On our way to ESA

Minneapolis river front

If you’re interested in soil biodiversity, educational technology, the relationship between justice and sustainability, or just about anything else related to life on Earth and humans’ interactions with it, take a look at #ESA2013 – the Ecological Society of America annual meeting to be held at the Minneapolis Convention Center Aug. 4-9.

ESA2013 Minneapolis badgeThe annual event will bring some 3,000 scientists, policy makers and others to the Twin Cities around the theme “Sustainable Pathways: Learning From the Past and Shaping the Future.”

Institute on the Environment director Jon Foley will give the open plenary address for the event, “Can Ecology Give Us a Strategic Plan for Managing Planet Earth?”, Sunday at 5 p.m. In advance of Foley’s talk, ESA will present its Regional Policy Award to Ellen Anderson, senior advisor to the governor on energy & environment, Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Other activities during the six-day event include scientific presentations, poster sessions, symposia and an evening of art and music. New this year are Ignite ESA sessions, which consist of a series of up to 10 five-minute rapid-fire presentations around a common theme followed by informal discussion.

Below is a sampling of some topics that will be addressed by presenters with Institute on the Environment ties. To see more, go to the ESA program website.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus, Wildlife and Mosquitoes in Minnesota
Meggan Craft (College of Veterinary Medicine and Institute on the Environment)

Eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV) is a mosquito-borne virus that can spread from wildlife to humans. Craft will present findings related to the presence of the disease in mosquitoes, moose and elk in Minnesota, shedding light on disease dynamics in complex multihost communities.

When Seeds Sleep
Jeannine Cavender-Bares (College of Biological Sciences and Institute on the Environment)

Plant seeds face plenty of life-threatening risks – including, most prominently, the risks of being eaten and of sprouting when it’s too cold or dry for seedlings to survive. Cavender-Bares will discuss how studying legumes from around the world helped her research team uncover fascinating links among seed size, dormancy and survival – with important implications for understanding potential consequences of global change on species survival distribution.

Land of 10,000 Nitrogen Sinks?
Jacques Finlay (College of Biological Sciences and Institute on the Environment)

Can lakes help remove polluting nitrogen from rivers before it runs downstream to worsen coastal dead zones? Finlay is exploring the role of lakes in removing nitrogen pollution from the environment, and the factors that change the way different lakes “behave” with respect to nitrogen cycling.

Can We Feed the World and Not Destroy the Environment?
Deepak Ray (Institute on the Environment)

Productivity gains in our most important crops have stagnated in large parts of world, making it unlikely we can achieve the doubling of crop production needed to feed our global population in 2050 without a major shift in agriculture. Ray will explore how we might close the demand-supply gap short without compromising natural ecosystems.

Finding Win-Win in Less than Three Days
Joseph Reid (Institute on the Environment)

What happens when you take 50 students from a range of backgrounds and throw them at the world’s worst environmental problems? Reid will tell how a three-day “Environmental Hackathon” he organized did just that, turning chaos into steps toward win-win solutions for the worlds pressing environmental problems.

Strategic Trade for Agricultural Sustainability
Graham MacDonald (Institute on the Environment)

As the global demand for food grows, so does international trade in agricultural commodities. Wherever food ends up, it bears the environmental footprint of the place it was produced. MacDonald will discuss the role of agricultural trade in reducing environmental impacts while enhancing food security in an increasingly interconnected world.

The Downside (and New Opportunities) of City Trees
Sarah Hobbie (College of Biological Science and Institute on the Environment)

Trees bring many benefits to city streets: shade, beauty, wildlife habitat and more. But trees can cause troubles, too. Hobbie will discuss findings of an Institute on the Environment project assessing how leaf litter from trees impairs water quality with implications for using street sweeping to help clean up urban lakes.

Food for the Future
Emily Cassidy (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and Institute on the Environment)

Cassidy will speak about how diet preferences affect global food security. Her research shows that shifting crops away from animal feed and biofuels to 100 percent food could feed an additional 4 billion people, and that even moderate diet changes (not abandoning animal products completely) could provide enough additional calories to feed more than 300 million people.

Networks in Wildlife Epidemiology
Meggan Craft (College of Veterinary Medicine and Institute on the Environment)

Contact network epidemiology is an increasingly common tool for studying transmission of infectious diseases in humans. Craft will explore its application for studying the spread of disease in nonhuman animals, from raccoons to African lions.

Climate Change and Forests
Emily Peters (Institute on the Environment)

The long-term consequences of climate change on forests are poorly understood, presenting a big challenge to resource managers trying to make long-term management decisions. Peters will present results of a modeling study projecting that forest productivity in the Great Lakes region will increase 67% to 142% by 2100, largely because of CO2 fertilization effects. The model also suggests that forests are likely to switch from temperature limited to water limited by the turn of the century.

When Trees Return
Moana McClellan (Institute on the Environment) 
Tropical dry forests are regenerating on abandoned ranch and farm lands in Costa Rica. Are secondary forests on private land similar to better-studied public forests? Comparing public and private tropical secondary forest structure and floristics, McClellan found that public forests have significantly more internationally important timber species, while the most abundant tree species in private forests is one favored and dispersed by cattle.

Environmental Gradients
Scott St. George, College of Liberal Arts and Institute on the Environment

St. George will be presenting on recent controversy surrounding the accuracy of tree-ring dating and the use of tree rings to estimate past changes in global temperature. This talk will be relevant to scientists studying climate change and the effects of volcanic eruptions on global climate.

More Time for Tree Leaves?
Rebecca Montgomery, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and Institute on the Environment

Montgomery is exploring how warming temperatures might alter the length of the growing season for temperate and boreal forest trees by advancing budburst in the spring and delaying leaf coloration and leaf drop in the fall.