Plants and soil microbes shape forest types worldwide through local underground alliances

Patterns researchers found will predict what communities of trees will go where, their effect on the environment, and how they will respond in the future to climate change and increased carbon dioxide.

Princeton University Read ScienceDaily summary here

Mingzhen Lu, Lars O. Hedin. Global plant–symbiont organization and emergence of biogeochemical cycles resolved by evolution-based trait modellingNature Ecology & Evolution, 2019; 3 (2): 239 DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0759-0

Researchers report that the distribution of forest types worldwide is based on the relationships plant species forged with soil microbes to enhance their uptake of nutrients. These symbioses could help scientists understand how ecosystems may shift as climate change alters the interplay between plants, microbes and soil.

….The biome-specific dynamics between plants and soil microbes could help scientists understand how ecosystems may shift as climate change brings about warmer temperatures that alter the interplay between trees, microbes and soil, the researchers report. Because the most competitive symbiotic arrangements for a particular biome triumph, scientists would only need to understand how an ecosystem is changing to gauge which vegetation will be moving in and which will be moving out.

…”The pattern we found can be used to tell us the landscapes that are more sensitive to human disturbance,” said senior author Lars Hedin, the George M. Moffett Professor of Biology and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and the Princeton Environmental Institute. “It will predict what communities of trees will go where, their effect on the environment, and how they will respond in the future to climate change and increased carbon dioxide.”

Behavior Change For Nature: A Behavioral Science Toolkit for Practitioners.

Expanding the traditional environmental toolkit of regulations, taxes, and awareness campaigns to include behavioral insights
such as our cognitive biases, emotions, social networks, and decision-making environments that can enhance practitioners’ ability to achieve lasting change, according to a recent Rare report, which…offers 15 behavioral strategies and numerous case studies aiming to address today’s most pressing environmental challenges.

….The authors discuss the merits and shortcomings of three key approaches: legislation and regulation; market forces and material incentives; and awareness and education. They also highlight three fundamental insights from behavioral science: the need to focus on non-conscious as well as conscious drivers of behavior; the need to focus on the setting of our behaviors as well as internal motives and drivers; and the need to focus on behaviors rather than solely beliefs, attitudes or intentions….

Global Warming and Judaism: a Yom Kippur Sermon on climate change and the Bible– a re-post from 2006

For Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, Rabbi Camille Shira Angel;

See here and here for some current resources on religion and climate change; Read entire sermon here

By Ellie M. Cohen October 2, 2006

My 4 year old daughter and I were fortunate to spend a few days in August on a beautiful high Sierra lake.  One morning we decided to attempt her first fishing lesson.  The early morning air was pine-resin, mountain fresh as we sat down at the edge of the small dock.  The lake was quite still at first—a mirror reflecting the rising sun and the forests that lined the shores. 

We carefully cast out our line, trying hard to avoid getting hooked ourselves.  Together we very gradually pulled the line in, with the lightweight reel clicking and ratcheting each step.  We had no bait —so our biggest catch was some “lakeweed.”  After a few castings, Leah took off her socks and shoes, happily dangling her feet in the still-ice-cold snow-melted water. 

Suddenly a brisk wind picked up and we snuggled closer.  She dodged the chill by laying flat on her back on the sun-warmed dock and I joined her.  The new view was enchanting.  We found ourselves looking straight up into the most magnificent blue sky — that clarity you can only see when you are a mile and a half above sea level.  Wisps of clouds moved in from the south—enormous feathers of the whitest whites as my daughter described them.  Then she asked, is that God?  I hesitated, then with great parental authority, asked…. what do you think?  She replied, “I think God is everywhere– in the clouds, in the wind, in the trees, in the birds and in the ground.”  God was definitely present in that very special moment.

The High Holidays are a time to contemplate the meaning of heaven and earth as we celebrate the creation of the world, its incredible diversity of inhabitants and the powerful forces that shape it every day.  On Yom Kippur especially— as we explore repentance and forgiveness on this holiest of days, this final day of the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe—we refrain from earthly pleasures, abstain from food, even abstain from colorful clothing as our thoughts are focused towards heaven.   Yet paradoxically, Yom Kippur prayers constantly bring us back to earth by urging us to reflect on our mundane routines and behaviors to reach the lofty goals of reconciliation and renewal. 

