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From the College of Natural Sciences
To Protect Nature’s Benefits, Researchers Recommend More Focus on People

To Protect Nature’s Benefits, Researchers Recommend More Focus on People

People benefit from ecosystems in different ways; new research focuses on understanding that diversity to protect nature’s benefits.

​To calculate the true value of a forest, we need to know how people benefit from it, according to new research published in Nature Sustainability. A healthy forest holds a treasure trove of benefits for people — it can filter water for downstream communities, supply timber for building, and provide a place for people to connect with nature. But a forest — or any other ecosystem — won't necessarily provide the same things to everyone.

Model Predicts Which Coral Reefs Will Better Adapt to Global Warming

Model Predicts Which Coral Reefs Will Better Adapt to Global Warming

Various staghorn corals in the Great Barrier Reef. Image credit: The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey.

​Climate change is causing coral reefs around the world to decline. According to a new study in the journal Global Change Biology, reefs that receive more heat-tolerant coral larvae from warmer ocean regions will be more likely to adapt and survive than those that receive less. The discovery was made using a computer model created by University of Texas at Austin evolutionary biologist Mikhail Matz.

Long-Living Tropical Trees Play Outsized Role in Carbon Storage

Long-Living Tropical Trees Play Outsized Role in Carbon Storage

Irene del Carmen Torres Dominguez measures the diameter of a tree on Barro Colorado Island in Panama. Since 1982, more than 200,000 trees are measured every five years. (Photo by Christian Ziegler)

A group of trees that grow fast, live long lives and reproduce slowly account for the bulk of the biomass—and carbon storage—in some tropical rainforests, a team of scientists says in a paper published this week in the journal Science. The finding that these trees, called long-lived pioneers, play a much larger role in carbon storage than previously thought may have implications in efforts to preserve forests as a strategy to fight climate change.

Hidden Source of Carbon Found at the Arctic Coast

Hidden Source of Carbon Found at the Arctic Coast

Dr. Craig Connolly takes a groundwater sample to measure the concentration and age of organic carbon and nitrogen in groundwater flowing beneath the beach. Credit: Jim McClelland.

A previously unknown significant source of carbon just discovered in the Arctic has scientists marveling at a once overlooked contributor to local coastal ecosystems – and concerned about what it may mean in an era of climate change.

Arctic Rivers Can Help Monitor Greenhouse Gases Released from Thawing Permafrost

Arctic Rivers Can Help Monitor Greenhouse Gases Released from Thawing Permafrost

James McClelland and his colleagues developed a new way to monitor carbon released from thawing permafrost in the Arctic by analyzing water samples from major rivers.

As Earth's climate warms, experts predict the rate of greenhouse gas emissions from thawing Arctic permafrost and peat will rise, which will further boost climate warming. Because the rate of permafrost thaw varies widely across the Arctic and data from remote areas is limited, it's been challenging for scientists to monitor actual changes on the ground.

A Surprising Effect of Texas Drought: Changes to the Marine Food Web

A Surprising Effect of Texas Drought: Changes to the Marine Food Web

When Texas' worst drought on record hit the state between 2011 and 2015, it did more than dry up rivers and lakes. It changed the chemical composition of fish eggs, which revealed bigger changes to the marine life in Aransas Bay.

Success of Conservation Efforts for Important Caribbean Reef Fish Hinges on Climate Change

Success of Conservation Efforts for Important Caribbean Reef Fish Hinges on Climate Change

Photo credit: Alfredo Barroso

For more than 20 years, conservationists have been working to protect one of the most recognizable reef fish in the Caribbean, the endangered and iconic Nassau grouper, and thanks to those efforts, populations of this critical reef fish have stabilized in some areas. But in a new paper, published in the journal Diversity and Distributions, marine scientists said climate change might severely hinder those efforts by the end of this century.

When Science Communication Doesn’t Get Through (Audio)

When Science Communication Doesn’t Get Through (Audio)

Climate change, vaccinations, evolution. Scientists sometimes struggle to get their message across to non-scientists. On the latest episode of the Point of Discovery podcast, what communications research can teach us about why science communication sometimes backfires, and what scientists can do about it.

Project Explores Fate of Coral Reefs and Related Life

Project Explores Fate of Coral Reefs and Related Life

An international team of coral experts, including Misha Matz, an associate professor of integrative biology at The University of Texas at Austin, have published a set of urgent research recommendations, related to the ability of coral to respond to rapid environmental change caused by climate change.

Periodic Table of Ecological Niches Could Aid in Predicting Effects of Climate Change

Periodic Table of Ecological Niches Could Aid in Predicting Effects of Climate Change

A Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus) in the reptile house at Alice Springs Desert Park, Alice Springs, Australia. Credit: Stu’s Images. Used via a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

A group of ecologists has started creating a periodic table of ecological niches similar to chemistry's periodic table. And just as chemists have used their periodic table as a point of reference to understand relationships among elements, the emerging table for ecologists shows relationships over time among animals, plants and their environments — acting as a critical resource for scientists seeking to understand how a warming climate may be spurring changes in species around the globe.