Skip to main content

News

July 2021 was almost 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average — the warmest month in the entire record of global temperature stretching back over 140 years. The land area of the Northern Hemisphere set an even larger record in July, exceeding 2.7 degrees above average.

Communities across the western United States face an existential crisis. As forests become drier and thicker with vegetation, and development encroaches further into forested areas, wildfires grow larger, more frequent and more damaging. U-M experts are working with practitioners across the west to address this growing concern.

The new IPCC report, released Monday, says some devastating impacts of global warming are now unavoidable, but there is still a short window to stop things from getting even worse. It calls climate change a “code red for humanity.”

Alison Davis Rabosky, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and assistant curator of reptiles and amphibians at the U-M Museum of Zoology, won the 2021 Meritorious Teaching Award in Herpetology, presented by the Herpetology Education Committee.

Every year, 3.5 million metric tons of sodden diapers end up in landfills. The superabsorbent material inside these diapers is made up of a matrix of polymers that expand once dampness hits them. A U-M team has developed a technique to untangle these absorbent polymers and recycle them into materials similar to the gooey adhesives used in sticky notes and bandages.

One alleyway on Detroit’s northwest side is being staged to power lights through rainwater harvesting as part of a plan to make more of the city’s 9,000+ alleys functional and sustainable. The test installation project has brought together community leaders with U-M researchers and students to build on the city’s large-scale program to clear alleys of debris and overgrown vegetation.

Many of the benefits that humanity derives from the natural world, like the provisioning of oxygen, are priceless. Climate change can threaten these services through the loss of species or shifts in species’ size or abundance. For example, warming temperatures have reduced the size of many birds over the last four decades; this is emblematic of the scale of climate change impacts on the world’s biological diversity.

Many sustainability-minded consumers are moving away from single-use plastic products and turning to reusable alternatives. In the kitchen, trendy alternatives include bamboo drinking straws and beeswax sandwich wrap. Those consumers likely assume that reusables have fewer environmental impacts, but just how green are these products?

U-M researchers and their partners are forecasting that western Lake Erie will experience a smaller-than-average harmful algal bloom this summer. A relatively dry spring is expected to lead to a repeat of last year’s mild bloom, marking the first time in more than a dozen years that mild Lake Erie blooms have occurred in consecutive summers.

People’s personal experiences with nature may work better than dire warnings to motivate environmental action, a new U-M study found. Researchers wanted to know what motivates people to take action about preserving the environment, so they analyzed a conservation campaign focusing on monarch butterflies.

Researchers are forecasting a smaller than average Chesapeake Bay “dead zone” due to reduced river flows and less nutrient and sediment pollution. The bay’s hypoxic and anoxic regions, which are areas of low and no oxygen, respectively, are caused by excess nutrient pollution.

When a UM-led research team reported last year that North American migratory birds have been getting smaller over the past four decades and that their wings have gotten a bit longer, the scientists wondered if they were seeing the fingerprint of earlier spring migrations. Multiple studies have demonstrated that birds are migrating earlier in the spring as the world warms.

More than 50 species of tree snail in the South Pacific Society Islands were wiped out following the introduction of an alien predatory snail in the 1970s, but the white-shelled Partula hyalina survived. Now, thanks to a collaboration between U-M biologists and engineers with the world’s smallest computer, scientists understand why.

An estimated 8 million tons of plastic trash enters the ocean each year, and most of it is battered by sun and waves into microplastics—tiny flecks that can ride currents hundreds or thousands of miles from their point of entry. The debris can harm sea life and marine ecosystems, and it’s extremely difficult to track and clean up.

Phil D’Anieri, a lecturer in urban and regional planning, has published The Appalachian Trail: A Biography, Born in 1921, the trail, which stretches 2,192 miles from Georgia to Maine, is one of the world’s best-known treks. Millions of hikers set foot on it every year. D’Anieri’s book explores the backstory of the dreamers and builders who helped bring it to life over the past century.

