Piping Plovers Losing Breeding Habitat to Wetland Drainage
By OC_Web@usgs.gov (Office of Communications and Publishing) from USGS Newsroom. Published on Nov 19, 2015.Summary: Piping plovers, a federally threatened species of shorebirds, are likely losing wetland breeding habitat in the Great Plains as a result of wetland drainage, climate change or both, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study
Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-202-4765 );
Piping plovers, a federally threatened species of shorebirds, are likely losing wetland breeding habitat in the Great Plains as a result of wetland drainage, climate change or both, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study.
“Our findings suggest that if drainage continues, there will be continued declines in the amount of breeding habitat for piping plovers at wetlands in the Great Plains,” said Lisa McCauley, who led the study as a USGS postdoctoral student and currently works at The Nature Conservancy. “Managers can use information from our study to better restore and conserve valuable wetland ecosystems for the protection of this species.”
The USGS scientists analyzed piping plover survey data from 1979 to 2011 for 32 wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota. They found that consolidation drainage, or the drainage of smaller wetlands into another wetland—typically for agricultural purposes—results in fewer and fuller wetlands with less shoreline nesting space for piping plovers.
According to the study, the probability of plover presence was 99.6 percent greater for wetlands located in undrained watersheds when compared to wetlands where 10 percent of the watershed was drained.
Piping plovers breed on wetland or reservoir shorelines and river sandbars in the northern Great Plains of the United States and Canada. Climate varies across this area, so when river or reservoir shorelines are flooded, unflooded prairie wetlands can provide habitat and vice versa. Consolidation drainage contributes to habitat loss for plovers by making wetlands fuller and shorelines smaller.
Like consolidation drainage, the fate of plover habitat is also tied to potential changes in climate. If precipitation increases in this region, the amount of wetland habitat for plovers could continue to decline.
“High and stable water levels resulting from consolidation drainage threaten biodiversity, wildlife habitat and flood storage in the northern Great Plains,” said Michael Anteau, a USGS scientist and team leader for the project. “This work on a federally listed species provides managers with a more complete view of ecosystem services affected by consolidation drainage.”
For more information on USGS ecosystems research in the Prairie Pothole Region, please visit the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center website.
US Topo Maps Reach Milestone
By OC_Web@usgs.gov (Office of Communications and Publishing) from USGS Newsroom. Published on Nov 19, 2015.Summary: With the release of new US Topo maps for Illinois and South Dakota, the USGS has completed the second, three-year cycle of revising and updating electronic US Topo quadrangles. This means that since late 2009, the USGS has published nearly every map in the conterminous U.S., twice
Updated Illinois and South Dakota maps completes second National Map revision cycle
With the release of new US Topo maps for Illinois and South Dakota, the USGS has completed the second, three-year cycle of revising and updating electronic US Topo quadrangles. This means that since late 2009, the USGS has published nearly every map in the conterminous U.S., twice.
“The USGS and NGP are proud of our history and legacy of topographic mapping in the US,” said Mike Tischler, director of the USGS National Geospatial Program. “This latest cycle of US Topo production is a testament to the professionalism and capability of our staff and keeps that legacy alive. We've revised more than 110,000 maps in the last six years to include higher quality data across the country, and have been able to deliver those maps in an easy to use format to suit the diverse needs of our users. While reaching the end of the second-cycle is an important achievement, we look forward to the next cycle of US Topo production, and investigating emerging technologies to better serve the needs of the country.”
In the past 12 months, the production staff of the NGP has updated, revised and loaded 18,767 US Topo quads covering 18 states. That equates to the assembly, inspection and loading of nearly 75 maps per working day. Additionally, the staff created more than 635 new 1:24,000 scale maps for Alaska, as part of the Alaska Mapping Initiative. All of the new US Topo maps are digital and offered for free download, as the USGS no longer prints topographic maps using traditional printing technologies.
Other improvements to the state maps in the second-cycle include the inclusion of National Scenic Trails, “crowdsourced” trail data from the International Mountain Bike Association, increased parcel land data (PLSS), and most recently, trail data from the U.S. Forest Service.
The complete new map sets for Illinois and South Dakota join Maine, Alabama, Arizona, Nebraska, Nevada, Missouri, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Wyoming, and Florida as revised states for fiscal year 2015.
All of these new US Topo maps replace the first edition US Topo maps and are available for no-cost file download from The National Map, the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website , and several other USGS applications.
The first three-year production cycle ended in September 2012, and the second cycle ended in September 2015.
To compare change over time, scans of legacy USGS topo maps, some dating back to the late 1800s, can be downloaded from the USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection.
Find more information on US Topo maps online.
|This graphic represents the planned US Topo map production schedule for the next three- year revision cycle. The US Topo project repackages data from national GIS (geographic Information system) databases as traditional maps, primarily for the benefit of non-GIS users. Unlike traditional topographic maps, US Topo maps are mass-produced from secondary sources, on a programmed refresh cycle, using the best available data at the time of production. (high resolution image 1.96 MB)||As a result of the inclusion of selected National Scenic Trail data on the US Topo maps, 13 state map series now feature National Scenic Trails, and more will be added in the coming months. These trails have been established by Congress to provide for maximum outdoor recreation potential and for the conservation and enjoyment of nationally significant scenic, historic, natural, and cultural qualities of the area through which such trails may pass.
