Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Leading by the Nose

For humans, walkable neighborhoods and commercial hubs reward strolling with varied architecture, safe street crossings, and a mix of things to do and see on foot. For dogs, there is a much larger world of scent. Can our canine companions guide us to a richer walking experience?

Frank Edgerton Martin

Dogs and other animals understand sidewalks and parks not as visually ordered settings but as shifting islands and drifts of smells. When we humans step out the door, it’s basically the same outdoors we left behind. But for the dog with us on a leash, a street is like a flowing stream filled with the scent trails of passing people and dogs. It’s an ever-changing place.

In 2003, I adopted a yellow Labrador named Samson from the Hennepin County Humane Society. When I first saw him, he struck me as quiet and observant as he sat there upright, regarding the other dogs as they barked and whimpered. For years, Samson spent his days sitting Sphinx-like on the front steps, left paw crossed on right, surveying passersby. He became famous among the neighbors for wanting to sit outside even on the coldest January days.

Samson loved meeting people and other dogs. He was a natural greeter, but we found little social life along the roads and subdivisions of our Lake Minnetonka neighborhood. And because I myself was more interested in architecture than in exercise, I often found our walks boring. But Samson and I both needed exercise and to get outside for strolls. Over the years we developed a set of alternative suburban environments that made sense for both of us.

Instead of walking by lawns and large houses, we got in the car (a thrill for Samson) and drove to denser places where we could do the things we liked, such as: smelling other dogs, visiting antique shops, sniffing sidewalk trees, and sitting in outdoor caf├ęs while greeting people and watching traffic. We often went to downtown Excelsior, a 19th-century town where we could do all of these things. But we also made new discoveries. For some reason, Samson loved outlet malls, perhaps because the long sidewalks afforded him the chance to meet a lot of people.

I took him to Tonkadale Greenhouse and other nurseries where we could walk among the plants in winter, admiring shoppers could pet him, and we could take in the fragrances and humidity. In summer, we went to public docks on Lake Minnetonka, where Samson greeted those departing from the tour boats. Seniors and teenage girls particularly loved him.

TALKING SCENTS

In her collection of essays On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra Horowitz takes us along on eleven treks, mostly in Manhattan, with experts in a variety of different fields—graphic design, geology, entomology, and so on. Another one of the experts is her dog Flip, who reminds me of a more citified version of Samson.

Horowitz is a cognitive psychologist who writes extensively on dogs and how they perceive the world. In describing her walk with Flip, she notes that “smell, like memory, is entirely personal. It cannot be shared with the ease that an image, rendered in ink or oils, can be experienced by hundreds of millions of viewers.”

Smells are not easily communicated in words; we humans have only vague olfactory classifications such as “sweet,” “earthy,” or “pungent.” But dogs like Flip and Samson experience nuanced smells in thousands of variations. They may not have a word for each, but they have recognition all the same. For dogs, smells form an unfolding map of information about specific places and other animals and people. “Their world has a topography wrought of odors . . . the landscape is brightly colored with aromas,” writes Horowitz.

ARBY’S

When touring a neighborhood, we humans use visual classifications such as “late Victorian” or “New Urbanist.” Dogs, of course, could care less. From my walks with Samson, I learned more about the experiences that mattered to him, and, in doing so, I began to appreciate suburban landscapes in a different way.
I learned that busy places like Main Streets and public parks have a smell history. Huge parking lots can be bleak for all. Samson and I agreed that big-box stores and malls were the worst—visual and olfactory deserts unsuitable for a hike. But a parking lot at Arby’s could be a sacred place.

At least it was for Samson, who generally refused to leave after we sat on the grassy suburban berm and shared a bag of curly fries. After snacks, I would walk with him around the building—along the lane leading to the drive-thru, past the drive-thru window (with faster sniffing because much is dropped there), and around to the back where the exhaust fans are (a kind of climax). This circuit never tired him, and he would tug billy-goat-like on the leash when I tried to get him back into the car. Inevitably, I would have to pick him up, all 75 pounds, and dump him in the backseat.

A dog can sniff fast when there is much to take in, like at a drive-thru window—up to seven times per second. Humans can only take in a new scent about once every two seconds. We have about five million olfactory sense receptors; a bloodhound can have 300 million. A dog can gauge a smell’s strength by its variance between nostrils.

