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USGS Science at the Ecological Society of America
From Fire Science to Climate Change and Invasive Rodents
Released: 8/5/2013 8:00:00 AM

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About 4,000 people are expected to attend the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Minneapolis from Aug. 4 to 9, 2013. The theme of this year’s conference is Sustainable Pathways: Learning from the Past and Shaping the Future.

Forest Drought Stress in Southwest May Exceed Most Severe Droughts in Last Thousand Years: Severe wildfires and drought-induced tree deaths have increased greatly over the past two decades in the southwestern United States. Historical ecological sources about Southwest fire regimes and forest patterns over the past 10,000 years provide context for recent fire and vegetation trends. Specifically, these sources show that regional forest landscapes are greatly affected by interactive changes among human land management, climate and disturbances. Such linkages are further emphasized through the newly developed  forest drought-stress index (FDSI) for the Southwest, which uses extremely robust relationships among historical tree-ring growth, warm-season temperature and cold-season precipitation  to reconstruct the FDSI back to AD 1000 from a massive archive of tree-ring growth data. This research by USGS, Los Alamos National Laboratory, University of Arizona, and other university partners shows very strong relationships between FDSI and regional forest productivity, tree mortality, bark-beetle outbreaks and wildfire. Moving forward, if temperatures increase as projected, background levels of southwestern forest drought-stress by the 2050s will exceed that of the most severe droughts in the past 1,000 years, which almost certainly means imminent changes in forest structure and composition.  Overall, interactions among climate, land-use history and disturbance processes are driving the current pulse of major forest transitions in the Southwest. In the face of such rapid changes, it is imperative to explore adaptation strategies to foster ecosystem resilience. This work is addressed in two presentations:   1) Land cover change in the Southwest: wildfire risk, drought-induced tree mortality, and the convergence of climate, land management, and disturbance trends in regional forests and woodlands, will be in room 101c on Aug. 9 at 8:40 a.m.  Contact Craig Allen, craig_allen@usgs.gov, 505-795-1571; and 2)  A forest is not a pan of water: temperature and vapor-pressure deficit as potent drivers of regional forest drought stress, will be in room 101A on Aug. 6 at 9:50 a.m. Contact Park Williams, parkwilliams@lanl.gov, 505-667-6551.

Response of North American Desert Plants to Climate Change: Forecasts for Management and Planning: Forecasted climate warming and changes in precipitation patterns in North American deserts can have a strong impact on plant species already stressed by low water availability. Accurate forecasts of climate-induced changes to desert plant assemblages are needed by managers because dryland ecosystems are prone to abrupt and potentially irreversible degradation and reductions in productivity. To help managers mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts, USGS researchers have synthesized over a century (1906-2012) of climate and vegetation monitoring results from more than 1,500 vegetation plots across the Colorado Plateau, and the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave deserts. In all of these deserts, dominant plant species and plant diversity responded to drought and elevated temperature.

On the Colorado Plateau, large declines of cool-season perennial bunchgrasses occurred, primarily driven by high temperatures. In the Sonoran Desert, increases in cacti occurred with hotter temperatures, and decreases in warm-season perennial grasses and sub-shrubs occurred with less annual precipitation. Tree and shrub species in the Sonoran Desert were less responsive to changing climatic conditions than other species, but some woody species were sensitive to warmer temperatures and less winter precipitation, especially on south-facing slopes. In the Chihuahuan Desert, many grasses and forbs had large responses to summer precipitation, whereas most woody vegetation showed small responses to winter precipitation. In the Mojave Desert, winter drought was related to declines of shrubs at some sites. USGS research also highlights “climate pivot points” that mark important shifts from increases to decreases in plant abundance along climatic gradients. These results are being used to assist with management decisions, improve monitoring protocols and inform climate change vulnerability assessments for land managers. This presentation (OOS 16-4), Regional signatures of plant response to climate across North American deserts: Forecasts for management and planning, will take place in room 101B on Aug. 7 at 9 a.m. Contact Seth Munson, smunson@usgs.gov, work cell, 303-810-4896.

