Adding Value to Ecosystems

For several decades, the term “ecosystem services” has been used by environmental scientists and managers to connote the benefits people and societies receive “free” from nature. Beginning in the 1990s, there were many efforts to monetarize these services, but today it is also increasingly recognized that their socio-cultural values are as important. Since 2012, OSARA has worked with Northern Arizona University (NAU), the Universidad Nacional de Tierra del Fuego (UNTDF) and a host of research and conservation institutions in Patagonia to implement the PRESS project, which among other things seeks to study nature from multiple social and ecological perspectives.

From January till March 2016, undergraduate students from NAU and UNTDF conducted surveys in Tierra del Fuego National Park and the town of Ushuaia. They found that residents and vistors alike had very little understanding of native species, especially aquatic biodiversity. Plus, most people highly valued nature, but mostly understood evident benefits of the national park to their quality of life, such as using it for recreation activities, and they were less aware of its intangible services.

One of the outcomes of this project has been to take those findings and place them into more apparent socio-cultural value, specifically working with an interdisciplinary team of natural scientists, communications professors and designers to not only identify the “hidden” biodiversity and services of places like Tierra del Fuego National Park, but also make them more evident to society. So, this joint project produced and financed 3 new signs for the park to highlight aquatic species (like tiny benthic macroinvertebrates or the endangered southern river otter) and also unknown ways that nature supports our well-being (like the fact that the national park protects the watersheds of Ushuaia’s 3 water sources). Click on these signs for more.



Patagonia Research Experiences for Students in Sustainability (Year 2)

Students from Northern Arizona University (NAU) and the National University of Tierra del Fuego (UNTDF) are working together on a collaborative project with ecologists, anthropologists and social scientists to better understand the social perceptions and ecological realities of the protected areas of southern Patagonia. This project, financed with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S.-Argentine Fulbright Commission, the Argentine National Parks Administration and UNTDF, is one of the initiatives coordinated by OSARA to develop new and dynamic relationships in the realm of conservation, socio-ecological research and sustainability science. The students involved seek to not only master skills in the lab and gain knowledge about local biodiversity, but also seek to be trained in local environmental and cultural sensibility.

Specifically, the team involved in conducting a “social-ecological evaluation” of Tierra del Fuego National Park and its biodiversity seeks first to identify and compare ecological “realities” to human “perceptions”. The outcomes are expected to help illustrate a fundamental base of knowledge for scientists, decision-makers and locals. Such insights will then be used as a tool to optimize future efforts of ecological conservation, cultural preservation and overall recognition of well-being in respect to all inhabitants of the land and the land itself.

The student team was led by Leah Manak and Alana Weber, both Environmental Science and Spanish students at NAU). They and students from Biology at UNTDF implemented a ten-question survey of which they then asked a sample of over 500 participants (local and non-local) covering topics like: overall perceptions and knowledge of the benefits provided by the national park, the threats to the national park, the presence and disturbances of native and exotic animal species on the island of Tierra del Fuego, and finally the ethics and methods of lethal trapping as a form of introduced-species management.

According to Manak, “we had the privilege to work beside people from different educational and cultural backgrounds with abstract as well as controversial themes, and I’m truly impressed with how this team worked together to accomplish our goals. We were able to see Tierra del Fuego through a kaleidoscope of perceptions; each color constructed by the different worldviews of the people we interviewed.”

IMG_9564Likewise, “I was struck by how many tourists come to see the majestic beauty at the end of the world. The ability to work with and interview so many people from around the world was incredible. I have learned so much from my experience not only in my studies but in cultural and social aspects as well. This is only the beginning of a long cultural and scientific future ahead of me; and being apart of PRESS is such an amazing way to start my journey. I am forever appreciative,” said Weber.

The conclusions of this study will not only serve to enhance our understanding of the socio-ecological relationships in southern Patagonia, but also help prepare communication strategies for different stakeholder groups.

New Publication on the Social Dimensions of Invasive Species

cobi_left In the February edition of the journal Conservation Biology, Drs. Rodrigo Estevez, Christopher Anderson, Cristobal Pizarro and Mark Burgman published the review entitled Clarifying values, risk perceptions, and attitudes to resolve or avoid social conflicts in invasive species management.

