Impacts of humans on lakes and lakes on humans

Assistant Professor Kelly Cobourn
New Hampshire, New York, and Wisconsin, United States

Scientists have long studied the ecological impact of humans on lakes, but a new study explores how those ecological impacts can cycle back to affect humans and offers a new model for those invested in protecting and maintaining lakes. The research team, which examined three lake catchments: Lake Mendota in Wisconsin, Oneida Lake in New York, and Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire, uses coupled natural and human systems modeling to understand how humans and the environment affect one another.

NSF grants fuel polymer research

Professor Kevin Edgar, Assistant Professor Li Shuai
Virginia, United States

Two faculty members are creating new renewably sourced plant and wood polymers to tackle long-standing challenges. Kevin Edgar is developing polymers that work to prevent the crystallization of a drug’s molecules when it is in pill form and during transport through the gastrointestinal tract so that medication can effectively reach the bloodstream. Li Shuai is developing a new chemical process to replace current petroleum-reliant resins with a renewable material made from lignin, an organic polymer found in trees that is a waste product of the paper pulping process.

Shifting female-to-male ratios in snapping turtles

Molly Thompson, M.S., Professor William Hopkins
Virginia, United States

For many wildlife species, sex of offspring is determined after fertilization and often influenced by environmental factors, such as nest temperatures. While current research shows that increasing global temperatures are expected to produce more female turtles, the research team found that the nesting environment in agricultural habitats, which can ultimately lower nesting temperatures, can actually produce more males. They also found that the effect of agricultural activities on sex ratio was exacerbated by the presence of mercury pollution.

Larger-than-life perceptions of American chestnut

Associate Professor Carolyn Copenheaver
Eastern United States

Descriptions of the American chestnut as a giant, towering tree may not be accurate. Researchers examined historical publications and landowners’ personal accounts for quantitative descriptions, finding a significant increase in the reported size of American chestnuts in sources published after chestnut blight decimated the majority of the adult trees in the early 1900s. Many sources recorded both the average and maximum size of a tree, while some recorded the maximum size as the average, making the species appear larger than it normally would have been. In addition, landowner descriptions may have been exaggerated owing to nostalgia.

Predicting forest growth like forecasting the weather

Assistant Professor R. Quinn Thomas
Southeastern United States

Similar to weather forecasts, researchers are using ecological forecasting to predict how changes in temperature, water, and concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere may affect the future growth of trees. They built on data and concepts from earlier projects to develop a common analytical framework that can be combined with predictions from climate models to produce an outlook for the future. The system sets a foundation to be used in the forestry industry to predict other aspects besides productivity.

Role of owner’s connection to the land

Associate Professor Michael Sorice, Kiandra Rajala
Texas, United States

A primary focus of a study to understand how private landowners employ conservation management practices was to determine how to define an absentee landowner and whether private landowners who do not live on their land year-round manage it differently than those who do. Instead, researchers found that a landowner’s involvement and interest in working the land matter more than residing on the property, suggesting that natural resource managers look beyond landowner traits and focus on how they think about their land.

Riverbank erosion, human adaptation, and resilience

Professor Tom Crawford, Munshi Rahman, Ph.D.
Bangladesh, Asia

Researchers are working to better understand how riverbank erosion affects the citizens of Bangladesh and to develop early-warning measures that may help mitigate the effects of the changing shoreline. They are using satellite images captured between 1988 and 2018 to plot spatiotemporal patterns of erosion and generate location-specific annual rates of erosion and erosion variability. The compiled precipitation data for that time period will help the team determine how precipitation impacts shoreline changes

How cheetahs outsmart predators

Anne Hilborn, Ph.D.
Tanzania, Africa

The results of hunt observations show that mother cheetahs with cubs have very different eating patterns than males or females without cubs. Cheetahs live alongside large carnivores like lions and spotted hyenas, both of which can not only attack cubs but also steal prey. Most cheetahs eat their prey as quickly as possible to avoid having their food stolen, but mother cheetahs with cubs watch out for possible threats while their young are eating. A mother will first ensure that her cubs get enough to eat before eating her own share, using vigilance instead of speed to minimize risk.

Flood pulse dynamics and diarrheal disease

Professor Kathleen Alexander
Botswana, Africa

Researchers have discovered how surface water dynamics may increase the vulnerability of dependent populations to diarrheal disease and climate change. Outbreaks continue to occur in the study area despite the presence of a centralized water treatment infrastructure. They found that increases in diarrheal disease cases were closely tied to periods of rainfall, flood recession, and changes in surface water quality, and that different age groups were affected differently by season.

Water’s role in antibiotic resistance dissemination

Claire Sanderson, Ph.D., Professor Kathleen Alexander
Botswana, Africa

Researchers’ findings suggest that factors beyond industrial farming and medical facilities may be significant contributors to the global problem of antibiotic resistance dissemination. The team found widespread antibiotic resistance in the surface water at their unique study site in northern Botswana, spanning both protected and urban landscapes. They also found that land use and season were both statistically significant predictors of antibiotic resistant bacteria in surface water, with the wet season resulting in a higher mean than the dry season.    

Linking Amazon deforestation and fish yields

Assistant Professor Leandro Castello
Brazil, South America

The team used years of fisheries data to map 1,500 lakes in the Amazon floodplain and NASA satellite data to determine habitat features. They found that lakes with floodplain forests resulted in greater fish yields, inferring that if floodplain forests are cut down for crop or pastureland, fish yields in nearby lakes would decrease, affecting the food supply and livelihoods of area residents. They plan to expand their scope to include other variables, such as the depth and connectivity of the lakes studied.

Human-centered design key to conservation partnerships

Associate Professor Michael Sorice
Chile, South America

The team found that Chilean fishers were more in favor of a marine conservation program when it was designed to incorporate their preferences and when they had a reasonable expectation of the outcomes, instead of simply paying them for participation. In this “human-centered design” approach, the participants’ needs are given the same weight as the resource’s need. The results indicate that small design changes can be key to successful conservation programs.