A Future of Reconciliation
by David Cottrell
University of Arizona Professor Michael Rosenzweig writes "nothing influences species diversities more than the amount of area available to life." It is from this simple truth that he has built the theory of "reconciliation ecology" He defines it as "the science of inventing, establishing, and maintaining new habitats to conserve species diversity in places where people live, work, or play."
Dr. Rosenzweig predicts a harsh future of extinction for a large number of species, somewhere along the order of 95% to 98% of all vertebrates. But he's hoping mankind can learn to reconcile its place in relation to ecosystems. We must build with humans and nature co-existing in a harmonious manner. "We have affected over 90% of the land and taken a very significant portion of its energy. And in my lifetime, I've only been in a true wilderness once, thirty years ago on a little island on the Sea of Cortez." He contrasts that with places humans have touched. "I went to the northern part of Norway, and my wife, a friend and I hiked several hours to a splendid canyon where I saw four species of falcons at the same time without moving my binoculars and I was thrilled. Then, I turned around and saw an empty Coke bottle somebody put there. It wasn't really wilderness. The notion of reconciliation ecology is that we've got to deal with these places." He sums up our relationship with the land as "Right now, our footprint is too big. Going barefoot is not the answer but the time has come to trade in our jackboots for the grace and elegance of ballet slippers."
The main idea of reconciliation ecology is to create more room within our own areas of development by tweaking how we build to accommodate biodiversity. And as founder of the journals Evolutionary Ecology, and Evolutionary Ecology Research, Michael has reached a global audience. "When I was on a sabbatical at the University of Wisconsin (1990-91) I thought wouldn't it be neat to write a manual for the students. I was at Madison for only a year, but I kept working on it and by '95 it went well beyond the level of a little manual. At the time, everyone's corner of the world looked good, but when someone stepped back to fit all the pieces together, they just didn't fit. It changed me entirely, I thought I can't simply do ivory tower research anymore. It's a personality thing, but I love to look for the big question and that sometimes puts me on the front line."
It's on this battlefront that Dr. Rosenzweig, who holds a PhD in Zoology, stands every day to fight for a future where humans and wildlife coexist. "If we start creating new habitats and ecosystems in places where we live and work, we are creating new evolutionary theaters. In doing research for reconciliation ecology you have to consider that we are putting a new environment together with new evolutionary pressures, and you can't predict what is going to happen." Although unpredictable, Michael believes it's a step in the right direction. "I think you can change things on a door to door basis. First you have to do your research and give people choices. So we go to a neighborhood and say here's a menu of species that could thrive near your home. what kinds of birds or butterflies do you want to see? Then you rely on others to see these things, to spread them out. If you have a songster with blue and red feathers in your front yard, your neighbor will want it too."
Animals which can evolve and adapt to changes are nature's miracles of survival. "A species that can't take advantage of new ranges will have a severe disadvantage, but we see some breaking out and expanding into habitats where they haven't been, and evolving to adapt to the habitats. My favorite example is hawks. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to see a Cooper's hawk you had to go into the canyons, up to 5 or 6 thousand feet. And if you weren't near the creeks, even there, you still wouldn't see them. This was a very rare bird, and now they are all over Tucson, so what happened? Well, they adapted to the city. When they first came in, 80% of their babies died of a parasite they got eating mourning doves, but they've evolved to see the proportion of chick deaths below 50%. The pressure of 80% mortality is a heck of a pressure. It's amazing to drive down a street with a lot of traffic, and looking at Cooper's hawks chasing pigeons by zipping in and out of the pumps at a gas station, I love it. It certainly shows animal adaptability."
Another successful example of reconciliation ecology is seen at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida involving red-cockaded woodpeckers and longleaf pines. Michael has a seat on the Science Advisory Board of SERDP (The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program) which helps the U.S. military meet its responsibilities on nearly 30 millon acres of bases and training ranges, including Eglin. "In 1990, we were down to 2000 acres of longleaf pine ecosystems from about 36 million acres and there were some 80 species in trouble including birds and wildflowers. Eglin had most of what was left. The Nature Conservancy partnered with the U.S. Air Force and came up with a scheme that protected the red-cockaded woodpecker (which prefers making nests in longleaf pines). They cut out slash pines and scrub oak forests and planted long leaf pines. They have crews that burn parts of the forest every four or five years because the trees can resist the fires and their competitors can't. Everything is working better and now there's a quarter million acres of longleaf pine forest on Eglin. It's a brand new ecosystem requiring management. If the U.S. military can do it, anybody can do it."
