Monday, June 29, 2015

In the swamps, June 2015

By Vincent Irizarry, Radha Patel, and Taylor Howard

These loblolly pine trees reside on higher elevation marsh lands. As you navigate to lower lying areas, you can see where increased salinity has killed trees. (V.I)

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge:
  • BNWR is a natural salt marsh area in Maryland that serves as a protective barrier for coastal communities and farmland throughout the region.
  • Storms and sea level rise associated with climate change has flooded communities and salt marshes in the eastern shore of Maryland near BNWR.
  • Marsh lands are migrating inland due to sea level rise and saltwater intrusion into the uplands is rapidly occurring. Lower elevation areas are most vulnerable.
  • The salinity of the marshes is impacting forests and farmlands. In the forests, this results in “ghost forests” with dead tree stumps, while in the farmlands, it results in killed crops.

Disturbed farmland. The brown area was sprayed to kill invasive Phragmites australis that enters areas where crops have been killed due to salinity. (V.I)

On the second day of our trip to the eastern shore, we toured local farm communities to observe the ecological damage. Within the last ten years alone 1,500 acres of farmland have been lost. Water running off of farms is high in nitrate and phosphorus due to fertilizer use. Nutrient rich water entering the Chesapeake Bay causes eutrophication, or poor water quality. In addition, in areas of high nutrients and disturbed soils, the invasive plant Phragmites australis grows. Phragmites is a weed that reduces salt marsh plant biodiversity and can be very difficult to get rid of. (V.I)

“But it’s just some grass, who cares?”

“We have plenty of other farms.”

As Phragmites continue to ravage the land, it takes up space that could be used for commodity crops that we all love such as corn, wheat, and soy. These lands are important not only to the local farm economy but to our national food security. Farmers within the area have entire livelihoods dependent on these lands. Many farmers are unwilling to give up these lands to government sponsored ecological succession programs.

Farms such as this one above produce high quantities of crops such as soy and corn. This farm has been exposed to salt water through flooding, as evidenced by the lack of crop growth near the edges of the plot. The likelihood of producing a quality yield is unknown.(V.I)

What would be produced on the farm.





During a part of another project, we collected water, grass, and soil samples for analysis. The water samples were tested by a small, portable analytical chemistry device to determine levels of Nitrate in the water near the farms. The FDA approves drinking water up to 10 units of Nitrate, yet many of these samples were in the 20s and 30s. Another intern in the lab is working on analyzing the soil and grass samples.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Goats do roam

Not to goad you into visiting my blog more often...(cue the snare drum)...but this is another story about goats, and there's more to come!

With co-authors Brian Silliman, Tom Mozdzer, Christine Angelini, Jennifer Brundage, Peter Esselink, Jan Bakker, Johan van de Koppel, and Andy Baldwin, I've published a paper in PeerJ about goat control of the invasive common reed Phragmites australis. Goats were enclosed in Phragmites stands for about 9 weeks over the course of two summers to control Phragmites growth and allow for native plant regrowth.

It worked! Phragmites stem density and stem height were reduced by 50-60% and plant diversity increased 4-fold in enclosures relative to ungrazed controls. We also found that cows and horses readily eat Phragmites, and that it provides a nutritional fodder for them, especially in the early summer. We recommend livestock grazing as a tool for managing invasive Phragmites when grazers can be enclosed and rotated across the landscape in short durations.

Please read the paper and leave comments on the PeerJ webpage

More info on the effect of goat control of invasive species in secondary forest understory coming soon....

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Put a little mussel in it

A press release and blog post about my recent Restoration Ecology article with co-authors Lisa Kellogg and Denise Breitburg about incorporating water filtration by bent mussels into water quality models of oyster reef restoration: 

Study puts some mussels into Bay restoration

Oysters have sidekick in Chesapeake Bay clean-up

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Notes from a goat watcher

Although my attention is usually focused on the coast, this week I'm thinking about goats. Yes, goats. They were herded onto a small, urban park on the Anacostia River to eat the tangled, thorny vine-covered vegetation dominating the Kingman and Heritage Islands Park. A company called Eco-Goats rents the goats by the herd for this purpose. With the help of some excellent Conservation Biology graduate students at UMD (Holla to Annette Spivy, Syrena Johnson, Kate Ortenzi, Liz Schotman, and Whitney Hoot!) as well as Smithsonian botanist Norm Bourg, I set up monitoring plots in the goat-grazed site and several similar control sites to see what the goats are actually eating.

Initally, the plots were dominated by a suite of invasive and noxious plants: Japanese honeysuckle, Asian porcelainberry, and poison ivy. Observations of the goats browsing showed that they will eat all of these. Stay tuned for more results. For now, here are some photos and punny observations from Whitney about the goats:

Notes from a goat watcher:

- When I arrived, the goats were grazing near the fence, where their water buckets are placed. Unfortunately, this is to the west of out plot; I did not see any goats enter our plot area.

- I counted 31 goats, but that is a rough estimate. They are cute, but also creepy. I would look down to write in my notebook, look up and they'd all be staring at me. They get stuck in vines and trip sometimes. I laughed. They did not. Goats don't joke. But they do kid.

