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News Release

December 6, 2010
Alex Demas 703-648-4421
Kara Capelli 703-648-5086
Catherine Puckett 352-264-3532

Biofuels and Buffelgrass, Urban Water and Mangroves

USGS Research at A Community on Ecosystem Services (ACES) Focuses on Ecosystem Science

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The 2010 A Community on Ecosystem Services conference is in Phoenix, Ariz., from Dec. 6 to 9.  This year’s theme is Ecosystems Services. For more information, visit the ACES Conference Homepage.

Biofuels: Can the Energy Be Sustained? As the quest for energy security and alternative fuel development continues, biofuels are becoming an increasingly important element of the United States’ fuel options.  At ACES, USGS scientists will present papers regarding the scope and impacts of increased biofuel production in the United States.

One study focused on the impacts of corn-based biofuel production on soil fertility and ecosystem sustainability.  As both corn and corn plant residue are substantial sources of material from which to produce biofuels, the effects of their cultivation and harvesting methods are important as well.  The study shows that various farming techniques and harvesting levels do significantly affect key elements of soil fertility and sustainability, such as the concentration of soil organic carbon.  In addition, under conventional management practices, corncob removal has little influence on soil fertility, whereas irrigation where necessary can greatly improve ecosystem sustainability. Contact: Zhengxi Tan, 605-594-6903, Title of Talk: Impacts of Corn-based Biofuel Production on Soil Fertility and Ecosystem Sustainability.

Two other studies feature models that examine biofuel cultivation and land use.  The first was conducted to determine which sites in the Greater Platte River Basin would be suitable for conversion to biofuels grasses. The researchers looked for lands with moderate to high ecosystem site potential (that is.,consistent high grassland productivity) and fair to good range condition (that is, persistent ecosystem over-performance or normal performance with less ecological disturbance), depending on the weather conditions and ecological disturbances. Contact: Steve Boyte, SGT Inc., 605-594-6171, Title of talk: Dynamic Modeling of Ecosystem Performance to Identify Land Suitable for Biofuels Development.

To determine whether biofuel production can adversely or positively affect land use, the second model focused on creating a model to account for likely impacts on land use and land cover.  The model examines future biofuels scenarios, and potential site-specific impacts of the land-use changes that would occur under those scenarios. Contact: Terry Sohl, 605-594-6537, Title of talk: Development of a Spatially Explicit Land-Use Model for the Assessment of Biofuels.

Buffelgrass Invasion in the Sonoran Desert: What Do We Stand to Lose? Invasion by buffelgrass and other non-native grasses threatens to transform the iconic and mostly fireproof Sonoran desert into an impoverished and flammable savanna, according to research being presented by USGS scientist Julio Betancourt. Biodiversity risks from invasion include not just rare and endangered species, but also more dominant and symbolic ones like the saguaro.  Research by Betancourt and his colleagues reveals that southern and central Arizona are on the verge of losing the Arizona Upland of the Sonoran Desert, the ecological backdrop for two large cities (Tucson and Phoenix) and numerous national and regional parks. Likely impacts to basic ecosystem services, including food webs, nutrient cycling and the transport, supply and quality of water and sediment, remain virtually unstudied. In addition, the researchers note that economic impacts from the loss of this ecosystem likely include decreased property values in infested and increasingly fire-prone areas, losses in tourism revenues with a decaying ecological backdrop and escalating weed control and fire suppression budgets across all jurisdictions. Betancourt will also discuss what efforts are being made to control this noxious weed, including an interagency mitigation and planning effort that will involve 5 different federal agencies and 14 federal units in southern Arizona. Contact: Julio L. Betancourt, 520-670-6821 x107, Title of talk: Buffelgrass Invasion in the Sonoran Desert: What Do We Stand to Lose?

Fewer Mangrove Forests Remaining Worldwide than Previously Thought:  Mangrove forests provide an estimated $1.6 billion (U.S. dollars) in ecosystem goods and services to people worldwide, including protection from natural disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis. Yet these forests are being rapidly converted for agriculture, aquaculture and into urban areas. USGS researchers and their colleagues mapped and validated the status and distributions of global mangroves and found that there are more than 10 percent fewer mangrove forests remaining in the world than previously reported. In 2000, 137,760 square kilometers (53.190 square miles) of mangroves were found in 118 countries and territories in the world’s tropical and subtropical regions. The study confirms earlier findings that mangrove forests are generally confined to the tropical and subtropical regions of the world and a vast majority of them can be found within 5 degrees latitude from the equator. The new mangrove forest database is the most comprehensive, globally consistent, and highest resolution one ever created and is available freely for non-commercial use.  Contact: Chandra Giri, 605-594-2835, Title of talk: Ecosystem Goods and Services and the Status and Distribution of Mangrove Forest of the World.