Every night during the spring and fall migration seasons, thousands of birds are killed when they crash into illuminated windows, disoriented by the light. But a new study shows that darkening just half of a building’s windows can make a big difference for birds.

A team of scientists including a U-M aquatic ecologist is forecasting this summer’s Gulf of Mexico hypoxic area or “dead zone,” an area of low to no oxygen that can kill fish and other marine life, to be approximately 4,880 square miles, a bit smaller than the state of Connecticut. The 2021 forecasted area is smaller than, but close to, the five-year-average measured size of 5,400 square miles.

Isle Royale is unique because of its uninhabited status—the island is 99 percent wilderness—historic national protection, and its location at the boundary between boreal and temperate biomes. A student project team is collecting and analyzing transect data used to measure herbivory rates of the beaver and moose populations.

U-M entomologist Thomas Moore was walking in the yard of his Ann Arbor-area home on Monday afternoon when he heard the unmistakable droning buzz of a single periodical cicada in the distance. Moore, 91, has spent nearly seven decades studying periodical cicadas, which emerge every 13 or 17 years and are only found in the eastern half of North America.

U-M scientists say that crowdsourced wildlife identification is a reliable way to lighten a research team’s workload while increasing public participation in science.

There is much unknown about the impact of roads on pollinating insects such as bees and to what extent these structures disrupt insect pollination — essential to reproduction in many plant species.

Some climate activists advocate large-scale tree-planting campaigns in forests around the world to suck up heat-trapping carbon dioxide and help rein in climate change. But the idea of planting trees as a substitute for the direct reduction of greenhouse gas emissions could be a pipe dream.

“Over the last decade, there have been enormous efforts to sequence hundreds of genes from lineages across the tree of life,” said U-M ecology and evolutionary biology professor Stephen A. Smith. “What we have discovered after analyzing this genetic data is that the individual genes often disagree about the relationships in the tree of life.”

Noisy Brood X periodical cicadas will soon emerge in parts of southeastern Michigan and in a handful of other states in the eastern half of the country, after developing underground for 17 years. Cicadas do not bite and are harmless to humans. However, they can damage small trees and shrubs if too many of them feed from a plant or lay eggs in its twigs.

Thanks to focused conservation efforts, tiger numbers have rebounded in some parts of their range. In Nepal, for example, the wild tiger population has nearly doubled from 121 in 2009 to 235 in 2018. But a road-building boom in Asia could undo this progress.

Michigan Alumnus spoke with Shelie Miller, an associate professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability and director of the U-M Program in the Environment, about some common misperceptions regarding sustainability.

As we move toward a cleaner transportation sector, a new $2 million project at U-M aims to develop easier and more cost-effective ways to make recyclable lightweight automotive sheet metals.

How will fluctuating water levels across the Great Lakes impact the growth of cities, people moving to the region, changes in water supply and the overall economy? Professor Drew Gronewold is working with researchers across U-M to answer those critical questions.

The U-M School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) announced that it received a significant philanthropic gift to establish a program that will advance socially engaged, problem-oriented research on western forests, fires, and communities.

The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality at the University of Michigan has submitted its final report, which contains recommendations to help the university achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. The report includes 50 recommendations that U-M could take to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions across the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses.

U-M researchers will enlist the help of citizen scientists in a new project to digitize thousands of historical records—some dating back more than a century—about Michigan inland lake conditions and fish abundances. Scientists will feed the digitized data into computer models to study the impacts of climate change and other factors on the fish in Michigan’s inland lakes.

Robotic laboratories on the bottom of Lake Erie have revealed that the muddy sediments there release nearly as much of the nutrient phosphorus into the surrounding waters as enters the lake’s central basin each year from rivers and their tributaries.

Growing up, Sam Lima was broadly interested in biology, but it wasn’t until college when she started learning about the many ecological and climate crises facing the world that she decided to study ecology.

