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Weekly Highlights


From: Gabrielle Boudreaux Bodin
Subject: Weekly Highlights, USGS National Wetlands Research Center, November 7, 2013

Departmental/Bureau News - Current

Researchers Investigate Responses of Soil and Plant Communities to Acidification: Soil acidification (decrease in soil pH) from atmospheric fallout is one of the major threats to terrestrial biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and ecological services. Few studies, however, have explored how the effects of soil acidification are mediated by effects on below-ground biota and soil properties. Jim Grace of the USGS NWRC contributed to a study that examined the responses of soil and plant communities to acidification. The paper, Evidence that acidification-induced declines in plant diversity and productivity are mediated by changes in below-ground communities and soil properties in a semi-arid steppe, was published in the Journal of Ecology. According to research results, below-ground microbial and nematode communities are more sensitive to soil acidification than plant communities. Further, soil acidification-induced changes in plants are mediated by changes in below-ground communities and soil nutrients. These findings improve scientists’ understanding of the links between below-and above-ground communities and have important implications for understanding the effects of soil acidification on ecosystem services and species diversity. (Jim Grace; Lafayette, La.; 337-266-8632)

Scientists Study Impacts of Rangeland Management Practices on Cheatgrass Invasion: USGS researchers at the Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center and the National Wetlands Research Center joined forces to evaluate the factors controlling cheatgrass invasions across 75 sites in the northern Great Basin floristic province (Oregon, USA); one of North America’s most endangered ecosystems. Findings indicate that grazing exacerbates cheatgrass dominance in several endangered ecosystems by adversely impacting key mechanisms mediating resistance to invasion. USGS NWRC Research Ecologist Jim Grace coauthored the paper documenting the study’s results, Conditions favouring Bromus tectorum dominance of endangered sagebrush steppe ecosystems, which were published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. This work suggests that future research should focus on gathering information on the size and connectivity of gaps in perennial vegetation across a range of ecological sites. These data could be used to develop indicators for adaptive management frameworks to conserve and restore endangered systems. (Jim Grace; Lafayette, La.; 337-266-8632)

Botanical Expertise Contributes to Biomedical Research: USGS NWRC Director Phil Turnipseed, Branch Chief Tom Doyle, and Botanist Larry Allain attended the NIH Botanical Research Centers Program Annual Meeting at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, November 3-5. The meeting highlighted multi-institutional cooperation among the NWRC, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Rutgers University, and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University System. The Botanical Research Center is evaluating the use of botanicals for addressing the pathophysiologic mechanisms that lead to the development of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. NWRC is assisting by identifying traditional healing plant species used for medicinal purposes by Cajun, Creole, African-American, and Native-American people in the Acadiana region of south Louisiana. Additionally, NWRC is providing access to botanical field collections and delivering samples of botanical extracts for further laboratory screening and testing. Several ethnobotanical prospects show promising results on cultured cells for improving insulin sensitivity and inducing insulin resistance. (D. Phil Turnipseed; Lafayette, La.; 337-266-8501)

Ecologist Aids Investigation of Reported Invasive Apple Snails: USGS NWRC Ecologist Jacoby Carter was called upon to assist the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries with a field investigation on November 4, following a report of invasive apple snails in Lafayette. At the invitation of the home owner, Carter and the LDWF officer inspected the snails in the garden pond. Carter identified the mollusks as apple snails, a non-native species. The species cannot be confirmed without a DNA test; however, based on the number of eggs in the egg mass and the snail morphology, Dr. Carter determined that they were likely giant apple snails (Pomacea maculata [formerly Pomacea insularum]). The owner indicated that he purchased them from a local aquaria store. In August 2011, the State of Louisiana banned the sale, trade, and possession of apple snails. The LDWF officer confiscated the snails, the egg masses were destroyed, and the investigation will continue. Apple snails are serious pests that destroy aquatic crops, including rice, and are a threat to public health as a vector of the parasitic nematode Angiostrongylus cantonensis. (Jacoby Carter; Lafayette, La.; 337-266-8620)

Center for Visual and Decision Informatics Advisory Board Meets: USGS NWRC Branch Chief Scott Wilson participated in the Center for Visual and Decision Informatics (CVDI) Advisory Board Meeting on November 4-6, at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Drexel University have established a national research Center for Visual and Decision Informatics. Their mission is to research and develop next generation visual and decision support tools and techniques to enable decision-makers in government and industry to fundamentally improve the way their organization’s information is interpreted and analyzed. The goal of this effort is to produce cutting-edge research in the areas of big data analysis and visualization for better decision making. CVDI is funded by the Industry/University Cooperative Research Center program of the National Science Foundation, CVDI members from industry and government, and with university matching funds. (Scott Wilson; Lafayette, La.; 337-266-8644)