Summary. Decision makers and researchers increasingly recognize the need to effectively confront the social dimensions and conflicts inherent to invasive species research and management. Yet, despite numerous contentious situations that have arisen, no systematic evaluation of the literature has examined the commonalities in the patterns and types of these emergent social issues. Using social and ecological keywords, we reviewed trends in the social dimensions of invasive species research and management and the sources and potential solutions to problems and conflicts that arise around invasive species. We integrated components of cognitive hierarchy theory and risk perceptions theory to provide a conceptual framework to identify, distinguish, and provide understanding of the driving factors underlying disputes associated with invasive species. In the ISI Web of Science database, 15,915 peer-reviewed publications on biological invasions were found; 124 included social dimensions of this phenomenon. Of these 124, 28 studies described specific contentious situations. Social approaches to biological invasions have emerged largely in the last decade and have focused on both environmental social sciences and resource management. Despite being distributed in a range of journals, these 124 articles were concentrated mostly in ecology and conservation-oriented outlets. The study found that conflicts surrounding invasive species arose based largely on differences in value systems and to a lesser extent stakeholder and decision maker’s risk perceptions. To confront or avoid such situations, the authors suggest integrating the plurality of environmental values into invasive species research and management via structured decision making techniques, which enhance effective risk communication that promotes trust and confidence between stakeholders and decision makers.

OSARA Facilitates Insertion of U.S. Students in Southern Patagonian Research Programs

2015-02-05 13.28.51With the support of U.S. National Science Foundation Grant (IIA 1261229) Patagonia Research Experiences for Students in Sustainability or “PRESS“, 5 undergraduate and graduate students from Northern Arizona University (NAU) arrived to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego to initiate their projects with Argentine mentors from a suite of partner institutions. In the coming years, the project will fund 7-8 students per year, and after the ending of the NSF funds the programs sustainability is ensured by being part of the Global Science and Engineering Program at NAU and internationalization efforts in Argentina. In 2015, OSARA is proud to coordinate the following projects.

Erik McCaughan, B.S. Biology, studying the trophic and population ecology of native southern river otters and invasive American mink under the guidance of Drs. Alejandro Valenzuela (Argentine National Parks Administration-APN and National University of Tierra del Fuego-UNTDF) and Laura Fasola (Austral Center for Scientific Research-CADIC). Tierra del Fuego & Santa Cruz Provinces, Argentina.

Faythe Duran, B.S. Biology, studying the soil conditions in a national observatory site for desertification under the guidance of Dr. Alicia Moretto (CADIC-UNTDF). Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina.

Montana Johnson, B.S. Environmental Sciences, studying stream macroinvertebrate assemblages associated with different habitat types in Tierra del Fuego under the guidance of Dr. Christopher Anderson (CADIC-UNTDF).  Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina.

Taylor Oster, B.S. Environmental Engineering and B.A. Spanish, studying indicators of trail sustainability in Glaciers and Tierra del Fuego National Parks under the guidance of Laura Malmierca (APN).  Tierra del Fuego & Santa Cruz Provinces, Argentina.

T.J. Schmidt, M.S. Climate Science & Solutions, studying the carbon footprint of the wool industry in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina under the guidance of Dr. Pablo Peri (National Institute of Agricultural Technology-INTA and National University of Southern Patagonia-UNPA). Santa Cruz Province, Argentina.

NSF and CONICET Support New Collaborative Project

Picture1Since 2012, Northern Arizona University and a suite of partners in southern Patagonia, coordinated by OSARA, have forged new and productive relationships in the area of conservation, socio-ecological research and sustainability science. The first fruit of this relationship was the NSF International Research Experience for Students grant, known as “PRESS“.

logoConicetNow, as these relationships have grown, a new proposal has been funded by both Argentina’s National Council for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICET) and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of international cooperation efforts. This new project, entitled Understanding biotic and institutional drivers that facilitate or constrain watershed restoration: a comparative study of two iconic landscapes from Patagonia and Grand Canyon will fund Drs. Christopher Anderson and Sebastian Ballari from Argentina to conduct work at NAU, while Dr. Erik Nielsen will come to collaborate in Tierra del Fuego.

