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.
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.
On many public lands in northwest Minnesota, cattail growth has far exceeded the distribution recommended for optimum wetland wildlife habitat and a need for cattail control has become recognized. Cattails have also recently been demonstrated to have bioenergy potential.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As people use antibiotics and products containing antibacterial substances the bacteria that are resistant to the effects of these products survive and reproduce, thus creating a selection for antibiotic resistant bacteria. Many of these bacteria and the antibacterial substances ultimately make their way into the waste stream and are mixed together and concentrated at wastewater treatment plants, where they interact and can create further selection for organisms with antibiotic resistance to multiple antibacterial substances resulting in what are commonly known as “super bugs”.
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.