Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies , formerly known as the Institute of Ecosystem Studies, is an independent, not-for-profit environmental research organization dedicated to the scientific study of the world’s ecosystems and the natural and human factors that influence them. Research is communicated in scholarly publications for scientific peers, educational programs for students and public audiences, and focused outreach to elected officials, policy makers, and the media.Located in Millbrook, New York , at the 2,000-acre Mary Flagler Cary Arboretum, the Cary Institute has about 120 employees, of which about 20 are scientists with Ph.D.’s in ecology and allied fields. While the Cary Institute is not itself a degree-granting institution, numerous graduate students are trained under the mentorship of the scientific staff who have adjunct appointments at many universities. The Cary Institute has hosted research experiences for undergraduates since 1987.The Cary Institute is organized as a 501c3 corporation with financial support from multiple sources which include the Mary Flagler Charitable Trust, research and education grants from federal and state sources , private foundations, and private donors. Wikipedia.
News Article | April 8, 2017
Ticks pose a major threat — especially during the warmer months — as humans and pets venture out more, which results in a greater possibility of bringing these insects home. However, experts anticipate 2017 will be a particularly risky year for Lyme infestation. The epidemic may see an upsurge, especially in the Northeastern areas of the United States, during spring and summer. Researchers Felicia Keesing and her husband Richard Ostfeld state that the risk of Lyme disease has increased substantially this year. The heightened risk is being attributed to the massive growth of acorn crops in forests during fall 2015. Ostfeld, is a well-known ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, and has been researching on Lyme disease for more than 20 years. Keesing, in collaboration with her husband, co-directs research revolving around local spread of Lyme disease. "The reason we're more at risk this year is because in the fall of 2015 there was a huge crop of acorns in our forests, which happens every 2 to 5 years," explained Keesing. She further added that the growth of acorns led to an increase in the population of Lyme-infected mice the following summer, which in turn resulted in the increase in Lyme disease in 2016. Both Keesing and Ostfeld can now predict Lyme cases a year in advance. They do so by observing the changes in the mice count in the prior year. The number of infected mice that dwell in the forest in summer correlate to the Lyme cases, which will occur in the subsequent year's summer season. Mice unknowingly have become highly efficient transmitters of Lyme disease. Roughly 95 percent of ticks that feed on mice are infected, and these rodents are to be blamed for spreading the infection to a majority of ticks carrying Lyme in the Northeastern regions. "An individual mouse might have 50, 60, even 100 ticks covering its ears and face," says Ostfeld. Interestingly, a mouse plague took place in 2016 in the areas upstate of New York. Based on this fact, researchers are now expecting a Lyme epidemic in the warmer months of 2017. However, they haven't been able to pinpoint the areas that will be the most susceptible to the epidemic. If Lyme disease is left untreated or goes undiagnosed, the illness can lead to permanent nerve and circulatory problems. According to the researchers, May and June will be risky months and it is advisable that people are suitably prepared before venturing outside. Ostfeld and Keesing both caution people to be aware of teenaged ticks as it is difficult to notice them, thanks to their size. A teenaged tick is as big as a flake of grounded black pepper. Individuals at risk are advised to wear light-colored clothes to detect the ticks easily. It is advisable to wear protective clothing such as long pants instead of shorts, to safeguard oneself from the ticks. The ticks are generally found on the surface of the clothing, from knee down. Keesing states that the absence of ticks on clothes does not mean that they have not come into contact with the body. It is better to give the body a thorough check before taking a shower to be absolutely sure for tick bites. It is also advisable to use a repellent and avoid walking in dense foliage areas. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | June 19, 2017
