The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Want Clean Water? Keep Existing Forests Healthy
Twice a week in woodlands across central Iowa, Jan Thompson’s research team catalogs plant species, collects water samples and identifies aquatic insects.
The tasks seem unrelated at first, but Thompson intends to change that perception. A professor in natural resource ecology and management at Iowa State University, Thompson received a competitive grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in 2009 to study how forests protect the health of waterways.
The project is featured in a new video below:
Iowa has approximately 3 million acres of forested lands, much of which is located along small headwater streams. Plants in the woodland understory protect water quality by storing nutrients and holding soil in place. Thompson’s team collects data from nine locations in central Iowa—three intact natural systems, three where cattle have grazed and three urban sites—to understand how understory plants can reduce water pollution.
“We’re really interested in the functioning of natural systems in the Iowa landscape, and having them do the most they can do for us,” Thompson said.
Michaleen Gerken, a Ph.D. candidate in Iowa State University (ISU) Natural Resources Ecology and Management, handles the plant species inventory, recording the number and name of each plant species she finds in 20x20-meter plots. Graduate student Alister Olson and undergraduate Joe Bolton take samples from the stream to test for sediment and nitrate, and use instruments on-site to measure temperature, flow, dissolved oxygen and other aspects of water quality.
Olson also catalogs aquatic insects, which he said “can give a lot of insight to landowners into what’s impacting the stream condition.” Some species, like mayflies, stoneflies and caddis flies, cannot tolerate pollution, and only appear in large numbers where the water quality is high.
The researchers hope to use this data to provide information to landowners about how they can protect or restore small patches of forest with the benefits to streams and rivers in mind. In a previous Leopold Center project, Thompson discovered that restoring key spring-growing species to a forest has the potential to greatly improve nutrient capture.
“We believe there is a close connection between what happens on the forest floor and what happens in the water,” Gerken said. “We can protect areas we already have as opposed to starting over.”
Support for the project comes from the Leopold Center, ISU Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture McIntire-Stennis Program.
Other investigators include Tim Stewart and Cathy Mabry, ISU Natural Resource Ecology and Management, and Randy Kolka, U.S. Forest Service.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jeremy Hance
VIETNAM, July 2019 – I'm chasing a ghost, I think not for the first time, as night falls and I gather up my gear in a hotel in a village in southern Vietnam. I pack my camera, a bottle of water, and a poncho; outside the window I can see a light rain.
By George Citroner
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and the World Health Organization currently recommend either 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (walking, gardening, doing household chores) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise (running, cycling, swimming) every week.
But there's little research looking at the benefits, if any, of exercising less than the 75 minute minimum.
It seems the reality of the climate crisis is too much for the Federal Reserve to ignore anymore.
For 21 years, Doug Distaso served his country in the United States Air Force.
He commanded joint aviation, maintenance, and support personnel globally and served as a primary legislative affairs lead for two U.S. Special Operations Command leaders.
But after an Air Force plane accident left him with a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic pain, Distaso was placed on more than a dozen prescription medications by doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
By Bailey Hopp
If you had to choose a diamond for your engagement ring from below or above the ground, which would you pick … and why would you pick it? This is the main question consumers are facing when picking out their diamond engagement ring today. With a dramatic increase in demand for conflict-free lab-grown diamonds, the diamond industry is shifting right before our eyes.