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John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis

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The Natural Capital Accounting Opportunity: Let's Really Do the Numbers

Powell Center Working Group Products - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 11:10
"The nation's economic accounts provide objective, regular, and standardized information routinely relied on by public and private decision-makers. But they are incomplete. The United States and many other nations currently do not account for the natural capital--such as the wildlife, forests, grasslands, soils, and water bodies--on which all other economic activity rests. By creating formal natural capital accounts (NCA) and ecosystem goods and service (EGSA) accounts, governments and businesses could better understand the past, peer into the future, innovate, conserve, and plan for environmental shocks. They would standardize, regularly repeat, and aggregate diverse natural resource, environmental, and social and economic data and could thereby play a significant role in advancing the science of coupled biophysical and social systems...."

How Hydrologic Connectivity Regulates Water Quality in River Corridors

Powell Center Working Group Products - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 10:46

Downstream flow in rivers is repeatedly delayed by hydrologic exchange with off‐channel storage zones where biogeochemical processing occurs. We present a dimensionless metric that quantifies river connectivity as the balance between downstream flow and the exchange of water with the bed, banks, and floodplains. The degree of connectivity directly influences downstream water quality--too little connectivity limits the amount of river water exchanged and leads to biogeochemically inactive water storage, while too much connectivity limits the contact time with sediments for reactions to proceed. Using a metric of reaction significance based on river connectivity, we provide evidence that intermediate levels of connectivity, rather than the highest or lowest levels, are the most efficient in removing nitrogen from Northeastern United States’ rivers. Intermediate connectivity balances the frequency, residence time, and contact volume with reactive sediments, which can maximize the reactive processing of dissolved contaminants and the protection of downstream water quality. Our simulations suggest denitrification dominantly occurs in riverbed hyporheic zones of streams and small rivers, whereas vertical turbulent mixing in contact with sediments dominates in mid‐size to large rivers. The metrics of connectivity and reaction significance presented here can facilitate scientifically based prioritizations of river management strategies to protect the values and functions of river corridors.

Growth and survival relationships of 71 tree species with nitrogen and sulfur deposition across the conterminous U.S.

Powell Center Working Group Products - Thu, 10/25/2018 - 13:58

Atmospheric deposition of nitrogen (N) influences forest demographics and carbon (C) uptake through multiple mechanisms that vary among tree species. Prior studies have estimated the effects of atmospheric N deposition on temperate forests by leveraging forest inventory measurements across regional gradients in deposition. However, in the United States (U.S.), these previous studies were limited in the number of species and the spatial scale of analysis, and did not include sulfur (S) deposition as a potential covariate. Here, we present a comprehensive analysis of how tree growth and survival for 71 species vary with N and S deposition across the conterminous U.S. Our analysis of 1,423,455 trees from forest plots inventoried between 2000 and 2016 reveals that the growth and/or survival of the vast majority of species in the analysis (n = 66, or 93%) were significantly affected by atmospheric deposition. Species co-occurred across the conterminous U.S. that had decreasing and increasing relationships between growth (or survival) and N deposition, with just over half of species responding negatively in either growth or survival to increased N deposition somewhere in their range (42 out of 71). Averaged across species and conterminous U.S., however, we found that an increase in deposition above current rates of N deposition would coincide with a small net increase in tree growth (1.7% per Δ kg N ha-1 yr-1), and a small net decrease in tree survival (-0.22% per Δ kg N ha-1 yr-1), with substantial regional and among-species variation. Adding S as a predictor improved the overall model performance for 70% of the species in the analysis. Our findings have potential to help inform ecosystem management and air pollution policy across the conterminous U.S., and suggest that N and S deposition have likely altered forest demographics in the U.S.

