Research to Action brings juice to ecosystem services
Author: Christina Williams
Posted: October 30, 2013

What happens when you get several dozen people all working on similar projects in one room to share ideas in quick succession?

If those people are all involved in research having to do with the natural benefits provided by ecosystems, you’re likely to see connections made on a wide range of topics, including water quality monitoring, forest management, environmental ethics, climate change and the secret lives of moss.

The second Research to Action Symposium presented by the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State provided a forum for those connections last week, bringing together more than 60 faculty members, students and community partners in one room for four hours of intense cross-pollination.

The topic was ecosystem services, and in lightening-fast five minute presentations, researchers steered the conversation from the McKenzie River basin to the Mangrove stands on the south coast of Molokai to the wetlands of eastern North Carolina to the agricultural fields of Eastern Oregon. There was no dominant topic, but some overarching questions electrified the conversation.

For example: How do you communicate the value of ecosystem services to rural landowners with no patience for jargon? How do you make use of both qualitative and quantitative data in land planning? Are researchers using the right spatial scale and the right temporal scale to measure outcomes of ecosystem services? Are watershed recovery efforts effectively monitored? How will the wild card of climate change play out on different landscapes and what tradeoffs should be made to mitigate its effects?

For Bobby Cochran, executive director of the Willamette Partnership, a nonprofit focused on ecological resiliency in the Willamette Basin, Research to Action led to at least one significant light-bulb moment.

“You just made a connection I’ve been working on for months,” Cochran told researchers from PSU’s biology department—Todd Rosenstiel, Erin Shortlidge and Hannah Prather—who talked about the role that mosses can play in monitoring neighborhood-level air quality.

“I’ve been trying to make the connection between various land uses that contribute particulate matter in the air and the impact those particulate matters have on health,” Cochran said later.

He heard just enough in the five-minute presentations to know there’s potential there to tap mosses to make the health care case for more green space. 

“It’s just the perfect format,” Cochran said. “You get a high density of information fast, and then make the connections to follow up later.”

The next Research to Action Symposium on energy and climate change is being planned for winter term. 

Research to Action, an initiative of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, is a platform for identifying and linking PSU's diverse research expertise to the collaborative development of sustainable practices.