A successful seminar , congratulations Ken!

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Ken Feeley, the head of our Lab, gave a well received and incredibly successful departmental seminar today as he begins the process of tenure application (picture above). Ken discussed his past, present and future research on how plants will respond to modern climate change. He primarily discussed our Lab’s research on long-term vegetation plots in the Peruvian Andes, summarized past findings and presented the exciting directions our future research will be going in! Congrats Ken!

Getting trained during the Summer – a month in China!

Group picture taken at the Dipterocarp forest in XTBG

Group picture taken at one of the Dipterocarp forest in XTBG.

 

This last summer, I spent a very exciting month participating in a training course in China, titled “The Ecology of Climate Change in the Tropics and Sub-Tropics”. The course was a result of the collaboration between the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden (XTBG) and the Organization of Tropical Studies (OTS). It was hosted by XTBG, the largest botanical garden in China and also a research center affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). XTBG has around 30 research groups, and many research labs are focused on national strategic needs (Key Laboratories, http://english.xtbg.cas.cn/rh/rd/).

XTBG (1125 ha) is embedded in a remote, rural town in China. Access to XTBG from the town of Menglun is shown by the green line, and the leads to the location of the research center. The yellow line shows the trail to the green stone forest platform, overlooking the area in white. XTBG looks like a peninsula encircled by the LuoSuo River, a tributary of the Mekong Delta. Image provided by XTBG.

XTBG (1125 ha) is embedded in a remote, rural town in China. Access to XTBG from the town of Menglun is shown by the green line, and it leads to the location of the research center. The yellow line shows the trail to the green stone forest platform, overlooking the area in white. XTBG looks like a peninsula encircled by the LuoSuo River, a tributary of the Mekong Delta.

The course was designed for graduate students and young professionals from the New and Old-world tropics. The diversity of the participants was one of the highlights of my experience in the course. Students were from 16 different countries, and including the instructors there were 20 nationalities participating in the course (see the map below). The atmosphere in the classroom was very unique and enjoyable, as everybody was really interested in learning about each other’s research, but also about each other’s culture.

Distribution map created by Alice C. Hughes, the main coordinator of the course, showing the original countries of students and instructors.

Distribution map created by Alice C. Hughes showing the original countries of students and instructors.

One of the aspects of the course that I really enjoyed was the opportunity to interact and learn from the scientists teaching the course (see list here). Instructors from OTS came to China and offered us a combination of field exercises, lectures and discussion sessions in biomass estimation, atmospheric science and climate change oral history. XTBG scientists presented a mix of lectures regarding different aspects of climate change ecology, some accompanied with practical exercises to demonstrate cutting-edge techniques and research technologies. Additionally, researchers from international organizations and local NGOs provided the group with study cases from nearby areas like the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region to discuss issues related to conservation and sustainable development. Last, but certainly not least, plenty of postdocs and graduate students donated their time to show us their laboratories and own experiments.

Visit to the CTFS, 1-ha plot, close to XTBG.

Group visit to the CTFS, 1-ha plot, close to XTBG.

In the third week of the course, we had to carry out our own projects. We visited two biological research stations hosted by XTBG, Yuanjiang Hot Dry Valley Ecological Station and Ailaoshan Mountain Range. The research projects conducted by students in the course were: 1) Invasive flora along an elevation gradient and implications of climate change: A case study from Ailaoshan Mountain Range, Yunnan, China; 2) Potential influence of climate change on plant-pollinator interactions – Preliminary study from Yuanjiang subtropical forest; 3) Woody plant diversity and leaf morphology along an altitudinal gradient in the hot dry valley; and 4) Coloration of butterflies along an elevation gradient (the project of my group).

Picture taken from the top of the dry savanna at Yuanjiang Hot Dry Valley Ecological Station. At the bottom of the slope is possible to see the Red River (Yuanjiang River).

Developing the group project was the most enjoyable part of the course. The seven people in my group made the unanimous decision to follow one member’s interest on butterflies. We hypothesized that we would see an increase of dark winged butterflies with increasing elevation. As temperature decreases with elevation, ectothermic species with the ability to raise body temperature may be at an advantage at higher elevations. In butterflies, this ability could be achieved through increased melanization of the wings. We found the perfect scenario to test our hypothesis at the Ailaoshan Mountain Range (~1km elevational gradient, 1374 – 2480 m asl), an area covered by montane evergreen broad-leafed forest. In 17 sampling hours, we were able to count 460 butterflies (2 teams & 2 days). Later, we used photographic analysis conducted on the wings of each individual morphospecies to validate the color data registered during the field work.