Author's correction: Issue of March 2008, the California condor article pointed out a wild population of the species existing in only California and Mexico's Baja Peninsula. More accurately stated, wild populations also currently exist in northern Arizona and the southwest corner of Utah.
From The Ground Up
by David McGowan
The Army Corp of Engineers has begun an unprecedented restoration program throughout the Chicago region. They have over 20 projects covering a wide of variety of habitats, from prairies to dunes, wetlands, rivers and forests. Brook Herman, Restoration Ecologist and Planner, sums up the Corps commitment to restoration "The Corps mission began to shift in the 80s from merely trying to minimize impacts to natural systems to working with them. Restoring wetlands can help keep people's basements dry." However, the scope of the program goes far beyond wetlands. Frank Veraldi, Restoration Ecologist, finds prairie restoration of particular interest "It's amazing that after decades of agriculture use, how fast the prairie plants return and with them the grassland birds."
The Corp approached Ravenswood Media about documenting the progress of the restoration over a 3-5 year period. We are now building a coalition of partners, including government agencies and conservation groups. The first shoot was a bright, warm day in mid March at the Orland Grasslands, near La Grange Road and 167th Street. Two teams spent the day tagging trees for removal, leaving the oaks that would have dotted the savanna before European settlement. Restoring habitat is an essential step in restoring species richness and the Army Corp of Engineers is looking forward to the next, busy, 5 years.
Orland Grassland looking south from north marsh
A crab spider on a Black-eyed Susan
Caving: The Other Casualty of WNS?
by Ken Redeker
Bats are beloved. Everyone wants what's best for them. But like a family confronting sickness in one of their own, it can either pull them together or drive them apart.
White Nose Syndrome (WNS) is that divisive disease.
At the conservative end of the spectrum is the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) which advocates a blanket closure of all caves on public land from the east to the west coast. On the opposite end, are many cavers from the National Speleological Society (NSS) who suggest only closing caves that are home to large bat populations. Caught directly in the middle of the controversy is the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (US FWS).
Molly Matteson, a conservation advocate with the CBD is frustrated. "At this point, I don't see a lot of room for compromise with the NSS," she stated. "It's [WNS] so fast moving, and the opportunity to make a difference is now, and it won't be there 5 or 10 years down the road." The CBD estimates mortality rates 70 – 90% are seen in infected bat hibernacula, and some colonies have been completely annihilated . Molly adds, "We have a number of species now that are at risk of disappearing from the face of the earth and we really need to... come up with some effective way of dealing with this so that our bats don't go extinct. The time is now for action."
However, Peter Youngbaer, who is the WNS liaison for the NSS, fears that a nationwide closure will have a harmful impact on cave conservation. Cavers are the first to recognize a problem in that environment. They are the eyes and ears of caves. Peter cites an incident in Indiana where a scientist was denied access to the caves where he wanted to research cave fish, because of the closures. "Do we close off this research in 'an abundance of caution' approach to cave closures to ostensibly protect bats? Where is the balance? Look at the science of karst hydrology in terms of protection of groundwater, and the information that supplies to surface developers and regulators, and the benefit to public health and ecosystem health." Peter has witnessed an expanding atmosphere of distrust among cavers targeted at the USFWS. "There has been a falloff in donations from cavers to the NSS, WNS Rapid Response Fund... I know there is some backlash from cavers to contributing to projects that some perceive as coming back to haunt them in terms of management decisions.
Ann Froschauer, the communications leader from the US FWS, has hard decisions to make. She is being pulled in two directions in aggressive tug-of-war between the Center For Biological Diversity and the NSS. Listening to Ann, it is easy to understand her dilemma. "Our service... is recognizing the contributions to science and conservation that the caving community brings. But at the same time trying to balance that with what really is likely the best course of action to provide for the most protection for the bats." It's a painstaking mix of needing more information and having to act. She added, "and not knowing the potential impact for transmission by humans verses bats is the one thing that we can sort of control right now.. that it is very likely that humans are able to transmit those things. In looking at how, do we really try to slow this down to buy ourselves even a year? We're leaps and bounds ahead of where we were this time last year with our understanding of gd [Geomyces destructans]."
