Insight
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Publications in Environmental Sciences by NOMIS researchers

NOMIS Researcher(s)

Published in

March 1, 2024

Most cryospheric ecosystems are energy limited. How their energetics will respond to climate change remains largely unknown. This is particularly true for glacier-fed streams, which interface with the cryosphere and initiate some of Earth’s largest river systems. Here, by studying resource stoichiometry and microbial energetics in 154 glacier-fed streams sampled by the Vanishing Glaciers project across Earth’s major mountain ranges, we show that these ecosystems and their benthic microbiome are overall carbon and phosphorus limited. Threshold elemental ratios and low carbon use efficiencies (median: 0.15) modelled from extracellular enzymatic activities corroborate resource limitation in agreement with maintenance metabolism of benthic microorganisms. Space-for-time substitution analyses suggest that glacier shrinkage will stimulate benthic primary production in glacier-fed streams, thereby relieving microbial metabolism from carbon limitation. Concomitantly, we find that increasing streamwater temperature will probably stimulate microbial growth (temperature sensitivity: 0.62 eV). Consequently, elevated microbial demands for phosphorus, but diminishing inputs from subglacial sources, may intensify phosphorus limitation as glaciers shrink. Our study thus unveils a ‘green transition’ towards autotrophy in the world’s glacier-fed streams, entailing shifts in the energetics of their microorganisms.

Research field(s)
Ecology, Environmental Sciences

NOMIS Researcher(s)

November 16, 2023

Biological conservation practices and approaches take many forms. Conservation projects do not only differ in their aims and methods, but also concerning their conceptual and normative background assumptions and their underlying motivations and objectives. We draw on philosophical distinctions from the ethics of conservation to explain variances of different positions on conservation projects along six dimensions: (1) conservation ideals, (2) intervention intuitions, (3) the moral considerability of nonhuman beings, (4) environmental values, (5) views on nature and (6) human roles in nature. The result is a map of the moral landscape of biological conservation, on which these six dimensions are layered. This map functions as a heuristic tool to understand conceptual and normative foundations of specific conservation projects, which we will illustrate with four paradigmatic examples: the Pisavaara Strict Nature Reserve, Predator Free New Zealand, the Oostvaardersplassen Nature Reserve and the Great Green Wall Project. With this map as a heuristic tool, we aim to conceptually illuminate disagreement and clarify misunderstandings between representatives of different environmental protection strategies and to show that the same project can be supported (or criticised) on different grounds.

Research field(s)
Biology, Environmental Sciences

NOMIS Researcher(s)

Published in

December 1, 2022

In this paper we suggest an interpretation of the concept of ‘relational value’ that could be useful in both environmental ethics and empirical analyses. We argue that relational valuing includes aspects of intrinsic and instrumental valuing. If relational values are attributed, objects are appreciated because the relationship with them contributes to the human flourishing component of well-being (instrumental aspect). At the same time, attributing relational value involves genuine esteem for the valued item (intrinsic aspect). We also introduce the notions of mediating and indirect relational environmental values, attributed in relationships involving people as well as environmental objects. We close by proposing how our analysis can be used in empirical research.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Environmental Sciences

NOMIS Researcher(s)

Published in

December 1, 2022

The concept of natural otherness can be found throughout the environmental ethics literature. Drawing on this concept, this article pursues two aims. For one, it argues for an account of individual natural otherness as stable difference as opposed to accounts of natural otherness that put more emphasis on inde-pendence for the purpose of differentiating individual natural otherness from the concept of wildness. Secondly, this account of natural otherness is engaged to argue for a particular way of theorising the moral standing of individual nonhuman entities. While individual natural otherness in itself does not pro-vide an account of whether an entity matters morally in itself (that is, whether it is morally considerable); it points to an account of incommensurable moral significance for all entities which are attributed moral considerability. That is an often-overlooked alternative to egalitarian or hierarchical accounts of moral significance. Individual natural otherness understood in this way in turn pro-vides another explanatory story for why relational accounts of environmental ethics that strongly emphasise the importance of concepts such as wildness are particularly salient.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Environmental Sciences