​Large, Invasive Rodents: Are They Heading Your Way? The nutria  is a large, prolific and water-loving invasive rodent that has become established in many parts of the world after being introduced for the fur industry,  including in the Southeast and the Pacific Northwest regions of the United States. In the Southeast and elsewhere, they wreak havoc in coastal marshes and bald cypress swamps by feeding on the tender roots of plants, seedlings and saplings, completely stripping vegetation in areas where the animals are concentrated. Historically nutria ranges have expanded regionally  northward following milder winters and contracted southward following more severe winters. This USGS study examined the current and potential distribution of nutria in the Pacific Northwest. Due to a string of relatively mild winters nutria populations have been expanding northward in the United States, suggesting that nutria populations could extend their range substantially both in the Pacific Northwest, the Mississippi Valley and the Eastern Seaboard in the future since  climate change models predict milder winter temperatures though the USA. Large-scale management of the species requires knowledge of its current and potential distribution. This presentation, Using a combined hydrologic network-climate model of the invasive nutria (Myocastor coypus) to understand current distributions and range expansion potential under climate change scenarios, will be in room 101H on Aug. 9 at 10:50 a.m.  Contact Catherine Jarnevich, jarnevichc@usgs.gov, 970-226-9439.

In a related study, USGS scientists investigated  the activity patterns of urban nutria populations in Lafayette, La., and Portland, Ore., since little is known about this subject. The study found that daily as well as seasonal activity patterns differed in the two geographic areas, leading to current efforts to explore the role that alternative factors might play in the differing activity patterns. This presentation, Comparison of activity patterns of nutria (Myocastor coypus) between urban pond complexes in Lafayette, Louisiana, USA and Portland, Oregon, USA, will be in Room L100B on Aug. 5 at 1:30 p.m.  Contact Jacoby Carter, carterj@usgs.gov, 337-266-8620. 

People, Cameras, and Action! Teaming Up to Better Understand Phenology: The implications and impacts of climate change on the earth’s phenology – the timing of plant and animal life-cycle events – are increasingly well documented.  Two continental-scale observation networks, PhenoCam and the USA National Phenology Network, which is managed by the USGS, are collaborating with the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) to develop more refined phenological monitoring processes and to explore new opportunities for collaborative research. While PhenoCam  quantifies plant phenology by using high-frequency camera monitoring of plant canopies, the USA-NPN contributes ground-based plant and animal data through its crowd-sourcing phenology program, Nature’s Notebook. Both organizations are collaborating with NEON, a continental-scale ecological observing system, to enhance and codify best practices for phenological data collection and to collect and integrate phenological data across multiple spatial scales. The joint efforts of these programs will bridge major knowledge gaps in the field of phenology: not only will cameras provide new techniques for validating satellite-derived land-surface phenology products, but multi-faceted phenology datasets will aid in investigations of the feedback between ecosystem phenology and carbon/water/energy fluxes between the biosphere and atmosphere. This presentation, Integrating Phenocam and USA National Phenology Network continental-scale approaches into NEON phenology data products, will be in room L100I on Aug. 6 at 4:30 p.m. Contact Jake Weltzin, jweltzin@usgs.gov (cell: 703-485-5138) or the lead author Michael Toomey, mtoomey@fas.harvard.edu, 860-986-3804.

Crowd-Sourcing Needed to Take the Pulse of Our Planet: The USA National Phenology Network serves science and society by collecting and organizing valuable data on plant and animal activity across the United States, and by setting global standards for integrated monitoring of plant and animal seasonal activity to understand impacts of climate change on ecological systems.  Most data entered into the Network’s national database are submitted by citizen scientists through the national-scale, multi-taxa phenology observation program, Nature’s Notebook. With 2,500 active participants and more than 2.3 million contributions since the program went live in 2008, volunteers and professional scientists work side by side to observe and record the important phases in the annual life cycles of plants and animals.  This presentation will provide a broad overview of the Network and its partners and participants, but will focus on recent successes embodied in local- to national-scale projects including detection of invasive species, recent and historical trends in phenology, and potential future changes in phenology in the eastern deciduous forest. This presentation, The National Phenology Database: A multi-taxa, continental-scale dataset for scientific inquiry, will be in room LL101 on Aug. 8 at 4 p.m. Contact Jake Weltzin, jweltzin@usgs.gov, 703-485-5138.