A new analysis of thousands of native and nonnative Michigan bees shows that the most diverse bee communities have the lowest levels of three common viral pathogens. U-M researchers netted and trapped more than 4,000 bees from 60 species. The bees were collected at winter squash farms across Michigan, where both managed honeybee colonies and wild native bees pollinate the squash flowers.

The COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, has demonstrated that a previously unknown pathogen can emerge from wildlife species and threaten public health on a global scale within months. During spillover events, vouchered specimens in museum collections and biorepositories can help disease sleuths quickly track a pathogen to its source in the wild.

Two U-M experts are investigating “informal green spaces” across Detroit. Such spaces, sometimes referred to pejoratively as ‘vacant lots,’ have emerged across the city in part because of cuts to public services. These areas now serve as homes for spontaneous vegetation, better known as weeds, which tend to thrive in such urban, resource-depleted environments.

The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, charged with recommending scalable and transferable strategies for U-M to achieve net-zero emissions, has released its preliminary draft recommendations for public comment. The draft report includes a collection of steps that U-M could take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the Flint, Dearborn and Ann Arbor campuses, including Michigan Medicine.

Mountain hares in Scotland show increasing camouflage mismatch due to less snowy winters, a new study shows. Mountain hares are one of 21 species that molt from a dark coat in summer to a white coat in winter to maintain camouflage against snowy landscapes. But due to climate change, the duration of snow cover is decreasing—creating a “mismatch” in seasonal camouflage that exposes the hares to predators.

Diverting urine away from municipal wastewater treatment plants and recycling the nutrient-rich liquid to make crop fertilizer would result in multiple environmental benefits when used at city scale, according to a new UM-led study. Researchers found that urine diversion and recycling led to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, freshwater consumption and the potential to fuel algal blooms in lakes and other water bodies.

The sinking carcasses of fish from near-surface waters deliver toxic mercury pollution to the most remote and inaccessible parts of the world’s oceans. And most of that mercury began its long journey to the deep-sea trenches as atmospheric emissions from coal-fired power plants, mining operations, cement factories, incinerators and other human activities.

Stakeholders in western Lake Erie rely on U-M’s Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR) staff to provide critical information on harmful algal blooms (HABs), helping them to deliver high-quality drinking water to surrounding communities.

“Year to year changes in the dead zone are driven mostly by changes in weather. While that is likely the most important control on this year’s relatively small size, nutrient-reduction efforts are contributing to the slower downward trend,” said U-M aquatic ecologist Don Scavia, professor emeritus at the School for Environment and Sustainability and a member of the Chesapeake Bay forecast team.

A new study provides strong evidence that exposure to light pollution alters predator-prey dynamics between mule deer and cougars across the intermountain West, a rapidly growing region where nighttime skyglow is an increasing environmental disturbance.

Humans and wildlife often detrimentally affect each other in landscapes that they share together. Large predators can eat livestock, for example, or people can kill wild animals to reduce these risks. Coexistence between humans and wildlife is therefore more likely when humans adapt to these risks in ways that lead to benefits for both humans and wildlife, rather than benefiting one group only.

Forest restoration is a crucial element in strategies to mitigate climate change and conserve global biodiversity in the coming decades, and much of the focus is on formerly tree-covered lands in the tropics. A new study finds that nearly 300 million people in the tropics live on lands suitable for forest restoration, and about a billion people live within 5 miles of such lands.

Over the past several decades, it has appeared that cold-climate forests at high latitudes have become more effective carbon sinks as rising temperatures and higher CO2 levels have made them more productive. But a new UM-led study casts additional uncertainty on whether those ecosystems will continue to absorb carbon as they become hotter and drier.

The extent of Southeast Michigan’s tree canopy and its urban sprawl both increased between 1985 and 2015, according to a new U-M study that used aerial photos and satellite images to map individual buildings and small patches of street trees.

Nyeema Harris, U-M assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, joined colleagues across the country to call for recognition and to change the culture in ecology and evolution, in general, and for Black women, specifically.

