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Who Doesn’t Love a Good Octopus Story?

March 27, 2018
(c) Azcheal via Flickr Commons

(c) Azcheal via Flickr Commons

Terrestrial mesopredators in urban areas (think raccoons, foxes, etc.) have been well-studied over the years, but less so in marine systems. A team of researchers from various institutions in Washington state sought to reduce this gap in our knowledge by studying the giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) in Puget Sound.

In general, urban ecology research has focused more on terrestrial systems and less on marine, so it’s great to see good research out there trying to remedy this. If you’re interested in urban ecology, have access to a coast, and want a good research project, there are almost endless possibilities in marine systems.

The authors used research questions in line with much of what we’ve found with terrestrial mesopredators in urban areas: were they distributed differently in urban vs. rural systems; was abundance related to the amount of manmade debris; and did diet change in urban areas. The researchers found that octopus potentially used urbanized features and made use of urban resources in different ways than terrestrial mesopredators do.

Part of this is likely due to the fact that an octopus is quite different than a raccoon, but part of it also has to do with the added dimension that marine life lives in. Urbanization, as it turns out, appears to influence the depth at which these octopus hang out; in Puget Sound, they stay at deeper depths than in nearby rural areas. It’s unclear why this is true. Maybe it’s because there’s a concentration of predators such as seals and sea lions in urban areas, and so octopus are driven to greater depths to avoid them. Or, maybe it’s because octopus are less able to deal with shallow water conditions in urban areas (either because of the influence of the cities themselves, or because they’re located at river heads where salinity and temperature might be different) so they stay at greater depths to avoid these problems.

Octopus abundance was greater where there was more manmade debris on the floor of the Sound. It might be that the greater concentration of such debris is what makes it possible for octopus to live in urban areas, as cities often grow near the mouths of rivers or in estuaries where the substrate is soft and so lacks protection. The authors acknowledge, however, that some of their findings might be influenced by their methodology because of diver search patterns, so more research around this question is likely necessary.

However, unlike most terrestrial mesopredators, octopus diet did not seem to change in urban vs. rural areas. This is a big area of research in the terrestrial community (how does the diet of a coyote change from rural to urban settings, for example), so it’s interesting that in this case diet did not appear to be influenced by urbanization.

Much is left to be discovered about marine mesopredators in urban systems, but this study goes a long way towards both answering and delineating those questions! Hopefully we’ll see more research like this in the future.

Here, Eliza C., Olsen, Amy Y., Feist, Blake E., and Sebens, Kenneth P. 2018. Urbanization-related distribution patterns and habitat-use by the marine mesopredator, giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini). Urban Ecosystems:

New Year’s Resolutions

January 28, 2018

Goldenrod and snow in my patch of the world, (c) Megan Draheim, 2017

It’s January, the season we make promises to ourselves about how we’ll live a better life in the coming year. Most of our resolutions focus on our own wellbeing: exercising, eating better, meditating, or cracking an unhealthy habit, for example.

I’d like to offer a slightly different take. Why not promise yourself the gift of creating a more biodiverse world? It satisfies what seems to be one of the major criteria of resolutions, making yourself healthier (there’s abundant literature out there that suggests being around nature is good for you, physically and mentally), but also makes your city (and even the world) a better place, both for people and for wildlife.

So what is this promise I’d ask you to consider as part of your yearly self-analysis? Plant more native plants in your yard or whatever outdoor space you can access. Obviously not all city-dwellers have a yard, but there are other options here: a balcony, a windowsill, lobbying your building to change the plantings in its public outdoor spaces (tree boxes, front walks, etc.), a community garden plot (or, even better, convince the community garden board to set aside one plot or the outside edge of the garden for a native pollinator garden in perpetuity), a corner of your children’s schoolyard, lobbying your city to let you use a corner of the local pocket park – possibilities abound.

This isn’t to say that every bit of turf should be dug up. Instead, take an objective inventory of the space in question. Is all of the lawn actually used? For sitting in, playing in, whatever? If not (and I’m betting much of it is not), consider turning that into a native planting bed. Not only will this help local wildlife (for example, by boosting native insect populations you provide many native birds with more food), but it has the side benefit of reducing the carbon footprint and other environmental impacts of your outdoor space (gas powered lawn mowers become irrelevant, and you don’t use as much – or even any – fertilizer, resulting in less run-off to your local waterways, for example).

There’s something about acting as stewards of our little piece of the world – however little – that is inspiring. You’re committing yourself to care about your local ecosystem and all that lives in it. You’re spending your own resources (time, money) on caring for the world in a tangible way. Watching native bees buzz around your patch of goldenrod is a wonderful thing, when you’re the reason the goldenrod is there in the first place.

And besides all of that, you just might end up with less lawn to mow. Maybe that gives you more time this summer to follow through on one of your other resolutions?

Happy New Year, everyone.

Coyotes in DC

September 20, 2017
Coyote Portrait

Coyote, (c) Matt Knoth via Wikimedia Commons

I recently wrote an article for on living with coyotes in Washington, D.C. Check it out!


Cartagena, Part I

August 18, 2017
Cartagena 2

Getsemani, Cartagena, (c) Megan Draheim, 2017

Last month I was able to travel to beautiful Cartagena, Colombia for the International Congress for Conservation Biology, the Society for Conservation Biology’s biennial international meeting. I’ll be writing more about this soon, but wanted first to link to a post I wrote for my department about it, partially focusing on a presentation I co-wrote for the meeting.

More to come!

Raccoons in Fairlington

July 27, 2017

By Ken Rushia – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

I wrote an article in DCist about raccoon-human conflict in Fairlington, which is in a suburb of DC in Virginia. The complex has an interesting garbage policy: residents leave out their trash in garbage bags only (no trash cans) six days a week, which provides a ready supply of easy meals for all sorts of animals. When wildlife becomes used to the idea that such food supplies are linked closely to human presence, bad things can happen (this also happens from intentional feedings). This can have extremely poor outcomes for both humans (bites, scratches, or worse) and the wildlife (many times animals like that will be captured and killed). Have you ever heard the expression, “a fed bear is a dead bear”? It’s sadly often true. So please don’t feed the wildlife!


Sea Level Rise in Maryland

July 15, 2017


This isn’t necessarily specifically urban in nature, but I thought worth posting anyway. A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists demonstrates the damage sea level rise is going to do to coastal communities, including those rather close to home for me: the coastal towns of Maryland. That’s not new, of course, but the timeline they present is quite chilling. The Washington Post reports, for example, that 22 communities in Maryland (out of 91 in the entire US) will face “chronic inundation” by 2035. This is a good reminder that we not only need to find ways to halt climate change progression, but also need to adapt to conditions that are going to change.


Odds and Ends

April 2, 2017

Public Domain via the EPA:

Here’s an essay I wrote for the Oxford University Press’ blog, on how to effectively talk about the policy threats our environment is currently facing.

The unintended effect of calling our “fake news.”

Hope you find it useful!

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