At this point, no one is certain what is causing WNS or how it's being spread. However, US FWS has developed a set of protocols for cleaning equipment between cave visits in the hope it will slow the the spread of the disease. Pat Kambesis, a geologist at the Hoffman Environmental Research Institute at Western Kentucky University thinks the rules are appropriate. She compared the situation to that of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). "In some ways it's kind of like TSA," she says, "in order to make everybody feel safe... then you have to to do all these crazy things like at the airport." She feels, "If you change your caving habits as a recreational caver, and decide it's not going to just be about me, and can also be about the cave. Maybe that's one way you start to bridge that gap with that agency." She views the current situation as a challenge to better protect caves in general. "It's making people more careful about their impact on caves... Even if [WNS] it goes away that lasting result of how we can minimize our impact will be making people think about that. I think that, in a sense is a positive thing."
I discovered 18 years ago, that caving was the most effective therapy in existence to combat my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which has plagued me since I was a teenager. The intense focus necessary for caving essentially saved my life and I can't easily give it up. But now, bats need my help. I don't agree with a blanket closure of caves because I don't believe it would be effective. However, White Nose Syndrome is such an unprecedented ecological disaster that I need to suppress what I believe and follow the rules outlined by the US FWS. We need to come together as a community and that community includes the FWS and the Center for Biological Diversity. These are our partners and the time to listen to one another is now.
Don't Call Them Invasives!
by Kristen Kane
Invasive species have recently become the subject of strong media attention, igniting public awareness about large-scale invasions. While Zebra Mussels have decimated native species throughout the Great Lakes and beyond, Asian carp are six miles away from entering Lake Michigan, and subsequently the Great Lakes. Solving these immediate problems must be a priority, but scientists and citizens alike must also focus on prevention, and the reason the problems exist in the first place: humans.
These species didn't arrive here naturally. Humans have introduced thousands of invasive species to North America through accidents, carelessness, and ignorance about invasive species. While most have naturalized and remained relatively harmless, around 5-10% are now "highly invasive," posing a threat to our native species and natural lands.
At the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, scientists and parks staff faced the problem of invasive plant species head-on. More than ten foreign invasives have rapidly invaded the park, but some of them have created bigger problems than others.
Joy Marburger, Research Coordinator at the Indiana Dunes, specializes in invasive cattails that have taken over the wetlands of many American parks. But these plants have not only invaded, they have hybridized, cross-breeding with the native species to produce numerous new breeds. "When you get hybrids, you get a mixture of all kinds of morphological features," Joy said, explaining the difficulties the research team faced while identifying cattail species in the field.
Joy calls the hybrid takeover "a form of extinction. You end up with no natives left and it's just hybrids everywhere." These cattails came in through "ship ballasts, canals, waterways and roads in the east coast, and spread slowly across the United States." We didn't only start the invasion, we perpetuated its rapid growth.
When humans enter a natural area, they disturb plants, debris, and seeds, and Joy said that "the more disturbances there are, the quicker the plants can interbreed."
Yet, the problem isn't only for native cattails- birds and amphibians suffer as well. Compared to the native cattails, hybrids grow in thick groves, enabling them to dry up once-thriving wetlands. This devastates insect and animal populations, which then leaves larger predators without a food source. In addition, "if you have really thick vegetation, amphibians can't swim, and can't lay their eggs." These hybrid cattails threaten the biodiversity of our wetlands, an ecosystem widely described as the most ecologically diverse in the world.
Noel Pavlovic, a scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore elaborated on further problems, saying "There's great harm in some of these species in taking over our remnant native ecosystems." He works with oriental bittersweet, a highly invasive species in North America intentionally introduced by humans, that is now outcompeting the native bittersweet.
"In the northeast, the native American bittersweet has declined, and in fact, one state is going to try and list it as threatened." Like the cattails, the oriental bittersweet population has become relatively unmanageable and is spreading rapidly across the country.
