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Biofuels, Beetles, and Buffelgrass: A Changing World Takes Root in Austin
Released: 8/5/2011 3:26:09 PM

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From northward-creeping invasive vines to man-made mangroves, U.S. Geological Survey ecosystem research will be presented at an Austin meeting next week.

USGS scientists will join ecologists from around the world at the annual Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting from August 7 - 12 at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Tex. This year, USGS scientists will focus on topics such as invasive species and habitat changes.

This USGS “tip sheet” highlights some of the newest, most exciting USGS presentations open to media at the ESA meeting. Information on news media attendance can be accessed on the 2011 ESA conference website.

Anne Kinsinger, USGS Associate Director for Ecosystems, will be available to discuss these and other USGS ecological research projects at the USGS Meet and Greet on Tuesday, August 9, from 6:30 – 8 p.m. in the Austin Convention Center Ballroom E.

Media are also encouraged to visit the USGS booth in the Austin Convention Center Exhibition Hall 4.

As the Mouse Goes: Where Do Joshua Tree Seeds End Up?
Tuesday, August 9, Exhibit Hall 3

It has adorned rock album covers and decorated movie backdrops, but the iconic Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) is a difficult species to manage and conserve because conditions favorable to its regeneration and spread are very infrequent. This poster offers a primer on the many odds Joshua tree seeds must face in order persist and successfully grow into a seedling. By simulating rodent seed caches at Mojave Desert field sites, USGS ecologists investigated emergence and survival of Joshua Tree seeds in relation to microclimate, season of planting, and predation on seedling emergence and survival. This poster is titled Germination and establishment of the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) in the northeast Mojave Desert: Implications for management of an iconic species.

A Plan for Managing Species Invasions
Tuesday, August 9, 8:40 a.m., Room 12A

Preventing invasive species introductions is optimal for controlling their spread, but, should an invasion still occur, early detection and rapid response is an effective course of action. If invasive species become established, then the plan calls for control and management of further spread and for the restoration of high-valued ecosystems. Dr. David Pyke will present a review of these defenses in combating introduction and spread of invasive species in grasslands, shrublands, and savannas. He will discuss whether adaptation or coexistence may be the ultimate fate with certain problematic species, and the gap in research on management for coexistence. This review is titled Managing species invasions: eradication, patience, or adaptation?.

Endangered Salamanders Further Threatened by Climate Change
Tuesday, August 9, 3:20 p.m., Room 8

Limited to three mountaintops, the Shenandoah salamander is already endangered – and this vulnerable species is likely to suffer even greater population loss to climate change. According to a USGS study that used models to predict possible futures for the salamander, climate change will further threaten the Shenandoah salamander in the years to come. Predicted dramatic differences in high elevation habitats because of climate change are risky to any species reliant on the high elevation communities for survival. Decision makers at Shenandoah National Park will be able to use the study to guide decisions to restore salamander population growth rates, and the study has implications for managing and mitigating the effects of climate change on the high elevation communities where the salamanders (a sentinel species) live. This study is titled Managing for climate change in the mountains, the Shenandoah salamander.

Destroying Fields of Gold: Restoring Mojave Desert Shrubland
Tuesday, August 9, 3:20 p.m., Ballroom F

The golden grasslands seen in many Mojave Desert landscapes today are unnatural, the result of massive swaths of invasive, nonnative brome grasses which greatly heighten wildfire risks in the Mojave and pose a threat to many native plant and animal species. However, USGS ecologists found that a regimen of invasive suppression, native plant seeding, and management of soil-seed reserves is a promising strategy for helping burned desert habitats recover. The USGS worked with resource managers in Arizona to test invasive grass removal methods to determine the successes of using herbicide application to impede invasive grass growth, and determining negative impacts to native plants dispersed in the same area. This talk is titled The role of a pre-emergent herbicide to suppress non-native annuals and facilitate the recovery of a burned Mojave Desert shrubland.

Mountain Pine Beetle Alters Carbon Cycling and Species Composition
Tuesday, August 9, 4:30 p.m., Exhibit Hall 3, Board 157

The outbreak of the mountain pine beetle in the Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine could cause short and long term changes to carbon cycling and species composition, according to a recent USGS study. Forest ecosystems as a whole hold 60 percent of all terrestrial carbon globally, acting as a sink for atmospheric carbon. Landscape level disturbances, such as the mountain pine beetle outbreak may alter the amount of carbon that can be sequestered over time. The simulation estimated that after 40 years, the carbon distribution would go back to the levels standard before the beetle outbreak, but that the composition and structure of the vegetation were changed significantly for the long haul. Large insect disturbances may introduce greater uncertainty in evaluating and managing forested ecosystems and understanding how they offset greenhouse gas emissions. This study is titled Changes in forest vegetation and carbon storage following mountain pine beetle disturbance in the Southern Rocky Mountains.

