Monday, February 3, 2020

February 2020 science journal article summary

Ice crystals on windshield


This month is a mix of topics; some papers came out recently that were too cool for me to wait to review with other similar ones, and I couldn't resist plugging the latest paper I worked on (Hamel et al. 2020). If you know someone who wants to sign up to receive these summaries, they can do so at

Also, a 12-minute video came out recently about the 2017 March for Science, and I show up in it a few times. It's called "SciComm: Raising Our Voice for Science and Public Policy," it's directed & produced by Larry Kirkman ( and Shannon Shikles at the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University, and you can watch it here:

Sippel et al. 2020 bucks the pattern where climatologists emphasize how distinct climate and weather are. Past research has shown the impact of climate change on certain weather events, but this paper actually detects the impact of climate change on any given day since late March 2012! By summarizing weather data all over the world, they found that we’ve been clearly outside of natural variability for the past 8 years on a daily basis. On a monthly basis, climate change has been detectable from global weather data since 2001. You can read a newspaper article about the paper at  I love the description of this paper from meteorologist Maria LaRosa: “[it’s] like looking closely at an impressionist painting –  you can't say what the picture is until you step back and look at the whole”

Chaplin-Kramer et al. 2019 produced global maps summarizing ecosystem services (sort of) for coastal protection, water quality regulation, and crop pollination, now and in 2050 (under three different scenarios). One twist is that they go beyond the usual definition of ecosystem services (benefits provided by nature and received by people who need them) to also look at the 'benefit gap' where there are people with needs nature is not currently meeting (see Fig 2, bottom row, pink / lavender color). There's a lot to explore here, but one finding is that both SE Asia and Africa are expected to have increasing gaps for all three services. There's plenty of uncertainty, but this is a great set of data to think about trade-offs under different future paths. You can explore their results in a web map at

Johnson et al. 2019 analyzed where it makes economic sense to protect undeveloped land within 100-year floodplains across the U.S. They compared  expected flood damages (over the next 30-50 years) to land acquisition cost (to prevent development and avoid damages). They found benefits exceeded acquisition cost for about 1/3 of unprotected natural areas, and that the strongest benefits were within the 20-year floodplain but outside of the 5-year floodplain. Compared to the 5-year floodplain, these areas are more likely to get developed even though they flood less often, leading to more potential damages. Figure 3 has a map of the counties with the highest benefit:cost ratio, focused in Appalalachia, Arizona, and a mix of other places. Note that buying undeveloped lands avoids the controversy associated with asking or forcing people already living within floodplains to move.

Brancalion et al. 2019 looks at opportunities to restore lowland tropical rainforests around the world. They evaluate both the benefits (including biodiversity, climate mitigation & adaptation, and water security) and feasibility (land opportunity cost, ecological uncertainty, and chance of forest persistence). Figure 2 shows where there's the most opportunity, both by area (Brazil) and by combined benefit and feasibility (Madagascar, Tropical Andes). Where to focus depends on your goal - the places with the most total benefits are generally less feasible (higher land costs and competition, e.g. areas where habitat loss is recent and ongoing). But Figure 3 shows several examples of countries with restoration commitments who appear to have large areas with relatively high benefits and feasibility.

Fahrig 2017 & Fahrig et al. 2019 are challenging but important reviews on the ecological impact of habitat fragmentation at the landscape scale (big areas). Their key findings are that with the amount of habitat loss being equal, fragmentation per se typically (70% of the time) didn't significantly impact biodiversity or ecological function at all. Even stranger, when it did have a significant impact, 3/4 of the time it was positive (even for threatened and rare species)! Section 5 in the 2017 paper summarizes the different explanations that authors of the primary studies provided, from fragmentation boosting functional connectivity (by reducing distance between patches) to edge effects and others. She concludes that in most cases we confound habitat loss with fragmentation, and that most of the time our intuition (that fragmentation per se is bad) is incorrect. She also notes that authors sometimes bury or caveat their findings of positive effects of fragmentation, which is one reason her findings continue to seem so wrong. My key take-aways are: 1) it's very hard (but very important) to examine our biases and deeply held beliefs when reading contrary science, 2) there is a good case made in the 2019 paper that small patches are under-protected, given their importance in many landscapes.

