Aquatic invasive species pose critical ecological and economic challenges for the entire state and beyond. They can cause irreparable harm to fisheries and aquatic habitat as well as damage to infrastructure. The problems posed by aquatic invasive species continue to grow as existing infestations expand and new exotic species arrive, most of which are poorly understood. New ideas and approaches are needed to develop real solutions.
The legislature granted the University of Minnesota $2,000,000 from the LCCMR to start an Aquatic Invasive Species Cooperative Research Center to address and solve aquatic invasive species (AIS) problems in the state. The University will use this initial funding to establish the administrative structure for this center, establish and renovate its facilities, start studies of Asian carp biology designed to control this species, and develop work plans for the LCCMR to ensure continuing funding for the center.
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.
Though they are a relatively unnoticed group of species, native freshwater mussels are a critical part of river ecosystems because they provide a variety of important functions including improved water clarity, enhanced streambed stability, reduced downstream transport of contaminants, and creation of habitat for other aquatic life. However, mussel populations in Minnesota have declined in recent decades as a result of habitat destruction, pollution, land-use change, over-harvesting, and the introduction of exotic species.
Each year Minnesota municipal wastewater treatment plants generate large amounts of oily scum, concentrated liquid called centrate, and sludge. These waste streams are disposed of either in landfills or by burning or subjected to additional treatment. However, new technologies have shown potential to capture resource values from these waste products while lowering the treatment costs for these waste streams.
Minnesota’s natural resource professional workforce is much less diverse than its citizenry and many other professional fields. The benefits of a more diverse workforce are many, including the ability of organizations to increase innovation and creativity, attract higher qualified candidate pools, and ensure services that meet the diverse interests and needs of all citizens.
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. Fortunately, there are known actions that can be taken to help counteract some of these factors.
The Soudan Iron Mine near Ely, Minnesota is no longer an active mine and is now part of a state park, as well as the home to a state-of-the-art physics laboratory at the bottom of the mine. The mine has also been discovered to contain an extreme environment in the form of an ancient and very salty brine bubbling up from a half-mile below the Earth’s surface through holes drilled when the mine was active. Strange microorganisms – part of an ecosystem never before characterized by science – have been found living in the brine.
The University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum is the largest and most diverse horticultural site in Minnesota. It features gardens and natural areas representative of Minnesota and the upper-Midwest that can be explored using several miles of trails. Additionally it conducts fruit and plant breeding research to develop cultivars that have particular desired characteristics, such as cold hardiness or disease resistance. The arboretum has a long-term goal of protecting the entire watershed of which it is a part.
Minnesota supports over 14 million acres of cropland in grain production. Almost 600,000 tons of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are needed annually to maintain productivity on this land, which requires the equivalent of 3,000,000 barrels of oil and costs farmers over $400 million dollars per year. This amount of fossil fuel use results in a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions, while the absence of fossil energy resources in the state means that these synthetic nitrogen fertilizers must be imported into Minnesota from other states and overseas.
Terrestrial invasive species are species that are not native to a location and that pose critical ecological and economic challenges once they become established in that location. They come in the form of plants, animals, insects, pathogens, and microbes that can cause harm to natural habitat, urban landscapes, and agricultural systems. The problems posed by terrestrial invasive species continue to grow as existing infestations expand and new exotic species arrive, many of which are poorly understood.
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.
Earthworms are common throughout much of Minnesota, but few realize that they are not native to the state and were in fact introduced from Europe and Asia. Earthworms are invasive in Minnesota and have been shown to have large and potentially irreversible impacts on hardwood forest biodiversity and regeneration. As dispersal by human actions is the primary means of introduction and spread of invasive earthworms, there exists great potential to arrest the current spread of earthworms already present and prevent the introduction of additional species.
Increasingly many youth are disconnected from the outdoors and the natural world and many of these same youth, nearly 50% in Minnesota, are also not proficient in science. Yet such experiences and knowledge are necessary components for this next generation to understand and participate in solving the complex environmental challenges facing our world.
Production agriculture’s dependence on fossil fuel energy carries significant economic and ecological risks. The energy consumed within livestock facilities alone is the equivalent consumption of several large cities, and agriculture currently contributes approximately 14% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the state. As consumers increasingly demand low carbon footprint products, adoption of clean energy systems in crop and livestock production would position Minnesota’s agricultural sector with a competitive advantage.