For many years, investigators at the USGS Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) have led ongoing research projects that address climate change and its direct and indirect impacts on living resources. Climate change involves long-term alteration in the characteristic weather conditions of a region, such as changes in precipitation and temperature. Recent studies have found not only that climate change has its own particular impacts, but that temperature changes can exacerbate the effects of more traditional disturbances, like air pollution, drought, or habitat loss stemming from land-use changes. A summary of the recent report to the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, Preliminary Review of Adaptation Options for Climate-Sensitive Ecosystems and Resources1, encapsulates these interactions as follows:
Ecosystems and their services (land and water resources, agriculture, biodiversity) experience a wide range of stresses, including pests and pathogens, invasive species, air pollution, extreme events, wildfires, and floods. Climate change can cause or exacerbate direct stress through high temperatures, reduced water availability, and altered frequency of extreme events and severe storms…. Climate change can also modify the frequency and severity of stresses. For example, increased minimum temperatures and warmer springs extend the range and lifetime of many pests that stress trees and crops.2
FORT science is largely driven by the needs of our clients and partners in the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and other agencies. With change agents such as warming temperatures and the attendant complications described above, managers have their hands full as they strive to keep ecosystems functioning and native species from becoming listed or disappearing altogether, while balancing this with other human needs and activities. The scientists and other specialists at FORT have the breadth and depth of expertise to meet managers’ ongoing needs and new challenges brought about by the cascading effects of climate change. For example:
The USGS 10-year strategic plan, Facing Tomorrow’s Challenges: U.S. Geological Survey Science for 2007–2017, lists climate change as one of its mission areas for scientific research. The complexity of the Earth’s climate system presents challenges that require an integrated, interdisciplinary approach. FORT biologists, working collaboratively with their USGS counterparts in hydrology, geology, and geography, are conducting investigations that can deliver credible documentation and forecasts of ecological and biological responses to climate change. DOI partners and other natural resource managers will continue to benefit from the resulting wealth of USGS data, predictive models, and decision-support capabilities as they face the challenge of adapting to or mitigating the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and human communities across the Nation and around the world.
1Climate Change Science Program. 2008. Preliminary review of adaptation options for climate-sensitive ecosystems and resources. A Report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research. [Julius, S.H., J.M. West (eds.); J.S. Baron, L.A. Joyce, P. Kareiva, B.D. Keller, M.A. Palmer, C.H. Peterson, and J.M. Scott (Authors)]. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 873 pp. Available at http://www.fort.usgs.gov/Products/Publications/pub_abstract.asp?PubID=21971
2Climate Change Science Program. 2008. Climate change and ecosystems: Summary of recent findings, p. 1. Available at http://downloads.climatescience.gov/sap/sap4-4/sap4-4-brochure-FAQ.pdf.