Rabbi Eleazar son of Rabbi Simeon observed almost 2,000 years ago, ‘Why does Scripture at times put earth before heaven and at other times heaven before earth?  To teach that the two are of equal value.[2]

What better day than today to contemplate heaven and earth, the oneness of our world, our role as stewards of God’s creation and our commitment as Jews to preserving it….. [Read more here]

For a healthier planet, eat these 50 foods; From mushrooms, beans and pulses, to nuts, tubers, seaweed, algae, cactuses, and greens, our food choices can protect our future (WWF, Knorr)

Read NPR story here; see WWF Knorr Report here (pdf)

….According to the report, 75 percent of the food we consume comes from just 12 plant sources and five animal sources. And just three crops — wheat, corn and rice — make up nearly 60 percent of the plant-based calories in most diets.

The lack of variety in agriculture is both bad for nature and a threat to food security, the report says. It argues that it’s essential we change our eating habits to protect the planet and ensure we are able to feed our growing global population….

….Maria Haga, the head of Crop Trust, an organization focused on preserving crop diversity, says the new campaign is on target. “We probably have globally like 30,000 plants that we could eat,” she says. “We eat roughly 150 of those.” And to have just a handful of crops be so dominant is “really a challenge for the whole food system.”

Haga says dependence on just a few crops is also a threat to food security…. If we’re to feed everyone with a changing climate, says Haga, we’ll need diverse crops that can adapt to extreme weather conditions. The planet has lost thousands of varieties of foods in the last hundred years, says Haga. And once they’re gone, they’re gone forever….

….people are beginning to wake up to the problem and to the wide variety of alternative foods, many of which he grew up eating. One example is the ancient grain fonio, which resembles couscous. “It’s a grain that’s great for the planet,” says Thiam. “And it’s gluten free; it’s drought resistant; it grows in two months; it scores low on the glycemic index, so it’s great for your health too.”… Besides grains like fonio, they include various mushrooms, beans and pulses, nuts, tubers, algae and cactuses…

Climate Change: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

MAGC/ One Tam /GGNPC Presentation March 14, 2019

Many thanks to the Marin Art and Garden Club, One Tam and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy for inviting me to present. My presentation includes some of the latest science about climate change (as well as land use change and pollution impacts on ecosystems) globally and regionally; an overview of the United Nations efforts to address climate change including the most recent UNFCCC COP 24 meeting outcomes (which I was honored to attend representing Point Blue); and, what we can do- and are doing- to secure a vibrant future for us all. You can view a pdf of my presentation here.

Nitrogen pollution’s path to streams weaves through more forests (and faster) than suspected

Read full ScienceDaily coverage here

Sebestyen et al. Unprocessed atmospheric nitrate in waters of the Northern Forest Region in the USA and CanadaEnvironmental Science & Technology, 2019; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b01276

Scientists have completed one of the largest and longest examinations to trace unprocessed nitrate movement in forests. The team found that some nitrate occasionally moves too fast for biological uptake, resulting in ‘unprocessed’ nitrate bypassing the otherwise effective filter of forest biology.

The study links pollutant emissions from various and sometimes distant sources including industry, energy production, the transportation sector and agriculture to forest health and stream water quality.

“Nitrogen is critical to the biological productivity of the planet, but it becomes an ecological and aquatic pollutant when too much is present,” said Stephen Sebestyen, a research hydrologist with the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station based in Grand Rapids, Minn., and the study’s lead author….

“From public land managers to woodlot owners, there is a great deal of interest in forest health and water quality. Our research identifies widespread pollutant effects, which undermines efforts to manage nitrogen pollution.”

Where Will Your Plastic Trash Go Now That China Doesn’t Want It

Read NPR coverage here

Plastic garbage from Trader Joe’s and an AARP card are peeking out of hillocks of plastic trash piling up in Indonesia. It’s a sign of a new global quandary: What should wealthy countries do with their plastic waste now that China no longer is buying it?

For years, America sold millions of tons of used yogurt cups, juice containers, shampoo bottles and other kinds of plastic trash to China to be recycled into new products.And it wasn’t just the U.S. Some 70 percent of the world’s plastic waste went to China – about 7 million tons a year.

Numerous Chinese millionaires were minted as recycling businesses started and blossomed. Sure, they paid for the world’s plastic and paper trash, but they made far more money from processing it and selling the resulting raw materials.

