Noam Ross

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Sustainability, economy, and the education of an ecologist.

Noam Ross
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  • February 3, 2011
  • 12:30 AM

Of Billabongs, Weevils, and Alternative Stable States

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

I've heard the song "Waltzing Matilda" many times but I only learned today the meaning of the word billabong - a long lake formed by a river jumping its bed. (In America we call them oxbow lakes.)

The billabongs of Australia's Kakadu National Park are the site of a revealing ecological phenomenon reported today in Nature by Anthony Ives and colleagues.  Kariba weed, an invasive fern, arrived in the lakes in 1983, but has been kept somewhat in check through the deliberate intro........ Read more »

  • January 24, 2011
  • 01:27 AM

Tipping Points and the Precautionary Principle

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

Image source: FlickrMany ecological systems have tipping points - thresholds where small changes in impacts can have very large effects on on ecosystem functioning, often in a bad way.  Lakes, for example, might show little impact from nutrient pollution until a threshold level is reached, and then massive algal blooms form that choke off many other species growth.
In the absence of knowledge of exactly how far one can push a system before reaching a tipping point, many invoke the precautio........ Read more »

  • January 7, 2011
  • 01:39 PM

REDD and Financial Resilience for Conservation

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

This month's Conservation Letters has a Policy Perspective on the risks of relying REDD+ funding for conservation projects.  REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, with the "+" standing for biodiversity and social benefits), is a mechanism for transferring funds to developing countries for forest preservation and restoration.  REDD+ financing is eventually supposed to flow primarily from the private sector, and it is one of the few parts of an........ Read more »

  • January 2, 2011
  • 12:09 AM

Preparing for unexpected opportunities in Borneo

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

Source: dinesh_valke on FlickrConservation Letters has an article about a situation in Borneo that illustrates how sudden, unpredictable events in ecology are not always bad.  In the past year, the island's forests have undergone an ecosystem-wide event known as "general flowering," where trees of many species produce seeds and fruit in massive amounts.  These events occur rarely (the last was 12 years ago), and in the years in between few seeds are produced and few new trees........ Read more »

Kettle, C., Ghazoul, J., Ashton, P., Cannon, C., Chong, L., Diway, B., Faridah, E., Harrison, R., Hector, A., Hollingsworth, P.... (2010) Seeing the fruit for the trees in Borneo. Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2010.00161.x  

  • December 16, 2010
  • 04:56 PM

Managing New Invasion Risks from Biofuel Crops

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

The search for new bGiant cane, a potential biofuel crop, is a noxious invader of streams and wetlands. Image Source: Wikipediaiofuels has effectively created an entire new category of agriculture, along with which comes a host of new management risks.  The cycles of crop growth and failure may be less well known than those of more familiar food crops, and they may be affected by new pests and disease.
A particularly worrisome area of risk associated with biofuel crops is th........ Read more »

Davis, A., Cousens, R., Hill, J., Mack, R., Simberloff, D., & Raghu, S. (2010) Screening bioenergy feedstock crops to mitigate invasion risk. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 8(10), 533-539. DOI: 10.1890/090030  

  • November 19, 2010
  • 10:50 PM

Fishing for metrics

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

In 1998, Dan Pauly et al. of the University of British Columbia published a classic paper called "Fishing Down Marine Food Webs." They reported that humans were steadily depleting oceans of the top predators in the food web and working our way down the food web as the fish ran out.  Pauly measured a value called "Mean Tropic Level," (MTL), essentially the average place in the food web that our fish come from, finding that it had declined in fisheries globally since the 1970s.  (Fo........ Read more »

Pauly, D. (1998) Fishing Down Marine Food Webs. Science, 279(5352), 860-863. DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5352.860  

Branch, T., Watson, R., Fulton, E., Jennings, S., McGilliard, C., Pablico, G., Ricard, D., & Tracey, S. (2010) The trophic fingerprint of marine fisheries. Nature, 468(7322), 431-435. DOI: 10.1038/nature09528  

