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.
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.
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.
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.
A typical warm summer night is complemented with the familiar glow of fireflies and the light spectacle they create darting around and lighting up the night sky. However, the timing of these light shows might be affected by environmental changes. In order to better understand the life history of the firefly, researchers from the Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) LTER investigated the phenological patterns of fireflies from 2004-2015 to determine what explains the variability observed in their mating season.
As ecosystem dynamics change with warming global temperatures, researchers have begun investigating the potential of further northward invasions from nonnative species like the Asian earthworm. Past studies have shown that nonnative earthworms can significantly alter ecosystem functioning, and this experiment confirms that Asian earthworms can do as much—if not more—damage as their better-researched European counterparts…. Read more »
From February 26-March 3, The Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) will hold its annual meeting in Honolulu, Hawai`i. The LTER Network sites will deliver oral and poster presentations on a wide range of topics, from blue carbon in salt marshes to impacts of the Eastern Pacific “warm blob” and El Niño. In… Read more »
The ILTER Nitrogen Initiative had a very good year in 2016. Hideaki Shibata, who leads the Nitrogen Initiative for ILTER, provided the following update. The Initiative produced many interactive activities, an international training course, publications, and firmed up links to other programs. The leaders of the Initiative truly appreciate the engagement, cooperation, and contributions of… Read more »
Some bacteria become less cooperative with their plant hosts under long-term nutrient additions, finds new research by Jen Lau, an ecologist at the Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) LTER, and her collaborator Katy Heath at the University of Illinois. “A decade ago, no one was thinking about the idea of rapid evolution—the kind you could see… Read more »
Hurricane Matthew pounded the Georgia coast on October 8. On Sapelo Island, home to the University of Georgia Marine Institute and Georgia Coastal Ecosystem (GCE) LTER field operations, trees were knocked down across the landscape, and power was out for a week. The Marine Institute itself escaped major flooding only because the storm didn’t pass… Read more »