Through various means, human produced chemicals can make their way into surface waters where they can have adverse effects on the function of ecological communities. Of particular concern are antibiotics and other antimicrobial substances because they have the potential to create increased antibiotic resistance. While there is a background level of naturally occurring antibiotic resistance in the natural world, elevated or persistent levels caused by human activities have the potential to harm human, animal, and overall ecosystem health.
There is a critical need to understand how our natural resources are already responding to climate change in order to develop tools for projecting natural resource responses into the future and to devise plans for actions that can be taken in reaction to observed and predicted changes. Phenology – the timing of seasonal biological events such as budburst, flowering, bird migration, and leaf coloring – provides a tested indicator of climate change response by plants and animals.
Bees play a key role in ecosystem function and in agriculture, including more than one hundred U.S. crops either need or benefit from pollinators. However, bee pollinators are in dramatic decline in Minnesota and throughout the country. One of the potential causes appears to be a scarcity of bee-friendly flowers, particularly in urban areas, which is leading to nutritional deficiencies, chronic exposure to pesticides, and debilitating diseases and parasites.
Invasive carp species, including silver carp and bighead carp, are migrating north up the Mississippi River and pose threats to the native fish and aquatic ecosystems of Minnesota rivers and lakes where they can become established. While individual carp have been found in Minnesota, it is not presently believed that there are established breeding populations in the state.
Minnesota ranks #2 in hog production and #1 in sugar beet production in the U.S., generating about 11 million tons of pig manure and over one million tons of sugar processing wastes annually. Presently there are not cost-effective methods available to deal with these waste streams other than land application, which usually results in nutrient runoff into ground and surface water resources.
The Minnesota County Geologic Atlas program is an ongoing effort begun in 1979 that is being conducted jointly by the University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Geological Survey and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). This portion, called Part A and conducted by the Minnesota Geological Survey, collects geologic information to produce maps and databases that define aquifer boundaries and the connection of aquifers to the land surface and surface water resources.
Waste streams often contain unutilized resources that if properly extracted or otherwise utilized could be used to provide additional sources of renewable energy or other benefits. Wastewater is one of the primary candidate waste streams because of its nutrient content and researchers have been developing technologies such as microbial fuel cells and algal-based biofuel production in order make use of these nutrients.
Many types of bacteria perform critical ecological functions, such as cycling carbon and other nutrients, which enable life to exist. In fact, humans harness these types of bacteria in certain engineered systems, such as wastewater treatment plants and landfills, to provide various benefits such as protecting surface waters from excess nitrogen, decomposing solid waste, and treating wastewater.
Native to the western United States and Canada, mountain pine beetle is considered the most devastating forest insect in North America. Trees usually die as a result of infestation and an unprecedented outbreak in the west is currently decimating pine forests there. While mountain pine beetle is not presently believed to reside in Minnesota, there are risks posed by an expanding species range resulting from warming climate and the potential for accidental introduction via lumber imports from infested areas.
Pollinators play a key role in ecosystem function and in agriculture, including thousands of native plants and more than one hundred U.S. crops that either need or benefit from pollinators. However, pollinators are in dramatic decline in Minnesota and throughout the country. The causes of the decline are not completely understood, but identified factors include loss of nesting sites, fewer flowers, increased disease, and increased pesticide use. Developing an aware, informed citizenry that understands this issue is one key to finding and implementing solutions to counteract these factors.
Rainfall runoff in urban areas contributes to localized flooding and washes contaminants and excess nutrients downstream affecting water quality. Systems to mitigate these problems can be challenging to implement in urban areas due to existing infrastructure and competing demands for land use. However, one option is to find alternative applications for the excess rainwater and use it replace the potable water that is currently being used for certain purposes. Researchers at the University of Minnesota are using this appropriation to evaluate alternative uses for captured rainwater.
Ecological restorations aim to aid the recovery of native ecosystems that have been degraded or lost. However, very seldom are restorations evaluated past the initial implementation phase to determine whether the efforts achieved their goals and the funds spent were a strategic conservation investment. Monitoring and evaluation of restorations can teach what works and what does not in order to advance restoration practices and increase the likelihood of success for future projects.
Pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural nutrients serve important functions in crop production and the treatment of disease. However, these chemicals become pollutants when discharged into surface waters through wastewater, storm water, and agricultural runoff. There are natural processes, though, that help break down and remove these pollutants from water. One such process is the role that sunlight interacting with dissolved organic matter naturally present in surface water from decaying plant materials and algae has in transforming these contaminants.
Native trout require clean, cold water that usually originates from springs, but the springs feeding the 173 designated trout streams in southeastern Minnesota are under increasing pressure from current and expected changes in land use. This joint effort by the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is working to identify and map the springs and the areas that feed water to these springs and to learn how these waters might be affected by development and water use.