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.
The occurrences of contaminants including antibiotics, other pharmaceuticals, and personal care products in the environment have gained increasing attention in recent years because of their potential health and ecological impacts. However, serious gaps remain in our understanding of these contaminants and the significance of the threats they may pose, such as to drinking water. Through this appropriation scientists at the University of St.
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.
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 has 9.5 million acres of public forest lands that play an important role in sustaining Minnesota’s environment and economy. The policies and programs used by public timber sale programs can impact post-harvest ecological conditions and have pronounced effects on the composition, structure, and productivity of the forest in the future. Additionally, timber harvesting revenues play an important role in economic activity, employment, and tax revenue.
Over 527,000 acres of unmanaged woodlands are being used for livestock grazing throughout Minnesota. Managing these grazed woodlands based on the use of best management practices can provide environmental and economic opportunities, including improved water quality, maximized forage production, and higher-quality timber. The best management practices involved are commonly used in other parts of the country with other types of ecosystems, but have not been widely adopted in Minnesota due to a lack of knowledge and experience with implementing them within the ecosystems of Minnesota.
Elms were once a very widespread tree in Minnesota and amongst the most common and popular in urban landscapes due to their size, shading capability, and tolerance of pollution and other stresses. Over the past five decades, though, Dutch elm disease, an exotic and invasive pathogen, has killed millions of elms throughout the state. However, scientists at the University of Minnesota have observed that some elms have survived the disease and appear to have special characteristics that make them resistant to Dutch elm disease.
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.
Endocrine-disrupting contaminants such as environmental estrogens have been found and studied in large lakes and streams and shown to exist at concentrations that have adverse effects on wildlife. However, very little is known about the sources and effects of environmental estrogens in small, shallow lakes. Preliminary data suggests that these compounds are present in shallow lakes and have an effect on the survival and reproduction of wildlife. Researchers at the University of St.
Minnesota has 15.9 million acres of forest land managed by a variety of county, state and federal agencies, and private landowners for timber production, wildlife habitat, and ecological considerations. Forest managers rely on inventory data to make effective planning and management decisions. Because forests are continually changing through natural and human processes, forest inventory data is periodically updated. However, doing so is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor and, as a result, much of Minnesota’s forest inventory data is currently out of date.
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.
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.
Septic tank systems aim to treat sewage generated by homes and facilities that do not have access to centralized wastewater treatment plants. Currently 25% of the U.S. population relies on these systems as their primary means of wastewater treatment. However, the treatment capabilities of these systems are limited and so byproducts can contribute to degradation of water resources and other environmental problems and the systems emit instead of collect powerful greenhouse gases such as methane.
Healthy prairies contribute numerous benefits, such as providing habitat for wildlife and pollinators, maintaining and improving water quality, stabilizing roadsides, and providing a sustainable source of materials for bioenergy production and other products. Since European settlement the once vast expanses of Minnesota prairie covering 18 million acres have been reduced to small remnants totaling about 235,000 acres. With this decline has also come a drastic reduction in the genetic diversity of the various species typical of Minnesota prairies.
The groundwater contained in confined glacial aquifers provides clean drinking water to many Minnesota residents. An important factor affecting the long-term sustainability of these aquifers is how water infiltrates through clayey deposits of overlying glacial till, which act as barriers to contaminants but also limit water flow and aquifer recharge. Very little is actually known about the properties and infiltration of water through till, which hinders the ability to accurately define the sustainability of these aquifers.
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.
Long-term forest plot datasets are helpful for understanding the changing conditions and ecology of forestland over time. The USDA Forest Service produced statewide forest inventories in 1935, 1953, 1962, 1977, 1990, 2003, 2008, and 2013. Unfortunately, only the data from 1977 to the present is currently easily accessible and available in full.
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.
Sandhill cranes have expanded their range in Minnesota and elsewhere and as populations have expanded several states, including Minnesota, have initiated sandhill crane hunting seasons and other states are considering doing the same. Partially this is in response to increasing complaints of crop degradation by sandhill cranes.
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.
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.
A class of insecticides known as systemic neonicotinyl insecticides has been identified as a potential factor in recently observed declines in pollinators, including the phenomenon amongst honeybees known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Previous research examining the effects of neonicotinyl insecticides on lab colonies of bumblebees found that exposure to these insecticides at various levels increased queen bee mortality and detrimentally altered bee behavior and production.
Land and water conservation efforts require accurate information about land cover and land use. Minnesota’s land cover and land use data has not been updated since 2000 and so does not reflect changes since that time resulting from growth and development, agricultural production, or landscape cover. Researchers at the University of Minnesota are using this appropriation to conduct a statewide update and enhancement of land cover and land use data and make it freely available online for use by government and non-government organizations involved in land and water conservation.
Zebra mussels are an aquatic species that are invasive in Minnesota and severely threaten native fish and other aquatic species by disrupting food webs and damaging spawning habitat. Their range continues to expand within Minnesota lakes and rivers, where they are spread through the transporting of water, vegetation, or equipment from an infested water body. Once established zebra mussels are very difficult to control and there is an immediate need for safe and effective control measures to reduce their impacts in the state.