It’s one of the iconic sights of Africa: hundreds of thousands of wildebeest thundering across the Serengeti in an annual mass migration. But when the animals come to the Mara River, the scene can turn deadly. Unable to scramble up steep banks, thousands drown in a mass panic or get picked off by crocodiles. It turns out, however, that what’s bad for the wildebeest is good for the ecosystem, say Amanda Subalusky and Emma Rosi, ecologists at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. For the past 6 years, Subalusky and her husband, Christopher Dutton, also at the Cary Institute, have studied the scale and effects of this mass carnage. They have taken stock of the pileup of carcasses, surveyed the parade of scavengers assisting in their decomposition, and tracked where nutrients from the dead animals wind up in the food chain. “It’s a pulse of nutrients, but then you have a legacy of bones, which are acting as a slow release fertilizer” with multiple effects downstream, Subalusky says. “The sheer amount of organic matter that is made available is astonishing,” says deep-sea ecologist Paulo Y. G. Sumida at the University of São Paulo in São Paulo, Brazil, who studies the ecological role of whale carcasses. It “is likely to make a big difference for the whole trophic web and for animals as well.” The wildebeest migration is the world’s most massive animal movement: 1.2 million animals cross the savanna in an 1800-kilometer circuit between Kenya and Tanzania as they follow the rains. They consume more than 4500 tons of grass every day and deposit heaps of dung, transforming the landscapes they cross. “The migration affects every single process in this ecosystem,” says J. Grant Hopcraft, a landscape ecologist at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom who has studied wildebeest for decades. But the impact on the Mara River had not been as closely assessed. Subalusky, then a Yale University graduate student working with David Post, decided to take a closer look when she first saw the aftermath of the mass drownings: massive flocks of vultures and storks picking over the smelly carcasses. She checked the historical records and in 2011 began surveying the Mara River annually, measuring the carbon, phosphorus, and nitrogen content of carcasses; counting the numbers of scavengers; testing water quality; and capturing fish for chemical analyses of the sources of their nutrients. As Subalusky and her colleagues report in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , about 6500 animals drown each year, dumping 10 blue whales’ worth of meat into the river. The fresh carcasses, which accumulate at bends and in the shallows, feed crocodiles and provide up to 50% of the diet of local fish. As they decay, they annually add about 13 tons of phosphorus, 25 tons of nitrogen, and 107 tons of carbon to the ecosystem in half a dozen pulses that each last about a month. During those weeks some nutrient levels can quadruple temporarily. The bones, which make up half the biomass, are the last to decay, taking 7 years. Along the way they support a film of microbes that in turn become food for fish and other river-dwellers. “I am stunned by the extent of the annual mass wildebeest drownings and their large contribution of [carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus] to the energy budget of the Mara River,” says Gary Lamberti, an aquatic ecologist at the University of Norte Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The boon likely extends beyond the river, as vultures and storks move wildebeest-derived nutrients tens of kilometers inland. The study, which was quite challenging and dangerous to do, adds to a growing body of evidence that mass mortality can have ecosystem impacts. Researchers like Sumida have found, for example, that dead whales provide a pulse of food to nutrient-starved ocean floors, enabling a specialized ecosystem to flourish on the decaying carcasses. Others have tracked how salmon that die after they finish their final upstream journey to spawn add nutrients to river ecosystems. The impact of the wildebeest appears to be larger, however; they contribute four times more biomass to the Mara than dying salmon add to British Columbia’s rivers, Subalusky notes. “These phenomena highlight the multiple pathways—nutrients, direct consumption, food web transfers—by which animal tissue can influence food webs,” Lamberti says. On a broader scale, “the [wildebeest] findings have implications for understanding the ecological role of past and present animal migrations,” says David Janetski, an aquatic ecologist at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The bison in North America, the saiga antelope in central Asia, and many caribou in the Arctic once migrated by the millions, sustaining ecosystems in the rivers they crossed. When the migrations dwindled, the organisms that relied on the carcasses of animals that came to grief may have declined or vanished, he says. On the positive side, the wildebeest drownings kill only about 0.7% of the total herd each year. Illegal harvesting, starvation, and predation kill many more. “Although drowning events are horrendous and graphic, they should not be our primary concern for the long-term sustainability of this population,” Hopcraft says. “If anything,” he says, “the Serengeti shows us what an ecosystem should look like.”
