Brandon Bestelmeyer's blog

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Back to the Future

Happy Back to the Future day! Today is the day that Marty McFly, Emmett "Doc" Brown and Jennifer Parker targeted in their time travel from 1985 to 2015 in the sci-fi film trilogy's second installment in 1989. 4:29 PM today, in fact. The future, as imagined in 1985, offered self-lacing sneakers, hover boards, personal fusion devices running on garbage, and a winning Cubs team. While these predictions have not yet come to pass (sorry Cubs!), flat-screen TVs and Skype have.

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Restoration as big as Texas

What is restoration? Well, its big. It’s about people, money, policy, technology, history, biology, belief, and faith. Restoration is the primary mode of deliberate intervention in our environment to improve it, often taking a lifetime or more to fully unfold. It means that communities of people come together, define what they want to change, and then go about trying to change it as the technology, money, and effort will allow.


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Thresholds, novel ecosystems, and the sanctity of history

How is an ecosystem supposed to be? The answers determine how millions of dollars are spent and how ecosystems are transformed, with effects lasting centuries. Conflict over this question used to be between industry and environmentalists. Now ecologists are doing battle with one another too.


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Desertification? With a grain of salt

A steady stream of news articles announce: “Desertification affects (insert fraction) of (insert country)”. A photograph of a sand-engulfed house, dry riverbed, dead animal, or close-up of cracked earth accompanies the story. Environmental catastrophes make for interesting reading. But it is seldom clear what ecological phenomena the term “desertification” actually refers to, and therefore what the solution might be. And it’s the solution that matters.


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Tipping points and resilience in Mongolian grasslands

The future of Mongolian rangelands is at a crossroads. The decision is whether to try to control livestock numbers or to allow (or encourage) numbers to increase. Many believe that the latter will result in irreversible changes, including those called ‘desertification’.


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Degraded rangelands to deforestation in the Argentine Chaco

Twenty years ago I completed my Master’s work in the Chaco forests of northern Argentina. The native forests are, in fact, rangelands. In addition to livestock production, the forests are used for timber extraction and wildlife harvest (think tegu lizard cowboy boots). I took part in a project comparing biodiversity among production systems. A new system promised to reverse biodiversity loss and soil degradation. But it’s a moot point now since many of those forests have been cleared for cropland--the highest rate of tropical forest loss in the world.

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Restoration + climate change = cognitive dissonance

Last week, an agricultural researcher from the Monte Desert in Argentina emailed me to put him in contact with a seed supplier in the US. They wanted seeds of the perennial grasses blue grama and Lehmann lovegrass for some revegetation trials. I wanted to hit reply with: ¡Por favor, no lo hagas! (don’t do it).


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Lost in translational ecology

As graduate students, some of us entertained the hope that our science would trickle down from the ivory tower and inoculate land managers with the seeds of broader vision and better practices. That seldom happened. Over the last decade+ since, there has been a lot of hand-wringing about the science-management interface. In the 1990s, I recall that “applied” ecology was met with thinly-veiled disdain from members of the ecological science establishment.

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Are your feedbacks positive or negative?

There is much confusion in use of the terms “positive” and “negative” feedback. Some folks have used negative feedback to mean a negative outcome, adding to the confusion. Here I try to clarify the meaning of positive and negative feedbacks.

A useful, Wikipedia-sourced summary is: A negative feedback loop is one that tends to slow down a process, whereas the positive feedback loop tends to accelerate it.

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