Emerging infection could easily spread to U.S. amphibians

From the New York Times

An emerging infection similar to one that has caused the extinction of hundreds of frog and toad species around the world is killing salamanders in Europe and could easily spread to the United States, with disastrous effects, scientists reported Thursday.

Writing in the journal Science, an international team of 27 researchers blamed the spread of the disease on “globalization and a lack of biosecurity” and said the importation of the fire-bellied newt in the pet trade with Asia was the likely cause.

The lead researcher, An Martel of Ghent University in Belgium, said in an interview that Europe and the United States needed to start screening amphibians in the pet trade.

“When animals are traded, they should be screened,” Dr. Martel said. “It should involve the world.”

Other scientists agreed. “We need to pay attention to this paper,” said Vance T. Vredenburg of San Francisco State University, one of the scientists who has sounded the alarm about the extinction of hundreds of frog and toad species worldwide over the last four decades.

“We need to think about biosecurity not just in terms of humans and food that we eat and crops that we grow,” he said. “We need to think about functioning ecosystems.”

Reversing course on beavers

From the New York Times, by Jim Robbins

BUTTE, Mont. — Once routinely trapped and shot as varmints, their dams obliterated by dynamite and bulldozers, beavers are getting new respect these days. Across the West, they are being welcomed into the landscape as a defense against the withering effects of a warmer and drier climate.

Beaver dams, it turns out, have beneficial effects that can’t easily be replicated in other ways. They raise the water table alongside a stream, aiding the growth of trees and plants that stabilize the banks and prevent erosion. They improve fish and wildlife habitat and promote new, rich soil.

And perhaps most important in the West, beaver dams do what all dams do: hold back water that would otherwise drain away.

“People realize that if we don’t have a way to store water that’s not so expensive, we’re going to be up a creek, a dry creek,” said Jeff Burrell, a scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bozeman, Mont. “We’ve lost a lot with beavers not on the landscape.”

For thousands of years, beavers, which numbered in the tens of millions in North America, were an integral part of the hydrological system. “The valleys were filled with dams, as many as one every hundred yards,” Mr. Burrell said. “They were pretty much continuous wetlands.”

But the population plummeted, largely because of fur trapping, and by 1930 there were no more than 100,000 beavers, almost entirely in Canada. Lately the numbers have rebounded to an estimated six million.

Now, even as hydroelectric and reservoir dams are coming under fire for their wholesale changes to the natural environment, an appreciation for the benefits of beaver dams — even artificial ones — is on the rise.

Experts have long known of the potential for beaver dams to restore damaged landscapes, but in recent years the demand has grown so rapidly that government agencies are sponsoring a series of West Coast workshops and publishing a manual on how to attract beavers.

“We can spend a lot of money doing this work, or we can use beavers for almost nothing,” Mr. Burrell said.

Beavers are ecosystem engineers. As a family moves into new territory, the rodents drop a large tree across a stream to begin a new dam, which also serves as their lodge. They cover it with sticks, mud and stones, usually working at night. As the water level rises behind the dam, it submerges the entrance and protects the beavers from predators.

This pooling of water leads to a cascade of ecological changes. The pond nourishes young willows, aspens and other trees — prime beaver food — and provides a haven for fish that like slow-flowing water. The growth of grass and shrubs alongside the pond improves habitat for songbirds, deer and elk.

Moreover, because dams raise underground water levels, they increase water supplies and substantially lower the cost of pumping groundwater for farming.

Read more of this article at the New York Times.

“I”, “T”, and “Pi” as metaphors for graduate education

In my role as Vice President and Dean for Graduate School at Virginia Tech, I have thought a lot about transforming graduate education in general and more specifically about preparation in an academic area as well as preparation for career(s) after degree completion.  The graduate dean should think about these things and create opportunities and programs for graduate students to enhance their preparation for success in the career options they can pursue following degree completion. Academic area mentioned above does not mean simply discipline or department but rather encompassing departments, programs and includes multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary areas of study.  And careers refer to academic and careers outside academe and the fact that graduates should expect a lifetime of career changes.

Many of us in higher education often make reference to the “I” educated or the “T” educated individuals. The “I” has been used to refer to depth in the discipline and the “T” offering breadth beyond the depth within the discipline. Breadth can be understood in terms of going beyond one’s discipline moving toward multi or interdisciplinary thinking.  Breadth can also be interpreted as moving toward a more holistic education that of a well rounded person.  Although applicable to graduate education, this breadth has been associated more commonly within the undergraduate experience; education in a discipline plus educational opportunities beyond one’s major(s).