There are 11 National Scenic Trails:
Estimates of Undiscovered Copper in Middle East Ten Times Current World Production
By OC_Web@usgs.gov (Office of Communications and Publishing) from USGS Newsroom. Published on Nov 18, 2015.Summary: More than 180 million metric tons of undiscovered copper resources may be found in an area of the Middle East that covers Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, western Pakistan and southwestern Afghanistan, according to a recent assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey
More than 180 million metric tons of undiscovered copper resources may be found in an area of the Middle East that covers Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, western Pakistan and southwestern Afghanistan, according to a recent assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey. This estimate is ten times the current annual world production for copper.
This region, the site of the ancient Tethys Sea, has a long history of mining copper, producing 420,000 metric tons in 2011 alone.
“In an area known more for its oil, there’s a bounty of a mineral both critically and strategically important to the world’s economy,” said Larry Meinert, Program Coordinator of the USGS Mineral Resources Program. “Copper plays a vital role in all parts of our lives, from our coinage to musical instruments to our high-end electronics.”
This copper assessment is a synthesis of available information about where copper mineral deposits are known and suspected in the Earth’s crust and estimates of amounts of copper that may be present in undiscovered deposits. This assessment is part of a broader effort at assessing global mineral resources. Global totals of copper are estimated to be about 3,600 million metric tons of undiscovered resources.
Copper is an important resource in the United States. In 2014, the United States consumed about 1.8 million metric tons of copper, while global consumption tallied about 20 million metric tons.
The United States currently has about 35 million metric tons of copper reserves, with an estimated 550 million metric tons in estimated undiscovered resources. The country with the largest reserves is Chile, with 209 million metric tons of reserves in 2014.
Copper plays a significant role in many parts of the U.S. economy. Its more common uses are in power generation and transmission, as well as electronics, such as smartphones. It’s also prominent in automobiles, with the average car containing nearly a mile of copper wiring.
Some of copper’s less-known but still important roles are its use in frequently touched surfaces (such as brass doorknobs), where copper’s antimicrobial properties reduce the transfer of germs and disease. It’s also used quite extensively in alloys with other metals, such as the brass in musical instruments or the copper-nickel alloy used to prevent barnacles from attaching to ship hulls.
This assessment can be found online. The USGS Mineral Resources Program delivers unbiased science and information to understand mineral resource potential, production, consumption, and how minerals interact with the environment. To keep up-to-date on USGS mineral research, follow us on Twitter!
|A map of the area covered in the assessment. Figure Credit: USGS (High resolution image)|
Collect Points - Get The Patch
By OC_Web@usgs.gov (Office of Communications and Publishing) from USGS Newsroom. Published on Nov 18, 2015.Summary: Using crowdsourcing techniques, the USGS project known as The National Map Corps (TNMCorps) encourages volunteer “citizen scientists” to collect manmade structure data such as police stations, schools, hospitals and cemeteries, in an effort to provide more precise and authoritative spatial data for the USGS web-based mapping portal known as The National Map
The USGS National Map Corps will award special edition patches for volunteers contributing 2,016 points between GIS Day 2015 and GIS Day 2016
|The image shows one of many possible badge designs. The final design will be selected in the coming months.(High resolution image)|
Using crowdsourcing techniques, the USGS project known as The National Map Corps (TNMCorps) encourages volunteer “citizen scientists” to collect manmade structure data such as police stations, schools, hospitals and cemeteries, in an effort to provide more precise and authoritative spatial data for the USGS web-based mapping portal known as The National Map.
In celebration of these common passions and in honor of GIS Day and International Map Year, TNMCorps is encouraging volunteers to edit 2,016 features between GIS Day 2015 and GIS Day 2016. Each of those submitted edits are worth a point. Volunteers who contribute 2,016 edits and thus earning 2,016 points between November 18, 2015 and November 16, 2016 will be awarded with a special edition collectable embroidered patch.
“We’re excited about this ambitious challenge to our current and new National Map Corps members,” said Julia Fields, Deputy Director of the USGS National Geospatial Program, “and we are looking forward to seeing the patches on backpacks and jackets!”
Volunteer map editors are a fundamental component of TNMCorps and are critical to the success of the project. The project started in 2012, and since that time, an increasing number of volunteers have verified, edited, deleted, and created more than 160,000 structures points.
Volunteering for TNMCorps is a great way for folks to get involved in building maps for their communities and the nation. Volunteers not only increase their geographic knowledge through the process, they make a significant contribution to the nation’s wealth of publicly available geographic information. TNMCorps volunteers are some of the many individuals who share a passion for geography, cartography and collaborative mapping initiatives.