Samson and I had many kinds of walks, the hardest being the “process of elimination” at 7:00 on January mornings. When it was 20 degrees below zero, he always sniffed too long. But sometimes we both liked to linger in a place. We might sit in a park, Samson sniffing with darting nose the scents of other dogs flowing from upwind. With my eyes and ears, I observed things too—where people gathered, the shouts of children, and impromptu soccer games on an open patch of grass.

TAKING THE TIME

In an interview with the National Canine Research Council, Horowitz put into words what I intuited from Samson: We need to value our dogs’ “dogness.” This “means appreciating that they get bored, and working to give them things to do; it means celebrating their perceptual abilities, and letting them smell the well-marked spots at length,” she explained.

By following our canine companion’s lead, we two-legged animals can rediscover important things—the fragrances of childhood, so deeply implanted that they seem like they occurred only yesterday. From my walks with Samson, I recalled the smell of leaves burning on an October afternoon; the peonies in June that my mother floated in a crystal bowl; what a pumpkin smells like when you carve it. No matter how boring a place may seem, a dog can open up a new journey. If I’d never had my walks with Samson, I may never have lingered, pausing to discover scents and other creatures hidden in a world we mostly see.

http://www.aia-mn.org/leading-by-the-nose/


Saturday, March 5, 2016

How Ice Storms May Shape the Future of Forests

In order to study the effects of an ice storm on tree growth, susceptibility to pests and pathogens, changes in habitat for wildlife, a team of researchers created an ice storm at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire.
By the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

A team of scientists in New Hampshire recently succeeded in capturing one of nature's most destructive forces - ice - and corralling it in two large research plots on the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest.
 
Scientists from the USDA Forest Service, Syracuse University, the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Cornell University, University of Vermont, and the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation created an experimental ice storm that will improve understanding of short- and long-term effects of ice on northern forests.

Ice storms are a big deal in a changing world. Ice storms are expected to become more frequent and severe in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada as long term climate continues to warm while short term weather patterns still bring blasts of arctic air into the region.

Large Ice storms disrupt lives and damage infrastructure in towns and cities in northern New England, resulting in billions of dollars in damage. Ice storms also literally reshape forests. Heavy ice loads break branches and topple whole trees, resulting in reduced tree growth in ensuing years, increased susceptibility to pests and pathogens, changes in habitat for wildlife, and alterations in how nutrients like carbon and nitrogen cycle in the forest.

"Science is critical to our understanding of how climate change may shape forests in the future," said Tony Ferguson, acting director of the Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. "Creating an ice storm is a very unique experiment that would not be possible without all of our partners and funding from the National Science Foundation."

While ice storms are a powerful force in forests, they are also inherently difficult to study because scientists, like citizens, have little lead time on when and where these storms are going to occur. Scientists at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest are changing that equation, and instead of waiting for the next big storm to hit, they are creating their own artificial ice storms using high-pressure firefighting pumps and hoses to spray water high up into the forest canopy during a cold snap. They are measuring the obvious and immediate downing of limbs and trees, as well as subtler longer term growth responses, interactions with invasive species, and impacts on forest nutrient cycling.

"This research will provide the scientific community, land managers and the concerned public greater insight on the impacts of these powerful, frightening, and curiously aesthetic extreme winter weather events on ecosystem dynamics in northern hardwood forests," said Lindsey Rustad, team leader at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest and an investigator on the ice storm experiment.

"Ice storms are a great example of extreme weather events with complex outcomes. The experimental ice storm is part of a comprehensive study of ice storms and their effects at Hubbard Brook, which also includes examining forest recovery from a severe ice storm in 1998, developing and applying models to depict the climate conditions that result in ice storms and forest ecosystem effects, and associated outreach and education," said Charles Driscoll, a professor at Syracuse University and investigator for the Hubbard Brook ice storm experiment.

In addition to Rustad and Driscoll, investigators in the experiment include John Campbell and Paul Schaberg of the USDA Forest Service; Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University, and Sarah Garlick of the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation. Partners include Peter Groffman of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Timothy Fahey of Cornell University, and Robert Sanford and Joe Staples of the University of Southern Maine.

The Hubbard Brook Ice Storm Experiment is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (DEB-1457675 - Collaborative Research: Understanding the Impacts of Ice Storms on Forest Ecosystems of the Northeastern United States).

The mission of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station is to improve people's lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The mission of the Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.

Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation's clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.

How Ice Storms May Shape the Future of Forests