Posts and Comments by: Salma


Biodiversity Loss: What You Need To Know--posted on Sep 30, 2013
Snails, Anyone? BioBlitz!--posted on Sep 1, 2013


" Elinor Ostrom’s background in political science and economics boldly shines through in her analysis of several factors that comprise social-ecological systems (SES) in “A General Framework for Analyzing Sustainability of Social-Ecological Systems.” As you explained, Ostrom organizes the complex SESs into a framework featuring four core subsystems—resource systems, resource units, governance systems, and users—together which interact and produce outcomes that then impact these very subsystems. These subsystems are then very clearly broken down into “multiple second-level variables, … which are further composed of deeper-level variables” (420). Ten of these second-level variables have been regarded as critical factors in the decision of users to band together and decide amongst themselves how to sustain a system/manage a resource and they are: the size of the resource system, productivity of the system, predictability of system dynamics, resource unit mobility, collective-choice rules, number of users, leadership/entrepreneurship, norms/social capital, knowledge of SES/mental models, and the importance of the resource (421). Ostrom very effectively describes how each of these factors play a role in the larger SES as well as provides examples, but what appears to be the larger argument is that users in a system will take action to protect a resource or manage its use when—as the cost-benefit analysis in economics says—the benefits exceed the costs in the eyes of the users. This analysis, however, often comes too late—when much damage has been done and the “tragedy of the commons” has taken hold. As is seen with people who choose to eat fish with worrisome or unsafe levels of mercury for people simply because they do not outwardly see the negative effects of doing so, users will not gather behind an environmental or ecological cause and invoke the precautionary principle of survival until they see that resource depleting and acknowledging its importance until it is too late. Rules and regulations by distant government or political forces often do little to curb or improve the environmental pollution or degradation of resources taking place because they fail to incorporate the social, economic, and ecological factors into their decision-making process. Moreover, as outsiders they have little familiarity with and connection to the systems and environments they proudly establish laws to regulate, which often leads to further problems and a lack of sustainability even when they are well-intentioned goals. There are other issues that come to mind regarding users and governmental managing of a resource. One such issue would be when governments attempt to step in and regulate because their populaces fail to see the necessity of doing so, but, as noted, governments do not always (and quite often do not) take a good look at the several and complex independent variables that play a role. Accordingly, Ostrom argues that further research and study of the variables that compose SESs are necessary in order to “enable scholars to build and test theoretical models of heterogeneous costs and benefits between governments, communities, and individuals and to lead to improved policices” (422). An integrated framework for SESs is necessary and critical to the successful long-term sustainability attempts of any group of people."
--( posted on Nov 11, 2013, commenting on the post elinor ostrom + ownership )
"Jenna, I really like how you explain population genetics here and why this trait is important for successful ecosystem functioning and viability. There really is a lot to learn and grasp of when it comes to such a difficult topic. Loss of biodiversity does not truly mean much when people cannot visualize or understand them quantitatively. Much of this issue goes back to the ideas presented by Constanza in his piece, "The value of the world's ecosystem services and natural capital." One of the main reasons why even after decades and decades of research either purporting or providing much evidence in support of the negative effects humans have had on the Earth is precisely because of this "valuation" dilemma and a lack of divergence on the research, as Damla pointed out in her comment to another post. There is truly much to consider which further complicates the ability to interpret the data available and how to apply this knowledge to the policies our governments make."