News Article | June 19, 2017
Wildebeest carcasses, casualties of the world's largest overland animal migration, pile up annually on the banks of the Mara River in Africa and play a crucial role in vibrant ecosystem of the Serengeti plains, a new Yale-led study has found. Of the 1.2 million wildebeest making the annual migration which peaks from late July through September, an average of 6250 animals drown or are trampled crossing the Mara, which empties into Lake Victoria and is the key water source for wildlife of the greater Serengeti Mara Ecosystem of Kenya and Tanzania. "It is the equivalent biomass of 10 blue whales dropped into the river," said David Post, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and senior author of the paper, which appears the week of June 19 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The Yale team, led by Post and lead author Amanda Subalusky, showed this carnage feeds more than just crocodiles and vultures, which fly more than 100 kilometers to feast. The soft tissue decomposes over several weeks and provides as much as 50% of the food that supports fish populations in the river. The carcasses produce maggots that feed small animals such as mongooses. Bones decompose over years and provide a key source of phosphorus in the river, which in turn supports algae, insects, and fish after carcasses have decomposed. The nutrients are transported downstream in the river or transported inland by scavengers, helping support life throughout the entire river basin. "The frequency and scale of these events suggest that mass drownings may have played an important role in other rivers historically, when large migrations and unimpacted rivers were more common features of the landscape," said Subalusky, postdoctoral associate at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Funding for the research was provided by the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation, the National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration and the National Science Foundation.
News Article | June 19, 2017
Amanda Subalusky, a Postdoctoral Associate at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, is the paper's lead author. She conducted the work while a graduate student at Yale University. Subalusky explains, "The Mara River intersects one of the largest overland migrations in the world. During peak migration, the wildebeest cross the Mara River multiple times, sometimes resulting in drownings of hundreds or thousands of wildebeest. Our study is the first to quantify these mass drownings and study how they impact river life." The research team conducted five years of field surveys and analyzed a decade of historical reports from the Mara Conservancy to determine the rate and frequency of wildebeest drownings in the Mara River's Kenyan reach. On average, 6,200 wildebeest - representing 1,100 tons of biomass - succumb each year during migration, with mass drownings occurring in 13 of the last 15 years (2001-2015). Co-author Emma Rosi, an aquatic ecologist at the Cary Institute, notes, "To put this in perspective, it's the equivalent of adding ten blue whale carcasses to the moderately-sized Mara River each year. This dramatic subsidy delivers terrestrial nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon to the river's food web. First, fish and scavengers feast on soft tissues, then wildebeest bones slowly release nutrients into the system - feeding algae and influencing the food web on decadal scales." To reveal the fate of wildebeest carcasses, the researchers modeled in-stream consumption by fish and Nile crocodiles, scavenging by birds, nutrient uptake, and downstream transport. Stable isotope analyses of common fishes, camera monitoring of scavengers, and stable isotope analyses of biofilms (a mix of bacteria, fungi, and algae) on wildebeest bones all informed the fate of wildebeest nutrient inputs. While wildebeest soft tissue decomposes in 2-10 weeks, their bones persist for upwards of seven years, acting as a long-term source of phosphorus. Rosi explains, "Mass drownings present a striking picture. Rotting animal flesh spikes the aquatic ecosystem with nutrients. But once carcasses disappear, bones - which make up nearly half of biomass inputs - continue to feed the river." When wildebeest carcasses were present, they comprised 34-50% of the diet of common fish. The most frequent terrestrial scavengers on carcasses were Marabou storks, white-backed vultures, Rüppell's vultures, and hooded vultures, consuming 6-9% of soft tissues. Biofilms on wildebeest bones had a distinct isotopic signature, and made up 7-24% of the diet of three common fish species months after drowning events. Due to low metabolic rates, Nile crocodiles were estimated to eat just 2% of total carcass inputs. Co-author David Post, an aquatic ecologist at Yale University, comments, "The Mara River is one of the last places on Earth left to study how the drowning of large migratory animals influences aquatic ecosystems. Many migratory herds, like bison, quagga, and springbok have been driven to extinction or remnant populations." With Subalusky adding, "The wildebeest migration is currently underway in the Mara, having arrived early this year. What is happening there is window into the past, when large migratory herds were free to roam the landscape, and drownings likely played an important role in rivers throughout the world." Explore further: New study describes in detail a threatened long-distance wildebeest migration route More information: Amanda L. Subalusky el al., "Annual mass drownings of the Serengeti wildebeest migration influence nutrient cycling and storage in the Mara River," PNAS (2017). