Snowshoe hares prefer many other plants to white spruce seedlings, but when the population of hares skyrockets—as it does about once a decade—they can decimate even a bumper crop of spruce seedlings. Researchers with the Bonanza Creek LTER reconstructed over 40 years of browsing history by analyzing the age and browse scars of thousands of seedlings and saplings at 18 locations on the floodplain of Alaska’s Tanana River.
LTER Science Update provides short, accessible articles describing recent news and publications from across the Network. We hope you will be informed and inspired. Subscribers can sign up online and manage their own subscription settings, so feel free to share with interested colleagues. Have a recent paper or project that may be of interest? Please send us a few basic details using our news submission form and we’ll follow up.
LNO and other organizational updates will continue to appear in Network News on a quarterly basis or as needed.
Urban watersheds—with their fertilized lawns, street runoff, treated and untreated wastewater—have proportionally more nitrogen flowing through them than undeveloped landscapes do. But are urban streams somehow less able to process that nitrogen? New research out of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study LTER says: no. The study, based on 385 urban watersheds and published in the journal FEMS Microbial Ecology, found that urban watersheds have similar, if not higher, nitrogen processing rates than natural areas.
Wetlands exist on every continent save Antarctica and manifest as a variety of habitats, from salt marshes to mangrove forests. They provide important ecosystem services, such as water purification and flood protection—often tied to their high productivity and diversity.
In April, the Science Update Newsletter covers: a perspective piece in Ecology Letters, by NTL and other researchers, on the history and opportunities for the field of macrosystems ecology; a comparison of the impacts of grazing and fire history on plant water use and niche structure—from researchers at the KNZ LTER; in Ecosystem Health and Sustainability,… Read more »
Ecosystems ecology, landscape ecology, macrosystems ecology. It’s easy to think of these subdisciplines as big, bigger, biggest—but there’s a good deal more to the distinction than the scale of interaction they address. A recent “Idea and Perspective” article in Ecology Letters traces the origins and foundations of the field of macrosystems ecology, and advances a new hypothesis to describe how anthropogenic influences change the scales of ecological processes.
When one envisions a grassland community, imagery of tall grasses and bison often come to mind. Bison are an iconic species on the landscape, and they also impact the structure and function of the grassland ecosystem in important ways. Using natural variations in the abundance of oxygen isotopes, researchers at the Konza Prairie LTER found that grazing influenced plant water use through changes in diversity.
The concept of “disturbance” is a core theme of the LTER Network and central to ecological science. How does the idea of disturbance need to change when applied to the interactions of an urban metropolitan region rather than a “natural” system? Ecologists often consider the process of urbanization itself to be a form of disturbance, but that is a habit that has to change, say the authors of a recent paper in Ecosystem Health and Sustainability. People, technology, and infrastructure have to be defined as part of the system when studying cities, they say.
In March, the Science Update Newsletter covers: Announcements of three new LTER sites and the NSF symposium a HFR-LTER paper in Ecology on the influence of excess nitrogen on fungal decomposition (spoiler — it slows decomposition) a BES-LTER paper in Landscape Ecology on evolving paradigms of urban ecology a KBS-LTER study, published in Royal Society Open Science, on… Read more »
Fungi, often spotted in cold, damp locations, are responsible for decomposing the plant litter that falls to forest floors, enriching soils. Without fungi, dead plant material would inundate ecosystems and overwhelm other organisms. What would happen, then, if anthropogenic nitrogen altered the fungi’s ability to perform this vital ecosystem function? A recent study capitalized on a 28-year nitrogen enrichment experiment at the Harvard Forest LTER site in north-central Massachusetts to find out. As nitrogen inputs to a system increase, researchers found, fungal decomposition slowed.
Ecosystem services, such as the water cycle or flood control, support urban sustainability but are also impacted by the development of city-centers. Improving the sustainable design and management of cities, then, requires understanding how development affects such processes and services. A recent study contrasted two methods for measuring urban sustainability, ecology in cities and ecology of cities, and found that the integrative framework of ecology of cities more thoroughly addresses sustainability and its three components: the environment, economy, and society.