Filling the Carbon Sinks: Based on current trends, cumulative U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are projected to double by 2050 and increase by a factor of three to four by 2100. Maximizing the natural carbon storage processes of terrestrial U.S. land sinks is a key climate mitigation strategy.  However, the effects of such a strategy on land use and land cover are not known, and so a USGS study seeks to shed some light on likely outcomes.  Scientists used an aggressive scenario in which increased afforestation, no deforestation, no freshwater wetland loss, and significant alterations to the timber harvesting industry were investigated.  The net present value of the mitigation activity ranged between -$18.2 million (assuming marketable timber value only) and $436.9 million (assuming all potential and social values for the ecosystem services are realized).  Consequently, depending on several variables, the return on investment in mitigation activity could be valuable. Contact: Stephen Faulkner, 304-724-4471, Title of talk: Ancillary Effects of Carbon Sequestration Strategies on Ecosystem Services.

How does Water Quality Affect Recreation in Puget Sound? USGS scientists, as part of the Puget Sound Ecosystem Portfolio Model (PSEPM), are determining conditions that influence park visitation for restoration planning and decision support. Their findings indicate that increased Enterococcus bacteria (E. coli) counts --an indicator of water quality -- decrease visitation to state parks. Other factors influencing recreational visits include site amenities, travel distances and population density. An improvement in water quality would likely yield an increase in the value of recreation and other ecosystem services. This finding could be used to determine the cost of water quality decline or the expected benefits of restoration or management actions. Contact: Jason Kreitler, 208-854-9440, Title of talk: Interacting Coastal-Based Ecosystem Services in Puget Sound: Recreation and Water Quality.

Loss of Native Prairie Cannot be Mitigated For: Ecosystem Services: USGS scientists assessed the environmental and economic tradeoffs under different likely land-use scenarios in the Prairie Pothole Region over a 20-year period by comparing the ecological and economic values of three ecosystem services (carbon sequestration, sediment reduction and waterfowl production) across three kinds of land use in the region: native prairie grasslands, lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve and Wetlands Reserve Programs (CRP/WRP), and cropland. The researchers found that the existence of Conservation Reserve and Wetlands Reserve Programs lands cannot mitigate (1 for 1) for the loss of native prairie. Land-use scenarios in which native prairie loss was minimized and CRP/WRP lands were increased provided the most societal benefit. The scenario modeling projected native prairie conversion in the next 20 years results in a social welfare loss valued at over $2.5 billion, when considering the study’s three ecosystem services, and a net loss of about $1.8 billion when reductions in commodity production are accounted for. With high ecological scores on native lands, along with significant economic dependence on the agricultural sector, it is important to measure how these land uses work with and against each other. By quantifying ecosystem and economic tradeoffs of future land-use scenarios, this study aims to help policy makers and natural resource managers make more informed, efficient, and defensible decisions. Contact: William Gascoigne, 216-965-7961, Title of talk: Valuing Ecosystem and Economic Services across Land-Use Scenarios in the Prairie Potholes.

Measuring the Prairie Pothole Region: The Prairie Pothole Region of North America extends from north-central Iowa to central Alberta; the landscape is dotted with many small wetlands created by glaciers. The regular fluctuation in surface water is a key factor in regulating carbon sequestration, floodwater retention, waterfowl production and pollution reduction. Most of these wetlands are small and cannot be detected by conventional remote-sensing data or other methods, and high-resolution photos are not practical to cover this large area.  In this presentation, USGS scientists and their colleagues are developing a new system to monitor and predict the spatiotemporal water area change of each wetland, using a combination of satellite data, LiDAR, National Wetlands Inventory data, models and aerial photos. Contact: Shengli Huang, 605-594-2864, Title of talk: Monitoring and Predicting Spatiotemporal Water Surface Dynamics of Topographic Depressions in the Prairie Pothole Region from Remote Sensing and Hydrological Models.

Water Quality Ecosystem Services in the Urban Environment: Do Management Practices Measure Up? Urban development in the Chesapeake Bay watershed generates impervious surface cover, alters watershed flow patterns and increases the amount of pollutants produced and transported through the watershed. This negatively affects the ability of the landscape to provide water purification ecosystem services. Structural management practices are used to replace natural ecosystem services and functions in watersheds affected by urban development. But do these man-made methods measure up to natural processes? USGS scientists will discuss their research findings about whether these management practices are improving water quality and helping to provide water purification ecosystem services. This presentation will provide an overview of how best management practices compare to natural processes, and include case studies being conducted in Montgomery County, MD, and Fairfax County, VA, that compare natural and urban areas and different watershed mitigation practices. Contact: Dianna Hogan, 703-648-7240, Title of talk: Water Quality Ecosystem Services in the Urban Environment.

To learn more about this conference, please visit the ACES Conference Homepage.

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