Michigan coyotes in most of the Lower Peninsula are the “top dogs” in the local food chain and can dine on a wide variety. But in the Upper Peninsula, coyotes coexist with gray wolves and play a subordinate role in the food web. As a result, the diets of U.P. coyotes contain less meat than Lower Peninsula coyotes.

U-M researchers and their partners are forecasting that western Lake Erie will experience a moderate harmful algal bloom this summer. This year’s bloom is expected to measure 4.5 on the severity index—among the smaller blooms since 2011.

Asian carp and the trillions of quagga mussels that carpet the bottom of Lake Michigan would compete for the same food—algae and other types of plankton. Some Great Lakes researchers have suggested that the fingernail-size mollusks could help prevent the invasive fish from gaining a foothold.

Researchers are forecasting a slightly smaller-than-average Chesapeake Bay “dead zone” this year, due to reduced rainfall and less nutrient-rich runoff flowing into the bay from the watershed this spring.

Scientists estimate that 5-15 percent of the carbon stored in surface permafrost soils could be emitted as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by 2100, given the current trajectory of global warming. This emission, spurred by microbial action, could lead to 0.3 to 0.4 degrees Celsius of additional global warming.

U-M scientists and their colleagues are forecasting this summer’s Gulf of Mexico hypoxic area or “dead zone”—an area of low to no oxygen that can kill fish and other marine life—to be approximately 6,700 square miles, roughly the size of Connecticut and Delaware combined.

At a forum convened by the House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on June 1, Daniel Raimi, Ford School lecturer, testified about the feasibility of capping some 56-thousand such oil and gas wells.

Organisms carry long-term “memories” of their ancestral homelands that help them adapt to environmental change, according to a new study that involved raising chickens on the Tibetan Plateau and an adjacent lowland site.

Replacing half of all animal-based foods in the U.S. diet with plant-based alternatives could reduce climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions 1.6 billion metric tons by 2030, according to a new study by researchers at U-M and Tulane University.

Nearly 15,000 miles of new Asian roads will be built in tiger habitat by mid-century, deepening the big cat’s extinction risk and highlighting the need for bold new conservation measures now, according to a new U-M study.

A new U-M-led survey of West African lions—believed to be the largest wildlife camera survey ever undertaken in West Africa and the first carried out within WAP Complex national parks and hunting concessions—found that lions show no statistically significant preference between parks and trophy-hunting areas.

A new paper including research from a U-M scientist provides a framework for understanding how light, noise and chemical pollution affects animals. The framework reveals the presence of “sensory danger zones,” defining where sensory pollutants overlap with animal activity.

Restoration often seeks to maneuver an ecosystem into a historical state, returning the vegetative community to what resided there previously. It often involves planting native species, including rare species, in locations where they would have existed historically according to landscape pattern. Yet what if the plants are more successful in different habitats because of changing climates?

A new U-M-led study of individually radio-tracked tropical fish in a Bahamian mangrove estuary highlights the importance of highly active individuals in maintaining ecosystem health. It found that the individual gray and cubera snappers that spent the most time swimming and foraging for food also spread the highest levels of the essential nutrient nitrogen throughout the estuary in their urine.

A new U-M study presents the first genetic evidence of resistance in some bats to white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease that has decimated some North American bat populations. Since the arrival of white-nose syndrome in 2006, some populations of the small, insect-eating little brown bat have experienced declines of more than 90%.

“Fish can act as a canary in the coal mine, and be indicators of environmental problems as they emerge,” said Karen Alofs, assistant professor of applied aquatic ecology at the U-M's School for Environment and Sustainability

Biosequestration relies on the natural ability of living organisms and biological processes to capture carbon. The biosequestration internal analysis team, part of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, has been working for several months to evaluate the biosequestration of university-owned lands.

U-M researchers are exploring the possibility that B. similaris and other snails and slugs, which are part of a large class of animals called gastropods, could be used as a biological control to help rein in coffee leaf rust. But as ecologists, they are keenly aware of the many disastrous attempts at biological control of pests in the past.

