Roundup: Fieldwork in the Mustang Region, Cannabis Used for Ritual, and Sustainability in Mountain Ecosystems

Tracking Fieldwork in the Mustang Region of Nepal

From ICIMOD: “Rikha Samba Glacier is one of the seven glaciers where ICIMOD and its partners are carrying out long-term monitoring activities. A new automatic weather station (AWS) was installed on the glacier at an elevation of 5,800 masl during the field expedition from 24 September to 10 October 2018. As there is limited field data from the region, this high-altitude AWS will provide much needed data for climate change studies. Installing and maintaining a network of weather stations at higher altitudes is a challenge given the topography and remoteness of the field sites in the region.”

Read more here.

Residue from Cannabis used for Ritual Activities Found in the Pamirs

From Science Advances: “This phytochemical analysis indicates that cannabis plants were burned in wooden braziers during mortuary ceremonies at the Jirzankal Cemetery (ca. 500 BCE) in the eastern Pamirs region. This suggests cannabis was smoked as part of ritual and/or religious activities in western China by at least 2500 years ago and that the cannabis plants produced high levels of psychoactive compounds.”

Read more here.

Encouraging Sustainability in Mountain Ecosystems

From Earth’s Future: “Mountain social‐ecological systems (MtSES) are vital to humanity, providing ecosystem services to over half the planet’s human population. Despite their importance, there has been no global assessment of threats to MtSES, even as they face unprecedented challenges to their sustainability. With survey data from 57 MtSES sites worldwide, we test a conceptual model of the types and scales of stressors and ecosystem services in MtSES and explore their distinct configurations according to their primary economic orientation and land use.”

Read more here.

Roundup: Karakoram Glaciers, Comparing Bacteria, and Carabid Beetles

Anomalous Stable Glaciers in the Karakoram Mountains

From Climate Dynamics: “Glaciers over the central Himalaya have retreated at particularly rapid rates in recent decades, while glacier mass in the Karakoram appears stable. To address the meteorological factors associated with this contrast, 36 years of Climate Forecast System Reanalyses (CFSR) are dynamically downscaled from 1979 to 2015 with the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model over High Mountain Asia at convection permitting grid spacing (6.7 km). In all seasons, CFSR shows an anti-cyclonic warming trend over the majority of High Mountain Asia, but distinctive differences are observed between the central Himalaya and Karakoram in winter and summer.”

Read more about the climatic differences between the central Himalaya and Karakoram here.

Payu peak (6610 m), Pakistan Karakoram Mountains (Source: Robert Koster/Flickr).

Microbial Differences of Two Andean Lakes

From Aquatic Microbiology: “The limnological signatures of Laguna Negra and Lo Encañado, two oligotrophic Andean lakes which receive water from Eucharren Glacier and are exposed to the same climatic scenario, were driven by the characteristics of the corresponding sub-watersheds. The abundance of phototrophic bacteria is a significant metabolic difference between the microbial communities of the lakes which is not correlated to the Chla concentration.”

Read more about microbial differences of two Andean lakes here.

Laguna Negra (Source: PoL Úbeda Hervàs/Flickr).

Carabid Beetles in Norway

From Norwegian Journal of Entomology: “Nine species of carabid beetles (Coleoptera, Carabidae) were pitfall-trapped during two years in an alpine glacier foreland of southern Norway. A two-year (biennial) life cycle was documented for Nebria nivalis (Paykull, 1790), N. rufescens (Ström, 1768), and Patrobus septentrionis Dejean, 1828. This was based on the simultaneous hibernation of larvae and adults. In P. septentrionis, both larvae and adults showed a considerable activity beneath snow. A limited larval material of Amara alpina (Paykull, 1790) and A. quenseli (Schönherr, 1806) from the snow-free period indicated larval hibernation. A. quenseli was, however, not synchronized with respect to developmental stages, and its life cycle was difficult to interpret.”

Read more about the ecology of carabid beetles in an alpine glacier foreland here.

Seven carabid beetles from the glacier foreland of Southern Norway (Source: Norwegian Journal of Entomology).


Roundup: Lakes Grow, Fish Feed, Pruitt Seethes

Marine-Terminating Glaciers a Boon for Fish

From Global Change Biology: “Accelerated mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet leads to glacier retreat and an increasing input of glacial meltwater to the fjords and coastal waters around Greenland. These high latitude ecosystems are highly productive and sustain important fisheries, yet it remains uncertain how they will respond to future changes in the Arctic cryosphere. Here we show that marine-terminating glaciers play a crucial role in sustaining high productivity of the fjord ecosystems.”

Read the research paper here.

Model comparing hydrodynamic circulation in marine-terminating and land-terminating glaciers (Source: ETH Zurich/Global Change Biology).


Why Are Lakes Growing on the Tibetan Plateau?

From Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: “Since the late 1990s, most closed lakes in the interior TP expanded and deepened dramatically, in sharp contrast with lake shrinkage in the southern TP. Although some evidence shows that glacier melting and permafrost thawing within some lakes may influence lake level changes, they can not explain the overall lake expansion, especially for lakes without glacier supply. More and more evidence from lake water balance modeling indicated that the overall lake expansion across the interior TP may be mainly attributed to a significant increase in precipitation and associated runoff.”

Read the paper here.

Tso Moriri high in Ladakh (Source: Jochen Westermann/Creative Commons).

Scott Pruit (EPA) Fires Shots at Glacier Enthusiasts

From The Onion: “Oh my god, what is it with you people? It’s like you’re obsessed. It’s all you ever talk about: Wah, wah, wah, the glaciers are melting! We just can’t live without our precious glaciers! I hear it so often I’m seriously starting to wonder if maybe there isn’t something else going on here. So tell me, are you guys totally in love with glaciers, or what?”

Read more parody journalism here.

EPA director Scott Pruitt (Source: Creative Commons).

Hunt for Lost Plots in Glacier Bay Yields Key Data

20th century ecologist William Skinner Cooper has a long legacy. He spurred the establishment of Glacier Bay National Park and was one of the first American scientists to use the technique of aerial photography. His name lives on through Alaska’s Mt. Cooper and the biggest award offered by the Ecological Society of America.

William Skinner Cooper returns to Glacier Bay fifty years after his first visit (Source: Robert Howe/NPS).

That legacy continues in new and unexpected ways in Glacier Bay National Park with a treasure hunt to find nine plots established by Cooper there in 1916. Cooper developed the plots in order to study how vegetation develops after glacial retreat. As soil evolved and buried the marker stakes, the plots were lost. A century after Cooper began his experiment, Brian Buma, professor of ecology at University of Alaska Southeast, was determined to relocate the plots and launched the hunt.

Such bridges between the past and present are what national parks are all about, according to Glacier Bay National Park ecologist Lewis Sharman. In 1916, Cooper recognized that Glacier Bay was changing rapidly as its glaciers retreated and exposed new land to primary plant succession.

“Glacier Bay is one of the most dynamic landscapes on earth,” said Lewis. “It’s the quintessential national park in that it encompasses a landscape with great scientific value. Scientists here are like kids in a candy store.”

“It was the most fun I’ve ever had on any science project,” added Buma, who recently published his results in the journal Ecology. “It had everything: adventure, old documents, old-school orienteering.”

The first clues to the plots’ whereabouts came from a paper Cooper published based on his trip to the area in 1916. “The directions literally read “‘From large rock, walk 30 degrees east 40 paces, to small cairn.’ It was very Indiana Jones,” said Buma. The project’s National Geographic funding included a trip to the archives in Minnesota that house Cooper’s original field notes. Some notebooks are stained by water and others burnt by sparks from campfires, according to Buma.

His research in the archives pointed to “Teacup Harbor,” a distinctive round inlet in the West Arm of Glacier Bay. Buma decided to start there, in a search he called “truly for a needle in haystack.” Magnetic north has changed by eleven degrees since Cooper’s day, so the original compass bearings were wrong, and large boulders Cooper used as landmarks are now cloaked by plants.

The plots are located in the West Arm of Glacier Bay. Photo A shows the view from plot Q1 in 1941, and Photo B shows the same view in 2016 (Source: Brian Buma/Ecology).

Isostatic rebound, the rise of land formerly depressed by the weight of a glacier, also transformed Glacier Bay’s landscape and confounded Buma’s search. Rebound has dramatically changed Teacup Bay’s shoreline and the distance of some plots from the water. Undaunted, the team headed to Glacier Bay. Their search process involved scouting from a boat, matching the landscape before them with photographs from the 1970s, and “stumbling around the woods looking at 100-year-old sketches, trying to decipher what a ‘pace’ was,” said Buma. At a likely site, they’d use a metal detector to hunt for the stakes framing the meter square plots.

Cooper’s experience locating the plots would have been far less arduous. A distance Cooper would have tromped in five minutes across the gravel takes thirty minutes or longer today, tortuously zigzagging through brush, according to Buma. “I’d love to know what he’d think if he could come back and see the plots,” said Buma.

Bushwhacking through willows up to five meters tall and staying vigilant for bears, the team found the first three plots fairly quickly, but it took four days to find the next. One plot was lost to erosion in the 1930s, but by the end of their search, the team had found the other eight.

Locating the oldest successional plots in the world came with a wealth of data. In tandem with studying the current plant communities, Buma is analyzing data generated by Cooper and one of his graduate students from as far back as the 1920s. “The collaboration is still going,” said Buma. “This is the longest record of this kind.”

The record shows that whichever species first colonizes the new terrain tends to dominate the landscape. This is the reason for the lack of trees in the area, according to Buma— they can’t establish a hold in the ground that willows colonized first. Today, the plots are surprisingly different in terms of species composition, percent cover, and soil characteristics. Those nearest to the mouth of Glacier Bay, closer to potential seed sources, have the highest species richness.

