In June 2015, AIBS was pleased to announce the launch of BioScience Talks, a monthly podcast that features in-depth discussions of recently published BioScience articles. Each episode of the interview series will delve into the research underlying a highlighted article, providing the listener with unique insight into the author's work. The interviews are hosted by James Verdier, Senior Editor of BioScience magazine.

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Nature's Mental Health Benefits

Nature's positive impact on mood is easily understood on an intuitive level, but a more fine-grain analysis reveals quantifiable effects with potentially serious implications for human well-being. For this episode of BioScience Talks, we are joined by Dr. Daniel Cox of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter, in Penryn, United Kingdom. Writing for BioScience, Cox and his colleagues described recent work that found strong correlations between nature exposure and positive markers of mental health. In addition, the authors used dose-response modeling to uncover threshold effects that may help guide urban planning, with the ultimate goal of reducing the societal burdens of mental illness.


Read the article

Read the full text of the article "Doses of Neighborhood Nature: The Benefits for Mental Health of Living with Nature" in BioScience. Article Citation: BioScience (2017) 67 (2): 147-155.


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Bright Spots of Resilience to Climate Disturbance

Climate-driven disturbances are having profound impacts on coastal ecosystems, with many crucial habitat-forming species in sharp decline. However, among these degraded biomes, examples of resilience are emerging. For this episode of BioScience Talks, we're joined by Dr. Jennifer O'Leary, a California Sea Grant Marine Biologist based at California Polytechnic State University, and Dr. Fiorenza Micheli, from Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University. Their recent article in BioScience discusses a large-scale study that uncovered numerous ecosystem "bright spots," in which habitat-forming species proved either resistant to or able to recover from sometimes severe perturbations. Of particular importance, say the authors, are the possible implications for ecosystem-sparing management.

Eucalypts Spotlight Biosecurity Failures

For more than 100 years, eucalypts--woody plants that range in size from shrubs to trees--have been transported from their natural ecosystems in Australia to plantations across the globe. This unique history provides a novel lens for viewing the spread of pathogens and may shed light on future outbreaks as ecosystems face growing pressure from climate change.

In this episode of BioScience Talks, we spoke with Dr. Treena Burgess of Murdoch University in Western Australia, who also holds an adjunct appointment with the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. She describes her recent article in BioScience, written with Michael Wingfield. In it, the authors articulate seven scenarios of pathogen movement and disease epidemics, as well as the biosecurity risks that arise from poorly controlled germplasm movement. The dangers are significant, with economically important eucalypt plantations and native ecosystems both facing significant threats.

Microbial Biodiversity in the Environment Can Alter Human Health

The science of human microbiomes is advancing at an incredible pace. With each passing day, more is known about the vast suite of microorganisms that inhabit human bodies--and about the important role that they play in maintaining our health.

In this episode of BioScience Talks, we look at the human microbiome from an environmentalist's perspective. What are the health benefits of microbiota from environmental sources? What are the threats of altered microbiota? How should we manage the landscapes that play host to this crucial microbial diversity?

To help answer these questions, we spoke with Craig Liddicoat of the University of Adelaide and the South Australian government's Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. Liddicoat and his colleagues recently published an article in BioScience that shines a light on the myriad benefits of preserving environmental microbiomes and proposes a unifying conceptual framework for the multidisciplinary approach needed to tackle this emerging research area.

Reservoirs Are a Major Source of Greenhouse Gases

Over 1 million dams exist worldwide. These structures have numerous environmental effects, and there is no shortage of research on the various ecological consequences of dams. But there is another major threat arising from dammed waters: the release of greenhouse gases.

For this episode of BioScience Talks, we spoke with Dr. Bridget Deemer of the US Geological Survey. Deemer and her colleagues recently embarked on a systematic effort to synthesize reservoir greenhouse-gas data. The results, described in BioScience, point to reservoirs as a substantial yet often unrecognized source of greenhouse gases.

