Century-old Naturally Reclaimed Mining Site Preserves Regional Biodiversity

by Zoe Dilles

Native plants are flourishing unexpected at old abandoned gold mines in Southern New Zealand in spite of the fact that no landscape remediation was done. While natural reclamation through mine abandonment has historically been the default management strategy for mining sites around the world, the strict environmental policy of today typically mandates extensive site engineering after operations cease. Turning mine sites into usable land for agriculture, forestry, or recreation often entails time-consuming and costly rehabilitation measures such as topsoil replacement and replanting. Water management directs these approaches in arid climates because mine water evaporation as a product of unique geologic settings produces often undesirably saline soils. However, the salty soil of historic gold mine sites in the South Otago region provide rare naturally occurring saline habitats that are elsewhere jeopardized by expanded farming and new agricultural processes. Continue reading

The Underappreciated Benefits of “Green” Urban Brownfields

by Dan McCabe

Sustainable urban planning aims to ensure that urban development patterns do as little ecological harm as possible, but new research suggests that conventional planning approaches neglect a significant contributor to urban environmental health. Mathey et al. (2015) studied the effects of urban brownfields, formerly developed sites that have been abandoned and remain underused, and found that vegetation-rich “green” brownfields provide a variety of valuable ecological services to their areas. The benefits of these services depend on the type and amount of vegetation at a particular site, its location, and human intervention, but green urban brownfields overall show a large potential to aid the goals of sustainable development. Specifically, brownfields provide habitats that support enhanced biological diversity, aid microclimate by cooling the unnaturally warm urban environment, and provide local residents with recreational opportunities. These findings were obtained via a literature review, climate modeling, and a survey of local residents. The authors concluded that green urban brownfields should receive more credit for their ecosystem services and the most effective way to reap their benefits is to leave them mostly wild, while possibly converting some area to recreational spaces. Continue reading

Just Released! “Energy, Biology, Climate Change”

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Our newest book, published on May 6, 2015 and available at Amazon.com for $19.95.

The focus of this book is the interactions between energy, ecology, and climate change, as well as a few of the responses of humanity to these interactions. It is not a textbook, but a series of chapters discussing subtopics in which the authors were interested and wished to write about. The basic material is cutting-edge science; technical journal articles published within the last year, selected for their relevance and interest. Each author selected eight or so technical papers representing his or her view of the most interesting current research in the field, and wrote summaries of them in a journalistic style that is free of scientific jargon and understandable by lay readers. This is the sort of science writing that you might encounter in the New York Times, but concentrated in a way intended to give as broad an overview of the chapter topics as possible. None of this research will appear in textbooks for a few years, so there are not many ways that readers without access to a university library can get access to this information.

This book is intended be browsed—choose a chapter topic you like and read the individual sections in any order; each is intended to be largely stand-alone. Reading all of them will give you considerable insight into what climate scientists concerned with energy, ecology, and human effects are up to, and the challenges they face in understanding one of the most disruptive—if not very rapid—event in human history; anthropogenic climate change. The Table of Contents follows: Continue reading

The Value of Wetlands in Protecting Southeast Louisiana from Hurricane Storm Surges

by Andrew Walnum

Wetlands are recognized as important habitats not only for their benefits of maintaining biodiversity, water purification, erosion control, and carbon sequestration, but also their ability to reduce the impacts of storm surges. Hurricanes pose a particular threat coastal areas as can be seen during Katrina and other devastating hurricanes. Wetland restoration in areas along the Gulf Coast seems to be a logical way to help reduce the devastating impacts of surges and floods from ocean storms. However, there has never been a full analysis combining the hydrological and economic impacts of increasing wetland areas along the Gulf Coast. The authors of this study used models to look at the effects of increasing wetlands on property damage in Southeast Louisiana, near New Orleans. Their study finds that an increase in 10% vegetation cover per square meter saves $99-$133 in property damage per unit area and only a 1% increase saves $24-$43. Continue reading

Diversity Loss Increases Vulnerability to Ecosystem Collapse

by Elizabeth Medford

The value of biodiversity for the resilience of ecological systems has become common knowledge in ecology spheres. Moreover, the affects of humans on the diversity of many ecosystems around the world have been proven previously. This study connects these two pieces of knowledge in stating that the combination of diversity loss caused by human activities and environmental change increase the risk for sudden ecosystem collapse. MacDougall et al. (2013) demonstrated this connection in a degraded but species-rich grassland that was subject to fire suppression techniques as well as invasion by non-native species. The authors conclude that human disturbance created a negative relationship between diversity and function but that the elimination of the buffering effects of high species diversity has led to a vulnerability to sudden environmental change. The findings of this study can be applied more generally to many different ecosystems because of the prevalent combination of long-term land management and species loss. This study relates to climate change because as global temperatures cause fires to increase in occurrence and severity, trophic collapse because of human-caused diversity loss may also increase. Continue reading

Challenges of Ecological Restoration: Lessons from Forests in Northern Europe

by Andrew Walnum

The degradation of ecosystems around the world continues to occur and an increasingly rapid rate. As a relatively new field of ecology, ecological restoration sometimes struggles to find ways to combat the challenges faced by restoring disturbed ecosystems on a local and global scale. At the latest Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD, 2010 in Nagoya, Japan), restoring ecosystems was recognized as one of the most important tools for preventing future loss of bio diversity. Although this field has grown rapidly since the 1980s, many developed countries, especially in Northern Europe, are just starting recognize its importance. Several challenges are needed to be overcome in order to protect biodiversity on a large scale. This study uses northern forests in Europe as an example on what can and needs to be done in order to ensure long-term environmental and biodiversity preservation to reach goals set forth by the CBD. Continue reading