"Having a patch to display my contribution to The National Map would be the perfect incentive for me to reach 2,016 submissions,” said Mattson Fields, a volunteer patch designer. “What a great way to break the ice and introduce The National Map Corps to friends and acquaintances."
All you need is access to the internet and willingness to learn. If you are interested in becoming a Volunteer Map Editor and/or participating in this initiative, please visit The National Map Corps for more information.
Follow progress and updates at The National Map Twitter #TNMCorps, @gisday, @mapyear
Cause of Deadly Disease in Snakes Identified
By OC_Web@usgs.gov (Office of Communications and Publishing) from USGS Newsroom. Published on Nov 17, 2015.Summary: The fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola is the definitive cause of the skin infections in snakes known as snake fungal disease, or SFD, according to U.S. Geological Survey research published today in the journal mBio
The fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola is the definitive cause of the skin infections in snakes known as snake fungal disease, or SFD, according to U.S. Geological Survey research published today in the journal mBio.
Wild snakes are valuable because they consume pests that damage agricultural crops, prey on rodents that can carry disease and serve as food for many predatory animals. However, some snake populations in the midwestern and eastern United States have declined since 2006 as a result of SFD, which produces thickened skin, ulcers and blisters. New USGS research provides the first direct evidence that O. ophiodiicola causes SFD, documents how the disease progresses and reveals how snakes respond to the infection.
“The loss of certain snake species in eastern North America could have widespread negative impacts on ecosystems,” said Jeffrey Lorch, a USGS National Wildlife Health Center scientist and the lead author of the study. “Pinpointing the SFD-causing fungus can help conserve snake populations threatened by this disease.”
The scientists infected eight healthy captive-bred corn snakes with O. ophiodiicola in the laboratory. Within days after exposure to the fungus, all snakes developed swelling followed by lesions identical to those observed in wild snakes with SFD. These lesions contained the same fungus to which the animals were exposed. Snakes that were not infected in the laboratory did not develop lesions and did not harbor O. ophiodiicola.
Most snakes responded to the fungus by repeatedly molting 15 to 20 days after exposure, but the disease caused potentially lethal behaviors that could increase their risk for predation or starvation in the wild. For example, infected snakes rested in exposed areas of their cages and some snakes were reluctant to eat. The uninfected snakes acted normally.
“These behaviors are uncharacteristic of healthy snakes and demonstrate how SFD can put snakes at risk in the wild,” Lorch said. “Climate change could promote growth of O. ophidiodiicola and hinder recovery from SFD because snake immunity is highly dependent on environmental conditions.”
O. ophiodiicola has consistently been found on snakes with SFD, but this new study is the first to prove that the fungus is the actual cause of the disease. The USGS has confirmed SFD in at least seven species of snakes in nine states: Illinois, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
For more information on SFD, please visit the USGS National Wildlife Health Center website.
Arctic Tundra Fire Causes Widespread Permafrost Landscape Changes
By OC_Web@usgs.gov (Office of Communications and Publishing) from USGS Newsroom. Published on Nov 12, 2015.Summary: Large and severe tundra fires cause top down permafrost thaw, playing a major role in altering Arctic landscapes according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey
|A photo from the study area acquired in August 2015 showing thermokarst development manifest as a network of troughs forming over degrading ice wedges (left). Comparison between the two airborne LiDAR data showing permafrost terrain subsidence in the aftermath of a large and severe Arctic tundra fire. (High resolution image)|
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Large and severe tundra fires cause top down permafrost thaw, playing a major role in altering Arctic landscapes according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The study documented widespread thermokarst formation, characterized by subsidence of the land surface as a result of melted ground-ice, in the years following a tundra fire event. Thaw of ice-rich permafrost is known to impact terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems by altering vegetation communities and hydrology as well as releasing carbon that was previously stored in the frozen ground below.
"Thermokarst development may sound like an esoteric topic, but when ground ice melts it affects everything at the surface, formation or drainage of lakes, how much water runs off the landscape and what kind of plants can grow," said Philip Martin, Science Coordinator for the Arctic Landscape Conservation Cooperative. "This is an essential part of the puzzle for resource managers and Arctic residents to piece together how the land is changing."
Researchers, led by the USGS, used repeat airborne LiDAR data acquisitions, a remote sensing tool that allows for the creation of highly detailed topographic models of the landscape, to quantify thermokarst development in the aftermath of the 2007 Anaktuvuk River tundra fire. By comparing data obtained two and again seven years post-fire, researchers determined that thermokarst affected more than 34 percent of the studied burned tundra area compared to less than one percent in similar unburned tundra.
Arctic tundra fires are known to have an immediate and severe impact on the landscape through combustion of vegetation and soil organic layers. However, widespread thermokarst development in the aftermath of an Arctic tundra fire had not been previously measured in detail.
"With LiDAR data acquisitions, we are able to document landscape changes in a measurable way like never before," said lead author Benjamin Jones, a Research Geographer with the USGS. "It is likely that the impact of fires and other disturbances on permafrost-influenced terrain in the Arctic has been underestimated since highly precise elevation data, such as from LiDAR datasets, are not widely available in these regions."