Strengthening the Relationship between Science and Society

logo-cequaThe line of research of science and tourism, which is led by Ernesto Davis at the Center for Quaternary Studies (CEQUA) in Punta Arenas, Chile, has received significant new support from the Chilean Science and Technology Commission’s “Linking Science and Industry” (VCE) Program. In addition, the VCE Program highlighted Mr. Davis’ previous efforts as exemplary at the national level for the type of projects they seek to fund and institutionalize. The new grant will allow the previous experience working with the Australis Cruiseline to be used to expand training efforts throughout the region, as well as continue to strengthen citizen science training on board the boats. The ultimate goal is to formalize a strategy that integrates academics and tourism operators in a reciprocally beneficial relationship. Beyond just the traditional “outreach” model of training guides or preparing educational materials, this effort seeks to include the guides and the tourists themselves in the research, and show the value of this approach to companies.

Linking Alaska and Tierra del Fuego

foto con osos polaresWith the support of a CONICET grant to Dr. Christopher Anderson, concrete strides are being made to strengthen research between Tierra del Fuego and Alaska. From November 2014-February 2015, distinguished scientist Dr. Merav Ben-David from the University of Wyoming conducted a sabbatical at the Austral Center for Scientific Research (CADIC) in association with the Argentine National Parks Administration (APN). Dr. Ben-David is a recognized expert in wildlife biology and management, particular in polar and sub-polar biomes in North America, where she works with species like otters, mink, beaver and polar bears, among others.

During her time in Tierra del Fuego, she offered two workshops for local researchers and students, regarding non-invasive methods of estimating animal populations and using stable isotopes in ecological research. She also conducted extensive field work with Dr. Alejandro Valenzuela in Tierra del Fuego and Glaciers National Parks to get to know the situation of the endangered southern river otter (Lontra provocax) and the invasive American mink (Neovison vison). With Dr. Andrea Raya-Rey she also participated in studies on Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus). Finally, in association with the Center for Quaternary Studies (CEQUA) in Punta Arenas, Chile, she is advising a scientific tourism project on the cruise ships of the Australis company, assisting in the integration of citizen science methods to this initiative.

Based on these efforts to re-enforce relationships between the polar and sup-polar regions of North and South America, new projects are being developed. In June 2015, Dr. Valenzuela of the APN will travel to Alaska to participate in coastal otter monitoring programs, and plans are being made to present new training grants for Argentine and U.S. students to work in both Patagonia and North America on similar issues related to wildlife and conservation issues.

New Fulbrighter for Tierra del Fuego

Fulbright logoYet again, OSARA has helped facilitate a successful Fulbright application to work in Patagonia. This time, Dr. Erik Nielsen from Northern Arizona University (NAU) will recieve the award to conduct a sabbatical from January till May 2016. During that time he will offer two courses at the National University of Tierra del Fuego. One will be on social dimensions of conservation and the other about interdisciplinary teaching practices for university professors. In addition, he will conduct research in association with the Austral Center for Scientific Research concerning the social and institutional aspects of conservation, including control of invasive beavers and restoration of native forests.

New Publication on Restoration in Tierra del Fuego

cover_erA recent publication in the journal Ecological Restoration, led by Fulbrighter and NatGeo Young Explorer Jonathan Henn, finds that survival of transplated lenga (Nothofagus pumilio) seedlings in abandoned beaver meadows depends largely on the abiotic conditions of microhabitats within the meadow and the invasion of herbaceous (often exotic) plants. The research, coordinated under the guidance of Dr. Guillermo Martinez Pastur (ECO-Link Senior Personnel) and Dr. Christopher Anderson (ECO-Link PI), is the first pilot effort in Tierra del Fuego to conduct active forest restoration, which is one of the goals of the binational agreement between Chile and Argentina regarding the management of the invasive beaver.

Unifying Patagonia

logoCENPATFrom 30 June to 5 July, more than 20 students from Argentina, Chile and Paraguay came to the National Patagonia Center (CENPAT) in Puerto Madryn to participate in the graduate course entitled “Humans Dimensions of Conservation,” coordinated by Dr. Alexandra Sapoznikow. Invited lecturers included social and natural scientists. Guest professor Dr. Christopher Anderson stated “this course in Puerto Madryn is the ‘sister’ course to one we offer in Ushuaia on ‘socio-ecology’. With Alexa we have decided to offer each every other year and re-enforce one another, rather than compete, as a way to united our efforts from southern and northern Patagonia.” In 2015, the next version of this series will be offered in Ushuaia, associated with the Argentine Marine Sciences Congress, under the motto “integrating forms of knowledge.”

