem studies typically require validation, standardization, and assimilation. Finally, analytical...
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Human impacts on watershed hydrology are widespread in the US, but the prevalence and severity of streamflow alteration and its potential ecological consequences have not been quantified on a national scale. We assessed streamflow alteration at 2888 streamflow monitoring sites throughout the conterminous US. The magnitudes of mean annual (1980-2007) minimum and maximum streamflows were found to have been altered in 86% of assessed streams. The occurrence, type, and severity of streamflow alteration differed markedly between arid and wet climates. Biological assessments conducted on a subset of these streams showed that, relative to eight chemical and physical covariates, diminished flow magnitudes were the primary...
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Greater scientific knowledge, changing societal values, and legislative mandates have emphasized the importance of implementing large-scale flow experiments (FEs) downstream of dams. We provide the first global assessment of FEs to evaluate their success in advancing science and informing management decisions. Systematic review of 113 FEs across 20 countries revealed that clear articulation of experimental objectives, while not universally practiced, was crucial for achieving management outcomes and changing dam-operating policies. Furthermore, changes to dam operations were three times less likely when FEs were conducted primarily for scientific purposes. Despite the recognized importance of riverine flow regimes,...
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Freshwater ecosystems provide numerous services for communities worldwide, including irrigation, hydropower, and municipal water; however, the services provided by inland fisheries – nourishment, employment, and recreational opportunities – are often comparatively undervalued. We provide an independent estimate of global lake harvest to improve biological and socioeconomic assessments of inland fisheries. On the basis of satellite-derived estimates of chlorophyll concentration from 80,012 globally distributed lakes, lake-specific fishing effort based on human population, and output from a Bayesian hierarchical model, we estimated that the global lake fishery harvest in the year 2011 was 8.4 million tons (mt). Our...
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During the past century, fire management has focused on techniques both to protect human communities from catastrophic wildfire and to maintain fire-dependent ecological systems. However, despite a large and increasing allocation of resources and personnel to achieve these goals, fire management objectives at regional to global scales are not being met. Current fire management techniques are clearly inadequate for the challenges faced by fire managers, and technological innovations are needed. Advances in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) technology provide opportunities for innovation in fire management and science. In many countries, fire management organizations are beginning to explore the potential of UAS for monitoring...
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This year's catastrophic wildfires in southern California highlight the need for effective planning and management for fire-prone landscapes. Fire frequency analysis of several hundred wildfires over a broad expanse of California shrublands reveals that there is generally not, as is commonly assumed, a strong relationship between fuel age and fire probabilities. Instead, the hazard of burning in most locations increases only moderately with time since the last fire, and a marked age effect of fuels is observed only in limited areas. Results indicate a serious need for a re-evaluation of current fire management and policy, which is based largely on eliminating older stands of shrubland vegetation. In many shrubland...
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The non-native seagrass Halophila stipulacea has spread rapidly throughout the Caribbean Sea (Willette et al. 2014); without additional research, the ecological ramifications of this invasion are difficult to predict. Biodiversity, connectivity of marine ecosystems, and recovery of degraded coral reefs could all be affected. The invasive seagrass, native to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, has taken over sand bottoms and intermixed with or replaced native seagrasses, including Thalassia testudinum, Syringodium filiforme, and Halodule wrightii.
The diatom Didymosphenia geminata is a single-celled alga found in lakes, streams, and rivers. Nuisance blooms of D geminata affect the diversity, abundance, and productivity of other aquatic organisms. Because D geminata can be transported by humans on waders and other gear, accurate spatial prediction of habitat suitability is urgently needed for early detection and rapid response, as well as for evaluation of monitoring and control programs. We compared four modeling methods to predict D geminata's habitat distribution; two methods use presence?absence data (logistic regression and classification and regression tree [CART]), and two involve presence data (maximum entropy model [Maxent] and genetic algorithm for...
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Desertification is an escalating concern in global drylands, yet assessments to guide management and policy responses are limited by ambiguity concerning the definition of “desertification” and what processes are involved. To improve clarity, we propose that assessments of desertification and land transformation be placed within a state change–land-use change (SC–LUC) framework. This framework considers desertification as state changes occurring within the context of particular land uses (eg rangeland, cropland) that interact with land-use change. State changes that can be readily reversed are distinguished from regime shifts, which are state changes involving persistent alterations to vegetation or soil properties....
Observations from islands, small-scale experiments, and mathematical models have generally supported the paradigm that habitats of low plant diversity are more vulnerable to plant invasions than areas of high plant diversity. We summarize two independent data sets to show exactly the opposite pattern at multiple spatial scales. More significant, and alarming, is that hotspots of native plant diversity have been far more heavily invaded than areas of low plant diversity in most parts of the United States when considered at larger spatial scales. Our findings suggest that we cannot expect such hotspots to repel invasions, and that the threat of invasion is significant and predictably greatest in these areas. Published...