The highest proportions of dark butterflies were found at high elevations, whereas light colored butterflies were found all along the gradient. These results suggest there is a constraint for dark butterflies to move into open/lower elevation areas. The team wished to include more variables in the project such as butterfly behavior or land use cover, but we only had a few days to collect data. Our findings suggested that darker butterflies may be more susceptible to climate change but the mechanisms (for example: increased ability to heat up, limitation in their dispersal, etc.) are still not clear.

An exciting part of the project –although not so easy- was the thermal analysis of the wings. Using a Flir® brand infrared camera, and exposing the wings to sunlight, we observed that dark-colored wings indeed heat up faster than light-colored wings.

An exciting part of the project –although not so easy- was the thermal analysis of the wings. Using a Flir® brand infrared camera, and exposing the wings to sunlight, we observed that dark-colored wings indeed heat up faster than light-colored wings. On the left, picture of one of the dark specimens collected in the field.

Our project was chosen as the best student project from the course by the panel. Very special thanks have to go to the instructors and course coordinators that encouraged and helped with our project (Alice C. Hughes, Brett Scheffers, Kyle Tomlinson, Pierre Honoré, Richard Corlett and Jingxin Liu). As I said earlier, it was a lot of fun, we worked hard, and we were able to put into practice several techniques we learned during the course.

Finally, I would like to say that this training course was an outstanding experience. I encourage the organizers and funders to work on developing more courses like the XTBG-OTS course for other students and other locations.

Cloud forests struggle to keep pace with climate change

The following is a copy of a short article published by FIU News about the research of E. Rehm.

 

Cloud forests struggle to keep pace with climate change
Posted by Evelyn Perez, 08/29/2014

The cloud forests of the Andes Mountains are not migrating fast enough in the face of global warming, according to FIU researchers.

Plant and animal species are migrating upslope throughout the tropics to mitigate the effects of increasing global temperatures. But the cloud forests, with their signature cloud and mist cover along the rainsforest canopy, are not keeping pace.

Evan Rehm, a biological sciences Ph.D. student [at FIU] and researcher at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens, has spent three years in Manú National Park (Peru) studying how the region’s tropical cloud forests will adapt to climate change. The delicate and interconnected ecosystem comprises less than 1 percent of all the world’s forests, but is among the most biologically diverse and ecologically important places on Earth.

“Slowed forest expansion into the puna could act as a barrier to the upslope migration of Andean cloud forest species leading to extreme losses of Andean biodiversity,” Rehm said. “If the Andean timberlines continue to remain fixed despite future climate change, this could have dire consequences to global biodiversity.”By using homemade seed traps made of PVC piping, netting and other materials, the team of researchers examined seedling recruitment patterns, seed dispersal and microclimate at the timberline, or the edge of a habitat at which trees are capable of growing. They also looked at the puna, which is the high elevation grasslands above the forest. Their results indicated any upslope migration of the timberline into the puna will likely occur at a rate that is slower than what is required to keep pace with warming.

The study, coauthored with FIU biology professor Kenneth Feeley, was published in Forest Ecology and Management.

Biology researcher Evan Rehm has studied the tropical cloudforests of Manú National Park (Peru) for three years.

Biology researcher Evan Rehm has studied the tropical cloudforests of Manú National Park (Peru) for three years.

 

The great backyard lizard count

As part of our growing research program using the evolutionary-novel anolis lizard communities of MIami (one native species plus and seven formally-allopatric exotic species) to study ecological and evolutionary principles, we have partnered with the University of Rhode Island the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden to start a new Citizen Science project.  This new project is part of the Garden’s Fairchild Challenge environmental education program for k-12 students and will get hundreds to potentially thousands of middle-schoolers to survey the lizards in their backyards.  Using the data, we will create yard-by-yard maps of which species occur where and how their presence/absence (and maybe abundance) relates to easily-measured variables such as percent tree cover, presence of cats, presence of dogs, etc. On Saturday, Ken Feeley and Andrew Battles (graduate student with J Kolbe at URI) introduced the challenge to >100 middle school teachers (see pictures of Ken talking below). More information about the program is available HERE under “Challenge 6. Conservation Strategies: Lizards on the Loose” and a copy of the instructions and datasheet are available HERE.