The paper "Recent Arctic tundra fire initiates widespread thermokarst development" was published in the journal Scientific Reports, the online open access journal from the publishers of Nature.
The work was supported by the Land Change Science and Land Remote Sensing programs at the USGS, the USGS Alaska Science Center, the Arctic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research.
Las Vegas Holds Key to Abrupt Climate Change
By OC_Web@usgs.gov (Office of Communications and Publishing) from USGS Newsroom. Published on Nov 09, 2015.Summary: According to new U.S. Geological Survey research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, springs and marshes in the desert outside Las Vegas expanded and contracted dramatically in response to past episodes of abrupt climate change, even disappearing altogether for centuries at a time when conditions became too warm
Heidi Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 );
According to new U.S. Geological Survey research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, springs and marshes in the desert outside Las Vegas expanded and contracted dramatically in response to past episodes of abrupt climate change, even disappearing altogether for centuries at a time when conditions became too warm. This new record, gleaned from dirt and rocks exposed in the desert just outside the city limits, provides an unprecedented look into how climate change can affect fragile desert ecosystems in the American Southwest.
Kathleen Springer, a geologist with the USGS and former Senior Curator at the San Bernardino County Museum, was the principal investigator and lead scientist for this study showing that desert wetlands are extremely sensitive to climate change.
“This is a story of water,” said Springer. “Water was plentiful in the desert at times in the past, but when climate warmed, springs and wetlands dried up, and the plants and animals living in the harsh desert environment were out of luck.”
During the Pleistocene, between approximately 100,000 and 10,000 years ago, wetlands dotted the landscape in the area just north of Las Vegas, attracting a plethora of ice age animals, including mammoths, sloths, sabre-toothed cats, dire wolves, and extinct species of bison, horse, and camel, and later, the first human inhabitants to the area.
Today, existing desert wetlands are home to a number of threatened and endangered species that rely on the ecosystem for water in an otherwise arid landscape. Their fate may lie in the hands of a rapidly changing climate.
“What we're seeing in the geologic record frames what we are observing today,” said Springer. "The drought that California is currently experiencing is extreme, but droughts are an inherent part of the climate system and have occurred repeatedly in the past."
The study was initiated by the Bureau of Land Management, which called for an integrative approach to studies that emphasize the geological age and context of fossils, as well as a comprehensive analysis of how local hydrologic systems responded to climate change in the past.
“Scientists collect fossils all the time,” said Scott Foss, a senior paleontologist with the BLM. "What is remarkable about this work is the vision that Kathleen had of making sure her team understood the intricacies of the deposits in incredible detail, which allowed them to determine how climate affected the local landscape. It was an immense undertaking, and one that will serve as a benchmark for generations to come for those interested in understanding the effects of climate change on desert ecosystems.”
Studies examining the effects of climate change on springs and desert wetlands will continue through the USGS’s Climate and Land Use Change Research and Development Program, and will build upon the investigations conducted in the Las Vegas Valley, a large portion of which is now protected as Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument.
When the monument was established in December 2014, the BLM turned their stewardship over to the National Park Service, who will determine how to interpret the unique land and its former inhabitants for the public.
“The future of this newly designated national monument and what it can tell us about the effects of climate change is all about the past,” said Springer. “And the past is the key to the present.”
Newly Released Photo Catalog Puts US Landscapes On Exhibit
By OC_Web@usgs.gov (Office of Communications and Publishing) from USGS Newsroom. Published on Nov 09, 2015.Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey announced today that it has made part of a huge national repository of geographically referenced USGS field photographs publicly available
|A cow in a pasture taken in the Central Oklahoma/Texas Plains Ecoregion (TX) in August July 2006. (High resolution image)|
|An abandoned mine shaft taken in the Mojave Basin and Range Ecoregion (NV) in August 2002. (High resolution image)|
The U.S. Geological Survey announced today that it has made part of a huge national repository of geographically referenced USGS field photographs publicly available. USGS geographers developed a simple, easy-to-use mapping portal called the Land Cover Trends Field Photo Map.
The entire collection contains over 33,000 geo-referenced field photos with associated keywords describing the land-use and land-cover change processes taking place. Initially, nearly 13,000 photos from across the continental US will be available to the public, yet the online collection will grow as more processed photos become available.
“This is a treasure trove of royalty and copyright-free photography collected using consistent procedures,” said Chris Soulard, project leader and USGS research geographer. “We envision that these photos will captivate general audiences and fulfill a myriad of scientific needs.”
Sharing these unique field photos provides an excellent resource for the scientific community with potential to develop future research, such as future repeat photography projects or applications where photos may validate remote sensing classifications. Serving USGS data interactively to the public is integral to the USGS mission and provides opportunities for future scientific collaboration by communicating USGS land change research to the broader public and scientific community.
“The benefit of these photos being hosted by the USGS is equal access to all without copyright concerns and quality control,” said Jason Sherba, USGS geographer and project web-developer.
