gull, infographic, nature

New Graphic Abstract Featured in Water Research

Did you know that concentrated gull populations at landfill are a significant source of phosphorus and nitrogen to local water systems? Graphic Team Lead Mary Zambello worked with authors Scott Winton and Mark River to create an infographic describing the results of their newest gull study for Water Research.

gull, infographic, nature

Read the published paper here.

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Long Term Research and its Importance

by Erika Zambello

As February transitioned into March, I was far from home. Leaving the long leaf pines and palm trees behind in Florida, I flew to Phoenix for a road trip up the West Coast. From Phoenix to San Diego to Santa Barbara to Monterey Bay to San Francisco, I visited five long-term ecological research studies to explore their experiments, stewardship and outreach: the Central Arizona-Phoenix Long Term Ecological Research site, Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, Santa Barbara Coastal Long Term Ecological Research site, Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

As I walked mountain desert to visit cacti decomposition plots, toured the edge of restoration properties, checked out data loggers and more, the magnitude of what each site – and each research network – accomplished on a day-to-day basis was as impressive as it was obvious. The ecologists, technicians and outreach specialists were dedicated to their jobs, in love with the gorgeous landscapes in which they work.

It turns out that long-term data collection plays an outsize role in the scientific world.

Let me give you a famous example. Acid rain, caused by sulfur and nitric acid pollution in the atmosphere, caused fish kills and forest decline across the Northeast. The proof came from a series of rain collectors at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (another long-term ecological research site). Researchers not only noticed that the pH of the rain and snow was low, but when they compared it to previous years of data they realized it was abnormally low. Once the problem was recognized, practitioners and politicians came together to reduce pollution, which in turn reduced acid rain to safer levels. Without Hubbard Brook’s long-term dataset, identification of acid rain as the cause of forest decline may have taken much longer, or never happened at all.

In March 2017, Hughes et al. published a paper entitled, “Long-term studies contribute disproportionately to ecology and policy” in BioScience. They found that long-term experiments are cited more often and are also featured more often in highly-regarded scientific journals. Furthermore, long-term studies are more frequently cited in NRC Reports relative to their frequency in the ecological literature, and thus play a larger role in creating environmental policy. The authors continue: “the survey of NRC authors also highlighted a mismatch between the demand and availability” of long-term ecological and environmental studies; policy makes want more of these long-term studies.

Unfortunately, long-term research sites like the ones I visited are chronically underfunded and looking at future budget cuts. Just as one example, a proposed NOAA budget actually cuts funding for National Estuarine Research Reserves entirely. Paradoxically, these sites have what everything else lacks: timeYou can’t create long term studies out of thin air, and often it takes years and years to begin to see the full benefits of data collection. Why defund these projects when they are in such high demand and cannot be replicated?

We are living through an era when everyone should stand up for the policies and programs they believe in. If you are a proponent of long-term research, write or call your representative, write an op-ed, contribute to their cause! Trust me, I have seen first-hand how important this work remains.

Blog first published by the Duke Nicholas School.

Tweeting for Conservation

As of this moment, I have exactly 42 Twitter followers. I jumped on the Twitter train a little late, and I have found that more of my friends are on Instagram and Facebook versus the Twitter platform anyway. Compared to say, Kim Kardashian (39 million followers), or Anderson Cooper (6.89 million followers), or noted climate activist Al Gore (2.91 million followers), or even my little brother (229), my total seems pretty paltry. In an era obsessed with likes, favorites, shares, and retweets, someone may look at my small account and scoff, “What’s the point?”

Sure, I may not have many followers, but there is a very important point to my Twitter account: my ability to add my voice to a cause.

In previous posts, I have described the success of the #OptOutside hashtag initiated by REI, as well as the current #FindYourPark campaign from the National Park Service. I want now to convince those who may be hesitant to start and/or use Twitter to give it a go!

People have begun to use social media stats as indicators of general population attitudes as well as metrics of success. Politicians and other leaders pay attention to digital conversations, and advocates can use them as leverage in environmental discussions with policy leaders and other change-makers.