Jones et al. 2019 used GPS collars to track both migratory and resident pronghorn, and to model what features they avoided and which they ignored. They found that pronghorn were very reluctant to cross fences (consistent with under studies - they tend to crawl under rather than jump over), and avoided roads, but mostly ignored oil and gas well pads. There's a lot of other findings in their model, but the one I found most interesting was the concern that if ranches add more fencing to allow rotational grazing, it could have serious negative impacts on pronghorn and  mule deer unless wildlife-friendly fences are used.

Hamel et al. looks at how scientific information was perceived and used in decision making for a water fund in Brazil. Through interviews, we determined that the hydrological modeling and monitoring data was NOT used in designing and implementing the water fund. But counter-intuitively, having done the analysis using complex models and high-resolution data was seen as important for the water fund to be seen as scientifically credible. So ironically, even though the credible models were not actually used, their existence helped build support for the overall water fund. Despite this, as long as monitoring data was used to calibrate and validate the model, a simpler model (InVEST, as opposed to SWAT) and coarser data resolution (30m, as opposed to 1m) would have met the information needs of the users. We should have had more frank discussions up front with the ultimate users of the information to produce a model seen as credible and actually used, while avoiding over-investment in model complexity that wasn't needed.

Samanta et al. 2019 is a paper about a program in Michigan to improve water quality issues from agriculture via a really well thought out collaboration (w/ scientists, practitioners, universities, farmers, and industry). Lack of public funding has pushed many farmers to rely on private crop advisors, who don't always share conservation opportunities (like cover crops, reduced tillage, and nutrient management) with farmers (especially as tied to programs involving lots of paperwork). They found it was critical to improve active communication & trust at all levels (especially about funding available).  Conservation was constrained by funding, and potentially by the shift of crop advisors to often be less comprehensive and represent a single company. The authors emphasize the need to integrate social science like this from the very beginning of projects.

Brancalion, P. H. S., Niamir, A., Broadbent, E., Crouzeilles, R., Barros, F. S. M., Almeyda Zambrano, A. M., … Chazdon, R. L. (2019). Global restoration opportunities in tropical rainforest landscapes. Science Advances, 5(7), eaav3223.

Chaplin-Kramer, R., Sharp, R. P., Weil, C., Bennett, E. M., Pascual, U., Arkema, K. K., … Daily, G. C. (2019). Global modeling of nature’s contributions to people. Science, 366(6462), 255–258.

Fahrig, L. (2017). Ecological Responses to Habitat Fragmentation Per Se. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 48(1), annurev-ecolsys-110316-022612.

Fahrig, L., Arroyo-Rodríguez, V., Bennett, J. R., Boucher-Lalonde, V., Cazetta, E., Currie, D. J., … Watling, J. I. (2019). Is habitat fragmentation bad for biodiversity? Biological Conservation, 230(October 2018), 179–186.

Hamel, P., Bremer, L. L., Ponette-González, A. G., Acosta, E., Fisher, J. R. B., Steele, B., … Brauman, K. A. (2020). The value of hydrologic information for watershed management programs: The case of Camboriú, Brazil. Science of The Total Environment, 135871.

Johnson, K. A., Wing, O. E. J., Bates, P. D., Fargione, J., Kroeger, T., Larson, W. D., … Smith, A. M. (2019). A benefit–cost analysis of floodplain land acquisition for US flood damage reduction. Nature Sustainability.

Jones, P. F., Jakes, A. F., Telander, A. C., Sawyer, H., Martin, B. H., & Hebblewhite, M. (2019). Fences reduce habitat for a partially migratory ungulate in the Northern Sagebrush Steppe. Ecosphere, 10(7).

Samanta, A., Eanes, F. R., Wickerham, B., Fales, M., Bulla, B. R., & Prokopy, L. S. (2019). Communication, Partnerships, and the Role of Social Science: Conservation Delivery in a Brave New World. Society & Natural Resources, 0(0), 1–13.

Sippel, S., Meinshausen, N., Fischer, E. M., Székely, E., & Knutti, R. (2020). Climate change now detectable from any single day of weather at global scale. Nature Climate Change, 10(1), 35–41.



p.s. If you'd like to keep track of what I write as well as what I read, I always link to both my informal blog posts and my formal publications (plus these summaries) at