ECI Working Groups
By combining perspectives from several disciplines, environmental scientists can better understand the relationships between human activities and the natural world. However, such projects often require longer than usual development times because researchers must absorb the customs, language, and techniques of a new field in order to work productively together.
To address that challenge, the Environmental Change Initiative provides seed funding to interdisciplinary working groups.
Human Presence in Coastal Ecosystems and Paleoenvironments
John M. Marston (Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology),
Warren Prell (Geological Sciences),
Jon Witman (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology)
This working group will take advantage of existing faculty expertise in coastal ecology,
paleoenvironmental studies, and archaeology at Brown to develop new research and teaching collaborations between departments focusing on present and past impacts of human populations on coastal ecosystems. The ultimate goal of this working group is to prepare a 2011 submission to the NSF IGERT program to develop a new interdisciplinary graduate training program between the social, biological, and paleoenvironmental sciences at Brown, the Marine Biological Laboratory, and the URI Graduate School of Oceanography. Proposed working group activities include monthly meetings during the spring semester 2011, culminating in a day-long, on-campus symposium in April or May 2011, featuring two invited keynote speakers (one from social science background, one from a natural science background). Work on the IGERT proposal will continue during the summer for a late-summer or early-fall submission deadline. This working group will support one graduate student during Spring and Summer 2011 to assist in coordinating meetings and the research symposium, and with researching and preparing portions of the IGERT proposal.
July 2012 UPDATE:
The focus of activity in the 2011-2012 academic year was the planning and execution of a one-day symposium, held at Brown on October 8, 2011, to discuss the structure of existing IGERTs at peer institutions and further evaluate the potential for an IGERT at Brown. Guest speakers included Richard Norris of the University of California San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography and
Maribeth Murray of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Department of Anthropology (see full schedule and summary of workshop below).
The secondary focus of working group efforts was additional comparative research on existing IGERTs to identify key features of successful programs that could be implemented at Brown and URI; graduate student research associate Jeff Salacup was the primary researcher on this activity and created an electronic database of information on seven peer programs..
Another outcome was a new interdisciplinary seminar was developed and taught by Marston during the Fall semester of 2011, entitled “The Archaeology and Paleoecology of Coastal and Island Environments” (listed as Archaeology 2255). The course was originally designed for graduate students but enrolled six undergraduate students with backgrounds in archaeology and environmental sciences (see attached syllabi for initial graduate class and for class as taught).
The Archaeology and Paleoecology of Coastal and Island Environments http://www.brown.edu/Courses/uploads/ARCH:2255:2011-Fall:S01.pdf.
Full Report on Human Presence in Coastal Ecosystems and Paleoenvironments working group.
Statistical Methods for the Natural and Social Environmental Sciences
Erika Sudderth (EEB/ECI), Timmons Roberts, CES and Sociology), Meredith Hastings (Geology), Jon Witman (EEB), Sheila Walsh, ECI post-doc (EEB and Economics), James Hull, ECI post-doc (Population Studies and Training Center), Mac Marston, post-doc (Joukowsky Institute)
The aim of the proposed working group is to bring together researchers from the natural
and social sciences to discuss statistical approaches used in the respective fields.
Understanding the data and analysis requirements of different research fields is
essential for productive interdisciplinary collaboration. We will develop online tutorials for
the most relevant statistical topics that will be made available to researchers at Brown.
We will also develop a new course on statistical methods for the natural and social
environmental sciences, to provide students with training in the analytical approaches
used in both disciplines. There is not currently a statistics course taught at Brown that
integrates the statistical methods used in natural and social environmental science
research. The products of the proposed working group will make statistical methods
used in environmental research more accessible to the Brown community.
July 2012 UPDATE:
ENVS1100: Statistical Methods for the Natural and Social Environmental Sciences, was offered in Spring 2012 semester. 30 students participated.
A Comparison of the Socio-Ecological Causes and Effects of the
Agricultural and Aquacultural Revolutions.
PI's: Leila Sievanen, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Center for Environmental Studies and Sheila Walsh, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Environmental Change Initiative.
This working group centers on three questions relating the contemporary aquacultural revolution with the agricultural revolution of the past centuries and addresses cultural and economic as well as environmental impacts. key questions are:
Why has the shift to aquaculture occurred?
What are the social impacts of the shift to aquaculture?
Does the pursuit of aquaculture make communities more resilient to climate change or other disturbances?
OUTCOMES: Produced a database of over 100 case studies (through a literature review) describing social impacts of aquaculture in developing and developed countries, which will be publicly available upon completion. Work is ongoing. By applying descriptive statistics to the resulting metadata set, Walsh and Sievanen hope to determine which characteristics of aquaculture projects lead to increased social resilience.
