Improving the statistical power in grassland and passerine bird nesting studies: Testing two new technologies

July 25, 2017Image of Matt Stephenson aging eggs from a bird nest

By Matt Stephenson

Grassland birds, such as dickcissels, meadowlarks, and upland sandpipers, have declined by almost 40% over North America between the late 1960s and today 1968–2011. This decline is being driven by loss or degradation of grassland habitat continent-wide, including replacement of grassland with agricultural land, fragmentation of remaining grasslands, degradation of rangelands in the western US, and re-forestation in the eastern US. Stopping and eventually reversing the loss of grassland habitat will be necessary to halt the decline of North American grassland birds.

Does diversity tell the whole story?

May 21, 2017

By Jacob Hill

Maintaining Iowa’s highly productive agricultural landscape demands high inputs of fertilizer. When fertilizers run off the landscape in rain events or snow melt, negative consequences for water quality may arise due to enrichment by nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Developing strategies to sustain high levels of agricultural productivity while reducing nutrient runoff and its harmful consequences for water quality is a major concern of conservation science.  

Staying afloat with PEWI

December 9, 2016

By Noah Hagen

I’m a programmer on PEWI, a simple web-based learning tool designed to help people understand human-landscape interactions and ecosystem service tradeoffs (see figure below). One day, while working on PEWI’s code, I got pretty curious about whether there were other, similar tools out there. Also, being somewhat competitive by nature, I wondered what ‘the other groups’ were doing. I figured creating watershed tools is probably the vocation of a few, with groups working in this area just a small subset of the scientists and stakeholders interested in the impacts of human decisions on the environment. You can imagine my surprise when I set out to find a few oases in the software desert and, instead, found myself inundated with applications. The good news is that, among the flood of wonderful tools, PEWI still holds a unique place. Here are the results of my exploration.

Wakonse: Who do you want to be?

June 15, 2016
By Emily Zimmerman

Lake Michigan Sunset Enjoyed at the Wakonse Conference on Teaching

Learning has been a central part of my life for as long as a I can remember. As a youngster, I learned basic skills, like how to tie my shoes, the colors and alphabet, and how to share with my sister. As a student, I sat in countless classrooms with dozens of teachers and faculty members, learning theories, concepts, facts, and skills. I learned how I learn, and I began applying what I was learning to ask scientific research questions. As a graduate student, I continue to learn and grow as a research scientist, but I’m also experiencing learning in a new way: as an educator.

Field Notes: Musings from the Natural Resource Ecology & Management Department

March 16, 2016
By Emily Zimmerman

Each year, Iowa State University’s Natural Resource Ecology and Management (NREM) Department publishes a collection of articles designed to provide a slice of what has been happening in NREM over the past year. The graduate student publication, called Field Notes, highlights undergraduate and graduate research, catches up with recent graduates, and welcomes our new faculty. This past year, I wrote an article for Field Notes detailing part of my doctoral research.Field Notes 2016 The article, titled “Learning how to have our cake and eat it, too: Identifying opportunities for co-production of commodities and ecosystem services in Iowa,” explores how tweaks can be made in agricultural land management to jointly expand economic and environmental opportunities for farmers to co-produce agricultural products and desired environmental benefits (e.g., enhanced water quality).

Bioacoustics for better bioscience

February 9, 2016
By Julia Dale

Any branch of science comes with its own unique challenges. For landscape ecologists such as us in the LESEM lab, one of these is the question of how to survey wildlife across broad spatial extents, especially with limited time, money, and personnel. Over the years, various technologies have been employed to aid researchers in maximizing results with minimal resources. For decades, animals as diverse as sage grouse, wolves, and manatees have been monitored via aerial surveys using small planes. Secretive species can be tracked using telemetry, and tiny geolocators have been used in countless studies to determine the paths of long-distance migrants. One area of research which has been steadily growing involves using sound recordings of animals to monitor their presence over widespread areas. With this type of monitoring, wildlife species that are inherently difficult to track and study become accessible to scientists.

We’re going to grow old together

August 5,2015

By Emily Zimmerman

Two months ago, I was fortunate to attend the International Symposium on Society and Resource Management (ISSRM) in Charleston, South Carolina. This year’s ISSRM, which serves as the annual conference for the International Association for Society and Natural Resources (IASNR), was attended by over 450 scientists, government agency managers, non-profit employees, and private consultants from numerous fields, and served as an opportunity to engage with one another on research embedded in social science and natural science pertaining to the environment and natural resource issues. The conference theme this year, “Understanding and Adapting to Change,” provided a relevant lens to examine many pertinent human dimensions of natural resource challenges, including climate change, the food system, urban centers, etc.

What do Yellowstone National Park, J.K. Rowling’s Remus Lupin, and this post about ecological economics have in common?

July 29, 2015
By Anna Johnson

Did anyone else read Saki’s short story The Interlopers in high school English class? If not, you can google it; it’s quite short. Here’s a summary: two men, who have feuded their whole lives, are out hunting each other in a forest. Suddenly, a tree falls and traps them both. First, each angrily swears that his group of friends, who are elsewhere in the woods, will kill the other when they arrive. But gradually, as they wait, they decide to end their lifelong feud and become friends. This idea brings them great joy, and they talk of plans to publically declare their friendship. Then they see figures coming over the hill, and eagerly strain to see whose group of friends is coming to free them at last. But the approaching figures are not their friends. The story ends with one chilling word: wolves.

Who *doesn’t* love nutrient cycling? A SUSTAG 509 reflection

May 6, 2015

By Anna Johnson

For those of you not lucky enough to be a graduate student in Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State, you should know that one of the major strengths of the program is the class SUSAG 509: Agroecosystems Analysis, or simply “509.”  After being admitted to the program last spring, I was thrilled to find out that I would get to spend a week in August driving around Iowa for credit: “You mean I get to meet Iowa farmers, talk cover crops, soil quality, and corn production?” Maybe that isn’t everybody’s idea of a dream vacation, but as a newcomer to the Midwest and long-standing ag nerd, I was definitely pumped. Since not everyone is lucky enough to be in my program or to have taken this class, I thought I’d share some of the major insights I gained. Spread over two posts, I’ll first discuss nutrient cycling and its role in agroecology, and then examine a couple of the sites on our field trip from the lens of ecological economics.

Young minds, bright futures

March 1, 2015

By Emily Zimmerman

Last summer, I was lucky to be involved in Iowa State University’s Office of Precollegiate Programs for Talented and Gifted (OPPTAG) Summer Exploration Program. The Exploration Program offers students entering grades 8-12 the opportunity to discover new and exciting areas of study not traditionally emphasized in school curriculums. During the week-long program, students are fully immersed in their chosen study, working from 8:30 am to 4 pm, with an additional hour of homework each night. Though there is certainly time for meeting new friends and fun evening activities, the students’ primary focus is academics.