North American migratory birds have been getting smaller over the past four decades, and their wings have gotten a bit longer. Both changes appear to be responses to a warming climate. Those are the main findings from a new U-M led analysis of a dataset of some 70,000 North American migratory birds from 52 species that died when they collided with buildings in Chicago.

In an effort to control the cyanobacteria blooms and dead zones that plague Lake Erie each summer, fueled by excess nutrients, the United States and Canada in 2016 called for a 40% reduction in the amount of phosphorus entering the lake’s western and central basins, including the Detroit River’s contribution.

U-M marine ecologist Jacob Allgeier uses artificial reefs, mathematical modeling and community-based conservation programs to understand how an unlikely but renewable source of fertilizer—fish excretion—can be used to stimulate fish production and improve food security in tropical ecosystems.

When U-M wildlife ecologist Nyeema Harris started her multiyear camera survey of West African wildlife, she sought to understand interactions between mammals and people in protected areas such as national parks. Livestock grazing and the gathering of forest products were among the most common human-related activities her cameras captured, while poaching was actually the rarest.

In what is believed to be the first comprehensive study of unofficial footpaths in a large urban area, U-M's Joshua Newell and colleague Alec Foster of Illinois State University mapped 5,680 unofficial footpaths in the city of Detroit—that's 157 linear miles of trails—visible from space.

Asian carp are capable of surviving and growing in much larger portions of Lake Michigan than scientists previously believed and present a high risk of becoming established.

A group of U-M researchers has been awarded a five-year, $20 million cooperative agreement to support NOAA in overseeing research at a nationwide network of 29 estuaries—which are among the most biologically productive natural habitats on Earth.

The fact that millions of North American monarch butterflies fly thousands of miles each fall and somehow manage to find the same overwintering sites in central Mexican forests and along the California coast, year after year, is pretty mind-blowing.

In an aspen-dominated hardwood forest at the northern tip of the state’s Lower Peninsula, U-M scientists are testing ways to make the region’s forests more resilient to climate change. About 12,000 mature trees—mostly aspen—are being cut on 77 acres at the U-M Biological Station, a 10,000-acre research and teaching facility just south of the Mackinac Bridge, near the town of Pellston.

Giving local communities in Nepal the opportunity to manage their forests has simultaneously reduced deforestation and poverty in the region, new research has shown. In the largest study of its kind, an international research team found that community-forest management led to a 37% relative reduction in deforestation and a 4.3% relative reduction in poverty.

U-M researchers report using a recently developed genetic technique to estimate the precise longitude and latitude of ice-age refugia for two broadly distributed hickory species, the bitternut and the shagbark.

Wild bees are indispensable pollinators, supporting both agricultural productivity and the diversity of flowering plants worldwide. But wild bees are experiencing widespread declines resulting from multiple interacting factors. A new U-M led study suggests that the effects of one of those factors—urbanization—may have been underestimated.

The toxins produced in cyanobacteria blooms, which plague western Lake Erie each summer, may have protective effects on sand-grain-sized lake animals that ingest them, much as the toxins in milkweed plants protect monarch butterflies from parasites.

Orangutans have long been viewed as an ecologically sensitive species that can thrive only in pristine forests. But a new synthesis of existing evidence has shown that orangutans can, and do, inhabit in areas impacted by humans, and that may mean only good things for the survival of the species.

Parasites have an admittedly bad reputation. The diverse group of organisms includes tapeworms, roundworms, ticks, lice, fleas and other pests—most of which are best known for causing disease in humans, livestock and other animals. But parasites play important roles in ecosystems. They help control wildlife populations and keep energy flowing through food chains.

A study of the St. Clair River by U-M scientists shows that despite river-current speeds of more than 3 feet per second, some recently hatched lake sturgeon manage to remain in the St. Clair’s North Channel, a surprising finding with implications for the siting of future spawning reefs.