“So how does that work? How do you get a bunch of books or whatever into DNA format?” –my Dad
A recent article my Dad read in The Atlantic ("Fun with DNA") about DNA spurred an interesting conversation about the state of genetics, our knowledge of DNA, and even more so, about the depth of (mis)understanding between the scientists and the public.
By Zack Steel
Intellectually I know that it is important not to conceptualize nature as separate from urban areas, but realistically I associate escaping into nature with a 4 hour car ride. So, what is all the buzz about re-connecting people to nature in urban environments?
In reading Marks’ recent post on “New Conservation”, I was struck by some of his closing remarks. In particular, “The majority of people now live in urban environments. With this recognition, there has been a rapidly evolving appreciation for the degree to which these urban populations are disconnected from nature and the importance of a connection to nature to support conservation actions. What do we do in urban environments with respect to conserving nature?”
By: Kat Powelson
How do we do conservation education? Listen, and be educated. Perhaps those in need of an education are the conservationists who fail to see the values that motivate others!
I thought we’d try something new for this post and instead of giving you my opinion or sharing some knowledge of a subject, I will solicit the help of the reader. Last week the editorial board of Nature’s Confluence (i.e., The Schwartz lab meeting) was discussing what at first might seem like an obvious question: What is the principal driver of conservation land preservation? Put another way, why are some lands (or waters) purchased or otherwise partially or completely removed from economic use? We are specifically thinking of modern acquisitions (let’s say the last couple of decades) with the ultimate goal being biodiversity conservation. So what do you think?
What is a sensitive species? A dictionary definition of sensitive is “quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences.” According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of tolerant/tolerance is “the ability to accept, endure, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant”. So what makes a species or group of species such as amphibians, which are now currently considered “sensitive”, actually sensitive? Amphibians are listed as sensitive in many documents, for example, the US Forest Service defines sensitive species as “species that need special management to maintain and improve their status on National Forests and Grasslands, and prevent a need to list them under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)”. But the question should be, what are these organisms “sensitive” to? Amphibians have been around a long time (hundreds of millions of years!) and are surprisingly tolerant and resilient; some species of amphibians can freeze solid!
To really get a sense of this, let’s talk about extremes. Amphibians were of particular interest to early physiologists because of their unusual respiratory and metabolic adaptations. This led to some rather remarkable experiments. For example to determine if respiration could occur via the skin, physiologist W. F. Edwards removed lungs from frogs and found they could survive in cold water saturated with air for over a month (Edwards 1824). In another experiment a geologist (William Buckland) encased toads in sandstone and limestone chambers and buried them for a year to see how long they would survive*. Those in the more porous limestone survived the first year; the others did not (Buckland 1832). Other experiments involved coating frogs in paint or oil to see how it affected respiration (Edwards 1824, Wells 2007). We now have a better understanding of many amphibian adaptations, including their very low metabolism, and the ability to respire and hydrate through their skin, which makes them both resilient and sensitive (according to the dictionary definition) in a wide range of environments.
Macabre examples aside, the point is amphibians possess amazing adaptations that make them quite hardy organisms. We tend to think of them as “sensitive” without understanding they represent 360 million years of successful adaptation. Diversifying around the Devonian extinction event, amphibians successfully weathered the next three major global extinction events (ending the Permian, Triassic and Cretaceous). They are finely tuned to the ecosystems in which they persist, often with amazing resilience to very dynamic environments; from deserts to tropical rainforests to artic conditions where they can freeze solid (I am certainly sensitive to freezing solid). This close link means amphibians are both sensitive and tolerant to changes in their environment (according to the dictionary definition).
I spent last week at a workshop on translational ecology with Mark and an impressive group of ecologists, climate scientists, and land managers. At the risk of being incomplete (or potentially introducing a new term for an older idea), I am not going to define that term, but I do want to think a bit more about what seems to be an increasing (or renewed) focus on the role of science in informing policy (which for me usually means natural resource management or conservation, but I’m guessing this discussion extends beyond those realms). Thankfully we (at least some of us) have moved beyond the notion that science does not have a role in determining policy, but I still consistently struggle to determine how to make that actually happen. There has been quite a bit of discussion on the role of science communication and co-production in increasing the impact of science on policy. I agree, for the most part, that these things are necessary for elevating the role of science in the decisions we make. I also do not think they are sufficient. I write this blog trying to make some sense of a series of half-thoughts that have been swirling since last week’s working group.
I think it is relatively safe to say that as a group we (conservation scientists) are generally poor communicators. We get hung up on uncertainty and complexity and often neglect the simple rules of story-telling. The Twitter-verse is full of resources for people looking to improve their ability to tell compelling stories about their science and connect their work to the public or decision makers acting on behalf of the public. This connection is crucial, but for a story to have an impact it needs a good listener. Improved science communication can help here too by helping improve science literacy in the public and among decision-makers, but that is likely (at least as I’m arguing here) not entirely sufficient.
This brings me to the next advancement in our approach to ecology: knowledge co-production. Despite being a somewhat unwieldy term, it essentially describes a fairly obvious idea: that science produced with decision-makers actively involved in developing the questions (and even the methods) improves the likelihood that the results will be integrated into the decision-process (and by extension, improve the actual outcome of the decision process). My experience with these kinds of things is limited, but it seems a few ingredients are necessary for this to truly provide a path towards science-impacted policy. First, there must actually be a decision-process that serves to set expectations for what information is necessary, when it is needed, and what ecologists can provide. Second, there must actually be a need for ecological information – this is critical and often overlooked (or at least under-appreciated).
Beware: Informal Blog Post Ahead.
Thank you, John Oliver, for making the world aware of the salmon cannon. If you have not yet become enlightened about this fascinating and hilarious means for transporting fish, stop reading. Click on the above link… Are you done? Great. Now we can all agree it is comical, but it also is a creative solution to the wide-spread problem of dams preventing access to historic salmon spawning habitat, including California’s Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon. Whether or not a salmon cannon will be installed at Shasta Dam, it’s mere existence lets me highlight ambitious plans to save this fantastic fish. If you’re not familiar with the saga of the winter-run Chinook, check out my previous post, and if you’re on a role, look at Casey’s great discussion of how deep history shapes the world we see around us today. But if you don’t feel the need to read another post, take my word for it that these fish are a fine specimen of evolutionary adaptation and yet are holding on to existence by a pinky-fin in the face of the numerous changes humans have made in the world.
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