Each pair of photos is taken from the same spot, facing the same direction. The landscape has changed dramatically (Source: Brian Buma/Ecology).

This experiment is emblematic of the importance of national parks as protected areas, says Lewis. “National parks protect American heritage for present and future generations, and provide the opportunity to conduct long-term scientific research,” said Lewis.

After delving into the past, Buma’s eyes are set on the future. This summer, he’ll return to Glacier Bay with a dendrochronologist and population ecologist to expand the plots, hopefully extending their usefulness another hundred years. Now that succession rates from the last century have been established, the team will seek sites where glaciers receded in the late 20th century in order to compare how rates of succession shift with climate warming. “Is succession moving faster now that the planet is warmer?”  Buma wonders.

As he thinks about the future, he is determined that the plots’ locations will never be lost again and that this important data set will outlast his own research. The GPS points are now on file with the National Park Service, and people will have to apply for access to the coordinates.

First, Glacier Bay was a land of ice, then a land of rock, and now it is a land filled with plants. “As climate warms up, it’s not good news for Glacier Bay,” said Buma, “But it will be interesting to see how the flora changes.”

John Hopkins Glacier has retreated a great deal since Cooper’s time (Source: NPS).

The linkages forged by this study, between landscapes and scientists of the past, present, and future, will be essential to understanding the changing landscape of Glacier Bay.

How Invertebrates Colonize Deglaciated Sites

Mitopus morio (Source: Javier Díaz Barrera/Flickr).
Mitopus morio (Source: Javier Díaz Barrera/Flickr).

Scientists have long wondered how species colonize sites after deglaciation. A recent study by Amber Vater and John Matthews in the journal The Holocene of invertebrates–animals without backbones—on a number of sites in Norway advances the understanding of this colonization. It pays particular attention to succession, the processes of change in the species composition of ecological communities over time. The invertebrate groups which were studied include insects, spiders and mites, as well as harvestmen, also known as daddy longlegs.

To study the process of succession, Amber and Matthews collected invertebrate samples from pitfall traps in 171 locations across eight glacier forelands, which deglaciated over the last few centuries, in the Jotunheimen (high altitude) and Jostedalsbreen (low altitude) subregions in southern Norway. Jotunheimen is the highest mountain in Europe north of the Alps and west of the Urals, while Jostedalsbreen is the largest ice-cap in Europe outside Iceland. These forelands represent different ecological regions and areas that have been deglaciated for periods of different length. A variety of geological and biological evidence allowed the researchers to establish the precise timing of glacier retreat across their sites. The researchers identified the organisms by taxa—the species, genus or family to which they belong—since species identification was difficult in some cases.

The location of the eight glacier forelands in southern Norway (Source: Vater and Matthews/Sage Journals).
The location of the eight glacier forelands in southern Norway (Source: Vater and Matthews/Sage Journals).

Several major findings were derived from this study. Firstly, invertebrates arrive fairly quickly after the retreat of glaciers, within a decade or two. In particular, initial colonization is faster and dispersal is more effective at high altitudes, where glacier forelands are small, reducing the distance from established communities to new sites; in addition, the strong winds in such areas can carry organisms further. The flying insects, such as flies, aphids, bees, wasps, stoneflies, caddisflies and flying beetles, arrived earlier than the ground-active non-flying species, such as spiders, harvestmen, mites, ants, and non-flying beetles. Moreover, the communities grow more complex over time. In the first stage, lasting about 20 years, 11-31 taxa were found; this number increased to 21-55 in the fourth and final stage, over two centuries later. The authors found as well that invertebrate communities tend to be more diverse at low altitudes, where environmental conditions are more favorable.

Jotunheimen from southern Norway (Source: Thomas Mues/Flickr).
Jotunheimen from southern Norway (Source: Thomas Mues/Flickr).

Vater and Matthews summarize their findings by stating “invertebrate succession on the glacier forelands is viewed as driven primarily by individualistic behavior of the highly mobile species with short life-cycles responding to regional and local abiotic environmental gradients”.

Amara quenseli (Source: Chris Moody/Flickr).
Amara quenseli (Source: Chris Moody/Flickr).

This research calls into question earlier studies of succession. Previous studies, often based on plant species rather than invertebrates, have emphasized that nearly all taxa occur only in some of the stages of succession. By contrast, Vater and Matthews find that most of the taxa that first appear remain all the way till the final stage—65-86%, depending on the site. The authors describe their results as an ‘addition and persistence’ model (because taxa remain, once they arrive) rather than the more established ‘replacement-change’ model, in which different taxa replace each other over time. This ‘addition and persistence’ model seems to be more applicable in severe environments.

This research offers some insights into the regions that will become exposed as glacier retreat continues. It brings the positive finding that lands that appear after glacier retreat will not remain barren for long, since invertebrates are likely to colonize these sites soon. However, the new areas at higher elevations may have only a small number of specialized invertebrate taxa instead of a wide range of them.

For more details on invertebrates living on glaciers, look here.