The photography was collected as part the USGS National Land Cover Trends Project, a research effort that spanned over ten years and represented one of USGS’ largest cross-center research efforts. The project employed Landsat imagery between 1973-2000 to derive rates, causes, and consequences of contemporary land use/land cover change. Photos were collected between 1999 and 2007 to serve as an aid in Landsat-derived land-use/land-cover change analyses and assessments.
|Screenshot of the Land Cover Trends Field Photo Map website. (High resolution image)|
Removing Nitrogen from Groundwater Has New Ally: Anammox
By OC_Web@usgs.gov (Office of Communications and Publishing) from USGS Newsroom. Published on Nov 05, 2015.Summary: USGS scientists have conducted the first-ever field measurements of anammox activity in groundwater, demonstrating that nitrogen removal from groundwater can occur through the action of naturally occurring bacteria
|An aerial view looking southeast of the treated-wastewater infiltration beds at Joint Base Cape Cod. The wastewater disposal beds (source of the nitrogen contamination) appear in the foreground. In the background is a freshwater pond that is receiving discharge of some of the groundwater contaminants. Toxic waste disposal at the site ended in 1995. (High resolution image)|
USGS scientists have conducted the first-ever field measurements of anammox activity in groundwater, demonstrating that nitrogen removal from groundwater can occur through the action of naturally occurring bacteria. This research was conducted in collaboration with partners from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the University of Connecticut.
Anammox, shorthand for anaerobic ammonium oxidation, is a process carried out by naturally occurring bacteria that can simultaneously remove ammonium and reduce nitrogen oxides (such as nitrate and nitrite), combining the two to produce harmless nitrogen gas.
Over the past 100 years, humans have drastically altered the global nitrogen budget by fixing nitrogen gas from air to produce fertilizer in the form of ammonium and nitrate. Nitrate and ammonium are now prevalent fixed nitrogen contaminants that may be found in surface water and groundwater worldwide. Until fixed nitrogen is converted back to nitrogen gas, it remains as a potential water contaminant. Anammox and denitrification are the only two processes that can remove excess fixed nitrogen by chemically changing it back to nitrogen gas.
“Virtually all terrestrial and aquatic environments now contain extra fixed nitrogen from human activities, including groundwater, the planet’s primary freshwater resource,” said Richard Smith, a USGS research hydrologist and lead author of the investigation.
Discovered just 20 years ago in wastewater treatment systems, anammox has been studied since then in laboratory settings using enrichment cultures. Relatively recently, anammox was found to be ecologically important in marine and other surface water environments.
“Because anammox is a process that can supply its own organic carbon by fixing carbon dioxide,” Smith continued, “naturally occurring anammox bacteria are ideally suited for life in groundwater, where they could potentially be important for fixed nitrogen removal. While practical applications are still in the distant future, this process could be particularly important where groundwater is discharging to surface waters and coastal environments.”
Working at a carefully monitored USGS groundwater study site at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the research team found that anammox was active in the subsurface in a variety of geochemical conditions, even where groundwater ammonium concentrations were low. The rates of activity were relatively low, but anammox could potentially affect inorganic nitrogen concentrations in situations where groundwater residence times are sufficiently long.
The detailed findings of the investigation were recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
The paper documents the competition between anammox and denitrification for nitrogen oxides and explores the effect of altered organic carbon concentrations on that competition. The results of this study indicate that anammox does occur in groundwater, that it can be an important mechanism for fixed nitrogen removal, and that it should be included when interpreting subsurface geochemistry and constructing groundwater nitrogen budgets.
Co-authors on the study include USGS scientist J.K. Böhlke; Bongkeun Song from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science; and Craig Tobias from the University of Connecticut, Department of Marine Science. The National Science Foundation provided additional research support.
Research article, Environmental Science and Technology
USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
USGS Cape Cod Toxic Substances Hydrology Research Site
USGS National Research Program
Native Bees Foraging in Fields Are Exposed to Neonicotinoid Insecticides and other Pesticides
By OC_Web@usgs.gov (Office of Communications and Publishing) from USGS Newsroom. Published on Nov 04, 2015.Summary: According to the first-ever study of pesticide residues on field-caught bees, native bees are exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides and other pesticides
According to the first-ever study of pesticide residues on field-caught bees, native bees are exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides and other pesticides. This report was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
This research focused on native bees, because there is limited information on their exposure to pesticides. In fact, little is known about how toxic these pesticides are to native bee species at the levels detected in the environment. This study did not look at pesticide exposure to honey bees.
“We found that the presence and proximity of nearby agricultural fields was an important factor resulting in the exposure of native bees to pesticides,” said USGS scientist Michelle Hladik, the report’s lead author. “Pesticides were detected in the bees caught in grasslands with no known direct pesticide applications.”
Although conservation efforts have been shown by other investigators to benefit pollinators, this study raises questions about the potential for unintended pesticide exposures where various land uses overlap or are in proximity to one another.