NWRC Attends BTNEP Management Conference: USGS NWRC Ecologist Kate Spear, Geographer Melissa Collins, and contractor and Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act Outreach Coordinator Susan Testroet-Bergeron attended the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP) Management Conference meeting in Thibodaux, Louisiana, on November 5. Participants discussed feral hog damage and management in Terrebonne Parish and piping plover surveys on the Caminada Headland Beach and Dune Restoration Project in Port Fourchon, Louisiana. The BTNEP Management Conference meets quarterly to provide direction and oversight to the BTNEP Program Office. (Kate Spear; Lafayette, La.; 337-266-8645)

Exhibit on Coastal Education Through Art Announced: The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act Task Force is presenting I Remember... CWPPRA Personal Reflections: Environmental Portraits and Oral Histories of Louisiana’s Coastal Wetlands Stakeholders at the Bayou Terrebonne Waterlife Museum in Houma, Louisiana, from November 6 through December 30. Through an educational project funded by CWPPRA, eleven coastal stewards shared oral histories with USGS NWRC contractors and CWPPRA staff members Cole Ruckstuhl and Susan Testroet-Bergeron (Five Rivers Services). The oral histories were captured by NWRC contractor Kathy Ladner (Five Rivers Services) and intern Taylor Suir. An oral history day will be held on November 14, during which artists Lane Lefort and Marian Martinez will discuss their work, and members from the public will share their stories of the wetlands. The stories will be recorded by the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History at Louisiana State University and included in the CWPPRA oral history project. NWRC geographers estimate that Louisiana has lost approximately 1,900 square miles of coastal wetlands since 1932. CWPPRA provides funding for coastal restoration projects in Louisiana as well as support for public education initiatives related to land loss. (Susan Testroet-Bergeron; Lafayette, La.; 337-266-8623)

NWRC Participates in SEJ Conference Planning Meeting: On November 7, USGS NWRC Information Specialist Gabrielle Bodin and Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act Outreach Coordinator Susan Testroet-Bergeron (NWRC contractor with Five Rivers Services) met with organizers of the 2014 Society of Environmental Journalists 24th annual conference. SEJ’s 2014 conference theme is Risk and Resilience and is scheduled for New Orleans on September 3-7, 2014. Mark Schleifstein of the Times Picayune is Conference Chair and Jay Letto is the SEJ Annual Conference Director. The conference will examine New Orleans and Gulf Coast issues in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the BP oil spill (2010). The agenda will focus on oceans, estuaries and ecological restoration. Participants in this planning session will discuss SEJ’s ambitious roster of tours and brainstorm agenda items and logistics. (Gabrielle Bodin; Lafayette, La.; 337-266-8655)

Research Scientist Lectures at Clemson University: Jim Grace of the USGS National Wetlands Research Center will lecture on “Looking at Ecological Systems Through the Lens of Causal Networks” at Clemson University in South Carolina the week of November 11. This engagement is at the invitation of the Natural Resources Graduate Student Association and the School of Agricultural, Forest, and Environmental Sciences (SAFES). (Jim Grace; Lafayette, La.; 337-266-8632)

USGS Contributes to Barrier Island Restoration Project Meeting: USGS NWRC Branch Chief Greg Steyer and Ecologist Michelle Meyers will meet with a small group of stakeholders in a structured decision making (SDM) meeting November 12-15, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The group will work towards developing a prototype decision structure for the Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program (MsCIP) Comprehensive Barrier Island Restoration Plan. The Barrier Island Restoration Plan consists of a comprehensive, all-inclusive plan to construct the best combination of the various options that were developed for the Mississippi Barrier Islands. An important factor that was not forgotten during this study was that the Mississippi Barrier Islands are owned within the National Park Service as the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Coordination with many agencies resulted in a plan that will provide economic, environmental and storm damage reduction benefits. The loss of land mass on the barrier islands has been documented and continued loss will result in a change in the ecology of the Mississippi Sound that is formed by the island chain. The SDM project was funded by the USGS Southeast Climate Science Center in FY13-14 to help address how coastal managers can optimize decision making relative to barrier island restoration given the uncertainties in budgets, climate change and the response of physical, biological and ecological systems. (Greg Steyer; Baton Rouge, La.; 225-578-7201)

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