Big Data and Good Science

Scientists have long debated the best methods to achieve sound findings. In recent decades, hypothesis-driven frameworks have been enshrined in textbooks and school courses, with iterative and inductive approaches often taking a back seat. However, the advent of big data poses a challenge to the established dogma, as large data sets often require broad collaborations and make traditional hypothesis-driven approaches less tractable. For this episode of BioScience Talks, we spoke with Michigan State University professors Kendra Cheruvelil, Georgina Montgomery, Kevin Elliott, and Patricia Soranno. Their interdisciplinary work highlights the changing scientific landscape, in which large data sets and new computational methods encourage a more iterative approach to science.

Hardened Shorelines Are a Threat to Ecosystems

The installation of structures to protect against coastal threats, called shoreline hardening, is a common practice worldwide, with many coastal cities having 50% or more of their shores protected against floods and erosion. Despite increasing evidence of negative ecosystem effects, shoreline hardening is expected to continue as growing coastal populations scramble to address rising seas and severe storms. For this episode of BioScience Talks, we spoke with Dr. Rachel Gittman of Northeastern University. Gittman and her colleagues recently conducted a meta-analysis of 54 existing studies on shoreline hardening. The results, described in the journal BioScience, highlight a stark impact to biodiversity but also point to approaches that may mitigate the harm.

Marine Citizen Science: Room for Growth

The burgeoning field of citizen science offers the public an opportunity to participate directly in research and data analysis--and it offers scientists access to robust data sets that previously would have been impossible to collect. Unfortunately, research on citizen science itself has often been lacking, with most studies focused on existing participants, with little attention paid to the wider public's interest in these important projects. For this episode of BioScience Talks, we're joined by Vicki Martin of Southern Cross University, in Lismore, Australia, who describes the results of a groundbreaking 1145-person survey of marine users and their attitudes toward citizen science projects. We talked about the study's implications both for the general public and for researchers eager to catch a ride on the citizen science wave.

Hydroelectric Dams Kill Insects, Wreak Havoc with Food Webs

Hydropower dams generate more energy than all other renewable sources combined. However, they can also produce dire environmental consequences, including the devastation of aquatic insect populations and the food webs that those insects underpin. A practice called "hydropeaking" is evidently to blame. By altering river flows to meet power-generation needs, hydropeaking generates artificial tides that extirpate insect species. In this episode of BioScience Talks, we're joined by Dr. Ted Kennedy, a research ecologist with the US Geological Survey's Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center. In this month's BioScience, he and his colleagues describe the underlying phenomenon and the citizen science project that brought it to light. In our discussion, Dr. Kennedy explains his findings and offers possible solutions to the hydropeaking conundrum.

Landscape Ecology and its Role in Policymaking

The world faces unprecedented environmental transformation. Successfully managing and adapting to a rapidly changing Earth requires the swift action of well-informed policymakers. In a State of the Science report for BioScience, Audrey Mayer of Michigan Technological University and her colleagues describe a major role for the field of landscape ecology in informing policy and management. She joins us on this episode of BioScience Talks to chat about the article and discuss some practical applications--both those in use now and those on the horizon. Because landscape ecology operates at multiple scales and across human and natural systems, it is a uniquely powerful tool for those who will make tomorrow's environmental and land-use policies.

Current Methods Cannot Predict Damage to Coral Reefs

The potentially devastating effects of ocean acidification on coral reefs are well known, but the methods used to evaluate the threats are often focused on individual species, viewed in isolation, and often in a laboratory. For this episode of BioScience Talks, we're joined by Peter Edmunds of California State University, Northridge, who describes that issue and talks about the broad-scale inter-species and inter-population dynamics that may have unforeseen consequences for ocean ecosystems. In particular, differences across scales--from organisms to populations, to communities and ecosystems--will have major impacts on reefs. For instance, differently responding symbiotic species could alter a reef's community structure--and, ultimately, the health of the reef as a whole.

How to Save Aggregated-Spawning Fish

Globally declining fish populations are a frequently cited ecological and commercial calamity, but relatively little attention has been paid to the specific threats faced by fish that gather and spawn in large groups. Because they gather in such large groups, these fish are at particular risk of overfishing and population collapse. In this episode of BioScience Talks, we're joined by Yvonne Sadovy, of the University of Hong Kong and Science and Conservation of Fish Aggregations (SCRFA), who studies these aggregate spawners. In our discussion, she outlines the unique threats faced by these species, which also include ineffective management techniques better suited toward fish with different life histories. She also outlines the mechanisms that might help preserve these aggregations in the years to come.

