The challenges facing oceans — from piracy and pollution to overfishing and shipping management — don’t exist in a vacuum.
As the built environment continues to encroach on the natural, delicate ecosystems come under ever-urgent threats. Researchers at the University of Michigan are taking a focused, multifaceted lens to a global problem — assessing human-exacerbated “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Erie, noting the resilience of invasive species enabled by human activity, and analyzing the impacts of our changing climate on the health and behavior of different species and ecosystems. Experts at the School for the Environment and Sustainability (SEAS), the LSA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and the Graham Sustainability Institute are shedding a light on how humans have disrupted ecosystems, and how they can better protect and restore them in the future.
The challenges facing oceans — from piracy and pollution to overfishing and shipping management — don’t exist in a vacuum.
Carter, an assistant professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability, received a grant from the NASA Biodiversity and Ecological Forecasting program to research how changes in vegetation canopy and water stress in the western U.S. affect large mammal species.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.