Ecosystem Dynamics


The Ecosystem Dynamics Branch of the Fort Collins Science Center offers an interdisciplinary team of talented and creative scientists with expertise in biology, botany, ecology, geology, biogeochemistry, physical sciences, geographic information systems, and remote-sensing, for tackling complex questions about natural resources. As demand for natural resources increases, the issues facing natural resource managers, planners, policy makers, industry, and private landowners are increasing in spatial and temporal scope, often involving entire regions, multiple jurisdictions, and long timeframes. Needs for addressing these issues include: a better understanding of biotic and abiotic ecosystem components and their complex interactions; the ability to easily monitor, assess, and visualize the spatially complex movements of animals, plants, water, and elements across highly variable landscapes; and the techniques for accurately predicting both immediate and long-term responses of system components to natural and human-caused change. The overall objectives of our research are to provide the knowledge, tools, and techniques needed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, state agencies, and other stakeholders in their endeavors to meet the demand for natural resources while conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services. Ecosystem Dynamics scientists use field and laboratory research, data assimilation, and ecological modeling to understand ecosystem patterns, trends, and mechanistic processes. This information is used to predict the outcomes of changes imposed on species, habitats, landscapes, and climate across spatiotemporal scales. The products we develop include conceptual models to illustrate system structure and processes; regional baseline and integrated assessments; predictive spatial and mathematical models; literature syntheses; and frameworks or protocols for improved ecosystem monitoring, adaptive management, and program evaluation.

Branch Chief


Where the Bison Roam: Public-Private Partnership Supports Potential Restoration

Back from the Brink

A little over one hundred years ago, plains bison were prolific in the Great American West. Reports describe herds containing thousands of animals migrating through the central and western states, totaling 20–30 million across their entire range. With commercial, unregulated hunting in the late 1800s came the rapid demise of bison to barely more than 1,000 by 18891. Recently, renewed interest in restoring these massive animals to at least some of their former range has grown. Efforts are being made to establish “conservation herds”—herds that are specifically managed in the public interest by governments and environmental organizations. For the plains bison native...