Study of 'forest killer' plant explores our vulnerability to rapid environmental change

September 21, 2012

It’s called mile-a-minute weed or “forest killer.” Mikania micrantha is an exotic, invasive species that spreads quickly, covering crops, smothering trees and rapidly altering the environment.

Researchers at Arizona State University are spearheading a four-year research project that will explore what factors cause people and the environment to be vulnerable to rapid environmental change, such as an invasion by Mikania.  Download Full Image

Study findings likely will serve as a harbinger of the future as humans increasingly experience abrupt, extreme conditions associated with climate change, said Sharon J. Hall, the study’s co-principal investigator and ASU School of Life Sciences associate professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  

“There are many communities that have to deal with and adapt to rapid change. Mikania is just one example," Hall said. "We’re looking at how social and ecological forces in communities make them more resistant or vulnerable to rapid environmental change.

"Mikania is considered one of the world’s worst invader weeds, and it is having a significant impact on agriculture in India and China. If there are crop species, it will grow over them. It grows extremely fast, up and over trees, as quickly as three inches per day.”

The study, “Feedbacks Between Human Community Dynamics and Socioecological Vulnerability in a Biodiversity Hotspot,” examines how the social and natural ecosystem surrounding Chitwan National Park of Nepal is being threatened by invasive plant species. It is funded by a $1,449,521 grant from the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems program of the National Science Foundation.

Researchers will conduct the study in an area covering approximately 20 square miles in forests surrounding Chitwan National Park, a protected area that is home to many endangered species, including Bengal tiger and one-horned rhinoceros. The park borders populous communities and forests that the people use in their daily lives.

The study also will examine what people are doing to spread Mikania and how the plant affects people’s lives. Collaborators on the study include: Abigail York, co-principal investigator and ASU School of Human Evolution and Social Change assistant professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Li An, San Diego State University; Dirgha Ghimire, University of Michigan; Jennifer Glick, ASU School of Social and Family Dynamics professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Sean Murphy, CABI, an international non-profit organization focused on solving agricultural and environmental problems through scientific expertise.

“What sets our research apart from most previous work on invasive species and human populations is that we are taking an integrated approach to examining the environment, people and society at many different levels: individuals, households, landscapes, community governance organizations, and so-called ‘non-family organizations’ like marketplaces/stores, schools and employers,” said Scott Yabiku, the study’s principal investigator and ASU School of Social and Family Dynamics associate professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Researchers are integrating a holistic, use-inspired approach into their study by observing and documenting the problem, using experimentation to tease apart driving forces, and implementing an intervention to reduce the spread of the species throughout the 21 community forests that border Chitwan National Park. Examining how people affect the forest’s health and how the forest affects residents' livelihood will vary from an individual level to how forest management groups are addressing the problem.

“Not only are we thoroughly studying the social and ecological system surrounding the Chitwan National Park, we will also conduct experiments that test if an educational intervention with community forest groups can slow the spread of invasive species,” Yabiku said. “At the end of the project, we’ll implement this intervention in all remaining forest groups in the study area in the hopes that it has an impact on the well-being of the forests that these people rely on.”

Mikania is a challenging adversary that can regenerate from dropping a small piece onto the soil. Possible interventions that may be implemented include carefully bagging the plant before removing it from the forest. Another practice that bears examination is use of fire in forest management, as this activity creates a nutrient rich environment that may encourage the spread of Mikania.

ASU MainStage season opens with world premiere

September 21, 2012

The ASU School of Theatre and Film MainStage Season in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts opens with experimental theatre company Punctum asking questions.

How many times a day do you push a button? What are you missing as you text, edit and flick from screen to screen? Download Full Image

Hitting a “button” can be as simple as tuning in to a YouTube video or as morally complex as releasing a bomb from an unmanned drone flying over a foreign land. Punctum, the ASU School of Theatre and Film’s experimental theatre company, explores these issues in its new work "POVV: Prisoner of View / Point of War" that premieres Sept. 28 and continues through Oct. 7 on the ASU Tempe campus.

In "POVV," audience members will be invited to examine questions surrounding life in the digital age. Characters in the play include a “Roomba” (yes, the little robotic vacuum cleaner) that wants to take over the world; Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer Kevin Carter, an idealistic artist searching for truth; and other characters from the real to the absurd. The result is not theatre as you might have known in the past, but something new, experimental and evolving.

“We do not have answers, but we would like to ask the questions,” said Brian Foley, the School of Theatre and Film MFA student who is co-directing "POVV." “The group uses the slogan ‘Push the Button’ to inspire people to see the show. ‘Push the button’ is a provocation, an invitation, a tease, a repetition of a moment offered hundreds of times in an average citizen's daily life.”

“At the ATM, we push the button. At the grocery store, the gas station, the computer, on the mobile phone, on the car's keychain remote. "POVV" is simultaneously an opportunity to break out of the daily routine, out of being a prisoner of view; to blow up your daily existence, look at the individual pieces,” Foley said. “How can you fit them together in a way that works for you?’’

The creation of "POVV" has been an artistic endeavor that is at the heart of the School of Theatre and Film’s Master of Fine Arts degree, which seeks to create new theatre that resonates with modern day audiences, according to Foley.

“Most theatre companies are formed by like-minded artists who come together and bond over similarities of aesthetics, backgrounds, or missions,” Foley said. “In this case, thirteen artists at different stages in their lives and careers have been thrust together by the fact we are all studying at ASU. We bring different visions of theatre, different moral codes, different languages, vastly different life experience.”

“At ASU, we are literally creating the theatre of the future,” he said. “The work on the MainStage is not a retread of a Shakespeare play or a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that many have seen before."

"We are challenging our own imaginations to create a new method of storytelling and devising new methods to bring contemporary issues to the stage. We are inviting our audiences to collaborate with us to find a vision of theatre that connects to our campus, our community in the Valley and the family of international theatre artists to which we belong.”

The group drew the name Punctum from French literary theorists Roland Barthes’ idea of a critical moment in art when “the heart is pierced” and performer and audience are close to something “resonant, striking and true,” Foley explained.

“New media is prevalent, invasive, and empowering,” said Megan Weaver, "POVV" co-director. “It defines the way we conduct wars, the way we disseminate information, the way we think, the very ways we form language. And it's not going away. There are some wonderful, and some uncomfortable, implications in that – and we hope 'POVV' provokes thought, questioning and perhaps a moment of punctum.”

Performances are at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 28-29; 2 p.m., Sept. 30; 7:30 p.m., Oct. 4-6; and 2 p.m., Oct. 7 at the Lyceum Theatre, 901. S. Forest Mall, ASU Tempe campus. Tickets are $8-$16 for adults with seniors, ASU faculty, students and staff receiving special rates. Group discounts are also available.

To reserve tickets contact the Herberger Institute box office, 480.965.6447 or visit mainstage. Order tickets to three or more Herberger Institute season events by Oct. 1 and receive a 15 percent discount.