--( posted on Oct 1, 2013, commenting on the post Biodiversity Loss: What You Need To Know )
"I, like you and many of our peers in this class, also did not recognize the “two-way street” when it comes to the interactions between organisms in an ecosystem; or the technical term in this case, the function of top-down forces. I’d like to point out that I think that part of this issue comes from how we are taught food chains and webs in our elementary, middle, and even high school years. We, or at least I, have been convinced to look at food chains and webs from the bottom-up. There are producers, which grow via a nutritious and supportive environment and are eaten by several levels of consumers, which can each be eaten by other consumers, decomposers, which break down dead organisms and bring those nutrients back to the producers. So it is quite interesting to have studies dedicated to shattering this kind of one-way thinking and questioning the validity of such a statement—while also answering that it is not a completely valid way of thinking. Going back to Silliman and Bertness, however, the overarching goal of their experiment was to prove that “plant biomass and production are largely controlled by grazers and their predators[,] … top-down control of grazer density is a key regulatory determinant of marsh grass growth[,] … [and that] evidence indicating wide-spread, predator regulation of marine macrophyte production via trophic cascades (kelps, seagrasses, intertidal algae)” exists. As explained, by altering the amount of the abundant salt marsh grazer, known as Littoraria irrorata, on salt marsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) Silliman and Bertness demonstrate how resource availability is not the factor causing depletion in salt marsh cordgrass. Since marine predators are shrinking in number, particularly the blue crab, which is of particular ecological and commercial importance in salt marshes, the already abundant periwinkle snail is growing in abundance. This increases the grazing on cordgrass, which in turn becomes depleted. Figure 3 (included below) demonstrates this unbelievable trophic cascade by showing how the impact of a decrease in a predator(s) of Littoraria can almost destroy the salt marsh—completely shocking. I like your point about how there are “implications” to how we as humans interfere with food webs and food chains, as well as their corresponding ecosystems because it truly is an overlooked notion. I do wonder, however, if there can be any positive trophic cascading effects, perhaps on eliminating pests and other vermin? Something to think, about. Finally, I very much appreciate the question you posed at the end of your post: “Often we see things as a bottom up regulated system such as our food. But if we were to apply this to the human ecosystem do you think that it could be perceived as bottom up or as top down in terms of what organisms we depend on for survival? What about within the education ecosystem?” I think that it would be really interesting to put this analysis to the test in regards to the “education ecosystem.”"
--( posted on Sep 25, 2013, commenting on the post A Traditional Theory Reconsidered -Silliman 2002 )
"Sorry about the first incomplete reply. Technical issues. In four boldly lettered sentences Robert Constanza managed to grab my serious attention to the pricelessness of our ecosystem with his claim that a modest estimate of the entire biosphere’s value lies within the range of US$16-54 trillion annually, in contrast to the global GNP of US$ 18 trillion annually (253). It is clear where this paper is going to go, but the analysis conducted by Constanza highlights some very interesting notions. I can understand your frustration with what can be regarded as an unappealing way to examine the value of our ecosystem—by giving it a constructed monetary value. However, Constanza very accurately points out that because the various functions and services of the ecosystem “are not fully ‘captured’ in commercial markets … they are often given too little weight in policy decisions,” this has to be done in order to promote some sort of understanding outside of the scientific community and into the public realm (253). In the same manner that smokers did not re-consider their smoking habits and tobacco-free campuses were established because of the anti-smoking campaigns that provided horrifying numbers regarding the numbers of cancers, other life-threatening diseases/complications, and deaths the habit annually caused, numbers must be used in evaluating and explaining the value of our environment to those who intentionally ignore or are not familiar with the disastrous consequences of harming it. The more disturbing fact, however, is that the numbers provided by Constanza and this extensive research are merely estimates! The point you make, then, is valid. We cannot simply apply numbers to these systems and processes we could not exist without. Table 1 broadly lists some of these processes that our ecosystem manages including nutrient cycling, climate regulation, waste treatment, and food production. However, as Constanza also makes clear that our everyday decisions imply values on life: “When we set construction standards for highways, bridges and the like, we value human life (acknowledged or not) because spending more money on construction would save lives” (255). So in regards to your question, “what right do we have to evaluate the ecosystem as if it is our property,” perhaps none, but it is nonetheless a necessary evaluation that must be done. Moreover, Constanza explains that the valuation techniques utilized in this study were based on “attempts to estimate the ‘willingness-to-pay’ of individuals for ecosystem services” (255). Not only does the fact that this research paper exists signify something horribly wrong with our (human) connection with, understanding of, and appreciation for our ecosystem’s services, thus requiring a valuation system, these numbers have to be based on what people would be willing to pay for the benefits received by these services. The point being, isn’t it obvious what sort of benefits your environment gives you and how it sustains your life? Where does the food and water you consume and oxygen you breathe in come from? You state it perfectly well: “Where trees grew, people cut them down. Where marshes formed, people filled them in. By driving, manufacturing, and modernizing, people are polluting, destroying, and diluting what is not rightfully theirs.” Case in point, our Earth is not substitutable. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, The Day After Tomorrow, and even Disney Pixar’s Wall-E successfully proved this point. The fact of the matter is that action must be taken to protect our environment and halt any further destruction of any kind; we cannot keep on waiting for hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, droughts, and other natural disasters to take over in order to dispel the outrageous claims of “skeptics” and provide them with some sort of “proof” in this dangerous form. There is nothing wrong with practicing the pre-cautionary method when it comes to the only humanly habitable planet in the entire universe. Sure, the upfront costs may be high, but the ultimate benefits are too—sustained life."
--( posted on Sep 12, 2013, commenting on the post Can Everything Be Quantified? )