I have reflected on the “I” and the “T” in the context of and advocating for interdisciplinary graduate education.  In a blog post entitled “interdisciplinary thinking, Pi and adaptive innovators”, I introduced the Pi symbol as a visual representation of interdisciplinary thinking and adaptive innovators.

Pi is primarily understood as a mathematical constant or a Greek letter.  Much has been written about Pi in those contexts but I use it here as a symbol of and metaphor for interdisciplinarity.   As shown above, the symbol Pi includes three lines: two vertical lines and one line across the top of the two vertical lines.  Beyond the straight line, each of these lines has an additional feature at one end.

I find the visual compelling in its simplicity.  Interdisciplinary thinking and education requires depth in one of more disciplines of study and the ability to integrate across the disciplines.  There must be a firm foundation (wider base) grounded in the knowledge within a discipline and a strong connection (anchor, hook) into the academic field(s) of study.  The horizontal line provides the link between the academic pillars.  Specifically, this line represents the link that facilitates meaningful connections between (among) the academic areas of study, integrates knowledge and understanding across the disciplines and extends beyond the pillars of the disciplines to situate knowledge and understanding in the societal context.

Societal context is important.  Academic leaders need to acknowledge and confirm the underlying principle and purpose of higher education “to educate” but we must also be mindful of the need to implement programs that incorporate the knowledge, skills and abilities for success in the work place. Reports from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) support and encourage interdisciplinary graduate education. Two additional reports from Educational Testing Services (ETS) and Council of Graduate Schools (CGS)  articulate clearly the responsibility of Graduate Schools to prepare graduates for the professoriate and careers outside academe.report pathreportcover





In our ongoing efforts to transform graduate education (and higher education), academic leaders should continue to support “I” and “T” education and we must definitely encourage more “Pi”-educated individuals.  The universities for the 21st century need scholars who have the depth, breadth, and integrated interdisciplinary perspectives to address the complex problems facing us in 21st century.

IGC Students attend the installation of President Sands

International students Angie Estrada and Daniel Medina, fellows in the Interfaces of Global Change IGEP, attended the recent installation ceremonies for Virginia Tech’s new president, Dr. Timothy Sands. Burruss Hall was awash in a riot of colorful flags for this special occasion. The Cranwell International Center displayed their entire international flag collection, which honors the 3,000+ international students at Virginia Tech and represents the 128 nations from which they hail.

In no time at all, Angie and Daniel found the flag of their home country, Panama!

Welcome President Sands!

Click to view slideshow.

Emmanual Frimpong: a Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow

From VT News

Emmanuel Frimpongemmanual, associate professor of fisheries science and a faculty member in the Interfaces of Global Change IGEP, has been named a Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow.

The scholar program, which supports 100 short-term faculty fellowships for African-born academics, is offered by the Institute of International Education and funded by a two-year grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The prestigious Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow program is limited to African-born individuals currently living in the United States or Canada and working in higher education. Fellows engage in educational projects proposed and hosted by faculty of higher education institutions in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda.

The fellowship will give him the opportunity to spend an extended period of time in his home country of Ghana, collaborating with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology to develop aquaculture, fisheries, and water resources management curricula and to conduct research on aquaculture development for food security and the conservation of fish and fisheries.

According to Dr. Frimpong, the fellowship is:

“validation of what I have worked very hard to accomplish — to be a significant contributor to research and development in Ghana and sub-Saharan Africa. With three months in Ghana, I hope to have more time to see problems up close and contribute my expertise substantively to the solutions. Finding ways to solve immediate problems of humanity with the scientific knowledge and tools we have now motivates me. If the people of sub-Saharan Africa can be taught to manage their natural resources well, they will have the resources they need now and for future generations.”

Read the complete article at VT News.


New Course: Theories of Globalization

Economies and Ecologies of Planetary Change

PSCI 6204/ASPT 6014
Spring Semester
Thursdays, 5:00-8:00 p.m.

This 3-credit course will theorize globalization from an inter-disciplinary perspective, with special focus on the relationship between economy and ecology at the planetary scale.  How has the globalization of industrial capitalism over the past two and half centuries impacted our planet and how are we to understand the political, cultural, and social dimensions of this ongoing transformation?  What roles do humans play in shaping non-human life on the planet, and vice versa?

The topics we will examine include the following:

  • Globalization theory
  • Biopolitics and late-capitalism
  • Planetary urbanization
  • Eco-critique and the anthropocene
  • The politics of resource extraction
  • Extincting and global climate change
  • Fragile and resurgent ecologies

Students will write a research paper based on the seminar readings and discussions.

