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.
The exhibit, which will look at food production throughout history and address the challenge we currently face of feeding an ever-growing population without destroying the planet as we do so, comes just days before Thanksgiving, the nation's holiday most focused on food as celebratory act. Obviously, as this is an annual holiday, the exhibition planners no doubt planned the opening with Thanksgiving in mind. The second reason the timing is interesting, though, is due to an event that no one could have anticipated well in advance. The AMNH is located in New York City, which, along with other areas of the East Coast, is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. In recognition of these dichotomous events, Ellen V. Futter, president of the AMNH, said in a press release, "As the Museum prepares to open this comprehensive exhibition on the subject of food, we find ourselves disquietingly poised between the extremes of Hurricane Sandy--with its extensive devastation, including disruption to the food supply--and...Thanksgiving. In such a timely and vivid context, the Museum presents Our Global Kitchen, which addresses the vital and complex topic of food from the perspectives of the environment, food supply, and human culture."
The irony was not lost on the 300 or so environmental scientists, policy makers, activists and citizens who gathered earlier this week at the Aspen Institute for three days of solution-seeking around the theme, "Living in the New Normal." Even as participants in Aspen Environment Forum 2012 shared information, ideas and opinions, haze from the forest fires currently ravaging Colorado hung over the nearby mountains. This, more than one participant commented, is the new normal: uncertainty, extremes, unpredictability, unexpected turns of events - all brought on by humans' fiddling with the dials of nature on a grandiose scale.
Of course it's relatively easy to talk about troubles. But that's not what AEF2012 was about. The forum focused not only on defining the new normal, but also on exploring what we ought to do about it. Should we let us take it where it will? Or should we engage? Will we be tossed about like ships at sea? Or will we work to understand the changes taking shape, and shape our own activities to make both most compatible with the preservation of life on Earth?
Perhaps the best way to get a sampling of the conversations is to pull some participant quotes and paraphrases from the Twitter stream (#AEF2012):
If we continue at the present rate of eliminating species, half of them will be gone by the end of the century. - E.O. Wilson
The bulk of the credit for maintaining a planet that works goes to a living ocean. - Sylvia Earle
60,000-90,000 years ago, there may have only been 600-2,000 human beings. We were an endangered species at one time. - Richard Potts
We *have* to figure out how to close the gap - to bring environmental externalities into pricing. - Jason Clay
The past is no longer any guide for the future. This planet (w/new
climate, biosphere, land use, ocean acidification) is new. - Jon Foley
Abruptness in climate change creates largely unpredictable side-effects. - William Calvin
Eating tuna is like eating something that feeds on dragons. Very high on the food chain. - Daniel Pauly
What happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic. - Neal Conan
If you're pro-free market and ignore biggest market failure on planet (CO2), you have a problem. - Gernot Wagner
We have the tools at our disposal to end overfishing. We should start tackling the problem now. - Miguel Jorge
Comparing block to block, house to house, there is 7% greater property value to tree lined streets. - Rohit Aggarwala
In public's eye, pollution is top ocean problem. In reality, it's #3, behind overfishing & climate change. - Ayana Johnson
When you say "climate" it turns people off because they fear they'll have to reduce their quality of life. - Heidi Cullen
Not climate change or global warming, but planetary destabilization. - David Orr
The future of America is networked resilient communities. - John Robb
Never eat shrimp: either caught with 90% bycatch net, or in mangrove-destroying aquaculture. - Ayana Johnson
We have to be careful about what we can measure and what matters - Daniel Pauly
We need to make climate an economic issue, because it is. - Mindy Lubber
The notion that our emergence occurred during the most violent period of climate fluctuation means that we're able to adapt. - Richard Potts
We need to preserve ecosystems as working systems, for us to learn from
and emulate in the Anthropocene. Not keep as museum pieces. - Jon Foley
Don't fish, you have zero fish. Fish too much, you have zero fish. Sustainable fishing is in between. - Daniel Pauly
Smart growth is the greatest technology we have to fight climate change, and its not in any of the books. - Peter Calthorpe
Trawling is like using a bulldozer to catch songbirds. - Sylvia Earle
Few things are as inspirational as people who put their lives on the line for a cause greater than themselves. For National Geographic photojournalist Paul Nicklen, that includes diving beneath sea ice, swimming with leopard seals off Antarctica and trekking across miles of stark Arctic wilderness in -40F temperatures.
His cause? Convincing all of us to care for this wild and precious planet.
The Albertine Rift, the most biodiverse region of Africa in terms of vertebrates with 1,762 recorded species, is threatened by human activity and thus is a focus for biodiversity conservation for Uganda and the world. Uganda's economic and social development is highly dependent on its rich biodiversity and natural resources, with more than 90 percent of the population directly depending on natural resources for their livelihood and income. According to the Uganda National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, the gross economic output attributable to biodiversity use is approximately $546.6 million per year, while indirect benefits from ecosystem services and functions that support and maintain production are estimated to be another $200 million per year.
The Ecosystem Health Initiative of the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine and the Institute on the Environment is working with an international consortium of partners to improve understanding of the relationship among the environment, biodiversity, and the health of humans, livestock and wildlife in two demonstration sites in the Albertine Rift region of western Uganda. Entitled "Global Health and the Environment in Africa," the project also involves Makerere University, Conservation and Ecosystem Health Alliance, Ugandan Wildlife Authority, University of New Hampshire, Emory University, Robert Koch Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One area of focus is Queen Elizabeth National Park, a Biosphere Reserve and Ramsar site in western Uganda. QENP is an incredibly diverse, largely savanna ecosystem plagued by deadly anthrax outbreaks that threaten wildlife, domestic animals and humans. Yet almost zero resources have been dedicated to understanding the ecology, management and control of this important and frightening disease. Margaret Driciru, a veterinarian and Ugandan Wildlife Authority research warden in QENP, is enrolled in a joint PhD program with Makerere University and the University of Minnesota to investigate the ecology and management of anthrax in QENP. A research consortium meeting is being planned for 2012-13 to prioritize further research and outreach needs related to ecosystem health in the area.
The second research site is in Hoima District, just south of Budongo Forest Reserve. Twenty four percent of Uganda's surface area is forested, with 70 percent of that on private or communal land. Uganda has one of the highest annual deforestation rates in Africa (2.2% in 2000-2005, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, most of it consisting of unsustainable harvesting, conversion to agriculture use and settlement by an increasing population). This loss has increasingly led to wildlife ranging outside their natural home range into agricultural fields and more frequent human-wildlife conflict. Baboons, bush pigs, elephants, monkeys and chimpanzees have all been implicated in crop raiding. This increased conflict has harmed conservation efforts and increased the risk of disease transmission among wildlife, domestic animals and humans.
Of particular concern is the ranging of nonhuman primates because they share many diseases with humans. To date, no research has studied the interactions among habitat use, primate demography and disease risk in this area. Lawrence Mugisha, adjunct professor of ecosystem health in the U of M College of Veterinary Medicine and head of the Conservation and Ecosystem Health Alliance, is working with the district government to address these issues. Primatologists are now mapping the natural resources and censusing the chimpanzee population in the area.
University of Minnesota work on this initiative is led by Meggan Craft, assistant professor and disease ecologist in the College of Veterinary Medicine and resident fellow in IonE; Innocent Rwego, assistant professor of ecosystem health; Mugisha; Dominic Travis, associate professor of epidemiology; and Katey Pelican, assistant professor and lead of the ecosystem health initiative and IonE resident fellow.
Photo of team members from the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, Makerere University, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and University of Minnesota courtesy of Dominic Travis
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.