Biofuel Production in the Southwestern U.S. Could be a Hot Option
Wednesday, August 10, 1:30 p.m., Room 18D

In the southwestern U.S., lots of light and land are conducive to the production of biofuels like switchgrass and canola. While most of the raw crop that is turned into biofuel in the U.S. is grown on productive agricultural lands, thus sparking fears about food security, this USGS study found that the marginal lands unsuited for agriculture could support some of the crops necessary for biofuel. These biofuels are accustomed to a hot and dry climate, and may have simultaneous benefits for restoration or fire prevention. While the impacts of biofuel production on southwest ecosystems aren’t fully understood, many states have set mandated alternative energy benchmarks that they must meet within the upcoming decades. This study is titled Biofuel production potential in the southwestern U.S.

Battling Buffelgrass
Thursday, August 11, Exhibit Hall 3

Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare), an aggressive, invasive plant spreading throughout the southwestern U.S., creates a fire risk that threatens the native ecosystems and human properties that are poorly adapted to it. However, USGS research suggests that a large upfront investment in the control of buffelgrass could substantially reduce spread and overall management costs in the long run. Spatial simulations showed that without treatment, areas that started with as few as 80 hectares of buffelgrass could spread to more than 6,000 hectares by the year 2060 if left unchecked. In contrast, applying unlimited resources could limit 2060 infestation levels to a mere 50 hectares. The key is to identify the current presence and distribution (inventory) of this grass so that treatments can be applied. USGS scientists and collaborators created a model for the wildland-urban interface north of Tucson, Ariz., to address the level and allocation of resources that would be required to stem its spread. This study is titled A decision support model for buffelgrass management in southern Arizona.

Invasive Kudzu Vine Creeping toward Canada?
Thursday, August 11, 8:00 a.m., Ballroom C

Invasive species are spreading into new territories at unprecedented rates, with the highly aggressive vine kudzu (Pueraria montana) being a prime example. But could kudzu, associated with southeastern U.S. environments, reach Canada? It’s possible. According to USGS models, kudzu could increase its distribution with climate change, particularly in the Northeastern U.S. and potentially into vulnerable locations in Canada. USGS scientists used existing global climate datasets to project potential climate change into the future and associated kudzu proliferation in the U.S. After creating habitat suitability maps for kudzu under current climatic conditions, investigators projected these models geographically into Canada and up to 30 years into the future using potential average conditions. Managers can use this information to create watch lists of invaders at the leading edges of invasion to prevent them from spreading across borders. This study is titled Predicting kudzu in the US and Canada in response to climate change and other factors.

Removal of Invasive Tamarisks Affects Native Grasses, Birds
Friday, August 12, 9:00 a.m., Room 16A

Saltcedar or tamarisk (Tamarix spp.), an invasive shrub or small tree that was deliberately introduced to America in the late 1800's, has since altered native ecosystems in the western U.S. This USGS study considered the short-term response of vegetation, birds, and associated habitats to saltcedar removal at sites along the Virgin River in Nevada and Arizona, and found that sites without saltcedar removal had higher densities of native grasses, higher abundance of birds (including seven species of concern), and a greater availability of bird habitat when compared against sites with saltcedar removal. The findings underscore the need for careful consideration of short-term ecosystem responses for invasive species removal operations. This study is titled Plant and bird community response to saltcedar removal along the Virgin River: Considerations for riparian restoration.

Created Mangroves Second to Nature?
Friday, August 12, 10:10 a.m., Room 16A

Exactly how similar are natural and created mangroves? Created coastal mangroves, used more and more to mitigate the loss of declining natural mangroves, do have significant differences from their natural counterparts: A USGS and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study of 18 sites in the Tampa Bay region of Florida found that natural sites had mangroves that were larger and denser with different soil properties than the created mangrove sites. However, older created mangrove sites were beginning to develop the soil quality and carbon-storing potential of the natural mangrove sites, indicating that some of the shortcomings of the created mangroves could lessen over time. While mangroves can stabilize coastal lands and store large amounts of carbon, they are also sheltered nursery areas for marine life and play a vital role in the marine food web. This study is titled Ecosystem development after mangrove creation: Plant-soil change across a twenty-year chronosequence.

Bringing the Cows Home: Long-term ecosystem responses to livestock removal in the Mojave Desert
Friday, August 12, 10:50 a.m., Room 16A

Heavy livestock grazing, common across the arid western U.S., can degrade ecosystems and habitats, affecting species in the Mojave Desert such as the federally threatened desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). USGS research suggests that ecosystem recovery following livestock removal occurs very slowly: The effects of historic livestock grazing are still apparent for Mojave soils and native perennial vegetation seven years after livestock removal.  USGS scientists investigated properties of soils and plant communities immediately following and seven years post-livestock removal in previously grazed desert scrub of the Mojave National Preserve. The results suggest that further active restoration efforts (beyond livestock removal) may be necessary to achieve ecosystem recovery. This study is titled Long-term ecosystem responses to livestock removal in the Mojave Desert.

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