Matthew Potts, Professor

Closed (1) Predictive modeling of soil organic carbon stocks in mangroves of the Americas

Applications for Fall 2017 are now closed for this project.

Background: Mangroves are among the most carbon dense ecosystems globally, but exhibit spatially heterogeneous carbon stocks both within and across sites. To better understand and manage these globally critical carbon pools, it will be important to analyze regional datasets of ecosystem stocks that can distinguish between “within-site” versus “across-site” ecological processes. Two primary hypotheses for ecological controls on soil organic carbon stocks currently exist within the mangrove carbon stock literature: i) geomorphological processes (i.e., sedimentary and hydrological processes), and ii) biological systems (organic matter inputs from vegetation). In truth, both geomorphology and biology act as controls on soil organic carbon to varying degrees. For better management of mangrove carbon stocks, there is an existing need to better understand the relative effects of both processes.

Project Aims: The purpose of the project is to examine the effects of species assemblages and forest structure versus geomorphological setting on soil organic carbon stocks in the mangroves of the Americas. The work is a follow-up study to an identical project performed in Southeast Asia (Bukoski et al., 2017), and will build off of a global database of mangrove soil organic carbon recently compiled by the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, MA (Sanderman et al., in review). Apart from the ecological research questions that the study will answer, the work will double as an exercise in research reproducibility. Upon performing the modeling work, the results will be compared to the key findings from the Southeast Asia study. The comparison will provide insight into how ecological processes vary between mangroves from different global regions, as well as how robust the findings from the Southeast Asian work are. Equally important, the project aims to train the undergraduate researcher in best practices for research reproducibility, as well as key skills and tools for data science within the environmental management sector.


Qualifications: We are looking for a motivated and independent undergraduate student with basic data mining, analysis and presentation skills. The student should have strong interests in environmental management through quantitative analysis, as well as an interest in developing data science skills.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Related website: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0169096
Related website: https://www.mangrovesforthefuture.org/grants/regional-grant-facilities/income-for-coastal-communities-for-mangrove-protection/

Closed (2) Land degradation and restoration associated with changes in ecosystem services and functions, and human well-being and good quality of life

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2017 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2017.

Background
Land degradation, which is primarily a direct or indirect result of human activities, is a major problem on every continent except Antarctica. The total human cost of land degradation is not known, but the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates the economic impact at more than $40 billion annually. Building on the work of the Rio conventions (the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity), and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), the goals of halting and reversing land degradation and decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation have been proposed as part of the sustainable development goals. These goals include Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi Targets 5, 7, 14 and 15 and the ongoing process for developing a post-2015 development agenda. In 2011, in recognition of the benefits to people of restoring degraded land, world leaders endorsed the “Bonn Challenge”, a global effort to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2020. As a first step towards meeting that goal, there is a clear need to assess the extent, causes and processes of land degradation and the consequences for biodiversity and people, as well as evaluating responses to the restoration and rehabilitation of degraded land and the avoidance of future degradation and the benefits that this will deliver to people.

Project Aims
The purpose of this project is to conduct a comprehensive literature review that explores the impact of changes in land degradation and restoration on the delivery of nature’s benefits to people and the impact of such changes on the quality of life. The work is part of a larger effort being conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services.

This review will focus on the impacts of land degradation and restoration on changes to the delivery of nature’s benefits to people and the resultant impacts on quality of life. The review will assess land degradation associated with the loss of benefits to people including provisioning services, such as food production, quality and quantity of water resources, and availability of raw materials, as well as regulating cultural services and other aspects of nature, recognizing a diverse conceptualization of the values of nature. The review will analyze changes in benefits to people in terms of the relative contribution of biodiversity and ecosystem structure and functioning and that of anthropogenic assets (e.g., technologies, knowledge) applied by people in the co production of benefits. Impacts on the diverse dimensions of a good quality of life will include impacts on health, poverty, income-generating opportunities, meaningful livelihoods, the equitable distribution of natural resources and rights and values considered important in different cultures. The review will consider the diverse costs of land degradation and benefits of restoration for people, including the overall economic and non economic costs and benefits, encompassing those that are associated with the area of degraded or restored land itself, as well as costs or benefits borne by people in other areas who are affected by degraded or restored sites. For both land degradation and restoration the review will examine the type, extent and severity of these changes in different social-ecological systems in different land cover and land management systems, including their implications for social and ecological stability and resilience and cultural integrity.


The undergraduate researcher gain familiarity in finding and synthesizing academic literature as well as in-depth knowledge of the complex socio-environmental challenges associated with land degradation and restoration.

Qualifications: We are looking for a motivated and independent undergraduate student with basic computer competency, excellent reading comprehension, and great organizational skills.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Related website: http://www.pottsgroup.org
Related website: http://www.ipbes.net/

Closed (3) Using bioindicators to assess mercury contamination and transfer from small-scale gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon

Applications for Fall 2017 are now closed for this project.