When I favorite or retweet “Scientists scale Alaskan cliffs to stop Gyrfalcons from losing more ground to #climatechange” from @AudubonSociety (the Twitter platform for the National Audubon Society), it’s true that only 42 of my followers will see it from me, but I am supporting Audubon and their message. I may not have any favorites on my retweet, but with  my addition they have over 55. Additionally, when I tag a photo with #FindYourPark or #OptOutside, I am lending my voice to calls for greater appreciation of the outdoors.

A single tweet, just like a single vote, a single letter to a member of congress, or a single town hall appearance, may not seem like much, but it all adds up. Thousands or even millions of tweets can spark a national conversation. Let’s capitalize on the potential for environmental advocacy everywhere!

#FindYourPark Campaign

by Erika


I have become fascinated by conservation communication campaigns. One of my current favorites is in honor of the National Park Service’s 100  Year Anniversary, and is known simply as #FindYourPark.

When many people think “National Park,” they picture Yosemite or Yellowstone, which for many of us are hundreds if not thousands of miles away. The National Park Service (NPS) wants to remind us that there are over 400 national parks in the system, so in all likelihood there is a nearby park for all of us.

Through their “find your park” tool, they can help everyone find the perfect park for them. With their sharing tool, hashtag, and video contest, they are inspiring people across the country to share their NPS story. So far, so good: the hashtag has been used over 140,000 times on Instagram alone.

Excited by their campaign, I decided I want to participate. I live near the Okaloosa Island Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, so I stopped by, walking along the Choctawhatchee Bay on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. At the end of my visit, I had taken video that I used to enter the contest, and shared my photos with my friends. A few people asked what the hashtag was all about, and decided  to visit their local parks!

The NPS needs all the recognition it can get. Budget shortfalls have led to a backlog of necessary maintenance within our parks, while new land in need of protection could be added to the system as a whole. To garner more funding, people across the country must voice their support of the parks. The #FindYourPark campaign is not only fun, it could have a lasting positive impact on the NPS!

The Success of the #OptOutside Movement

by Erika


On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I and many others were part of a movement. My actions were fairly simple: I went with my mother to the Gilsland Farm Audubon Center in Falmouth, Maine to look for birds. We spent about an hour walking their well-maintained trails, marveling at the different ecosystems we passed, including meadow, thicket, forest, and marsh. As we walked, I took a few photos, uploading them to social media with the hashtag #OptOutside. I was not alone. As of November 30th, the hashtag had been used 37,000 times on Twitter and 270,000 times on Facebook.

REI, an outdoor activity outfitter, set off a Twitter-storm this year when they announced that all REI stores would be closed on Black Friday, encouraging everyone instead to #OptOutside. Turning from consumerism to exploration, thousands did just that, hiking, biking, skiing, snowboarding, and taking advantage of many parks offering free admission throughout the day.

Now, buying holiday presents for loved ones is not inherently bad, and no one should be looked down on for participating in Black Friday. Still, the national emphasis on the importance of being outdoors and experiencing nature was as refreshing as it was widespread.

An analysis of #OptOutside by Sysomos also found that hiking and national parks were frequently associated with tweets about the REI hashtag. In fact, #FindYourPark, an ongoing effort by the National Park Service to help people find national parks close to them, was the fourth most common hashtag used in conjunction with #OptOutside. Across social media platforms there was a fairly even split between men and women using the hashtag, though on Facebook specifically nearly 190,000 women used it compared to 90,000 men.

Interestingly, people who chose to #OptOutside viewed it as a point of pride. Headlines around the country read: “Idahoans choose to #OptOutside on Black Friday,” “Northwesterners #OptOutside on Black Friday,” “East Tennesseans skip shopping, #OptOutside instead,” “Minnesotans #OptOutside on Black Friday.” REI’s campaign gave people the ability to showcase an aspect of their identity that they are proud of, whether that is a member of a state or local community, an outdoor enthusiast, or just someone who would rather not shop on Black Friday. In a blog by Charles Trevail, CEO at Omnicom’s C Space, on AdAge.com, he writes that: “Companies that truly “get” their customers share their customers’ fundamental values — whether that’s the importance of enjoying the outdoors like REI, or unleashing creativity like Converse.” The success of the campaign demonstrates how important it is to share pride, identity, and values with others.