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1614778114
Likens G.E.,Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment | Year: 2010
To guide environmental policy effectively, scientists face the difficult but crucial task of clearly communicating evidence-based information to the public and to policy makers. Frequently, the solutions proposed by scientists are hindered by poor communication - including an excessive reliance on acronyms and jargon - as well as being confronted by vested interests, both perceived and real. Although environmental "problems" are typically discovered by scientists, it is the media that often plays the primary role in promoting public awareness of - and political action regarding - such problems. Here, acid rain is used as a case study to illustrate many of the challenges commonly associated with environmental problems, including the long delay between initial discovery and relevant policy making. Some simple, straightforward recommendations are provided for facilitating communication about environmental problems. © The Ecological Society of America.
Jones C.G.,Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Geomorphology | Year: 2012
Biogeomorphologists study the roles of biota in landscape formation and decay. Ecologists interested in ecosystem engineering study environmental change caused by biota and the consequences for the engineer, other organisms, and ecological processes. The interface is geomorphological change, an interface both are aware of but study somewhat independently and differently. Interaction and integration among the two fields is the goal of this special issue. Here I take an ecological perspective of geomorphological change caused by ecosystem engineers in patches within landscapes that I hope can help facilitate this goal. I ask the following general questions: When will an ecosystem engineering species create a geomorphological signature in a landscape? What, in qualitative terms, is such a signature? How can the signature be estimated and how long will it last? What engineer attributes and ecological factors will determine signature change? What creates complications? How do the answers inform whether or not life leaves a geomorphological signature? To attempt answers, I develop a provisional, general theory of ecosystem engineering signatures that draws on and integrates a geomorphological foundation of balance between formation and decay; landscape patch dynamics; a general framework for ecosystem engineering; and empirical studies. I treat a landscape engineering signature as the balance of rates of formation (F) and rates of decay (D) across patches whose ratio value (F/D) can be transformed (> 1), intermediate (1) or untransformed (< 1). I suggest amenable systems for study. I describe how the signature can be estimated and evaluated for potential persistence, and how to identify when decay or engineer density and per capita engineering activity control the signature. I examine the influences on shifts from transformed to untransformed signatures, and vice versa, at constant and changing rates of decay. I show how the likelihood of signature shifts depends on: 1. engineer density in the landscape and per patch; 2. per capita engineering activity as structure per patch and patches per engineer, or its contribution for engineers occurring in groups; 3. the degree of patch maintenance, abandonment, and re-engineering of abandoned patches; and in some situations, 4. the direction of the signature shift that is considered. I use this to illustrate how different ecological factors affecting engineer species (e.g., abiotic resources and conditions, natural enemies) and engineer feedbacks can drive signature transitions. I address complications and how they might be dealt with for situations where an engineer species causes formation and decay; when multiple engineering species co-occur; and when patches are materially interconnected. I end by considering whether life leaves a geomorphological signature, using this to contrast my approach with biogeomorphology, and asking what a hypothetical analysis of signature patterns across many engineer species/landscape combinations might imply for the interface of ecology and biogeomorphology. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.