Climate Science Centers: Sparking Collaboration through Research & Resource Management: This special session will introduce participants to the Department of Interior Climate Science Centers (CSCs) and their unique position to unite researchers with cultural and natural resource managers to facilitate a full-cycle approach to the use of research in support of management decisions. A panel composed of leaders from the CSCs, members of the University Consortia and Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, and other collaborators/clients will provide an overview of the approaches used to support the CSC mission: to serve the scientific needs of managers of fish, wildlife, habitats, and ecosystems as they plan for a changing climate by providing scientific support for climate-adaptation identification and implementation of climate-adaptation strategies  across a full range of natural and cultural resources. Participants will benefit from an overview of the CSC support capacities, research solicitation and funding processes with hopes to spark future collaborations. This presentation, Climate Science Centers: now supporting resource management with science at a location near you!, will be in room 101A on Aug. 5 at 10:15 a.m. Contact Stephen Gray (sgray@usgs.gov), 907-301-7830.

Actionable Climate Change Science Strategically Tying Research to Management and Policy Needs: Prompt access to climate adaptation science for policymakers and managers is vital to effectively plan for climate change in a timely manner.  Up until this point, the scientific community has employed a largely ineffective “conveyor-belt” approach to this process, in which managers both define scientific needs and assign projects to scientists. To streamline this process, the Department of the Interior Climate Science Centers have designed a new approach in which this procedure is executed in a more integrated and promptly actionable method. Using strategic decision-based approaches, the CSCs are creating a series of pilot projects that will focus on developing science outcomes that are tied to strategic management decisions.  Unlike previous models, these teams, consisting of scientists, managers, decision-makers and stakeholders, will work collaboratively throughout the project to assure science outputs are consistent with management needs. These CSC pilot projects will form the basis for a national science agenda that will support climate adaptation decision-making processes. This presentation, Actionable science in an era of rapid climate change, tying observations and predictions to policies and action, will be in Auditorium room 3 on Aug. 8 at 4:10 p.m. Contact Doug Beard,dbeard@usgs.gov, 571-265-4623

Bridging the Gap between Science and Decisions:  Climate-science researchers and resource-management decision-makers inhabit different professional worlds, but those worlds must come together to ensure scientifically informed management decisions.   Effective cooperation and interaction between these groups are essential, yet hampered by professional and institutional barriers.  Despite these disconnects, numerous case studies exist in which research has been applied effectively to climate-change management decisions.  These case studies provide a foundation for identifying best practices for both researchers and decision-makers.  These best practices include patient, persistent engagement among relevant parties.  If climate-change research is to be used effectively in decision-making, researchers will need to step outside traditional comfort zones, listen carefully to decision-makers, and maintain continuing dialogue.  New professional models must be encouraged, in which effective engagement and actionable science become part of the professional reward structure in research institutions. This presentation, Seeking Leopold's Quadrant: how do we foster research that addresses needs of resource-management decision-makers?, will be in room 101C on Aug. 9 at 9:50 a.m. Contact Stephen T. Jackson, stjackson@usgs.gov, 307-760- 0750.

U.S. Engagement in the Global Shift in Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is in full swing with  109 member countries; its  first IPBES plenary conference took place in Bonn, Germany (also the site of its Secretariat), in January 2013. The United States scientific community should be engaged as full participants in the IPDS  process. The session speakers will discuss the changing landscape in global environmental science initiatives, present the latest updates in the IPBES process, share current and future opportunities for input, and discuss ways to broadly engage the U.S scientific community and other stakeholders in preparation for the December 2013 second IPBES plenary. This presentation, Biodiversity and ecosystem services on the global stage: IPBES and you, will be in room L100F on Aug. 7 at 8:00 p.m. Contact Doug Beard, dbeard@usgs.gov, 571-265-4623.

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