  • November 17, 2010
  • 12:04 PM

Apparently, there's nothing left to learn about ecosystem services

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

In a new paper in Ecological Economics, Mark Sagoff criticizes ecologists for trying to find general, broadly applicable values for ecosystem services.  Real values, Sagoff argues, are "dispersed, contingent, particular, local, transitory, and embedded in institutions and practices."   He cites an example of citrus growers in the San Joaquin valley of California.  While pollinators have been held up by many ecologists as providers of a valuable ecosystem services, pollinators are a pest to ........ Read more »

Mark Sagoff. (2010) The quantification and valuation of ecosystem services. Ecological Economics. info:/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.10.006

  • November 1, 2010
  • 01:21 PM

Medicine from the deep

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

Normally I'm fairly skeptical of studies that attempt to put one big number around the value of a global ecosystem service.  In general, studies at such coarse spatial scales have more uncertainty and are not useful at the regional and local levels where decisions are generally made.  Nevertheless, I'm intrigued by this study in the latest Ecological Economics that attempts to put a value marine genetic diveristy on the development of future pharmaceutical products:

....Here, we ........ Read more »

  • October 28, 2010
  • 12:01 AM

What do we do with forecasts of the future?

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

Via Garry Peterson  I discovered this post by Simon Donner about forecasts of this year's massive coral bleaching event in the Carribbean.
Donner and colleagues published a paper in PNAS in 2007 in which they calculated that heat waves that cause massive coral bleaching, like a previous event in 2005, had gone from being 1-in-1000-year events to a probability of once every 10-50 years during the 1990s, and by the 2030s will occur every 1-2 years. This year's event, says Donner, i........ Read more »

  • October 15, 2010
  • 10:47 PM

Saving more than species at Nagoya

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

There's been a whole lot of interesting stuff coming out this week related the Conference of the Parties (COP 10) for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) going on in Nagoya, Japan right now.   CBD's goal was to slow the loss of biodiversity loss by 2010, but that goal was not achieved, and nations are hammering out how to revive the CBD with new goals for 2020.
At a prepatory meeting in May, governments agreed on 20 more specific draft targets, which aim to be “SMART” -........ Read more »

Perrings, C., Naeem, S., Ahrestani, F., Bunker, D., Burkill, P., Canziani, G., Elmqvist, T., Ferrati, R., Fuhrman, J., Jaksic, F.... (2010) Ecosystem Services for 2020. Science, 330(6002), 323-324. DOI: 10.1126/science.1196431  

  • October 11, 2010
  • 12:23 AM

Does ecology tell us that some species are worth more than others?

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

I just read a great paper by Michael Soulé et. al. discussing the management implications some ideas in ecology that have outpaced environmental policy.
The authors, a mix of ecologists and conservationists,  argue that some species, which they call "strongly interacting species," deserve higher priority in conservation because of their unique roles in ecosystems.  These species have gone by many names in the ecological literature, including "keystone species," and "ecosystem en........ Read more »

  • October 8, 2010
  • 12:46 AM

Measuring resilience to climate-change driven crop failure

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

A number of news outlets have picked up on a new article in Environmental Research Letters by Andy Challinor and a team at the University at Leeds.  The standard headline is "Crop Failures to Increase With Climate Change," but I think the much more interesting part of the research is the author's creation of a vulnerability index based on the historical crop data in China.  Essentially, they looked at periods of drought in the past, and examined how well farmers were able to mitigate t........ Read more »

  • October 7, 2010
  • 12:07 PM

In honeybee collapse, cure the patient, not just the disease.