Beaver Problem in Tierra del Fuego Reported in Scientific American

Beaver impact in TDF

Source. Scientific American. Reported by Katie Worth. See slideshow.

Argentina and Chile Decide Not to Leave it to Beavers.

Importing the incisor-toothed hydrologists from Canada to the southernmost tip of South America seemed like a good idea in 1946, but it wasn’t. 

Rarely has the inception of an environmental disaster been so triumphantly documented.

In a recently unearthed black-and-white newsreel, which played before movies in theaters across Argentina in 1946, a newscaster reported that 20 beavers have been trapped in Canada and flown to Tierra del Fuego—the island that straddles the border between Argentina and Chile at the southernmost tip of South America. Argentine Pres. Juan Perón’s administration had imported the animals in hopes that they would thrive and reproduce, fostering a fur trade in the economically lackluster territory. “The beavers, who eat branches of trees and bark, will find abundance here,” the newscaster stated, as the camera pans across kilometers of virgin Fuegian forests. The beavers, released from their cages, slip into a river as the voice added gravitas to the dam-building beasties’ entry into their new environs, “Now they are in God’s hands.”

Abundance they found. Six decades later the descendants of those 20 pioneers number in the tens of thousands in Patagonia. The beasts have swum from Tierra del Fuego to the continent and beyond, and now occupy an unknown number of islands in the vast uninhabited archipelago off the coast of southern Chile. As they waddle their way north, building dams, creating ponds and procreating, they lay waste to vast tracts of land, which appear scorched or bulldozed. The destructive power of the beavers in Patagonia surprised ecologists in North America, where the same animals have been reintroduced to wetlands in need of restoration. Read more by clicking here.

Science and Tourism Unite Tierra del Fuego

100_0259Scientists from the University of Magallanes in Chile have teamed up with colleagues in Argentina at the National Parks Administration, the National University of Tierra del Fuego and the Austral Center for Scientific Research to develop an innovative project that links science & tourism and bridges the historical gap between the two countries in the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago. In general, such collaborative ventures are considered “outreach,” whereby the scientific organization “helps” the private sector. In this project, funded by the Chilean Science and Technological Commission – CONICYT, the dialogue is reciprocal; scientists not only are training local tourism guides, but also involving them in the research and monitoring projects in the archipelago.

The goal is to value the deep knowledge and capacity of the tourism industry to generate new information, monitor its own impacts and provide a service to the academic community by helping implement a monitoring and sampling network in remote parts of Tierra del Fuego, where few scientists venture. Working in this pilot effort with the company Cruceros Australis, the project’s directors have begun five new data collection protocols: a) following of plant phenology, b) description of intertidal marine communities, c) monitoring of invasive species and birds, d) sampling ocean chemistry and e) recording trash throughout the navigation routes. In this way, scientists and the private sector hope to promote a binational approach to sustainable development options via ecotourism and also implement much needed long-term research and monitoring in one of the world’s most remote archipelagos.

Perceiving Patagonia


Jean-Paul Zagarola and colleagues from the U.S.A. and Argentina recently published the cover article in the journal Environmental Management entitled  “Perceiving Patagonia: An Assessment of Social Values and Perspectives Regarding Watershed Ecosystem Services and Management in Southern South America.” This research, which was funded by a Fulbright student grant and a U.S. National Science Foundation IRES award, was the first of its kind by simultaneously exploring the mentalities of “regular citizens” and “specialists” on both sides of the Fuegian Archipelago.

Research on human dimensions of ecosystems through the ecosystem services (ES) concept has proliferated over recent decades but has largely focused on monetary value of ecosystems while excluding other community-based values. This study conducted 312 surveys of general community members and regional researchers and decision makers to understand local perceptions and values of watershed ES and natural resource management in South America’s southern Patagonian ecoregion. Results indicated that specialists shared many similar values of ES with community members, but at the same time their mentalities did not capture the diversity of values that existed within the broader community. The supporting services were most highly valued by both groups, but generally poorly understood by the community. Many services that are not easily captured in monetary terms, particularly cultural services, were highly valued by community members and specialists. Both groups perceived a lack of communication and access to basic scientific information in current management approaches and differed slightly in their perspective on potential threats to ES.

Zagarola et al. 2014 – Perceiving Patagonia. An Assesment of Social Values and Perspectives Regarding Watershed Ecosystem Services and Management in Southern South America