Evaluating the use of fishermen’s logbooks as a window on the ‘Anthropocene’ era in southern New England
PI: Caroline Karp, with partners from CT Sea Grant, MIT Sea Grant and the US Coast Guard Academy.
The working group will evaluate a cluster of fishermen’s personal logbooks to see whether they contain reliable longterm fisheries, oceanographic and climate observations that could be used to better understand some of the ecological consequences of climate change in southern New England waters. Preliminary results collected as part of a pilot project in summer 2009 indicate that many fishermen working in southern New England waters have kept detailed personal logbooks covering many decades on the water. These logbooks might provide historically important records of trends in species’ distribution, size, abundance and behavior relative to evidence of human impacts on the marine environment. If so, they would supplement ‘status and trends’ monitoring data collected by industry, government and academia.
Conservation Medicine Working Group (2010)
PI's: Katherine Smith, Assistant Research Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Mark Lurie, Assistant Professor, Community Health and Medicine; and Stephen T. McGarvey, Professor, Community Health and Medicine & Anthropology.
This renewal of the 2009 conservation medicine working group will support a small group of CMG students and faculty working on three highly focused research questions emerging from last year's deiscussions:
- Relative to other threats, where does infectious disease rank as a cause of global species extinctions?
- How do pathogens emerge and how do the pathways to emergence vary with environmental drivers?
- Relative to identified environmental drivers, what does the best available evidence say about HIV/AIDS as the cause of increased disease emergence since 1980
Question 1: Disease as a threat to species extinction: Undergraduate Kelsey Ripp is submitting a paper Disease on the Road to Species Extinction to Conservation Biology. Co-authors are Kate Smith and Matt Heard. the paper's key finding is that, while less than 4% of mammals birds and amphibians in the IUCN's Red LIst of threatened species have evidence of an infectious disease threat, the percentage of birds and amphibians facing an infectious disease increases as a species approaches extinction.
A second paper: Examining the Evidence for Chytridiomycosis in Threatened Amphibian Species, authored by graduate student Matt Heard, Kate Smith and Kelsey Ripp, will appear soon in PLoS One.
Question 2:How Pathogens Emerge. A paper:The Pathways to Disease Emergence: A New Framework for EID Meta-Analysis, is in preparation for the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. Authors are undergraduate Sam Rosenthal, along with Rick Ostfeld (IES), Steve McGarvey (Community Health) and undergraduate Sarah Rappaport. The paper introduces a novel conceptual model (Figure 1 below) for incorporating ‘pathways’ into future prediction models for emerging pathogens.
Question 3: AIDS as a driver of global disease emergence. The complexity of the topic proved to be too great for the time allotted, but the process of identifying potential data sources and approaches to testing really helped develop a coherent and intellectually confident group.
Phenology, the Carbon Cycle, and Climate Change
PI's: Jim Tang (MBL) & Johanna Schmitt (EEB and ECI). Co-I's Jack Mustard, geological Sciences, Dov Sax, EEB.
This extension of the 2009 phenology working group will focus on preparing a paper that reviews the current knowledge in phenology, the carbon cycle, and climate change, points out the knowledge gap, and emphasizes the importance of the linkage. The paper will lay the groundwork for an NSF proposal to link Schmitt's phenological model with an existing ecosystem carbon-nutrient model and further develop a collaboration with MBL reserachers on a in-situ manipulation of temperature, rainfall, CO2 concentration and N levels.
OUTCOMES: In addition to the graduate seminar developed in the 2009 phenology working group (Plants in a Changing Planet), the 2010 extension continued to fund pilot work deploying cameras in oak forests on Martha's Vineyand. The camera and sensor network provides continuous observations of leaf size and color, together with temperature and light observations, helping to determine the drivers of leaf emergence in systems where green-up date can vary by more than 50 days over less than one mile.
Pilot data collected on the working group grant formed the basis for the Keck Foundation pre-proposal in summer 2011.
Working Group Description: Organized by Kate Smith, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Mark Lurie, Assistant Professor of Community Health, the conservation medicine working group sponsored a series of guest speakers (including Craig Packer, Kevin Laffery, Linda Amaral-Zettler and Rebecca Hardin), a bi-weekly discussion group, and a research symposium.
OUTCOME: This year-long activity solidified a group of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates working across departments and divisions to understand the interactions of ecosystem, human, and wildlife health and led to the formation of Brown's Conservation Medicine group.
Amazon Cropland Frontier
Working Group Description: Organized by Chris Neill, senior scientist at the Ecosystem Center of the Marine Biological Laboratory, and Leah VanWey, associate professor of sociology, the amazon cropland frontiers working group is collecting pilot data on the factors that influence land use decisions by agricultural landowners at the edge of the Amazon forest and how those decisions affect water quality, air pollution, soil erosion, and fire risk. More>>
OUTCOMES: The Amazon Cropland Frontier working group met for about a year, developing project and proposal concepts.