- I watched the goats for about 15 min before they all left the area for a while. They headed around the path to the southernmost tip of the island; I walked from one end of the fence to the other, but couldn't see them, so went off to flag one control plot. Came back about 30 min later; still no goats. Flagged the other control site. Came back 20 min later and the goats had returned. So, the goats do bugger off. It is possible that I disturbed them. They were definitely aware of me. But they did come back.

Whitney Hoot
M.S. Candidate in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology
M.P.P. Candidate in Environmental Policy

Monday, April 8, 2013

Beyond the paper, the paper airplane gives a birds' eye view of science communication

This week in Nature, Jason Priem, the co-founder of ImpactStory ("tell the full story of the impact of your research"), describes the future of scientific publishing. He envisions a scientific publishing path wherein publication and peer review are decoupled and occur in the opposite order of the traditional model: first publication, followed by peer review by a restricted audience or even the great masses of online readers. After publication, the online community can assess and promote or demote research based on readers' opinions as well as a host of "altmetrics," measures that go way beyond citation counts to include reads, blog coverage, tweets, and mentions. Moreover, the online revolution of scientific publishing will allow scientists to communicate results at a variety of stages - raw or processed data can be posted for users without going through the work to produce a formal publication. Online tools being developed to facilitate these changes, and, indeed, many already exist (e.g. Rubriq, an independent peer review service).

These developments would provide huge benefits - increased dissemination, improvements in the publication process (e.g. greater speed of publication, reduced cost), and, most certainly, greater transparency into the scientific process. And there are very few legitimate drawbacks. To those who believe that we can't or shouldn't quantify scientific impact, employing altmetrics and a greater diversity of factors to represent impact should do a better job than simple citation counts, a metric already in wide use. These tools will break down the exclusivity of science, an outcome most will see as a positive direction.

The only major drawback that I see is one we deal with constantly in the information age, being able to manage and process the streams of information in our lives, which have magnified at an alarming rate. Priem sees the new rankings of altmetrics as the answer to this problem as well, with online tools that create a personally-tailored "journal" or RSS feed that highlights the most relevant research to your personal interests.

 I do worry about something getting lost here. How will I ever keep comprehensive track of my discipline? Whereas a few years ago, I felt as though I never missed an important publication and could confidently identify the important literature published in my field, nowadays the published and online literature has grown gangly. Also, what will become of the cross-disciplinary spark that comes from happening across a research article digressive from my own interests in a general science journal, a feeling which thrills my A.D.D. science-brain?

These concerns stem from my discomfort in confronting a new landscape, rather than any substantive impediment to online publishing. Learning the new landscape will require trial and error. It might not be painless, but at least I'll probably learn something. Overall, the development of more open, online models like the Public Library of Science is a positive development in science that will make us more effective at communicating our findings to colleagues and the public, and, in the vein of Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter, likely open up a host of new possibilities that I can scarcely imagine. I just worry about the eyestrain.

Read the story: Scholarship: Beyond the paper

Monday, December 26, 2011

Badass Census Bureau

It's not my usual maritima fare, but in the spirit of the holidays, a little something to make you smile on another topic of interest - the U.S. Census Bureau and its fearless employees, who will risk it all just to count you and your housemates.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gulf of Mexico Restoration Task Force

The Gulf of Mexico Restoration Task Force Strategy (preliminary draft) is open for public comment for one more day. Get your comments in by Wednesday, Oct. 26 11:59 PM EST. Find the report and the comment submission form here:
My comment is below:


To the Gulf of Mexico Restoration Task Force:

I commend you on the preliminary Restoration Strategy. Scientists have recognized the decline in coastal and riverine ecosystem health in the Gulf of Mexico states for far too long without any change in practices. A core concept of the plan, to put science and restoration on the same footing with industry, politics, and economics, is outstanding.

As most of the Task Force would no doubt agree, making a good plan is far easier than putting it into action. Too many decisions, for example the locations, priorities, and specific goals for restoration projects, have been left to the states and private and public partners. I worry that when the funding sources come online, they will be diverted from the focal aims of the Strategy. The Task Force should appoint a Science Advisory Commission to oversee and distribute funds for ecological restoration.

Your stated aim of doing restorations within an adaptive management framework is excellent. A substantial portion of funding must be devoted to the effort of adaptive management to support the equipment and labor required for proper monitoring and decision-making. Do not let this issue get sidelined or allow the funding for this to be trivialized. The Task Force should suggest the amount or proportion of resources that are required to be devoted to this pursuit. Please include this revision in the final draft of the Strategy.

Restoration on a scale as large as the Gulf of Mexico has rarely been attempted. Despite the substantial environmental challenges faced by these coastal states, many other regions face similarly daunting environmental degradation. Please ensure that, as the Strategy moves forward, information is collected and made available to scientists and the public so we may learn from this example to improve future large-scale restoration practices. The final draft should include a plan for the release of information on restoration progress and costs.

Thank you for your commendable efforts for restoring the Gulf of Mexico.