The research consisted of collecting native bees from cultivated agricultural fields and grasslands in northeastern Colorado, then processing the composite bee samples to test for 122 different pesticides, as well as 14 chemicals formed by the breakdown of pesticides. Scientists tested for the presence of pesticides both in and on the bees.
The most common pesticide detected was the neonicotinoid insecticide thiamethoxam, which was found in 46 percent of the composite bee samples. Thiamethoxam is used as a seed coating on a variety of different crops. Pesticides were not found in all bee samples, with 15 of the 54 total samples testing negative for the 122 chemicals examined.
Although this study did not investigate the effects of pesticide exposures to native bees, previous toxicological studies have shown that the chemicals do not have to kill the bees to have an adverse effect at the levels of exposure documented here. For example, neonicotinoids can cause a reduction in population densities and reproductive success, and impair the bees’ ability to forage. Follow-up research is now being designed to further investigate adverse effects at these exposure levels.
There are about 4,000 native species of bees in the United States. They pollinate native plants like cherries, blueberries and cranberries, and were here long before European honeybees were brought to the country by settlers. In addition, many native bees are quite efficient crop pollinators, a role that may become more crucially important if honey bees continue to decline.
This paper is a preliminary, field-based reconnaissance study that provides critical information necessary to design more focused research on exposure, uptake and accumulation of pesticides relative to land-use, agricultural practices and pollinator conservation efforts on the landscape. Another USGS study published in August discovered neonicotinoids in in a little more than half of both urban and agricultural streams sampled across the United States and Puerto Rico.
“This foundational study is needed to prioritize and design new environmental exposure experiments on the potential for adverse impacts to terrestrial organisms,” said Mike Focazio, program coordinator for the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program. “This and other USGS research is helping support the overall goals of the White House Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators by helping us understand whether these pesticides, particularly at low levels, pose a risk for pollinators.”
More information can be found on this paper here. USGS research on the occurrence, transport and fate of pesticides can be found with the USGS Toxic Substance Hydrology Program webpage or the USGS Pesticide Fate Research project in California. Stay up to date with USGS Environmental Health science by signing up for our GeoHealth Newsletter.
Acid Rain Effects on Forest Soils begin to Reverse
By OC_Web@usgs.gov (Office of Communications and Publishing) from USGS Newsroom. Published on Nov 04, 2015.Summary: Soil acidification from acid rain that is harmful to plant and aquatic life has now begun to reverse in forests of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada, according to an American-Canadian collaboration of five institutions led by the U.S. Geological Survey
Soil acidification from acid rain that is harmful to plant and aquatic life has now begun to reverse in forests of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada, according to an American-Canadian collaboration of five institutions led by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The new research shows that these changes are strongly linked to acid rain decreases, although some results differ from expected responses.
"Reduced acid rain levels resulting from American and Canadian air-pollution control measures have begun to reverse soil acidification across this broad region," said Gregory Lawrence, a USGS soil and water chemist and lead author. "Prior to this study, published research on soils indicated that soil acidification was worsening in most areas despite several decades of declining acid rain. However, those studies relied on data that only extended up to 2004, whereas the data in this study extended up to 2014. "
As acid rain acidifies soils, it depletes soil calcium reserves, which are important in preventing the formation of aluminum that is toxic to plants and aquatic life. Calcium is also a nutrient essential for healthy ecosystems. Results of this study show that soils are no longer being depleted of calcium and that toxic aluminum levels have substantially decreased.
The uppermost soil layers have shown a strong recovery response, but deeper layers are actually increasing in aluminum, which suggests further acidification. However, this may be part of the recovery process as aluminum moves downward in the soil to be stored in a non-toxic form.
"The start of widespread soil recovery is a key step to remedy the long legacy of acid rain impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems," according to Lawrence.
The results were obtained by resampling soils that had been originally sampled eight to 24 years earlier. The collaboration among the USGS, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, University of Maine, Canadian Forest Service and the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, was developed through the Northeast Soil Monitoring Cooperative, a group of scientists focused on how soils are responding to our rapidly changing environment.
The study is available online. Lawrence, G. B., P. W. Hazlett, I. J. Fernandez, R. Ouimet, S. W. Bailey, W. C. Shortle, K. T. Smith, and M. R. Antidormi. 2015. Declining Acidic Deposition Begins Reversal of Forest-Soil Acidification in the Northeastern U.S. and Eastern Canada. Environmental Science & Technology.
New Tool Rates Stream Vulnerability to Unconventional Oil and Gas Development
By OC_Web@usgs.gov (Office of Communications and Publishing) from USGS Newsroom. Published on Nov 03, 2015.Summary: On average, streams in the Niobrara-Mowry Play of eastern Wyoming, Fayetteville Play of Arkansas, and Barnett Play of Texas ranked most vulnerable to unconventional oil and gas development, but for different reasons, according to recent U.S. Geological Survey coauthored research
Study Looks at Natural and Man-Made Factors
On average, streams in the Niobrara-Mowry Play of eastern Wyoming, Fayetteville Play of Arkansas, and Barnett Play of Texas ranked most vulnerable to unconventional oil and gas development, but for different reasons, according to recent U.S. Geological Survey coauthored research.
