Zoom Program: Saline Lakes, Flamingos, and Life in Extreme Environments Tuesday, April 27, 7:00 pm

Saline lakes occur in some of the world’s driest regions yet are home to globally important assemblages of an array of endemic taxa, ranging from microbes to wading birds. Saline lakes may also be especially vulnerable because the species occupying them are dependent upon lake salinity remaining within a narrow window. Lake salinity, in turn, is largely determined by variation in water availability, meaning that environmental irregularities that influence water levels can lead to rapid changes in the local biotic community. In this context, the increasing demand for lithium batteries poses a potential risk to the biota of saline lakes: most lithium is mined in and around saline lakes and, especially, from saline lakes in the "Lithium Triangle" of the Andes of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina. This presentation will explore how water availability and lithium mining influence the three species of flamingos that breed in the Lithium Triangle — the Andean (Phoenicoparrus andinus), James’ (P. jamesi), and Chilean Flamingos (Phoenicopterus chilensis). Given the essential function of flamingos as top-consumers and their critical role in the local eco-tourism industry, the projected future increases in the demand for lithium batteries pose grave threats to regional biodiversity and human economic well-being. Our results thus provide a much-needed assessment of the effects of lithium mining on saline lake ecosystems and hint at the impacts of even the most ‘sustainable’ technologies when they must meet global demands. 

Biography: While growing up in Alaska, Nathan started studying birds at the age of 14. After earning a B.A. from Carleton College, he was awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to follow Hudsonian Godwits on their annual migration from the Arctic to the southern tip of South America and back. Following his Watson Fellowship, Nathan spent a two-year stint in Eugene trying to become a professional marathon runner. When that didn’t work out, he resumed his godwit research while pursuing his Ph.D. at Cornell University with Dr. John Fitzpatrick. From there, he traveled to the Netherlands for a postdoc with Dr. Theunis Piersma at the University of Groningen, studying the flexibility of Black-tailed Godwit annual cycles, and then on to the University of Montana, where he investigated the population dynamics of high-elevation deer mice with Dr. Zachary Cheviron. Since 2019, Nathan has been an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina. In his free time, Nathan still trains with his running partner, Oliver, three-time canine champion of the Snow Joke Half Marathon and inarguably Montana’s fastest dog.

Event Type: 
Tuesday, April 27, 2021 - 7:00pm