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We want to make cutting edge research in the environmental sciences accessible to all by highlighting recent studies and explaining how these advances shape the understanding of our world.

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Burning Desire to Forage

During the fall of 2018, California had some of the worst and deadliest fires to date, with devastating costs to human communities. Communities of plants and animals are also greatly impacted by fires. But how does wildlife respond to wildfires? Burns alter the environment and open up new habitats allowing smaller shrubs to recolonize in areas that were dominated by tall trees. A recent study in Oregon suggests that elk utilize a wide array of habitats and that burned forests are critical areas for food for many herbivores.

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Soil in the Succotash Marsh, Rhode Island: Coring for clues to past coastal storms

When you think of a saltmarsh, what comes to mind? Maybe a place that smells bad and you prefer to avoid? A place to fish? Turns out, salt marshes hold clues to the past. Scientists along the East Coast of the United States, for example, can use the information in salt marsh soils to reconstruct past storms and determine the past sea levels. As scientists in Rhode Island, we were able to easily try and replicate the findings of a previously published study from the Succotash Marsh also located in Rhode Island.

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How can we help salt marshes recover after an oil spill?

Salt marshes impacted by oil spills (like Deepwater Horizon) often experience vegetation diebacks and a loss of ecosystem function. Researchers recently found that re-establishing the dominant salt marsh vegetation, Spartina alterniflora, is critical to ensure and enhance the presence of other marsh animals. Unexpectedly, the addition of fertilizer had little to no effect on the recolonization of salt marsh critters.

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Bacteria, Viruses and Carbon: how microorganisms in arctic soils can alter our climate

Wetland soils store 20-30% of global soil carbon, that carbon is mostly controlled by bacterial populations. Arctic wetland soils store twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, but are frozen year round as permafrost which limits microbial activity. We try to predict what will happen with microbial communities and soils when temperatures continue to warm, but we’re finding out it’s more than just bacteria that are driving arctic carbon cycles.

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Climate change could make your beer dear

Apart from being popular beverages in the world, do you know what the common link between beer and coffee is? Both may be affected by climate change. While we already know that climate change will impact coffee, a new study published in Nature Plants has established that beer is also under threat. Rising temperature and drought due to climate change can hit the beer supply hard all over the world and make beer more expensive.

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Desalination: As If Corals Didn’t Have Enough to Worry About Already

Clean, safe drinking water is a basic human need. However, for many areas around the globe, freshwater is becoming scarce. Desalination is increasingly used to provide drinking water in some coastal regions, but the waste products – brine and antiscalants – are discharged back into the ocean with unknown consequences. A recent study by Karen Lykkebo Petersen (University of California Santa Cruz) and colleagues sought to simulate happens to coral reefs as they are increasingly exposed to desalination discharge.

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These tasty fish are more likely to get eaten when stressed

As human populations continue to rise, especially along coastlines, the occurrence of various stressors tend to increase. This study explored the ability of a commercially important species, the European seabass, to recover following short term exposure to these stressors by evaluating their predator avoidance behavior. In short, acidic waters led to greater risk-taking behavior in these fish, which can have serious implications for their survival in a changing world.

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Timing is Everything: Sockeye Salmon Migration on the Skeena River

For most salmon to complete their life cycle, juveniles must migrate out to the ocean as “smolts”. They are then able to grow quickly by taking advantage of marine food sources, before they return as adults to spawn in the river where they were born. With climate change affecting environmental cues and conditions, the timing of their migration might not match up to the availability of crucial food resources, which could reduce smolt survival. Will this phenomenon affect the Skeena River populations of Sockeye Salmon? Read on to learn more!

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Nature vs. Nature or Engineering? The Case of Coastal Resilience

Coastal flooding has been a problem for as long as civilization has settled along the coast. During that same time civilization has been impacting natural features that would otherwise help mitigate this problem. There are two schools of thought in combating coastal flooding today: installing conventional engineering solutions and bringing back natural barriers. There are pros and cons to both strategies, but it really boils down to cost, space, and unintended consequences. In our opinion, nature should be used to fight nature. Read the article and decide for yourself!

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