Humans spread oriental bittersweet through a different method than cattails. Noel explained that "In the fall, everyone's thinking arrangements and flowers, that's the principle means of how it's been dispersed. We seem to find more of it close to residential areas." People may have good intentions in disposing old bouquets of flowers outside, but don't realize that they are contributing to the spread of invasive species."
Phragmites, another problematic species, are extremely common across the Midwest, and most people don't realize that they are an invasive at all. These common reeds cloak the sides of interstates, highways, and roads, and exist as an enormous problem for our native ecosystems. They crowd out the natives, choking off ecosystems, reducing biodiversity, and monopolizing resources on the dunes, in the wetlands, and across the Midwestern plains.
At the Indiana Dunes, Natural Resources Manager John Kwilosz discussed their approach to combating invasive species. "We have been focusing our efforts on controlling the smaller populations of invasive plants in higher quality natural areas in the park to prevent losing them to the effects of invasive plants." They are working tirelessly to solve the problems of invasives currently in the park, but steps must be taken to stop other plants from entering the Indiana dunes.
By educating people about taking precautions during their recreational activities, we can at least slow the spread of invasive species. Hikers and bikers can check their clothes for seeds before they hit the trail, boaters and fishermen can drain and clean their gear before moving to a new body of water, and people can place bouquets in the trash instead of the compost. These small steps will help to slow the spread of invasive species and protect our native biodiversity.
Noel agrees that education is a key component of the fight against invasive species, and generating public awareness is important. He said, "I think people are getting the message more with the Asian carp issue, seeing what the zebra mussels have done in the Great Lakes." Educating the public might be the only positive result of both of these hostile takeovers, but prevention is critical at this stage.
These organisms didn't invade, we invited them. To call them "invasives" misdirects the blame for the problem from humans to the organisms themselves. We caused it and only we can fix it, and prevent these crises from ever happening again. Our local ecosystems are fragile, and we must stop invasives before they permanently alter the environment and destroy the biodiversity of our natural areas.
New Stream Ecology Resource
Illinois RiverWatch Network is about to publish a new manual "Aquatic Macroinvertebrates of Illinois." The guide is intended as a tool to help RiverWatch volunteers monitor macroinvertebrates across Illinois but it is also a great way for the public to become familiar with these seldom seen organisms. Since its inception in 1995, RiverWatch has trained over 1500 volunteers in stream monitoring and has played a critical role in the health of aquatic systems throughout the state.
Author and photographer, Jim Bland, has assembled the guide into an easy to use system of taxa descriptions, black and white drawings and detailed photos of larvae with key identification traits. The In Depth section provides fun facts about macroinvertebrates. Also included is a list of Internet sites of macroinvertebrates in general and individual sites for each taxa.
The photography in the book is stunning. Jim is both an accomplished photographer and knowledgable naturalist. The close-up photos provide important details of the creatures that are essential to their identification. Jim offers a lecture/power point program on stream invertebrates called "Curse of the Creepy Crawlers." He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Illinois RiverWatch Network is part of the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGRREC). The Center is a partnership between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Illinois Natural History Survey, and Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois. NGRREC's scholars and scientists study the ecology of the big rivers, the workings of the watersheds that feed them, and the ties to the river communities that use them.
To order a copy of the guide, please email RiverWatch Program Manager, Vera Bojic, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's hard to imagine a time when the United States and Iran would cooperate on anything, much less the environment. But that's what happened in Ramsar, Iran in 1971. The Ramsar Convention on wetlands is the oldest intergovernmental agreement on the environment. It was created to address the loss of waterfowl through the degradation of wetlands. In the last 40 years it has, according to its website, "inspired the wise use of all wetlands through local and national action and international cooperation to sustain the diverse socio-economic benefits wetlands deliver to people throughout the world."
If it happened once, it can happen again. Help them spread the word on wetlands.
The Nature Conservancy's Latin America Marketing team has translated our production "Let Nature Bring You Back To Your Senses" into Spanish and Portuguese. The PSA was produced for the Indiana chapter of TNC and was played in theaters in southern Indiana. The program won a Merit Award For Message at the International Wildlife Film Festival.