Friday, August 23, 2019

BU at the 2019 Ecological Society of America Meeting

Posted by Lucy Zipf

This August I traveled to Louisville, KY to attend this year’s Ecological Society of America meeting. This conference provides attendees a great opportunity to interact with a large community of ecologists and learn about new exciting research. I presented my work on Tree Swallow response to global change to an engaged audience.

Presenting my talk using very animated facial expressions

Many current and past members of the BU Biogeosciences Program presented talks and posters through the week. I was also able to see talks from former Primack Lab members Dr. Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie and Dr. Amanda Gallinat, who both presented work from their post docs. 

In addition to hearing about my peers’ work, I enjoyed attending the diversity of talks on urban ecology; including Dr. Diane Pataki’s plenary talk on the ecology of cultivated landscapes and the symposium on segregation as an ecological factor lead by Dr. Steward Pickett.

BU Biogeoscientists at ESA. 
Let to Right: Nick Ray giving a talk about oyster mediated nitrogen fluxes; Jamie Harrison showing off the title slide for her talk on winter climate change; Erin Pierce presenting her urban ecology poster


On the last night of the conference the BU Biogeoscience members organized a meet up to attend a minor league baseball game. Unfortunately, the Louisville Bats did not win, but we had a great time at the game and the conference!


Monday, August 19, 2019

Can We Escape the Urban Noise?

By Carina Terry

“Only in their saner moments do men hear the  crickets. It is a balm to the philosopher. 
It tempers his thoughts.”  Henry David Thoreau in his Journal. 

While often considered an issue primarily affecting people in cities, noise pollution also spreads into urban parks, national parks and other natural areas, bringing with it negative impacts such as the disruption of wildlife communication and community structure


To investigate the extent of noise pollution into natural areas near Boston, we are using smart phones with the SPLnFFT app to measure sound levels at the Hall’s Pond Sanctuary in Brookline, the Hammond Woods in Newton, and other Boston parks. We will use this data to map the soundscape across these protected areas and analyze the sources of high sound levels.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Are women ecologists joining the race?


By Tara Miller

“It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?”
—Thoreau to H.G.O. Blake, 16 November 1857


In 1997, Richard Primack and Elizabeth Stacey published an article entitled “Women ecologists catching up in scientific productivity, but only when they join the race.”

They studied the publication record of tropical ecologists (328 men and 328 women) at various stages in their careers. One main result was that women have lower rates of publication than men, in both younger and older ecologists. Women published, on average, only 60% of the number of articles that men published.


(From Primack & Stacey, 1997)

In the group, nine men had consistently high rates of publication, but none of the women did.  A number of women were late bloomers with increasing rates of publication later in their careers, perhaps caused by lack of time due to family responsibilities.

The silver lining in this 22-year-old study is that women are starting to catch up to men in terms of mean number of publications and citations in the younger groups. Perhaps the factors holding women back professionally were starting to improve at that time.


Publication rates by age and gender.
(Adapted from Table 1 of Primack & Stacey, 1997)



Monday, July 29, 2019

Flooding and Climate Change in Brookline

Richard B. Primack and Audrey S. Garon

“What an engineer this water is. It comes with this unerring level, 
and reveals all the inequalities of the meadow.”
 Henry David Thoreau writing in his Journals
     
Flooding is frequent in Brookline because many wetlands were filled in and streams were buried in culverts. Heavy rains can cause storm drains to overload, back up and flood low-lying areas, including streets, homes, and businesses. Now climate change is bringing more rain and flooding. Precipitation in the Boston area increased by about 10% from 1960 to 2010, and more rain now comes during intense storms.  
  
Sarah Smith points to the height of the flooding in the basement of her Brookline home.

The town is improving the drainage system by repairing and replacing pipes, and the Army Corp of Engineers is improving flow rate in the Muddy River.  Homeowners are taking individual action, such as installing basement pumps and building walls around basement doors.

Jeremy Bloch hopes that this bulkhead retaining wall, now under construction, will  prevent flooding in his basement.

