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Safeguarding Our Environment 

Photo of a sphere with water in it being held by heliopix, courtesy of Getty Images.
Photo of a sphere with water in it being held by child, courtesy of Getty Images.

NIFA supports programs that conserve natural resources and improve ecosystem services while promoting resilience and sustainability of agroecosystems.

Impacts

Can Urban Forests Take the Heat? - A study from North Carolina State University shows that urban trees can survive increased heat and insect pests fairly well – unless they are thirsty. Insufficient water not only harms urban trees, but allows other problems to have an outsized effect on them. This information is important because keeping trees healthy is vital for them to perform their valuable ecosystem services, such as removing pollutants from the air and storing carbon.

Managing Pollution and Ensuring Safe Drinking Water University of California-Davis evaluated regulatory instruments and policy options to better understand how to manage agricultural nitrate pollution in groundwater systems. The California Water Resources Control Board synthesized the recommendations into a report to the state legislature to outline potential funding mechanisms for the provision of safe drinking water in affected communities. This work clearly shows how research is translated into policy to secure water supplies and protect water quality.

Reduced Herbicide Preserves Biodiversity and Maintains ProfitabilityOregon State University and the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement conducted large-scale experiments to test the effects of herbicides on plant, animal, and insect life in forest plantations. Studies showed that herbicides negatively affected biodiversity in the first five years, but impacts lessened considerably in later years. Although there were tradeoffs between wood production and biodiversity, there were no such tradeoffs with profitability once economic discount rates were taken into consideration. This indicates that optimal management strategies will not compromise biodiversity, but will maintain profitability.

Map Points to Sources of Coral Reef Collapse - About half of Hawaii’s once-thriving coral reefs have died and more are struggling to recover from rising water temperatures. Researchers at the University of Hawaii (UH) at Manoa developed the first comprehensive map to document the impact of human activities and natural events on Hawaii’s reefs. UH was part of a multi-institution collaboration that included Stanford University, Stockholm Resilience Center, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The interactive map provides a foundation for further research and informs policies to protect coral reefs.

Enhancing Local Agricultural Water Supplies with Wastewater - Water scarcity, deteriorating soil and groundwater quality, and growing climate uncertainty pose a serious threat to irrigated agricultural sustainability. Scientists from University of California-Riverside and Israel collaborated on how agricultural drainage waters (ADW) and treated wastewater (TWW) can improve sustainable water use in agriculture. Their work shows how to treat and produce TWW at low cost. The work also illustrates how wastewater treatment plants can deliver more cost-effective TWW and ADW to agricultural operators. This work is helping society address its water scarcity problems.

USDA photo of firefighters overseeing a forest fire by Lance Cheung.
USDA photo of firefighters overseeing a forest fire by Lance Cheung.

Measuring the Benefits and Costs of Natural Resources on Public and Private Lands - New tools and techniques developed by scientists from land-grant universities have led to reliable estimations of the economic value of nature area recreation across the United States. Examples include University of Florida, where researchers calculated that residents derive annual benefits of about $212 per household from recreation on the St. Johns River, and natural springs generate $57 million per year in recreation benefits. At Penn State University, researchers collaborated with colleagues at Cornell University, to study recreational angling in the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi and Ohio River basins, and with New York’s Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, to project the potential impacts of invasive insects on Northeastern forests.

Wildfire Impacts on Molecular Nitrogen and Water Quality - Forest fires are devastating in not only the obvious ways, but also on the molecular transformation of nitrogen. Altering the chemistry and quantity of dissolved nitrogen and dissolved organic matter causes adverse effects on both aquatic ecosystems and human health. Elevated pollutant loads are highest in the first year following wildfire. Researchers at the University of California-Davis are using their findings to help downstream water managers address reservoir eutrophication potential. Understanding wildfire impacts on water quality is important to guiding watershed management and post-fire remediation actions.

 

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