Thursday, November 14, 2019

Stomate Science at the Arnold Arboretum

Posted by Emily Auker

“Every blade in the field – Every leaf in the forest – 
lays down its life in its season as beautifully as it was taken up.” 
Henry David Thoreau

Stomates are pores on a leaf’s surface that provide an interface between the leaf and its surrounding environment by allowing carbon dioxide to enter the leaf and water vapor and oxygen to exit. The density, size, and distribution of stomates on a leaf can impact photosynthetic rates. 

This past spring and summer I took measurements of photosynthetic rates from several species found at the Arnold Arboretum.

Having fun measuring photosynthetic rates!

I also collected leaves from each of the species to take a look at the stomates under the microscope. This can be done using leaf peels, which are made by painting leaf surfaces with clear nail polish, or with bleached leaves which have had the color removed from them.

Here you can see the leaf being measured clamped in the machine

With this project, I’m hoping to find a correlation between the photosynthetic rates and anatomy in leaves found in different light environments around the Arnold Arboretum.

The ovular openings pictured here are stomates under the microscope

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Heat Waves in Brookline

Richard B. Primack and Audrey S. Garon

“Is not all the summer akin to a paradise?”  Henry David Thoreau

This past summer, Brookline experienced a brutal July heat wave with temperatures over 90 degrees four days in a row, reaching a high of 97 degrees.  Heat waves  are increasing worldwide, and are more intense in places like Brookline due to roads, parking lots, and buildings that absorb heat, and fewer trees for shade.

Originally from Texas, Sean Roberts running laps at Amory Park during the July heat wave.

Pete Rittenburg, Director of Athletics at Brookline High School,  says that sports programs adjust by  “avoiding the heat of the day and practicing either in the morning or late afternoon.”

The very hot day does not bother these tennis players, who grew up in Brazil.  

Dr. Swannie Jett, Brookline Health Commissioner, warns that the risk of heart attacks and asthma increases for senior citizens when temperatures go above 85 degrees.

Many people lack air conditioning to deal  with the heat.  Brookline resident, Katie Eng, doesn’t have any air conditioning because “Getting an apartment that comes with winter heating and summer air-conditioning is a luxury that many of us cannot afford.”

Tamara Hurioglu found that during the July heat wave, “Even with four window AC units running all day, it was 89”  in some areas of her top floor apartment.

Caroline and Jake Berchuck, from North Carolina, out walking their dog in the noon sun. 

In coming years, Brookline residents will experience more heat waves because of climate change.  It will be like living in North Carolina or Texas, rather than Massachusetts.

A longer version of this article originally appeared in the Brookline Tab.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Primack Lab in the News

Posted by Richard B. Primack

What have we to do with petty rumbling news? We have our own great affairs. 
Henry David Thoreau. 

Our research on climate change, Thoreau, Walden, sporting events, and plant ecology continues to attract public attention. Here is a sample of articles from the past year:

• Is Climate Change Ruining Fall?
by Marina N. Bolotnikova, Harvard Magazine, 9.26.19
Primack discusses the effects of climate change on fall foliage and New England’s trees.

• Global Warming Clues from Henry David Thoreau
NPR Living on Earth: Week of June 7,  Don Lyman. 2019  
During an interview at Walden Pond, Primack explains how Thoreau’s observations can be used to show the effects of climate change on plants. 

The fire cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) was one of many species for which Henry David Thoreau tracked both the flowering and leafing-out dates more than a century and half ago. (Photo: Dan Mullen, Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Caption: NPR)

• Science and Culture: Journal entries, maps, and photos help ecologists reconstruct ecosystems of the past. 
By Carolyn Beans, PNAS December 26, 2018 
In this article, Primack describes the value of historical documents in detecting the effects of climate change. 

• Tracking climate change through Henry David Thoreau's notes. 
Boston 25 TV News
In this interview on the edge of Walden Pond, Primack talks about using Thoreau’s records in climate change research. 

Primack in a still from the Boston 25 news story

• Undergraduate research at BU – Invent the future. 
In this interview on the BU website, Linnea Smith and Richard Primack explain the value of students working with professors in Boston University’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). 

• How Thoreau’s 19th-Century Observations Are Helping Shape Science Today: For one thing, they tell us that plants aren’t blooming when they used to at Walden Pond—or most anywhere else. 
By Evan Nicole Brown, July 9, 2019, Atlas Obscura 
Atlas Obscura is an on-line magazine with unusual stories about iconic places around the work. In this article, Primack reports on the value of Walden Pond as a climate change indicator. 