As climate change continues and sea levels rise—they will be 2 to 3 feet higher in a few decades—Brookline will be vulnerable to storm surges during hurricanes that hit at high tides. High water in the Charles and Muddy rivers, into which the storm drains discharge, could prevent Brookline’s drainage system from working, leading to extensive flooding of neighborhoods and streets.  
     
Improvements to the Muddy River include bringing it above ground and providing wide box culverts under roads.

This is a short version of an article that appeared in the Brookline Tab.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Sculptures bring surprises to Newton gardens

Posted by Richard B. Primack

“Painters are wont, in their pictures of Paradise, 
to strew the ground too thickly with flowers.” 
Henry David Thoreau, in his Journal. 

Plants are the focus of most gardens, but sculptures also add humor, drama, and welcome.

 In Newton Center, six giant colorful chickens, ranging from 3 to 8 feet tall, stand in front of a large green house. Donna Cohen, the homeowner, emphasizes, “I love chickens. They have great personalities.”

Chicken statues looking out over a front yard.

Nearby, John Overaker has created a dog-friendly garden in front of his colonial house opposite City Hall. John installed a low faucet and puppy bowl filled with water for thirsty dogs, and later added a stone water fountain for people. John even added benches for public use. 

John and Hadeley Overaker’s front yard welcomes dogs and walkers.

Motorists and walkers passing a traffic island garden in West Newton are treated to the exceptional beauty of the bronze Art Nouveau-style statue “Child with Calla Leaves”, with accompanying fountain. 

Child with Calla Leaves adorns a fountain. 

A fanciful fairy rock garden was designed for this Newton Corner home to evoke the northern Irish coast. Large upright stones represent the giant standing stones or megaliths found prominently in many areas of the United Kingdom, such as Stonehenge. 

The fairy rock garden of Laurie Halloran and Gary Bagnall.

Arrangements of flowers, urns, pots, driftwood, stones, and small animal sculptures add a fantastical flair to a Ward Street front yard. 

Fanciful arrangements of flowers, stones, ceramics and animals in a Ward Street front yard.

Such sculptures add unexpected joy and complexity to gardens. 


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Where you go, I will follow (at a cost)


By Tara Miller

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined.”
-H. D. Thoreau

An article written by Richard Primack and Virginia O’Leary in 1993 surveyed ecologists to elucidate why female ecologists experience lower productivity and promotion than male ecologists. Unsurprisingly to most people today, they found that women in science face many disadvantages, including lower salaries, primary family care responsibilities, lack of role models, lack of job security, lack of mobility, and more. Taken together, these disadvantages can add up to large gaps between the scientific achievements of women and men.

I was particularly struck by the sections of the article discussing women’s lack of mobility in pursuing jobs. Many women reported being unable to move for a career opportunity due to a significant other or needing to relocate to accommodate a significant other’s career goals. One woman surveyed for the study reported, "It took me too long to get my degree as a result of following my husband around. When I finally got my degree there were no jobs where he was."

Adapted from Table 3 (Primack & O’Leary, 1993)

Women also reported having a relationship end or suffer because of a move for a job opportunity. Another woman quoted in the study said, "I left my significant other to complete graduate school. I now have no relationship and no job."

Adapted from Table 3 (Primack & O’Leary, 1993)

This article was published the year I was born, and yet I find that our societal expectations for women and men are slow to change. Even among friends of my own generation, more (heterosexual) women than men have moved to locations optimal for their partners’ careers.

These observations also highlight how important individual actions can be. One man’s actions can impact a woman’s career. Men can choose to support the women in their lives and to equally share the responsibilities and sacrifices.



Friday, July 5, 2019

Is insect abundance declining in Mass?

If you keep abreast to science in the news, you may have seen headlines like the following across news outlets over the past six months:


Global insect decline is a major concern for researchers as insects build the foundation of many ecosystem services and food webs. My study species, the Tree Swallow, are aerial insectivores that feed on flying insects. We want to know: are insects declining in Massachusetts? and is this decline related to an observed decline in Tree Swallow reproductive success?

Tree Swallow young

To answer these questions we are collecting flying insects this summer to compare to historic data as well as monitoring Tree Swallow reproduction in a Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary.

Insects collected from one of our collection nets

These data will help us gain understanding of the state of insect decline in Massachusetts, without the sensational headlines.