Connecting scientists to their communities

Survey finds that most science faculty members view science communications as a priority, but do not believe their peers feel the same  More than half of faculty members at U.S. land-grant universities believe engaging with the public about science is a high priority. At the same time, fewer than a quarter think their peers prioritize science communication, according to a new report. That gap suggests that faculty who engage with the public feel isolated and could weaken outreach programs that meet university missions and the goals of the scientific community at large, researchers say.    The findings come from a team that includes Ezra Markowitz, environmental conservation, and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and Dartmouth College.  For years, many scientific societies have urged academic researchers to increase their engagement with the public. Their goals include boosting participation in science, increasing support for science-based programs — such as public vaccination campaigns — and helping society grapple with big changes brought by scientific advances.  Markowitz says...
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A new view of salt marshes

A new view of salt marshes

Funded by EPA, environmental conservation and public policy professors will use aerial technology to study coastal salt marshes at all tide cycles Scott Jackson, environmental conservation, and Charlie Schweik, professor at the School of Public Policy and the department of environmental conservation, have received a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It will fund a project that uses unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to develop methods to assess the ecological integrity of Massachusetts salt marshes. The new $125,000 grant is an extension of a $362,776 award the team received in 2018 for the project. The additional funding will allow the researchers to continue developing the methodologies and to expand their work to more sites on the eastern Massachusetts coast. The project’s goal is to provide environmental managers information on the ecological health of salt marches, including their vulnerability to flooding and their physical and biological condition. “Salt marshes serve important ecological functions,” Schweik said. “They act as a buffer for coastal land from stormy seas during dramatic weather events...
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Small plant, big impact

Plant ecologist receives U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Project of the Year Award for study of invasive flower’s effects on northeastern forests  Plant ecologist Kristina Stinson, environmental conservation, and her team were recently honored by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) with one of its 2019 Project of the Year Awards for Resource Conservation and Resiliency, given at an annual symposium in Washington, D.C.    The agency’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program recognizes “scientific advances and technological solutions to some of DoD’s most significant environmental and installation energy challenges.”  She says, “When we started this project, the technology for sequencing the soil microbiome was just emerging.  We literally had to update our methods section multiple times throughout the proposal-writing process because the techniques were changing so fast. It’s very exciting to have been involved in this research and to have discovered how a small unassuming invasive plant can up-end the identities and abundances of soil fungi and their roles in ecosystem function.”    DoD’s citation relates that for this study,...
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Planting the seeds for greener skylines

In 2017, the John W. Olver Design Building was the largest academic building made of massive timber, an engineered wood that is glued together to form long slabs. Environmentalists are advocating for more mass timber buildings instead of steel and concrete, which emit greenhouse gases. Builders, architects, and city planners are excited about a building material that’s green, cost effective, and can help meet housing demands. Experts predict that this is only the beginning of the mass timber movement.     From ‘Forget the log cabin. Wood buildings are climbing skyward — with pluses for the planet’  “Mass timber” (for massive) is exciting builders, city planners, and environmentalists around the world. Builders see it as a way to construct structures faster and cheaper. City planners see a fast track that could help reduce housing shortages. And some environmentalists tout its ability to lock up carbon to combat climate change.  Advocates envision wood buildings sprouting in cities, drastically reducing the cement and steel that generate tons of greenhouse...
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‘Remove one and the system collapses’

Deforestation poses major threat to the symbiotic relationship between Madagascar’s rainforest and lemurs  Climate change is becoming one of the greatest threats to the Earth’s already stressed ecosystems. However, a new report on the effects of deforestation on two lemur species in Madagascar says it may not be the most severe threat today for all species.     Writing in the current issue of Nature Climate Change, Toni Lyn Morelli at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center at University of Massachusetts Amherst and her international team of co-authors point out that species across the globe now face concurrent pressures on many fronts. These include habitat degradation and fragmentation, overharvesting, overhunting, invasive species and pollution. Climate change receives special attention because of its “global reach, ability to reshape entire ecosystems and potential to impact areas that are otherwise ‘protected.’”  To understand these threats, they modeled the effects of deforestation and climate change on the two critically endangered ruffed lemur species in the genus Varecia over the next century. “Because of their essential...
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