A statue of Thoreau with wildflowers 

• New England Is Losing Its Native Plants. Researchers Say It’s Time To Stop And Smell The Wildflowers. 
By Lexi Peery, June 06, 2019, WBUR Radio
In an interview on WBUR Radio, Primack provides an overview of the loss of wildflowers from the forests and protected areas of New England. 

• What Will Climate Change Mean for Your Favorite Marathon?
From surging waters in the Southeast to wildfires in the West, here’s how a warming planet affects your racing.
By Cindy Kuzma, August 28, 2018, Runner's World
Primack describes how a warming climate and weather events affect the running times and experiences of marathon runners. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Science Takes to the Streets

By Tara Miller

"All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to and to resist the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable."
- H.D. Thoreau

On September 20th, kids around the world took to the streets, marching out of classrooms and schools to teach us a lesson. We have not done enough, and we must continually push for bolder, more ambitious action on climate change.

Young students organized, led, and showed up for the Climate Strike in Boston

I was one of 10,000 people in Boston, and 4 million around the world, joining students in their call for stronger action on climate change. 

Protesters march from City Hall

We study how climate change is affecting our ecosystems, but when politicians ignore that science, it is our responsibility to make them listen or to replace them.

Make a difference with how you commute, make a difference with what you buy (or don’t buy!), make a difference with what you eat, make a difference with what you tell your representatives, and for goodness' sake, VOTE.

Protesters arrive at the State House

"You must unite behind the science. You must take action. You must do the impossible. Because giving up can never ever be an option." 
– Greta Thunberg

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Are scientific editors reliable gatekeepers of the publication process?

Posted by Lucy Zipf

The goal of the peer-review process of journals is to make well-founded and consistent decisions and publish high-quality science. The scientific community assumes the publication process is reliable and fair, with the best papers being published only after rigorous review. Scientific editors act as “gatekeepers” in this publishing process, deciding whether a paper is even sent out for peer review, or alternatively “desk rejected”, that is returned to the author without peer review.

The Biological Conservation editorial team often acts as an editorial gatekeeper, as shown in this 2018 photo in front of an actual gate. From left to right:  Danielle Descoteaux (USA, publisher) Richard Primack (USA),Robin Pakeman (UK), Tracey Regan (Australia), Vincent Devictor (France), Richard Corlett (China), Liba Pejchar (USA), Bea Maas (Austria) and David Johns (USA). 

We recently assessed the consistency of editors’ desk decisions and published our findings in Biological Conservation. Ten editors of Biological Conservation evaluated forty manuscripts that had been previously submitted to the journal. 

Frequency of agreement among editors to send to manuscripts for review in 2018 (as a %). The green portion of a bar represents papers that editors sent out for review in 2017, while the red portion represents papers that were desk rejected in 2017. A high agreement indicates that 70-100% editors agreed in 2018 to either reject or review a manuscript. Low agreement indicates 40-60% agreement among 2018 editors. It can be seen that the decisions made in 2017 were largely supported by editors in 2018.

Overall, we found that editors are reasonably consistent in their decisions to send a paper out for review, or to desk reject it, and that they agreed with past decisions. However, disparities in agreement with decisions reveal the unsurprising subjectivity editors bring to the process.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Leaf longevity published!

Posted by Linnea Smith

“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names.”  
Henry David Thoreau. 

Our leaf longevity project for my BU Biology honors thesis and Sarah Pardo’s BU Academy senior thesis has now been published in the international journal Oecologia.  The article, titled “Leaf longevity in temperate evergreen species is related to phylogeny and leaf size” is featured as “Highlighted Student Research.”

In this project we used the living collection of the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts to determine the leaf longevities (LL) of 169 temperate evergreen species. To our knowledge, this is the largest dataset of its kind, collected from one site using a single unified method.

Richard Primack (left) and Linnea Smith (right), demonstrate measuring leaf longevity by counting leaves across different aged branch segments.

We found that LL has a strong phylogenetic component – different genera have different LLs (see the figure below) – and conifers with longer needles tend to have shorter leaf longevities. Of the 169 species we investigated, Labrador tea (Rhododendron tomentosum) had the shortest LL (only 1.4 years); the oldest leaves we found were of Taurus fir (Abies  cilicia), living for an average of 10.5 years.

