Leaving a Legacy: Plants leave “memories” in the soil that can affect future generations

It’s easy to drive by grasslands, forests, and deserts without thinking too deeply about how and why they have developed to be unique from one another. Still, most of us have an intuition of how community drivers work, such as recognizing that sandy soils and very hot climates encourage the growth of cacti instead of oaks. As an ecologist that has done a lot of work with restoration projects, I am particularly interested in thinking about all of the environmental “ingredients” that go into the recipe for each unique plant community. The day that I found out that plants can leave “memories” in soil which change communities long term, I immediately began thinking about how we could harness this knowledge for good and whether or not humans play a role in the development of these legacies.

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Pollution in Polish Rivers, and the Cucumber Solution

Pollution is dangerous, both to humans and the ecosystems we care about. But researchers in Poland have studied the sources and dynamic movement of pollutants in rivers, and may have found potential in cucumbers to help improve the system.

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What is “dark diversity” and how can we use it to guide conservation and restoration?

The core of ecology is devoted to studying the interactions among species and their environment. But why are some species present and others absent in an environment? Think of a region of forest that has been converted to an agricultural field. The species that were thriving in the forest now have become absent because they are not tolerant of the new environmental conditions imposed upon them in the agricultural field.

Only a subset of all species in a region can tolerate the ecological conditions of a given site (the site-specific species pool). Of those, not all are realized in the local species pool. These absent species form what is called the dark diversity of a community. Authors Lewis et al. (2017) believe that the dark diversity concept can be used to complement and further develop conservation prioritization and management decision

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Can shellfish farming clean our coastal waters?

Coastal waters throughout the United States and the globe are suffering from an excess of nitrogen due to human activities. Excess nitrogen comes from a variety of sources such as wastewater treatment plants and can impact the health of coastal habitats. Coastal managers are adopting a variety of practices to limit the nitrogen inputs to coastal waters including improved stormwater and wastewater treatments, but could shellfish farming help clean our coastal waters? A study from Cape Cod, Massachusetts sought to quantify how much nitrogen can be removed from coastal waters through oyster and quahog farming.

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What can sea turtles tell us about the plastics in our oceans?

Some of our best insight into the types of plastic litter in the ocean comes from examining what is ingested by sea turtles. Recent research looks at how the composition of plastic waste changes with ocean depth, as informed by the eating patterns of sea turtles.

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Disposal Method Matters: The Truth Behind Biodegradable Plastics

Biodegradable plastics are being introduced as a solution to the buildup of plastics in the environment, and they are often touted as being an environmentally-friendly option. However, they come with their own complications. Researchers have investigated how specific biodegradable plastics break down (or don’t) in different environments, showing that how they are disposed of makes a big difference in how environmentally-friendly they are.

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