NOMIS Researcher(s)

December 1, 2020

Reliable quantitative information on the North Korean economy is extremely scarce. In particular, reliable income per capita and poverty figures for the country are not available. In this contribution, we provide for the first time estimates of absolute poverty rates in North Korean subnational regions based on the combination of innovative remote-sensed night-time light intensity data (monthly information for built areas) with estimated income distributions. Our results, which are robust to the use of different methods to approximate the income distribution in the country, indicate that the share of persons living in extreme poverty in North Korea may be larger than previously thought. We estimate a poverty rate for the country of around 60% in 2018 and a high volatility in the dynamics of income at the national level in North Korea for the period 2012–2018. Income per capita estimates tend to decline significantly from 2012 to 2015 and present a recovery since 2016. The subnational estimates of income and poverty reveal a change in relative dynamics since the second half of the 2012–2018 period. The first part of the period is dominated by divergent dynamics in income across regions, while the second half reveals convergence in regional income.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Environmental Sciences

NOMIS Researcher(s)

July 1, 2020

Illegal activity, such as deforestation for illicit crops for cocaine production, has been inferred as a cause of land change. Nonetheless, illicit activity is often overlooked or difficult to incorporate into causal inference models of land change. Evidence continues to build that narcotrafficking plays an important, yet often unreported, role in forest loss. This study presents a novel strategy to meet the challenge of estimating the causal effect of illicit activity in land change using consolidated news media reports to estimate the relationship between drug trafficking and accelerated forest loss in Central America. Drug trafficking organizations engage in illegal land transactions, money laundering, and territorial control that can manifest as forest conversion to agriculture or pasture land uses. Longitudinal data on 50 sub-national units over a period of 16 years (2001-2016) are used in fixed effects regressions to estimate the role of narcotrafficking in forest loss. Two narcotrafficking activity proxies were developed as explanatory variables of forest loss: i) an “official” proxy from drug seizures data within 14 sub-national units; and, ii) an “unofficial” proxy developed from georeferenced news media accounts of narcotrafficking events. The effect of narcotrafficking was systematically compared to the other well-known causes of forest loss, such as rural population growth and other conventional drivers. Both proxies indicate narcotrafficking is a statistically significant (p<0.01) contributor to forest loss in the region, particularly in Nicaragua (p<0.05, official proxy), Honduras (p<0.05, media proxy), and Guatemala (p<0.05, media proxy). Narcotrafficking variables explain an additional 5% (media proxy) and 9% (official proxy) of variance of forest loss not captured by conventional models. This study showed the ability of news media data to capture the signal of illicit activity in land use changes such as forest loss. The methods employed here could be used to estimate the causal effect of illicit activities in other land and environmental systems. Our results suggest that current drug policy, which concentrates drug trafficking in remote areas of very high cultural and environmental value, has helped to accelerate the loss of Central America's remaining forests.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Environmental Sciences

NOMIS Researcher(s)

July 1, 2020

This research is motivated by the compelling finding that the illicit cocaine trade is responsible for extensive patterns of deforestation in Central America. This pattern is most pronounced in the region’s large protected areas. We wanted to know how cocaine trafficking affects conservation governance in Central America’s protected areas, and whether deforestation is a result of impacts on governance. To answer this question, we interviewed conservation stakeholders from key institutions at various levels in three drug-trafficking hotspots: Peten, Guatemala, Northeastern Honduras, and the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. We found that, in order to establish and maintain drug transit operations, drug-trafficking organizations compete with and undermine conservation governance actors and institutions. Drug trafficking impacts conservation governance in three ways: 1) it undermines long standing conservation coalitions; 2) it fuels booms in extractive activities inside protected lands; and 3) it erodes the territorial control that conservation institutions exert, exploiting strict “fortress” conservation governance models. Participatory governance models that provide locals with strong expectations of land tenure and/or institutional support for local decision-making may offer resistance to the impacts on governance institutions that we documented.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Environmental Sciences