- Ultimately, the group submitted a successful proposal to the National Science Foundation PIRE program (Partnerships in International Research and Education) for project working on marginal lands in Africa. PIRE: Land Use, Ecosystem Services and Human Wellbeing.
- Another proposal to NASA - Rates and Drivers of Land Use Land Cover Change in the Agricultural Frontier of Mato Grosso, Brazil, led by Leah VanWey and Jack Mustard, also grew out of the working group.
- A successful proposal to the International Affairs Seed fund is launching new work on The Socioeconomic Impacts of "Green" Energy in the Amazon
Working Group Description: Species can adapt to a changing climate by moving the geographic range in which they live or through genetic and behavioral responses to an altered growing season. Current predictions of species ranges under climate change usually consider these two factors separately but each depends strongly on the other. Regan Early and Amity Wilczek, both postdoctoral fellows, have received funding through ECI to write a review paper summarizing the available knowledge regarding phenological adaptation to climate change and how species distribution model (SDM) predictions might be altered by inclusion of phenological data.
OUTCOMES: Paper is in preparation.
Phenology and Climate Change
Working Group Description:Understanding the seasonal timing (phenology) of biological events such as bud burst, dormancy, flowering time, and fruit set is crucial for understanding ecosystem structure, function, services, and their response to climate change. For example, Zhang et al. (2007) have observed significant changes in the timing of vegetation greenup induced by recent warming. On the other hand, phenological shifts also feedback to the climate system through changing the global carbon cycle and energy balance. The lengthened growing season may increase photosynthetic carbon uptake. At the same time, increased temperature may increase respiratory carbon emissions. Earlier snow melting and bud burst may alter water cycles and surface albedo. These shifts in the timing, length, and pattern of feedbacks may trigger the change of the whole system, including physical events (e.g. ocean and atmospheric circulation and fluxes and precipitation pattern), biological events (e.g., species composition, migration, food web, competition, etc.), and human activities (e.g., crop harvest, forest yield, etc.).
Remote sensing data on vegetation phenology are available at a range of scales and are being used to test climatic phenology models. The development of the USA National Phenology network (http://www.usanpn.org/) provides new opportunities to access diverse data sets across scales.
This working group is organized by Jim Tang, assistant scientist in the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory; Johanna Schmitt, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the Environmental Change Initiative; and Jack Mustard, professor of geological sciences. ECI funds will support a one-day workshop exploring opportunities to integrate the study of phenology across multiple scales from genomic through microbial to ecosystem, regional, and global scales.
OUTCOMES: The phenology working group met regularly throughout 2009, exploring possible joint projects. the collaboration has led to:
- A graduate seminar, Plants in a Changing Planet, taught by Johanna Schmitta and Amity Wilczek, with guest lectures by Jim Tang
- An Ideas and Perspectives article in Evolutionary Ecology: Identifying potential evolutionary consequences of climate-driven phenological shifts, by graduate students Matt Heard, Shelby Riskin, and Patrick Flight
- A pilot project installing phenology-observing cameras in Oak forest on Martha's Vineyard
- A successful OVPR Seed fund proposal to study comparative phenology and carbon cycling in the northeastern US and in comparable ecosystems in China
In between “weather” and “climate” lie a number of climate phenomena that cause departures in temperature and rainfall from average values. The best-known examples of these anomalies are the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and North Atlantic Oscillation (timescales of 4-7 years and 8-15 years, respectively). The presence of climate anomalies on this time scale affect planning decisions: what appear to be trends over several years and perhaps decades may in fact be part of a natural (and only partially predictable) cycle which will return to another state shortly.
Jim Russell, an assistant professor of geological sciences is taking the lead on a working group that will develop a one-day workshop evaluating the potential for social-natural science collaborations on several related questions:
- Is the spectrum of variability tilted toward rare but powerful events?
- How do variable conditions (freeze-thaw cycles, wet-dry cycles) change ecosystem feedbacks and human decision making?
- How much climate variability is internal to the climate system (El Niño) vs. externally caused (volcanic eruptions)?
- Some regions have inherently higher degrees of climate variability, and this variability may not match well to social resilience. How might policymakers assess and mitigate the risks associated with this mismatch?
- How do human perceptions of risk and variability affect their ability to respond effectively to a changing climate?
Understanding the coupling between highly dynamic coastal ecosystems and human behavior and policy at the local scale is a major challenge. Heather Leslie, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and environmental studies is working with Linda Deegan, senior scientist in the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory, and Michael White, director of the Populations Studies and Training Center and professor of sociology, to develop a one-day workshop exploring how the distribution and behavior of coastal zone residents affects the functioning and resilience of coastal ecosystems.