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

My first published article examined implications of the massive collapse of honeybee populations on business, so I feel compelled to comment on the latest development in the hunt for the cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD).
There is a new article out on the subject by a team led by University of Montana researchers and the US Army Chemical Biological center.  Using proteomic sequencing, they found two culprits in the bodies of dead bees: invertebrate iridescent virus (IIV), a long-stran........ Read more »

Bromenshenk, J., Henderson, C., Wick, C., Stanford, M., Zulich, A., Jabbour, R., Deshpande, S., McCubbin, P., Seccomb, R., Welch, P.... (2010) Iridovirus and Microsporidian Linked to Honey Bee Colony Decline. PLoS ONE, 5(10). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013181  

  • October 2, 2010
  • 04:58 PM

Rapid evolution as a warning sign

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

One of the emerging themes of my course in rapid environmental change is how humans have accelerated natural processes to a pace never seen before in earth's history.  For instance, climate change has in the past occurred at scales of tens of thousands of years or longer, but man-made climate change in happening at the pace of decades or centuries.
Less well-known is the effect we can have on the speed of evolution.  Human-driven environmental pressures can force species to adapt at sp........ Read more »

Olsen, E., Heino, M., Lilly, G., Morgan, M., Brattey, J., Ernande, B., & Dieckmann, U. (2004) Maturation trends indicative of rapid evolution preceded the collapse of northern cod. Nature, 428(6986), 932-935. DOI: 10.1038/nature02430  

  • October 1, 2010
  • 10:49 AM

Harmful algal blooms highlight risks from cascading ecological collapse

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

A plankton bloom in the Baltic sea. Credit: ESA Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are scary things.   The occur when populations of algae explode in coastal environments.  The algae suck up the oxygen and release neurotoxins into the water, and even the local air.   Fisheries and beaches have to be shut down.  People have been killed.  HABs aren't predictable, but its clear that they more damaging and more common than they were in the past due to nutrient pollution ........ Read more »

HEISLER, J., GLIBERT, P., BURKHOLDER, J., ANDERSON, D., COCHLAN, W., DENNISON, W., DORTCH, Q., GOBLER, C., HEIL, C., & HUMPHRIES, E. (2008) Eutrophication and harmful algal blooms: A scientific consensus. Harmful Algae, 8(1), 3-13. DOI: 10.1016/j.hal.2008.08.006  

Miller, M., Kudela, R., Mekebri, A., Crane, D., Oates, S., Tinker, M., Staedler, M., Miller, W., Toy-Choutka, S., Dominik, C.... (2010) Evidence for a Novel Marine Harmful Algal Bloom: Cyanotoxin (Microcystin) Transfer from Land to Sea Otters. PLoS ONE, 5(9). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012576  

  • September 29, 2010
  • 10:39 PM

Payments for ecosystem services are great, unless we do them enough to make a difference

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

The usually excellent Mongabay ran the scare headline, "Could industrial interests ruin payments for environmental services?" on a piece in Tropical Conservation Science.  Thankfully the authors of the paper being reported on, "Upscaling Payments for Environmental Services (PES): Critical issues" are a little less alarmist.  Nonetheless, I think that that their concern about large companies getting involved in ecosystem service markets is overwrought.

PES have traditionally been conceived a........ Read more »

Romain Pirard, Raphaël Billé, & Thomas Sembrés. (2010) Upscaling Payments for Environmental Services (PES): Critical issues. Tropical Conservation Science, 3(3), 249-261. info:/

  • September 24, 2010
  • 11:23 AM

Risk, Insurance, LUST, and Fish

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

Two papers crossed my desk yesterday highlighting the role insurance can play in mitigating environmental risk.  The first, by Yin et. al. in Risk Analysis, discusses three appoaches to mitigating the risk of leaking underground storage tanks (a problem with the fantastic acronym LUST).  
Large fines for spills, as it turns out, are not a particularly efficient enforcement tool, as most LUSTs are owned by small businesses like gas stations that would likely go bankrupt before payi........ Read more »

Holland, D.S. (2010) Markets, pooling and insurance for managing bycatch in fisherie. Ecological Economics. info:/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.08.015

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