Different genera of evergreens have very different average leaf longevities, varying from 2 to 6 years. The number of species examined is listed above each genus. From shortest to longest leaf longevity, the genera are Rhododendrons, Ilex (holly), Pinus (pine), Taxus (yew), Tsuga (hemlock), Picea (spruce), and Abies (fir). 

Because leaves play a vital role in the carbon cycle as well as other ecosystem functions, understanding their dynamics (such as LL) is important to better constrain carbon budgets and ecosystem models.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers and Climate Change

By Tara Miller

I saw deep in the eyes of the animals the human soul look out upon me.” 
- Henry David Thoreau 

This summer, I worked with New York wildlife rehabilitation (rehab) centers to study whether rates of diseases are increasing.

A fox with mange, a parasitic disease, at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge
(Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge)

Wendy Hall, co-founder of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington, NY, told me she is seeing more animals afflicted by diseases that used to be rare, like West Nile virus and mange. Increasing rates of disease may be linked to climate change, as warmer temperatures allow disease vectors to move northward.

Wendy Hall with a red-tailed hawk
(Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge)

Could diseases be tracked over time using wildlife rehab records? This was my summer project, tapping into these records and connecting with wildlife people who care for sick animals. The goal is to keep animals, people, and the environment healthier.

A volunteer at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge teaches a group about barn owls
(Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge)

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.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Utah National Parks

Posted by Richard B. Primack

“Should I see life only on the computer I adore?"
               Quoth the Raven "Nevermore."

I have long pondered the beauty of Utah’s spectacular national parks. I have studied photos, watched many videos, and read about their geology; but all on the computer at home. It was time to travel to these western parks and see them for myself.

My son Dan and I visited Utah in early March. We learned that many parks were still in the embrace of winter snow, with many trails still closed, but we were lucky to avoid the crowds. At Arches National Park, we were the objects of curiosity by resident ravens.

Arches National Park features spectacular red sandstone formations, such as this massive arch.

A raven studied us at length and without emotion. Was it even alive?

At Goblin Valley State Park, we were unprepared for the hilarious mudstone formations.

The park was empty except for Dan, myself, and hundreds of goblins.

Bryce and Zion parks were already busy despite still being late winter.

Bryce was full of snow, with most trails closed and relatively few tourists

Bristlecone pines are abundant on ridges at Bryce, and are among the longest living organisms known.

At all parks, park rangers spoke about the challenge of an ever-lengthening tourist season, greater crowds and traffic in summer, and stable and declining funding for staff and programs. To deal with crowds, Zion has a new public transportation system and a ban on cars to prevent traffic jams.

Zion has massive sandstone ridges on either side of the narrow valley.

Be content with living indoors: Nevermore!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Native plants lost in New England and New York

by Richard B. Primack, Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie, Abe Miller-Rushing, and Glen Mittelhauser

“Not until we are completely lost or turned around do we begin to find ourselves.”  
Henry David Thoreau

Earlier this month the UN released its Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services which describes global losses and declines in native species over the past century. Our new study published in Rhodora provides a local example by showing that locations across the New England and New York have lost 25% of their local plant species, on average, over the last 50 to 150 years. Certain plant families, such as orchids and lilies, suffered even higher rates of loss.

Figure 1.  Sites in the Northeast used in this study, and the percent of native species that have been lost.

Every site showed a loss of native species, including well protected areas like Nantucket Island and state parks, such as Middlesex Fells. Even protecting areas as reservations or state or national parks did not prevent the loss of species, though the proportion varied considerably between sites.  The specific causes of the losses are likely a combination of habitat loss, climate change, damage from deer, invasive plant species, and air and water pollution.

Figure 2. Purple fringed orchids have dramatically in abundance in Concord over the past 150 years.

The Northeast is a great place to study changes in plant biodiversity because of the long history of botanical surveys in the region undertaken by professional and citizen scientists. Their records provide the opportunity for contemporary scientists to resurvey the same sites and compare changes. Understanding the changes taking place is essential for managers working to protect these areas and their floras.

As covered by WBUR:  "New England Is Losing Its Native Plants. Researchers Say It’s Time To Stop And Smell The Wildflowers"

The article:  McDonough MacKenzie, C., Mittelhauser, G., Miller-Rushing, A.J. and Primack, R.B., 2019. Floristic change in New England and New York: regional patterns of plant species loss and decline. Rhodora, 121(985), pp.1-36.