NOMIS Researcher(s)

January 1, 2020

The resolution and dimensionality with which biologists can characterize cell types have expanded dramatically in recent years, and intersectional consideration of such features (e.g., multiple gene expression and anatomical parameters) is increasingly understood to be essential. At the same time, genetically targeted technology for writing in and reading out activity patterns for cells in living organisms has enabled causal investigation in physiology and behavior; however, cell-type-specific delivery of these tools (including microbial opsins for optogenetics and genetically encoded Ca2+ indicators) has thus far fallen short of versatile targeting to cells jointly defined by many individually selected features. Here, we develop a comprehensive intersectional targeting toolbox including 39 novel vectors for joint-feature-targeted delivery of 13 molecular payloads (including opsins, indicators, and fluorophores), systematic approaches for development and optimization of new intersectional tools, hardware for in vivo monitoring of expression dynamics, and the first versatile single-virus tools (Triplesect) that enable targeting of triply defined cell types.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Environmental Sciences

NOMIS Researcher(s)

April 1, 2019

For nexus approaches to be successful in their analysis and influence, integration dynamics must be understood in the context of larger power dynamics. Current analysis barely take this dimension into account. In this article, we aim to delimit and understand the power-related enabling conditions for integration processes in a situation of water, food and energy conflicts in Cambodia. To do so, we reflect on our experiences and outcomes in a knowledge co-production approach for identifying nexus indicators in a WWF Conservation Mekong Flooded Forest Landscape. We conduct an analysis of stakeholder and partner qualitative interview data collected within the LIVES (Linked Indicators for Vital Ecosystem Services) project to explore three examples how we engaged with power dynamics in the course of the research. By doing so, this article provides first (1) learning on existing challenges regarding integration in the nexus, then (2) it analyses effects of coproduction processes when considering power dynamics in the nexus both in terms of stalemate and enabling conditions for reinforced integration. Finally (3), this article analyses the role that plays structure and agency in such integration processes.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Environmental Sciences

NOMIS Researcher(s)

January 1, 2019

As the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus becomes an increasingly common framework for bridging science and policy, there is a growing need to unpack and make explicit many of the methods and assumptions being used to operationalize the nexus. In this paper, we focus on two common approaches to nexus research, quantitative modeling and futures thinking, and the ways that each set of methodological tools address uncertainty. We first review the underlying assumptions of each approach with a focus on sources of and ability to measure uncertainty, and potential complementarities. Quantitative modeling takes a probabilistic approach to predicting the likelihood of a specific outcome or future state based on estimates of current system dynamics. In contrast, futures thinking approaches, such as scenario processes, explore novel changes that cannot be fully predicted or even anticipated based on current understandings of the nexus. We then examine a set of applied nexus projects that bridge science and policy-making contexts to better understand practitioner experiences with different methodological tools and how they are utilized to navigate uncertainty. We explore one nexus case study, LIVES Cambodia, in-depth, to better understand the opportunities and challenges associated with participatory modeling and stakeholder engagement with uncertainty in a policy-making context. Across the cases, practitioners identify the complementarity between modeling and futures thinking approaches, and those projects that integrated both into the planning process experienced benefits from having multiple angles on uncertainty within the nexus. In particular, stakeholder engagement provided critical opportunities to address some types of uncertainties (e.g., data gaps) through the use of local knowledge. Explicit discussions of model uncertainty and use of scenario processes also enabled stakeholders to deepen their understandings of uncertainties and envision policy pathways that would be robust to uncertainty. In many senses, models became boundary objects that encouraged critical thinking and questioning of assumptions across diverse stakeholders. And, for some nexus projects, confronting uncertainty in explicit and transparent ways build capacity for policy flexibility and adaptiveness. We conclude with a discussion of when and how these benefits can be fully realized through the strategic use of appropriate approaches to characterizing and navigating nexus uncertainty.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Environmental Sciences