Background: The rapid expansion of small-scale gold mining (SSGM) using crude gold extraction methods has emerged as a major concern for conservationists and public health advocates alike, who fear the long-term impacts of SSGM on humans and the environment in the ecologically and culturally important region of Madre de Dios, Peru. The expansion of gold mining in the Madre de Dios region is accelerating deforestation of lowland tropical rainforest and contaminating waterways with mercury. Mercury-laced mining tailings accumulate in large pits left over from gold mining operations that then runoff into surrounding waterways during the rainy season. Mercury contamination of the Madre de Dios watershed now threatens the health of human populations that rely on consumption of fish protein, as well as aquatic and terrestrial organisms that accumulate mercury at concentrations high enough to cause physiological harm and potentially mortality.

The movement of mercury within aquatic ecosystems and between aquatic and terrestrial habitats is well studied in the context of biomagnification. Biomagnification explains the trend in increasing mercury concentrations at higher trophic levels – a phenomenon commonly observed in humans who consume predatory fish from polluted waterways. Understanding how mercury accumulates and is magnified from aquatic to terrestrial ecosystems is imperative for understanding the potential consequences of mercury contamination in terrestrial food webs. One way of examining this food web transfer is by using bioindicator taxa such as benthic macroinvertebrates (aquatic insects) and arachnids that consume emerging aquatic insects.



Project Aims: The purpose of this project is to analyze total mercury concentrations in bioindicator species to 1) evaluate differences in total mercury concentrations between unimpacted sites located within a protected reserve in Madre de Dios and a mining concession with both active and abandoned mining pits, and 2) demonstrate the presence of mercury transfer from aquatic to terrestrial ecosystems via food web interactions. Taxonomic classification of arachnids to family and benthic macroinvertebrates to order using dichotomous keys and regionally-specific guides will be used to create a simplified guide that can be utilized in rapid bio-assessment protocols conducted by local non-profits and community members in mining-impacted areas. Understanding where mercury concentrates in the food web and how bioindicator species can be used to identify mercury-contaminated areas is of critical importance to local practitioners who are grappling with how to restore and remediate areas impacted by gold mining.

The undergraduate researcher will gain familiarity with taxonomic classification of commonly chosen bio-indicators and experience in preparing and analyzing samples on a direct mercury analyzer (DMA).


Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Jimena Diaz, Graduate Student

Qualifications: Qualifications: We are looking for a motivated and independent undergraduate student with basic coursework in ecology and ideally some experience with taxonomic classification using dichotomous keys. The student should have a strong interest in applied ecology and excellent organizational skills.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Related website: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0018875

Closed (4) Ecological and Human Health Consequences of Food Loss

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2017 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2017.

Background
Agricultural production has dramatic impacts on ecosystems and ecosystem service provision throughout the globe. Agriculture covers nearly 40% of ice-free land, emits a large fraction of global greenhouse gases (GHG), and contributes to declines in biodiversity, water availability and air quality, among numerous other negative externalities. Despite the stress on both natural and human communities resulting from agriculture, nearly one third of available food is uneaten in the US. Embedded within this wasted food are the direct inputs including the water, fertilizer, pesticides, and land used in the production process as well as the indirect inputs including the unnecessary GHG emissions, pollution and biodiversity loss.

Project Aims
The purpose of this project is to understand the geography of ecological and human health consequences of food loss. To date, studies of food loss have estimated the land and water resources required to produce the average calorie, with little attention paid to the context in which production and loss occur. Yet, context is critically important to understand the distribution of externalities. For example, the embedded biodiversity in a pound of beef from the Amazon region of Brazil is much higher than that from eastern Colorado. Similarly, the loss of a pound of strawberries is not the same as the loss of a pound of soybeans since different products require disparate levels of insecticides and fertilizers, as well as different energy-intensive storage and transportation.

We will use a variety of land use, agricultural and biodiversity data in combination with estimates of food waste by commodity and by region to better understand what crops in what ecoregions have high levels of inputs, loss, and affected natural or human systems.

This work will have both a US and global component. For the US, we will use food loss data from the USDA ERS Food Availability Data System in combination with input and land-use data from the USDA Census of Agriculture, and biodiversity data from Birdlife International, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and NatureServe. For the global analysis we will use food loss by regions from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO 2011) in combination with input data from FAOSTAT, and biodiversity data from the same sources. We will use geographic information systems (GIS) to overlay maps of species occurrence, drought impacts, and land use data to determine the spatial impacts of food production. Combining these maps with estimates of food waste by region and crop type, we will estimate the magnitude of the embedded water and biodiversity that is lost through food waste. By dismantling our understanding of food waste not only spatially but also into its embedded resource components, we will progress the ability of land-use science to inform land-use planning in the future.



The undergraduate researcher will participate in the data collection, organization, and GIS analysis. In doing so, the student will gain experience in data management, GIS and statistical programs (i.e. ArcGIS, R). The student will also gain familiarity finding and synthesizing academic literature as well as in-depth knowledge of the complex socio-environmental challenges associated with agricultural production and food loss.

Qualifications: We are looking for a motivated and independent undergraduate student with basic computer competency, excellent reading comprehension, and a desire to learn (or apply skills in) geospatial analysis and statistics.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Related website: http://nature.berkeley.edu/pottslabwp/