As a policy student first, and a neophyte in sustainability science, I enjoyed this last lab the most. I'd be interested in hearing about everyone's ecosystem-human system interaction topic even after this class comes to an end.
Mine was on the interplay between land use, especially off road vehicles, in southern Utah and the fate of cryptobiotic soils. Here's a [http://www.soilcrust.org/] on the crusts out there.
There are at least 20,000 miles of trails accessible to off-road vehicles (ORV) in southern Utah. Categories of ORV include mountain bikes and other human-powered cycles, two, three, or four wheeled motorized cycles and motorized four-wheel drive, double-axle vehicles. As these vehicles cross the soil atop the Colorado Plateau, also known as Red Rock country, in southern Utah, they severely damage cryptobiotic – living – soil. The filamentous organisms living within this soil have historically provided critical ecosystem services in one of the most remote, arid, and rugged landscapes in the United States, including significant nitrogen and carbon fixing, the prevention of water runoff and erosion, and serving as a critical basal trophic layer for desert flora and fauna. As human-induced disruption of these soils accelerates, this American desert ecosystem is quite literally dying.
According to the U.S. Geographical Survey, “The land where crusts occur is used for a wide range of purposes—from grazing and recreation to military uses, and in some places, crops. Ultimately, land managers need to know how the functions of crusts change under different practices. Where the functions of crusts are impaired or eliminated because of land use practices, land managers need guidelines to adapt their practices to protect or restore the functions of crusts.”