 

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Saving the planet one frozen banana at a time – a Mongabay.com interview of B. Machovina

The influential conservation website mongabay.com recently posted an interview of upwithclimate team member Brain Machovina. In the interview, Brian describes his slightly atypical career path from FIU grad student to Hollywood conservationist to healthy food entrepreneur to frozen fruit mogul and back to FIU grad student. Brian also discusses his current research on how climate change is impacting agriculture and how agriculture is impacting climate change. You can read the interview HERE.

Brian Machovina gets ready to fly (and crash) another drone as part of his graduate study aimed at increasing the efficiency and reducing the ecological footprint of Costa Rican banana plantations.

Changing conservation priorities: are we addressing the crises or are we chasing the money?

The upwithclimate team has just published a new paper entitled, “Is conservation money being spent wisely? Changing trends in conservation research priorities” in the Journal of Nature Conservation.  In this short article, we examine how conservation research priorities have changed through time by looking at the changing frequency of certain topics, or “buzzwords”, in the scientific literature.  For example, we tallied the percentage of conservation article that discuss deforestation vs. global warming – a full list of buzzwords is in the table below.  These analyses reveal several striking trends. Perhaps most notably, the percentage of studies addressing habitat fragmentation increased rapidly from 1990 to 1998, remained constant from 1998 till 2005 and then began decreasing.  Likewise, the percentage of studies addressing habitat loss and deforestation increased till 2005 and has since stabilized.  In sharp contrast, the proportion of articles looking at invasive species and climate change have increased exponentially through time.  In fact, there are now more articles looking at climate change than at deforestation and habitat loss and roughly the same number of studies looking at climate change as looking at habitat fragmentation.  We argue that these shifts in research priorities, or at least publishing priorities, are not consistent with actual conservation needs.  For example, habitat loss and fragmentation have not decreased as a problem and if anything have increased.  Instead, the research priorities appear to be driven at least in part by funding trends.  For a long time, the US NSF has awarded more grants and more money for climate change research than it does for research of habitat loss and deforestation and it now awards more grants and more money for climate change research than for studies of habitat fragmentation.  The increased spending and research on climate change is obviously not a bad thing, but we must be careful to not neglect other conservation needs that still have the potential to drive many many species to extinction.

Is conservation research money being spent wisely? Changing trends in conservation research priorities
J.T. Stroud, E. Rehm, M. Ladd, P. Olivas, K.J. Feeley
Journal for Nature Conservation
Volume 22, Issue 5, October 2014, Pages 471–473

Abstract
Conservation biology is often defined as a “mission driven crisis discipline”, and as such research priorities should ideally parallel the relative importance of different conservation threats. Conservation research has increased exponentially over the last 22 years, rising from <150 articles in 1990 to >4000 articles in 2012. However, this growth has not and may not necessarily reflect changes in research needs. Consequently, it remains uncertain if growth and prioritization have been consistent between research themes, or subdisciplines. In other words, it is unknown if conservation priorities change in relation to research needs, or if instead to shifts in funding, which may or may not correspond to true research needs. Future conservation research priorities should ideally be based on conservation needs alone and must account for threats at both the immediate and long-term scales

Table 1 (not included in original article). List of topics and search terms included in the study “Is conservation money being spent wisely? Changing trends in conservation research priorities”.  The total number of articles between 1990 and 2010 including the different search terms and total NSF funding over the same period is indicated.

Topic Search term(s) No. of articles  NSF funding
Habitat fragmentation fragment*, edge effect* 5,174 $1,099,087,000
Climate change climate change*, global warming 2,166 $984,038,200
Habitat loss habitat loss, deforest* 1,985 $412,923,900
Invasive species invasi*, exotic species 1,423 $332,661,200
Fire fire* 1,402 -
Pollution pollut* 1,250 -
Hunting hunt* 1,117 -
Disease diseas* 863 -
Logging logg* 813 -

Fig 1. The percent of conservation articles published per year for selected research topics. Black, habitat fragmentation; Blue, climate change; red, deforestation/habitat loss; green, invasive species; dashed grey, disease; pink, hunting; grey, fire; brown, logging.

Fig. 2. The total number of new awards granted by the US NSF’s DEB for different conservation related research topics from 1990 to 2011. Black, habitat fragmentation; Blue, climate change; red, deforestation/habitat loss; green, invasive species.

Fig. 3. The total amount of funds granted through new awards by the NSF’s DEB (millions of $USD) for different conservation related research topics from 1990 to 2011. black, habitat fragmentation; blue, climate change; red, deforestation/habitat loss; green, invasive species.