Streams in the Fayetteville and Barnett were vulnerable mostly from existing man-made stressors, whereas streams in the Niobara-Mowry were vulnerable largely due to a stream's natural sensitivity to alterations. However, the study also shows that streams in all regions have the potential to be impacted by such development.
A team of academic, USGS, and private-sector researchers computed potential stream vulnerability to unconventional oil and gas development in six shale plays, including the Bakken, Barnett, Fayetteville, Hilliard-Baxter-Mancos, Marcellus and Utica, and Niobrara-Mowry. The newly developed vulnerability index shows that streams with the highest sensitivity and exposure to stressors may be most vulnerable to unconventional oil and gas development.
"Stream ecosystems show variation in potential vulnerability to unconventional oil and gas development across the contiguous United States," said Kelly Maloney, USGS research ecologist and coauthor of the study. "The index we developed incorporated a stream ecosystem's natural sensitivity to alterations and its exposure to man-made stressors, such as well pads, urbanization and agriculture."
What made areas potentially vulnerable varied across plays due to climatic, geologic and human caused differences. Low annual precipitation in the drier regions of the western US (Niobrara-Mowry, Hilliard-Baxter-Mancos, and Bakken) affected stream vulnerability to unconventional oil and gas development. In contrast, the steeper slopes in the watersheds of Appalachia made streams in the Marcellus-Utica play naturally sensitive. The Barnett and Marcellus regions had areas with greater urbanization than other plays.
"The indices developed in this paper can be used to identify streams where aquatic life are particularly vulnerable, and then help prioritize stream protection and monitoring efforts," said Maloney. "These findings can also be used to guide local development activities to help reduce potential environmental effects."
Research partners in this study included the University of Central Arkansas, Waterborne Environmental Inc., University of Arkansas and Wilkes University.
The paper "Stream vulnerability to widespread and emergent stressors: a focus on unconventional oil and gas" is available in PLOS ONE, which is an open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal and can be downloaded free of charge online.
Genetic Study Confirms Growth of Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Population
By OC_Web@usgs.gov (Office of Communications and Publishing) from USGS Newsroom. Published on Oct 30, 2015.Summary: Genetic data show the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has grown since the 1980s with no loss in genetic diversity, according to a report by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team
|A female grizzly with a cub. Adult females are considered the most important segment of the Greater Yellowstone grizzly population and consequently are a major focus of USGS research and monitoring. (High resolution image)|
|USGS biologists collecting biological information from a grizzly bear they have captured. Biologists collect hair samples for genetic analysis, weigh the bear, and gather numerous measurements of the body, such as the head, paws, claws, teeth, etc. Overall condition of the bear is assessed as well, including a body fat measurement. (High resolution image)|
|Grizzly bear hair on barbed wire at a hair corral. Bears climb over or under the corral and the hair collected provides information for genetic analysis. (High resolution image)|
BOZEMAN, Mont. – Genetic data show the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has grown since the 1980s with no loss in genetic diversity, according to a report by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.
Results indicate that the effective population size of Yellowstone grizzly bears, or the number of individuals that contribute offspring to the next generation, has increased 4-fold over a 25-year period. This provides evidence that Yellowstone grizzly bears are approaching the effective size necessary for long-term genetic viability.
"The increase in effective size of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population over the past several decades, with no significant change in genetic diversity, supports evidence of population growth based on traditional surveys," said Pauline Kamath, USGS ecologist and lead author of the study. "This is a key genetic indicator of a population’s ability to respond to future environmental change."
Researchers used several newly available techniques to assess trends in effective population size from a sample of 729 grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, a region slightly smaller than South Carolina. Based on one of several methods, they found estimates of effective population size increased from approximately 100 bears in the 1980s to 450 in the 2000s. These numbers are smaller than estimates of total population size because not all animals in the population breed. Although an isolated population, grizzly bear genetic diversity remained stable and inbreeding was relatively low, 0.2 percent, over the time period.
The application of these new methods to monitor trends in effective population size of wildlife has been limited because it is difficult to measure and requires long-term data on individuals in the population. The isolated and well-studied population of Yellowstone grizzly bears provided a rare opportunity to examine the usefulness of this technique for monitoring a threatened species because of the breadth of genetic and demographic, gender and age, data that have been collected over decades. Grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states were listed as threatened in 1975 under the Endangered Species Act.
"For long-lived species such as grizzly bears, a concerted effort is required to collect long-term genetic and associated demographic data. Four decades of intensive research on Yellowstone grizzly bears presented a unique opportunity to evaluate and compare genetic estimators for monitoring of wildlife populations." said Frank van Manen, USGS wildlife biologist and Team Leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.
The study demonstrates how genetic monitoring can complement traditional demographic-based monitoring, providing valuable tools for wildlife managers for current and future studies. It also underscores the effectiveness of long-term studies that provide detailed data to support a variety of analyses, providing researchers and managers a better picture of the status of populations of interest.
