Contributed by Peter Ganzlin
The main reason I joined the ICN was how I could improve and assess collaboration within my research area: forest restoration. Forest restoration has continued to evolve out of the mistakes we finally have realized from decades of obsessive fire suppression throughout the United States. Much of our western forests have shown excessive fuel accumulation and density leading to severe wildfire, low biodiversity and stagnated rates of nutrient cycling and productivity. Restoration treatments include forest thinning, prescribed burning and other landscape manipulations. I see this field as collaborative by definition. The main questions which scientists, policymakers and forest managers alike seek to answer, in my view are: what is the longevity of forest restoration treatments? How do we define success of a particular treatment? What are the short and long-term goals of forest restoration?
Assessing and answering these questions require interdisciplinary collaboration. Of course, we can always design a forest restoration prescription that only fulfills a goal related to our area of expertise. I am certain that if we designed a forest restoration treatment to maximize habitat for pine marten and ignored other potential benefits, pitfalls and goals, we would fall short of the full potential that could be realized via collaboration. In the field of forest restoration, collaboration need not be limited to linking goals and concerns of scientists, policymakers and managers, as is commonly emphasized, but also by fostering these linkages between scientists in other disciplines.
A publication I review and reflect on frequently was written by Maria Ruiz-Jaen and T. Mitchell Aide in 2005 and published in the journal Restoration Ecology. It is titled “Restoration Success: How is it being measured?”. The authors identify nine common goals to forest restoration treatments and posit them as indicators of restoration success. These “ecosystem attributes that define restoration success” include”
· Similar plant and animal diversity and community structure to a ‘reference site’
· Presence of indigenous species
· Presence of functional groups necessary for long-term stability
· The capacity of the physical environment to sustain reproducing populations
· ‘Normal’ ecosystem functioning
· Integration within the broader landscape
· Elimination of potential threats to the ecosystem (e.g. severe, uncharacteristic wildfire, bark beetle outbreaks)
· Resilience to natural disturbance
A quick perusal of this list shows the need for a host of scientific disciplines: plant ecology, forest management, community and landscape ecology, biogeography, wildlife ecology, entomology and fire ecology – just to name a few. I am excited by the opportunity for collaboration this field affords – and demands. I am concerned, however, by the rapidity that forest restoration treatments are being implemented on the landscape. There is still a lack of long-term data assessing the effect of these treatments on the landscape and its inhabitants. I think by linking the scientists who can determine the most effective, long-lasting restoration treatments with managers and policymakers who ultimately decide funding and implementation will be crucial before we attempt to conquer fire suppression’s legacy on a whim.
Contributed by Mandy Slate
We’ve probably all encountered both journalistic misrepresentation and poorly communicated science at some point. When the two collide we sometimes see the blame placed on the journalist for misinterpreting the science (there is even a prize for the most flagrant of these examples see: http://deevybee.blogspot.com/2010/06/orwellian-prize-for-journalistic.html) or conversely the academic may be criticized with being too dense. But perhaps neither of these assumptions are entirely fair.
The translation of science through the journalistic lens shouldn’t be as difficult as it is after all both parties generally have the same goal of clearly and precisely communicating a concept. In reality, this is not so easily played out. Academics often fill their explanations with undefined jargon and/or move too quickly through complicated concepts. In fact, this challenge is not exclusive to the academic-journalist interaction. Scientists are renowned for their inability to clearly communicate their research to academics outside of their discipline and oftentimes even fail among their own research cohort.
As a result of this communication barrier, journalists become imperative as they attempt to bridge the information gap between the academic world and the rest of society. Academics require public support for funding and policy issues. Additionally, oftentimes the topic of the research itself directly pertains to the general public either through its relevance to our health or environment. People are better equipped to make conscientious decisions on these complicated subjects when the oftentimes bewildering complexity of a subject can be made plain. As far as the public is concerned, the value of science will grow in proportion to its direct relevance.
There are a few simple things we, as academics, can work to incorporate into our verbiage to facilitate this cross-communication. 1) Learn to use understandable measurements: Although this is not likely to work in scientific publications, in communiques that are directly intercepted by the public we can try and translate less common measurements like hectares to more easily interpreted dimensions like the size of a football field or an amount of water could be compared to the capacity of a local lake. Using metaphors (and using them well) can really be to the academics benefit in these cases. 2) Avoid jargon whenever possible: There are many levels of this but in general if you can describe the idea to a third grader (and have them understand it) than there is a good chance that you are being clear enough. 3) Practice: I have many times heard researchers say that their work is not glossy or hot and thus it will never be picked up by the press. I don't buy this. Something drew you to this research topic so deeply that you now lose sleep, suffer socially, and ignore your general well-being to pursue it. Practice communicating this essence that has so infiltrated your life. Make it beautiful and fascinating. Passion can be contagious.
Contributed by Annie Cooper
My name is Annie Cooper, and I am a graduate student in the Department of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana. My research focuses on the interactions between climate, carbon, and ecological disturbances. More specifically, I look at how bark beetle epidemics can impact the ability of forests to take up and store carbon dioxide. Bark beetles can be a significant disturbance on the landscape, despite their diminutive size. When bark beetles reach epidemic levels, as they have recently, they have the potential to kill massive quantities of trees. Diminished numbers of live trees may lead to lower levels of carbon sequestration by the affected forest for a period of time. I use remote sensing, field data, and computer models to quantify the impacts of bark beetle attacks on forest carbon stocks and fluxes around the western United States. Right now, I am using satellite data combined with aerial imagery to determine the biomass contained in beetle-killed wood in forests across the West. The satellite data provides information on decreases in vegetation “greenness,” indicating tree death, and aerial imagery provided by the Forest Service documents the extent and location of beetle outbreaks. I will use the biomass information to determine the amount of carbon dioxide that might be released from affected areas into the atmosphere as a result of decomposition or combustion of dead wood. This information is important because it can help to inform management decisions such as whether or not to harvest dead trees, or how to assign carbon credits in the future.