As land resources come under more and more pressure — to grow food, support cities and house valuable ecosystems — scientists, activists and others are on the hunt for better ways to manage the terrestrial biosphere. One strategy is to increase the efficiency of croplands and pasture lands, particularly in ecosystems such as the Amazon forest where converting more land to agricultural use is environmentally costly.
As the world’s largest contiguous tropical forest, Amazonia is an important store of carbon, provides habitat for biodiverse communities and plays a part in regulating the global water cycle.
Moreover, the Amazon is a prime candidate for exploring whether increasing efficiency can help make agricultural land use more sustainable. Recently, David Lapola of Universidade Estadual Paulista and colleagues pointed out in the journal Nature Climate Change that agriculture in Brazil, including Amazonia, is intensifying and becoming more dominated by commodity production, leading to systematic changes in land use. This intensification has been accompanied by lower rates of deforestation.
For many Minnesotans, “tropical” connotes vacation, beaches, pineapples and suntans. With the help of an Institute on the Environment Mini Grant, the Twin Cities Tropical Environments Network (TC-Tropics for short) hopes to expand this view to include the great diversity of tropical environments beyond the beach.
Why the Tropics?
Tropical regions occur between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, the area of the earth surrounding the equator. The tropics contain the greatest levels of biodiversity in the world, including charismatic animals such as the orangutan and numerous species that have not yet been discovered by humans. Equatorial regions are home to beautiful coral reefs, forests that are critically important to global climate, and billions of people who live in remote rural areas, cities and everywhere in between. In other words, the tropics are a varied and vital part of the planet.
The Nutrient Network is getting a lot of press these days. Coordinated through a University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment Discovery Grant, NutNet, as it is affectionately called, is a global research network conducting standardized experiments to understand the effects of fertilization on grasslands — land dominated by nonwoody vegetation.
Eric Lind, a postdoctoral associate in the College of Biological Sciences, serves as NutNet’s hub of operations, in charge of information management and network coordination. “What makes NutNet unique is that data are collected using the same protocols across different landscapes,” he says. “These data are allowing us to ask general questions like, ‘What is controlling diversity and productivity?’ ‘How are human activities changing diversity?’ ‘How do these changes impact the environment further on down the road?’” Continue reading
Climate change and overconsumption of Earth’s resources have a huge impact on humans, but understanding how these issues affect wildlife populations and behavior is important as well.
That was the topic of the Institute on the Environment’s final Frontiers in the Environment talk of the semester Dec. 11 when James Forester, IonE resident fellow and assistant professor of fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology, discussed “Tracking Animals through Space and Time: Understanding the Consequences of a Changing World on Wildlife Populations.”
Think about your morning routine. You may take a shower or wash your face with soap. Afterward, you may sit down with a bowl of cereal, or perhaps you grab a granola bar as you head off to work or school. While you may not think about it, chances are you’ve used palm oil at least once before you make it out the door.
Found in everything from soaps to breakfast foods, palm oil is all around us and becoming even more ubiquitous. Kimberly Carlson, an Institute on the Environment postdoctoral research scholar, discussed the sustainability issues and opportunities of palm oil production in her Sept. 25 Frontiers on the Environment presentation.
What do eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces have in Common? The Great Lakes! Recently, Detroit Public Television’s Great Lakes Now Connect invited Institute on the Environment resident fellow Stephen Polasky to join a panel of experts to talk about the importance of investing in natural environments to enhance the quality of the Great Lakes.
It’s easy to understand that clean water is important for drinking, fisheries, irrigation, recreation and other benefits that people reap from the Great Lakes. What may not be as obvious is the effect that coastal and upland habitats have on water quality. Continue reading
There’s a rule of thumb when it comes to species extinction: if you have 90 percent habitat loss, you lose half of the species dependent on that habitat. That’s what William F. Laurance told the audience at a recent bonus Frontiers in the Environment presentation, “The Future of Biodiversity.”
Living things that lurk beneath the surface of the soil have huge impacts on living things above, influencing everything from individual plants’ ability to obtain nutrients to the integrity of the elaborate food webs that keep animals of all shapes and sizes alive. Now, thanks to research by IonE resident fellows Peter Reich (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences), Sarah Hobbie (College of Biological Sciences) and colleagues, it’s clear that what’s happening above the surface has a huge impact on the living things below as well.