Differing Modes of Biotic Connectivity within Freshwater Ecosystem Mosaics

Powell Center Working Group Products - Tue, 10/02/2018 - 11:34

We describe a collection of aquatic and wetland habitats in an inland landscape, and their occurrence within a terrestrial matrix, as a “freshwater ecosystem mosaic” (FEM). Aquatic and wetland habitats in any FEM can vary widely, from permanently ponded lakes, to ephemerally ponded wetlands, to groundwater‐fed springs, to flowing rivers and streams. The terrestrial matrix can also vary, including in its influence on flows of energy, materials, and organisms among ecosystems. Biota occurring in a specific region are adapted to the unique opportunities and challenges presented by spatial and temporal patterns of habitat types inherent to each FEM. To persist in any given landscape, most species move to recolonize habitats and maintain mixtures of genetic materials. Species also connect habitats through time if they possess needed morphological, physiological, or behavioral traits to persist in a habitat through periods of unfavorable environmental conditions. By examining key spatial and temporal patterns underlying FEMs, and species‐specific adaptations to these patterns, a better understanding of the structural and functional connectivity of a landscape can be obtained. Fully including aquatic, wetland, and terrestrial habitats in FEMs facilitates adoption of the next generation of individual‐based models that integrate the principles of population, community, and ecosystem ecology.

A method to detect discontinuities in census data

Powell Center Working Group Products - Mon, 09/24/2018 - 14:28

The distribution of pattern across scales has predictive power in the analysis of complex systems. Discontinuity approaches remain a fruitful avenue of research in the quest for quantitative measures of resilience because discontinuity analysis provides an objective means of identifying scales in complex systems and facilitates delineation of hierarchical patterns in processes, structure, and resources. However, current discontinuity methods have been considered too subjective, too complicated and opaque, or have become computationally obsolete; given the ubiquity of discontinuities in ecological and other complex systems, a simple and transparent method for detection is needed. In this study, we present a method to detect discontinuities in census data based on resampling of a neutral model and provide the R code used to run the analyses. This method has the potential for advancing basic and applied ecological research.

Modeling the Effects of Turbulence on Hyporheic Exchange and Local‐to‐Global Nutrient Processing in Streams

Powell Center Working Group Products - Mon, 09/17/2018 - 09:17

New experimental techniques are allowing, for the first time, direct visualization of mass and momentum transport across the sediment‐water interface in streams. These experimental insights are catalyzing a renaissance in our understanding of the role stream turbulence plays in a host of critical ecosystem services, including nutrient cycling. In this commentary, we briefly review the nature of stream turbulence and its role in hyporheic exchange and nutrient cycling in streams. A simple process‐based model, borrowed from biochemical engineering, provides the link between empirical relationships for grain‐scale turbulent mixing and nutrient processing at reach, catchment, continental, and global scales.

Plain Language Summary

Streams transport excess nitrogen and phosphorous from point and non‐point sources in a watershed to downstream receiving waters. But streams are not pipes. Microorganisms living in streambed sediments catalyze a broad range of redox reactions that reduce the impacts of nutrient pollution, or in some cases exacerbate it. In this commentary we discuss recent advances in our understanding of how turbulence influences the transport and biogeochemical processing of nutrients in streambed sediments, and explore how these concepts might be incorporated into stream network models of nutrient fate and transport at local‐to‐global scales.

The distribution and role of functional abundance in cross‐scale resilience

Powell Center Working Group Products - Tue, 09/11/2018 - 10:51

The cross‐scale resilience model suggests that system level ecological resilience emerges from the distribution of species’ functions within and across the spatial and temporal scales of a system. It has provided a quantitative method for calculating the resilience of a given system, and so has been a valuable contribution to a largely qualitative field. As it is currently laid out, the model accounts for the spatial and temporal scales at which environmental resources and species are present and the functional roles species play, but does not inform us about how much resource is present, or how much function is provided. In short, it does not account for abundance in the distribution of species and their functional roles within and across the scales of a system. We detail the ways in which we would expect species’ abundance to be relevant to the cross‐scale resilience model based on the extensive abundance literature in ecology. We also put forward a series of testable hypotheses that would improve our ability to anticipate and quantify how resilience is generated, and how ecosystems will (or will not) buffer recent rapid global changes. This stream of research may provide an improved foundation for the quantitative evaluation of ecological resilience.

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