Science Priorities

Fort Collins Science Center activities support the research priorities of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s resource management bureaus as well as other federal and state agencies, Native American tribes, academic institutions, and nongovernmental organizations. Click on each of the science priority names to find out more about them and the people who make it all happen. 


The Aquatic Systems (AS) Branch at the Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) is a group of scientists dedicated to advancing interdisciplinary science and providing science support to solve water-related environmental issues. Natural resource managers have an increasing need for scientific information and stakeholders face enormous challenges of increasing and competing demands for water. Our scientists are leaders in ecological flows, riparian ecology, hydroscape ecology, ecosystem management, and contaminant biology. The AS Branch employs and develops state-of-the-science approaches in field investigations, laboratory experiments, remote sensing, simulation and predictive modeling, and decision support tools. We use the aquatic experimental laboratory, the greenhouse, the botanical garden and other advanced facilities to conduct unique research. Our scientists pursue research on the ground, in the rivers, and in the skies, generating and testing hypotheses and collecting quantitative information to support planning and design in natural resource management and aquatic restoration. Read the Aquatic Systems Branch Fact Sheet to learn more. 

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. Read the Ecosystem Dynamics Branch Fact Sheet to learn more.

The Information Science (IS) Branch at the Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) provides data capture, analysis, management, and distribution support to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) mission areas, Department of the Interior bureaus, and other Federal agencies. This support allows science center partners to implement an integrated information environment that supports both scientific research and natural resource decisionmaking.

The science center established the Information Science Branch to focus on improving the flow of information across many programs and disciplines. Products include designs of information management and delivery systems, geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing applications, Web applications, decision-support systems, and integrated access to distributed databases. Building these products requires a highly specialized team of talented information technology experts, including software developers, systems specialists, spatial analysts, modelers, Agile1 project managers, content managers, communication specialists, and data stewards.This highly specialized team provides complete information technology solutions allowing stakeholders to find, obtain, and use USGS information in ways that are meaningful and precise. The development, implementation, and support of innovative technology and tools improve natural resource management and discovery. By promoting and ensuring effective stewardship of USGS information assets and implementing a wide range of geospatial tools for research, analysis, and modeling of spatial data and associated information; the IS Branch plays a fundamental role in data support and preservation.

Invasive, nonnative species of plants, animals, and disease organisms adversely affect the ecosystems they enter. Like “biological wildfires,” they can quickly spread and affect nearly all terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Invasive species have become one of the greatest environmental challenges of the 21st century in economic, environmental, and human health costs, with an estimated effect in the United States of more than $120 billion per year. Managers of the Department of the Interior (DOI) and other public and private lands often rank invasive species as their top resource management problem. The Invasive Species Science (ISS) Branch of the Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) provides research and technical assistance relating to management concerns for invasive species, including understanding how these species are introduced, identifying areas vulnerable to invasion, forecasting invasions, and developing control methods. To disseminate this information, branch scientists are developing platforms to share invasive species information with DOI cooperators, other agency partners, and the public. From these and other data, branch scientists are constructing models to understand and predict invasive species distributions for more effective management. The branch also has extensive herpetological and population biology expertise that is applied to harmful reptile invaders such as the Brown Treesnake on Guam and Burmese Python in Florida. Read the Invasive Species Science Branch Fact Sheet to learn more.

The Fort Collins Science Center’s Social and Economic Analysis (SEA) Branch provides unique capabilities in the U.S. Geological Survey by leading projects that integrate social, behavioral, economic, and natural science in the context of human–natural resource interactions. Our research provides scientific understanding and support for the management and conservation of our natural resources in support of multiple agency missions. We focus on meeting the scientific needs of the Department of the Interior natural resource management bureaus in addition to fostering partnerships with other Federal and State managers to protect, restore, and enhance our environment. SEA has an interdisciplinary group of scientists whose primary functions are to conduct both theoretical and applied social science research, provide technical assistance, and offer training to support the development of skills in natural resource management activities. Management and research issues associated with human-resource interactions typically occur in a unique context and require knowledge of both natural and social sciences, along with the skill to integrate multiple science disciplines. In response to these challenging contexts, SEA researchers apply a wide variety of social science concepts and methods which complement our rangeland/agricultural, wildlife, ecology, and biology capabilities. The goal of SEA’s research is to enhance natural-resource management, agency functions, policies, and decisionmaking. Read the Social and Economic Analysis Branch Fact Sheet to learn more.

The Trust Species and Habitats (TSH) Branch of the Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) includes a diverse group of scientists encompassing both traditional and specialized expertise in wildlife biology, ecosystem ecology, quantitative ecology, disease ecology, molecular genetics, and stable isotope geochemistry. Using our expertise and collaborating with others around the world, our goal is to provide the information, tools, and technologies that our partners need to support conservation, management, and restoration of terrestrial vertebrate populations, habitats, and ecosystem function in a changing world.

Some of the biggest challenges facing wildlife today are changes to their environment from both natural and anthropogenic causes. Natural resource managers, planners, policy makers, industry and private landowners must make informed decisions and policies regarding management, conservation, and restoration of species, habitats, and ecosystem function in response to these changes. Specific needs include: (1) a better understanding of population status and trends, (2) understanding of species habitat needs and role in supporting ecosystem functions; (3) the ability to assess species’ response to environmental changes and predict future responses; and (4) the development of innovative techniques and tools to better understand, minimize or prevent any unintended consequences of environmental change. Read the Trust Species and Habitats Branch Fact Sheet to learn more.