But last year the Chinese government dropped a bombshell on the world recycling business: It cut back almost all imports of trash. And now a lot of that plastic gets shipped to other countries that don’t have the capacity to recycle it or dispose of it safely….

About ‘The Plastic Tide’

NPR is exploring one of the most important environmental issues of our time: plastic waste. Click here to read more about the topic.

As sea level rises, wetlands crank up their carbon storage

Read ScienceDaily coverage here

  1. Rogers et al. Wetland carbon storage controlled by millennial-scale variation in relative sea-level riseNature, 2019 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-0951-7

Some wetlands perform better under pressure. A new study revealed that when faced with sea-level rise, coastal wetlands respond by burying even more carbon in their soils. Coastal wetlands, which include marshes, mangroves and seagrasses, already store carbon more efficiently than any other natural ecosystem, including forests….

For wetlands that had faced rising seas, carbon concentrations doubled or nearly quadrupled in just the top 20 centimeters of soil. When the scientists looked deeper, at 50 to 100 centimeters beneath the surface, the difference hit five to nine times higher.

The extra boost comes because the carbon added to wetland soils by plant growth and sediment is buried faster as wetlands become wetter. Trapped underwater with little to no oxygen, the organic detritus does not decompose and release carbon dioxide as quickly. And the higher the waters rise, the more underwater storage space exists for the carbon to get buried.

….The trick, of course, is to ensure wetlands do not drown and disappear if waters rise too quickly. “Preservation of coastal wetlands is critical if they are to play a role in sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change,” Rogers said. For coastal wetlands to survive, they need space to migrate inland….

Want to save the planet? Green choices can’t compensate for unsustainable choices… All consumption causes permanent environmental harm

In reality, green options are at best less harmful rather than restorative.The best thing for the environment would of course be for us to consume less overall.
–We should give consumers immediate feedback on how much ‘eco-labeled’ and other products add to the environmental impact of what they are buying. For example, self-scanning systems in supermarkets could provide customers with an accumulated carbon footprint estimate of their shopping basket.

Read ScienceDaily coverage here

Sörqvist et al. Why People Harm the Environment Although They Try to Treat It Well: An Evolutionary-Cognitive Perspective on Climate CompensationFrontiers in Psychology, 2019; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00348

A new theory suggests that we think of our relationship with the environment like a social exchange, leading to the belief that ‘environmentally friendly’ behavior can compensate for ‘harmful’ behavior.

But unlike a social misstep, our environmental footprint cannot be smoothed over. Research reveals how advertisers, politicians and economic systems play on the psychology of ‘climate compensation’ — and encourages a more rational approach to environmental responsibility.

…”Reciprocity and balance in social relations have been fundamental to social cooperation, and thus to survival, so the human brain has become specialized through natural selection to compute and seek this balance,” says lead author Patrik Sörqvist, Professor of Environmental Psychology at the University of Gävle, Sweden. “But when applied to climate change, this social give-and-take thinking leads to the misconception that ‘green’ choices can compensate for unsustainable ones.”…. The best thing for the environment would of course be for us to consume less overall...

Climate change is shifting productivity of fisheries worldwide, threatens protein source for >50% of world population

Read ScienceDaily summary here

Fish provide a vital source of protein for over half the world’s population, with over 56 million people employed by or subsisting on fisheries. But climate change is beginning to disrupt the complex, interconnected systems that underpin this major source of food. …

These findings highlight the importance of accounting for the effects of climate change in fisheries management. This means coming up with new tools for assessing the size of fish populations, new strategies for setting catch limits that consider changing productivity, and new agreements for sharing catch between winning and losing regions….

Preventing overfishing will be a critical part of addressing the threat that climate change poses to the world’s fisheries….”It makes fish populations more vulnerable to warming, while warming hinders the recovery of overfished populations.”… Ocean acidification, falling oxygen levels and habitat loss will also impact marine life. More research is necessary to fully understand how climate change will affect fish populations and the livelihoods of people that depend on them.

  1. Christopher M. Free, James T. Thorson, Malin L. Pinsky, Kiva L. Oken, John Wiedenmann, Olaf P. Jensen. Impacts of historical warming on marine fisheries productionScience, 2019 DOI: 10.1126/science.aau1758