Schlesinger W.H.,Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Global Change Biology | Year: 2010
Applications of fertilizer, often thought to enhance carbon sequestration in agricultural soils, are of no value to the mitigation of climate change if the carbon dioxide released during the production and distribution of nitrogen fertilizer exceeds the incremental carbon storage in soils from its use. Nitrogen fertilizer is also a source of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. The recent analysis of carbon sequestration in cropland soils of China does not apply these 'discounts' to the global warming mitigation expected from greater use of fertilizer; doing so would likely eliminate all the climate benefits of the postulated enhanced carbon sequestration. © 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Strayer D.L.,Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Freshwater Biology | Year: 2010
Biological invasions are numerous in fresh waters around the world. At least hundreds of freshwater species have been moved outside of their native ranges by vectors such as ballast water, canals, deliberate introductions, and releases from aquaria, gardens, and bait buckets. As a result, many bodies of fresh water now contain dozens of alien species. 2. Invasions are highly nonrandom with respect to the taxonomic identity and biological traits of the invaders, the ecological characteristics of the ecosystems that are invaded, and the geographical location of the ecosystems that supply and receive the invaders. 3. Some invaders have had deep and pervasive effects on the ecosystems that they invade. Classes of ecologically important invaders in fresh waters include molluscs that are primary consumers and disrupt the food web from its base, fishes that disrupt the food web from its apex or centre, decapods that act as powerful omnivores, aquatic plants that have strong engineering effects and affect the quality and quantity of primary production, and diseases, which probably have been underestimated as an ecological force. 4. The number of alien species in freshwater ecosystems will increase in the future as new aliens are moved outside of their native ranges by humans, and as established aliens fill their potential ranges. Alien species create "no-analogue" ecosystems that will be difficult to manage in the future. We may be able to reduce future impacts of invaders by making more serious efforts to prevent new invasions and manage existing invaders. 5. Thematic implications: interactions between alien species and other contemporary stressors of freshwater ecosystems are strong and varied. Because disturbance is generally thought to favour invasions, stressed ecosystems may be especially susceptible to invasions, as are highly artificial ecosystems. In turn, alien species can strongly alter the hydrology, biogeochemical cycling, and biotic composition of invaded ecosystems, and thus modulate the effects of other stressors. In general, interactions between alien species and other stressors are poorly studied. © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Schlesinger W.H.,Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Global Change Biology | Year: 2013
A literature survey of studies reporting nitrous oxide uptake in the soils of natural ecosystems is used to suggest that the median uptake potential is 4 μg m-2 h-1. The highest values are nearly all associated with soils of wetland and peatland ecosystems. Globally, the consumption of nitrous oxide in soils is not likely to exceed 0.3 TgN yr-1, indicating that the projected sink is not more than 2% of current estimated sources of N2O in the atmosphere. © 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Strayer D.L.,Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Ecology Letters | Year: 2012
I pose eight questions central to understanding how biological invasions affect ecosystems, assess progress towards answering those questions and suggest ways in which progress might be made. The questions concern the frequency with which invasions affect ecosystems; the circumstances under which ecosystem change is most likely; the functions that are most often affected by invaders; the relationships between changes to ecosystems, communities, and populations; the long-term responses of ecosystems to invasions; interactions between biological invasions and other anthropogenic activities and the difficulty of managing undesirable impacts of non-native species. Some questions have been answered satisfactorily, others require more data and thought, and others might benefit from being reformulated or abandoned. Actions that might speed progress include careful development of trait-based approaches; strategic collection and publication of new data, including more frequent publication of negative results; replacement of expert opinion with hard data where needed; careful consideration of whether questions really need to be answered, especially in cases where answers are being provided for managers and policy-makers; explicit attention to and testing of the domains of theories; integrating invasions better into an ecosystem context; and remembering that our predictive ability is limited and will remain so for the foreseeable future. © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/CNRS.