Tag Archives: ecology

The Case of the Fish in the Flood

[A high flow event at Glen Canyon Dam in November 2013.  Photo by the Bureau of Reclamation via Flickr & CC 2.0 License.] 

Proposed Headine:

How an Invasive Species (Almost) Stopped a Flood

Proposed Dek:

“High flow events” or controlled floods are a key tool for managing the Colorado River. But what happens when an invasive fish gets in the way?

The Pitch:

Hi! While recently visiting Utah, I came across an interesting story about the Colorado River. Let me know if you’d be interested:

Is the threat of spreading an invasive species enough to justify canceling projects that help maintain the ecosystem? That’s the question facing resource managers at the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River.

Last year, they had to cancel a controlled flood or “high flow event” because there were a large number of green sunfish in backwater sloughs just downstream of Glen Canyon Dam. They were concerned that opening the dam’s floodgates might wash the green sunfish downriver into the territory of an endangered fish species called humpback chub. However, controlled floods are crucial for releasing sediment that builds up near the dam and rebuilding shorelines and sandbars downstream in the Grand Canyon area. “When the Glen Canyon Dam was built, it blocked 90% of the sediment that was coming through the Colorado River,” explains Rob Billerbeck of the National Parks Service. “So it changed what used to be a red river to a clear river.”

Without the floods that carry sediment downstream, shorelines erode. But more water flow also means more risk of invasive fish spreading. This year, the green sunfish may cause the cancellation of a second flood. So far, Parks Services officials have dealt with the situation by killing and removing the invasive fish from the river system. The NPS and the Bureau of Reclamation are optimistic that they’ve “treated” all of the green sunfish and will be able to move forward with a controlled flood, but the issue of balancing the need to prevent invasive species’ spread with the need to rebuild sandbars and shorelines will likely be a recurring one. This year’s controlled flood will go forward on November 7th, but the green sunfish problem seems likely to come up again.

Although it’s primarily an environmental and resource management story, I think the philosophical hook of “dammed if they do, dammed if they don’t” (sorry; couldn’t resist the pun) that raises an interesting philosophical question: What happens when invasive species begin to take wildlife management decisions out of human hands?

Continue reading “The Case of the Fish in the Flood” »

What Lake Beds Know (Interview with Janice Brahney of USU)

[Photo by Jake Eberhardt via Flickr & CC 2.0 License] 

Lakes make excellent witnesses, says Utah State University assistant professor Janice Brahney The sediment at the bottom of lakes can hold clues about life in the lake thousands of years ago, preserving everything from fossils to traces of rainfall.

I wanted to be a detective growing up, solving puzzles and looking at trace evidence to piece together what happened,” she said. “Lakes are just really excellent recorders.”

Brahney focuses on glacial lakes, which form when giant ice sheets melt. Specifically, she’s been studying the glacial lakes high in the mountains of British Columbia.  Her research could help predict how our planet will handle melting glaciers.

Most of the lakes are so remote they don’t even have names.  For example, one basin has  five lakes that are collectively called Coven Lakes, but the individual Coven lakes are anonymous. 

Continue reading “What Lake Beds Know (Interview with Janice Brahney of USU)” »

Mind the (Canopy) Gap: Recap of a Talk by Dr. Julia Burton

[Photo by Aaron Carlson via CC 2.0] 

The Talk:

Can silvicultural practices be leveraged to maintain diversity in understory plant communities?

In Plain English:

How does cutting down trees affect plant life on the ground?

The Speaker:

Julia Burton of Utah State University

The Sponsor:

USU College of Natural Resources

What It Covered:

Julia Burton studies one of the more neglected niches in forest ecology–the understory. Many conservation researchers and most media reports focus on the “charismatic megafauna”–trees and large mammals, but vines, shrubs, and other plants that live at ankle-level make up a large share of biomass and biodiversity.

North American forest understory plants are often dismissed as weeds or kinda boring plants, but they could play a key role in achieving the goals of silviculture, or forestry.  Burton pointed out that people in forest management are asked to achieve a lot more goals than their counterparts in the past. Not only are forest managers asked to maintain biodiversity, growth, biomass, but they’re also expected to sustain timber production, water resources, ecosystem health, and carbon sequestration ability. 

To do that, we need to understand our forests’ dynamics really well, Burton argued. Her work has focused on the upper MidWest and Northwest, the North American forest with the largest potential for storing carbon against climate change.

Continue reading “Mind the (Canopy) Gap: Recap of a Talk by Dr. Julia Burton” »

Oceans in the Anthropocene: Forever changed but still awesome [Recap of talk ft. Jeremy Jackson]

The Talk:

Uncharted Waters: Novel Ecosystems in the Marine Environment (part of the Ecological Systems in the Anthropocene series)

In Plain English:
Humans have messed up the ocean, so Harvard asks marine biologists, “What are you excited about?!”

The Speaker(s):
Mary O’Connor of University of British Columbia, Jeremy Jackson of Scripps Institute for Oceanography, Trevor Branch of University of Washington. & John Pandolfi of the University of Queensland Australia

The Sponsor:

Harvard Center for the Environment (HUCE)

What it covered:

“Biologist work on systems dominated by the footprint of man,” Elizabeth Wolkovich, Harvard biology prof and the series organizer, declared in her opening remarks. Most biologists (and a fair number of geologists) will tell you that we are living in a new epoch, a period of time where the Earth’s biogeochemistry becomes so different from the last few million years that geologists have to declare it its own thing.

This particular new epoch is an outlier, because we started it. It’s called the Anthropocene. Wolkovich pointed out that if you look back at Victorian-era papers and essays on natural history (because obviously you’re Stephen J. Gould), you’ll see scientists talking about Nature, with a capital “N”, pristine and untouched by human boot-clomping.

Scientists don’t do that anymore.

Continue reading “Oceans in the Anthropocene: Forever changed but still awesome [Recap of talk ft. Jeremy Jackson]” »