The course will be taught by Dr. Rohan Kalyan.  Kalyan’s research examines the intersections of globalization and urbanization in the developing world. His work integrates political economy, urban studies, visual ethnography, and post-colonial theory; and incorporates documentary filmmaking.

Download the flyer

New Course- Biology 6064: Freshwaters in the Anthropocene

BIOL 6064: Spring Semester 2015
2 credits- M/W 9:05-9:55am

FlyerForDistribution_BIOL6064Dr. Cayelan Carey is teaching a new special topics graduate course in the spring, ‘Freshwaters in the Anthropocene,’ which will be centered on reading discussions of research papers and policy-related documents (e.g., the EU Water Framework Directive), as well as a few in-class modeling exercises and lectures.  The overall goal of the course is to examine the effects and interactions of altered climate, eutrophication, invasive species, and unsustainable withdrawal on ecosystem function in lakes and streams, as well as the implications for future human use.

The capstone of the course will be writing an independent research proposal on a freshwater/Anthropocene-themed topic of the student’s choice and debating it in an in-class review panel.  Dr. Carey hopes that these proposals will serve as a seed for future NSF GFRP, EPA Star, or NSF DDIG applications.

See the flyer for more information

Rhododendrons, nitrogen cycling, and global change

From VT News:

Global change research in Jeb Barrett’s lab is featured this week in VT News :

“How important is the soil beneath our feet to what grows above it? 

The short answer is very, according to Virginia Tech’s Mahtaab Bagherzadeh of Annandale, Virginia, a senior majoring in biological sciences in the College of Science and a 2014 Fralin Life Science InstituteSummer Undergraduate Research Fellow.

Bagherzadeh recently participated in a study that discovered invading rhododendrons affect the nitrogen cycle and surrounding plant communities.

In recent decades, rhododendron, an evergreen shrub that grows in large thick patches, has expanded in areas where there has been loss of other plant species. These species, which include hemlocks and chestnuts, have died off due to invasive pests. In particular, the rhododendron beats out other species because of its control over nitrogen, a chemical element essential for plant growth.

“What we have seen is that rhododendron acts like a native invader because it comes into places where hemlock has died off, and it takes over the soil because of its influence on the nitrogen cycle,” said Jeb Barrett, associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate, and Bagherzadeh’s fellowship advisor.

Under Barrett’s guidance, Bagherzadeh investigated how the rhododendron invasion has affected soil ecosystems and nutrient cycling by comparing areas of land with dense rhododendron to areas with little to none.”

Read the entire article at VT News.

This story was written by Cassandra Hockman, communications assistant at the Fralin Life Science Institute.

Human sprawl is usually a threat to wildlife, but…

John M. Marzluff’s new book, “Welcome to Subirdia“, just published by Yale University Press, discusses research on how urbanization affects birds, why bird diversity is often highest around our settlements, how we can celebrate and maintain this diversity, and especially why we need to value the biodiversity where we live, work, and play if we are to save it in far-away places.

His basic arguments can also be found in a new essay just available from Aeon Magazine (http://aeon.co/magazine/society/how-urbanisation-can-be-a-friend-to-birds/).  Here is an excerpt:

“The diversity of life in my yard and those of my neighbours seems to defy the fact that the loss of natural space to urban sprawl endangers plants and animals across the globe. Intrigued by how our presence simultaneously stimulates and threatens life, especially birdlife, I set out to discover what happens when we clear forests or pave fields to expand our living space. Together with my graduate students at the University of Washington and an army of technicians, I rose early each summer morning, beginning in 1998, and stood among the forests, suburbs and work places of Seattle and its neighbouring cities. For more than a decade, we used a standard research approach to count each bird heard or seen near us. And we caught and banded thousands of birds to track their survival and nesting success.

The first years of counting reaffirmed what I witnessed in my yard. The variety of birds in suburbs and exurbs was unsurpassed. Even the nearby forest reserves we used as ‘control sites’ – places where we expected nature to thrive – were less diverse than lightly developed areas. City centres were home to only a few species, as we anticipated, but even here birdlife was inspiring – peregrine falcons plied the skies, while crows and gulls ruled the streets. In the small fragments of forest left in and around subdivisions, some of the birds we counted were disappearing; however, others lived long lives in healthy and sustainable populations.”

Read the entire article here.

John M. Marzluff is a professor of Forest Sciences at the University of Washington.