Nitrogen's Threat to Biodiversity

Habitat destruction and the direct exploitation of species often occupy center stage in discussions of biodiversity perils. However, indirect harms, such as that posed by nitrogen pollution, remain underappreciated and poorly understood despite playing a key role in species declines. The mechanisms of nitrogen's impacts are diverse and often involve hard-to-pinpoint chains of causality. For this episode, we're joined by Dr. Dan Hernandez of Carleton College and Dr. Erika Zavaleta of the University of California, Santa Cruz. They and their colleagues recently conducted a survey of 1400 species listed under the US Endangered Species Act, finding a total of 78 that face known hazards from excess nitrogen. They describe their findings here.

Plague-Afflicted Prairie Dogs and Modeling Animal-Borne Disease

Dr. Ssalkeld Animal-borne diseases have ruled the news cycle recently--from Zika and Ebola to SARS and MERS. However, little is known about the spread of these diseases in their animal hosts. More perplexing, the mechanisms that lead to human outbreaks remain elusive. Dr. Dan Salkeld of Colorado State University hopes to change that through the study of plague--the disease responsible for the Black Death in the Middle Ages. Plague is now a worse problem for the prairie dogs that Salkeld studies than it is for humans, but understanding its unique ecology may shed light elsewhere. By using plague and its complex, multispecies dynamics as a model, Salkeld hopes that we can achieve key insights into why, how, and when diseases like Ebola and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome spill over into human populations.

Preventing Midwest Grain Failures

Dr. Gustafson Across the United States, record quantities of corn and soybeans have been harvested in recent years. However, according Dr. David Gustafson of the International Life Sciences Institute Research Foundation, this trend may soon change. The combined and uncertain effects of climate change could have a devastating impact on grain yields in the US Midwest, with major global implications for food security. To address these rising threats, Dr. Gustafson and his colleagues propose a new, coordinated network of field research sites at which precise data on the performance of current and future crops, cropping systems, and farm-level management practices in the US Midwest could be gathered. Dr. Gustafson joins us to describe the plan.

Contact with Nature May Mean More Social Cohesion, Less Crime

Netta WeinsteinNumerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of contact with nature for human well-being. However, despite strong trends toward greater urbanization and declining green space, little is known about the social consequences of such contact. Netta Weinstein, senior lecturer at Cardiff University, and her team used a nationally representative UK study to examine the relationships between social cohesion and exposure to nature. The interrelationships were complex, but the results indicate that, even when controlling for numerous possible confounds, nature exposure may account for meaningful amounts of variance in crime and perceived community well-being.

A Successful Intervention Boosts the Gender Diversity of STEM Faculty

ReadEighty-one percent of US science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) university faculty members are men. The relative dearth of women in the field is a long-recognized problem--but it's one that may be on its way to a solution. Using a three-step intervention derived from self-determination theory, an interdisciplinary team from Montana State University demonstrated a low-cost way to improve gender diversity in STEM-faculty hiring. The results were impressive, with search committees in the intervention group 6.3 times more likely to make an offer to a woman candidate. Dr. Alexander Zale was part of the team, and he joins us on this episode of BioScience

When Tree Planting Hurts Ecosystems

ReadForest restoration" is a common conservation theme, often promoted as a means of repairing degraded landscapes and boosting carbon storage. But when the planting areas are poorly chosen, these initiatives have the potential to eradicate ancient grasslands, with devastating effects on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Fire in the Amazon

ReadDr. Jennifer Balch, of the University of Colorado-Boulder, discusses a long-term experiment in which she and her team deliberately lit fires in the Brazilian Amazon, with the aim of simulating the fires that are often released when people use burning to clear land.

Extracellular Vesicles (EV's) Everywhere

Breakefield Laboratory Xandra Breakefield and Mikolaj Zaborowski, two Harvard Medical School researchers working at the forefront of the field share why these (EV's) are one of the biggest stories in biology.

Transgenic Fish on the Loose?

transgenic fish Dr. Robert Devlin and his team seek to evaluate the ecological threats posed by these GMO fish. In this discussion, he outlines the uncertainty inherent in these risk assessments and explains areas of potential future study.


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