Amphibian declines, disease ecology, biodiversity are highlighted at conference

Ecological Society of America meets Aug. 6-11

The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds ecology research in many areas, ranging from ecological ethics to tracking diseases responsible for amphibian declines, from human-landscape interactions to the ecological effects of Gulf Coast hurricanes, and biodiversity's importance to human and ecosystem health.

Scientists are presenting results of this research at the annual Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting in Memphis, Tenn, Aug. 6-11, 2006,

Ecological research results supported by NSF are highlighted below. All research results are embargoed until the time of their presentation.

Amphibian Declines: Rainfall and bait shops affect disease transmission

Disease plays an important role in amphibian declines, biologists believe.The interactions between amphibian disease hosts and pathogens are influenced by complex characteristics of the host, the pathogen, and the environment. Ranaviruses are especially associated with epidemics of amphibian disease.

Scientists James Collins, NSF assistant director for biological sciences (on leave from Arizona State University), and Amy Greer of Arizona State looked at ranavirus infection in a salamander species that lives in ponds on the Kaibab Plateau in Arizona. They found that variation in infection prevalence, and subsequent salamander deaths, are likely related to differences in water availability.During wet periods like those in 2005, ponds flooded for an entire growing season, which decreased disease transmission. In 2004, a dry year, infection rates and deaths were much higher.

Tues., Aug. 8, 3:40 p.m., L-4, Lobby Level.

In a related talk, Collins and Angela Picco of Arizona State University will discuss researching the movement of a ranavirus through the tiger salamander bait trade in Arizona. They found that a surprising 85 percent of bait shops carried ranavirus-infected animals.

Mon., Aug. 7, 10:10 a.m., Plantation Room.

The Ethical Context of Decision-Making

Ecological research and decision-making raises complicated ethical questions, among them ecologists' responsibilities to the scientific community, public welfare, research animals, wild and captive species, and ecosystems. Answering these questions is challenging, says James Collins, NSF assistant director for biological sciences (on leave from Arizona State University), because ecologists don't have the equivalent of bioethics, an established field in biomedicine.

Collins and Ben Minteer of Arizona State will chair a session on "Ecological ethics: examining the neglected ethical context of ecological decision-making." An interdisciplinary group of environmental ethicists and ecologists will discuss new approaches to science ethics that involve ecology.

Weds, Aug. 9, 8-10 p.m., Ballroom D, Ballroom Level.

NEON at the Starting Line

NEON, the National Ecological Observatory Network, is a continental-scale research project supported by NSF that will consist of instruments networked across the nation via state-of-the-art communications tools. NEON will support research and education on major environmental challenges from regional to continental scales. NEON scientists will provide an update on the project's development as it transitions from design to deployment and operations. Presentations on the current status of NEON's components will be followed by a question-and-answer period.

Weds, Aug. 9, 8-10 p.m., Ballroom E, Ballroom Level.

Scientists will also discuss how ecologists from undergraduate institutions can become more involved in NEON's plans for training and participation of teachers, students, policy-makers, and citizens, as well as researchers.

Mon., Aug. 7, 8-10 p.m., Ballroom C, Ballroom Level.

Biodiversity, Ecosystem Processes, and Human Health: What we don't know can harm us

A shifting climate, widespread deforestation, losses in biodiversity, and excess nitrogen deposition can change ecosystems in ways that directly influence human health. In a symposium on biodiversity, ecosystem processes and human health, the take-home message is: What we don't know can harm us.

Malaria, for example, has recently undergone a resurgence in the Amazon Basin, where deforestation has dramatically changed the landscape.Human activities, especially agriculture and development, have altered the nitrogen cycle in soil, air, and water.

NSF-supported scientists participating in the symposium include: Andrew Dobson of Princeton University, who will discuss ways in which biodiversity acts as a buffer against infectious disease outbreaks; David Lodge of the University of Notre Dame, who will speak about trade globalization, invasive species and human welfare; and Sharon Collinge of the University of Colorado-Boulder, who will talk about biodiversity as a public health service.

Thurs., Aug. 10, 8-11:30 a.m, Ballroom B, Ballroom Level.

Note: A press conference will be held on Weds, Aug. 9, 4:30 p.m., in Room 202, prior to the session.

Ecological Effects of Gulf Coast Hurricanes: Sea-level rise

Hurricane Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, becoming the costliest and one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history. Scientist William Platt of Louisiana State University will speak about sea-level rise and hurricanes in a session on ecological effects of Gulf Coast hurricanes.

With the city of New Orleans built on reclaimed wetlands that have subsided up to 5 meters, and more than 25 percent of those coastal wetlands disappearing in the 20th century, concerns are growing about the intersection of New Orleans' low-lying location, accelerating global climate change and resulting sea-level rise.

Mon., Aug. 7, 8:35 a.m., Steamboat Room.

Trends in Long-Term Ecological Research: Opportunities and challenges

Studies in ecology through NSF's Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network are increasingly recognized as critical to understanding short-term patterns and long-term ecosystem dynamics.Data from these studies are needed, say scientists, to distinguish natural variability in ecosystems from human-caused effects.

Scientists taking part in this session will review how long-term data are synthesized from a variety of ecosystem types for various ecological and social-science problems.An ongoing effort among several federal agencies to synthesize long-term data will be highlighted.

Tues., Aug. 8, 8-10 p.m., Ballroom C, Ballroom Level.

Landscapes and Human Behavior: We like it "green"

At NSF's Central Arizona-Phoenix LTER site, one of 26 such NSF LTER sites, researchers David Casagrande of Western Illinois University and Scott Yabiku of Arizona State University installed residential landscapes near 24 of 152 urban housing units. They wanted to explore how the surrounding landscape affects people's perceptions and behavior. Since human behavior in turn transforms the environment, say the scientists, interaction between people and their environment is important.

In a poster session on urban ecology, Casagrande and Yabiku will present results of their research. They found environmental surroundings play a significant role in human social interaction, either by fostering social contact, or acting as a barrier.The study will run until 2010, but results suggest that people prefer a lush landscape conducive to recreation and social networking over an arid landscape.

Weds, Aug. 9, 5:00-6:30 p.m., Exhibit Hall, Ballroom Level.

Unifying Theories in Community Ecology

A scientific field matures as its theoretical underpinnings consolidate around unified theories. Ecologists Sam Scheiner of NSF and Mike Willig of the University of Connecticut at Storrs demonstrate this process in their talk on ecological gradients and species richness. Scheiner and Willig have identified 17 models that link environmental gradients with species diversity, and will discuss the commonality among these models.

Weds, Aug. 9, 1:30-5:00 p.m., L-14, Lobby Level.

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