The article "Multiple estimates of effective population size for monitoring a long-lived vertebrate: an application to Yellowstone grizzly bears" is published in Molecular Ecology.
The study is a collaborative effort between the USGS, Wildlife Genetics International, the University of Montana, and the federal, state and tribal partners of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.
More information about Yellowstone grizzly bear studies can found on the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center website.
Invasive Northern Snakehead Carries Bacteria as Bad as its Bite
By OC_Web@usgs.gov (Office of Communications and Publishing) from USGS Newsroom. Published on Oct 29, 2015.Summary: The invasive northern snakehead fish found in the mid-Atlantic area is now cause for more concern, potentially bringing diseases into the region that may spread to native fish and wildlife, according to a team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists
The invasive northern snakehead fish found in the mid-Atlantic area is now cause for more concern, potentially bringing diseases into the region that may spread to native fish and wildlife, according to a team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists.
The team found that a group of adult northern snakehead collected from Virginia waters of the Potomac River south of Washington D.C. were infected with a species of Mycobacterium, a type of bacteria known to cause chronic disease among a wide range of animals.
"Mycobacterial infections are not unusual among fish, but they are nonetheless noteworthy because they can have an impact at the population level and potentially even affect other fish and wildlife," said lead author Christine Densmore, a veterinarian with the USGS.
There are many known species of Mycobacteria that have been identified in fish, including fish from the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay area. Several years ago, mycobacterial infections were associated with severe disease typified by ulcerative skin lesions and wasting among wild striped bass from the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Some species of Mycobacterium are also known to cause diseases among other animals, including mammals. For instance, Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the cause of human tuberculosis and Mycobacterium paratuberculosis, causes Johne’s disease of cattle.
The effect of this particular species of Mycobacterium on humans is not known.
Mycobacterial disease in fish is often called piscine mycobacteriosis, and it is associated with many different species of mycobacteria. In this instance, no external signs of disease were noted on the infected snakehead fish, and the disease was discovered microscopically as lesions associated with the bacteria that were visible within internal organs.
"Another interesting feature of this particular mycobacterial organism is that we have not been able to identify it in the available gene sequence data base, so this may be a unique, undescribed species of Mycobacterium. However, more research is needed to further characterize the bacteria and its potential effects on the northern snakehead population and other native species," said Densmore.
The researchers plan to continue to work closely with other federal and state agencies to investigate the pathogens and diseases carried by the northern snakehead fish in mid-Atlantic waters such as the Potomac River. This study of Mycobacterial infection in Northern snakehead from the Potomac River catchment, conducted in collaboration with fisheries biologists from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, is available online through the Journal of Fish Diseases.
U.S. Rivers Show Few Signs of Improvement from Historic Nitrate Increases
By OC_Web@usgs.gov (Office of Communications and Publishing) from USGS Newsroom. Published on Oct 28, 2015.Summary: During 1945 to 1980, nitrate levels in large U.S. rivers increased up to fivefold in intensively managed agricultural areas of the Midwest, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study
|The Maumee River flows through northwest Ohio into Lake Erie. Nitrate concentrations in the Maumee River increased rapidly between 1945 and 1980 as nitrogen inputs from fertilizer and livestock increased. Since 1980, changes in nitrate levels have been much smaller as nitrogen inputs leveled off.(High resolution image)|
During 1945 to 1980, nitrate levels in large U.S. rivers increased up to fivefold in intensively managed agricultural areas of the Midwest, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study. In recent decades, nitrate changes have been smaller and levels have remained high in most of the rivers studied.
The greatest increases in river nitrate levels coincided with increased nitrogen inputs from livestock and agricultural fertilizer, which grew rapidly from 1945 to 1980. In some urbanized areas along the East and West coasts during the same period, river nitrate levels doubled. Since 1980, nitrate changes have been smaller as the increase in fertilizer use has slowed in the Midwest and large amounts of farmland have been converted to forest or urban land along the East coast.
"Long-term monitoring of 22 large U.S. rivers provides a rare glimpse into how water quality conditions have changed over the last 65 years," said Edward Stets, lead author of the study. "Although the greatest increases in nitrate concentrations occurred prior to 1980, levels have since remained high in most rivers. Unfortunately, there is no widespread evidence of improving conditions."
High nitrate levels can lead to the formation of zones of low oxygen in coastal waters, which harms fisheries, recreational use, and ecological habitat, causing major economic impacts. High nitrate levels also pose a threat to drinking-water supplies, sometimes resulting in high water treatment costs, and can harm aquatic life.
The USGS study, reported in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association, includes rivers flowing into the Great Lakes and coastal waters such as Long Island Sound, Delaware River estuary, Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Long-term monitoring of water quality is essential to track how changes in land use, climate, and water-quality management actions are impacting both local streams and rivers and valuable commercial and recreational fisheries in estuaries across the Nation. The USGS National Water-Quality Program is working on more detailed analysis of water quality trends within the past 10 to 50 years in small and large rivers across the Nation.
Information on USGS long-term water-quality monitoring can be accessed online.