For many years, USGS Research Ecologist Tom Stohlgren has been at the forefront of developing and implementing ways of collecting, sharing, and relating information on non-native invasive species that plague native ecosystems and challenge public land managers in the United States. In particular, Dr. Stohlgren has focused on developing the capability to rapidly assess changes in biodiversity and identify habitats vulnerable to invasion. He and his team have built ecological forecasting models that combine field data with satellite and other remotely-sensed data, incorporating various data “layers” that include soils, the mix of native and non-native vegetation, climate, and other measures...
Natural landscapes can be viewed as microcosms of the global environment. At global scales, plant diversity is highest in warm-wet areas, with noticeable decreases in plant diversity in extreme environments: near the north and south poles, on cold mountain tops, and in deserts. Plant invasions generally follow the same predictable patterns at landscape scales. Many low-elevation meadows, riparian zones, and canopy gaps in zones of moderate climates contain the greatest native species richness and the greatest nonnative species richness…
The role of data drivers in a landscape scale project
Assal, T. and M. O’Donnell
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US Forest Service & BLM Geospatial '09 Conference: Healthy Forests - Healthy Lands - Healthy Earth, Snowbird, UT, April 27-May 1, 2009
Organism–environment models are used widely in conservation. The degree to which they are useful for informing conservation decisions – the conservation relevance of these relations – is important because lack of relevance may lead to misapplication of scarce conservation resources or failure to resolve important conservation dilemmas. Even when models perform well based on model fit and predictive ability, conservation relevance of associations may not be clear without also knowing the magnitude and variability of predicted changes in response variables...
Urban maternity-roost selection by big brown bats in Colorado
Wyoming Conservation Landscape Initiative: Inventory and Long-Term Monitoring
Green River Valley, Wyoming. WLCI photo.
Across Southwest Wyoming, there is increasing concern that energy development and climate change will significantly alter the region’s habitats, thus putting the region’s world-class wildlife populations at risk of decline. To provide accurate condition estimates across a large region, and to subsequently monitor changes in conditions, a representative sample of resources is required. This landscape, like most, is highly variable due to differences in natural and anthropogenic environmental factors, such as topography, climate, and land-use. To this end, we are (1) investigating application of landscape-scale framework for assessing status and trends in resource conditions; (2) characterizing potential “indicators” that have properties conducive to monitoring and also representative of habitat conditions and ecosystem function; and (3) developing fine-scale mapping and change–detecting, remote sensing techniques for vegetation. We are working with partners to develop a monitoring framework that provides the spatial representation required for measuring the condition of priority habitats, wildlife populations, ecosystems, and related variables across this large and varied landscape. On-the-ground data collection, model simulations, and statistical analyses of the power of selected indicators will be conducted to test the potential of sampling designs to meet long-term monitoring objectives for Southwest Wyoming. Providing direct support for affordable monitoring, the remote sensing work contributes to developing methods to repeatedly project estimates of continuous vegetation cover, with separation of major vegetation types. Using both field-collected and remotely sensed data, we will evaluate variability in these habitat measures and how they change over time. Combined, the different elements of this task will help natural resource managers and policymakers amass the multiple levels of information needed to understand the collective condition of Southwest Wyoming’s public lands, and to apply that information for better conserving habitats and wildlife populations in the face of significant changes.
Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative: Mechanistic Studies of Wildlife
Rapid energy development and other human-caused disturbances in southwestern Wyoming are challenging the abilities of natural resource managers to ensure persistence of the region’s vast diversity of wildlife. Prior studies of greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) and pygmy rabbits (Brachylagus idahoensis) indicate populations in Wyoming are declining, likely due to loss and fragmentation of sagebrush habitats, and both species were considered for listing through the Endangered Species Act within the past two years. To help address population declines, we are (1) developing spatial models to assess how sage-grouse respond to habitat changes associated with energy development and climate change across large landscapes; (2) analyzing long-term population trends of sage-grouse across Wyoming to identify mechanisms (specifically those associated with climate and energy development) that may influence population fluctuations; and, (3) developing predictive habitat-selection models. Less information exists for pygmy rabbit populations. To help provide information about pygmy rabbits, we are (1) validating two existing spatial models that predict occupancy across Wyoming with the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database and the Wyoming Chapter of The Nature Conservancy ; (2) developing a new model that predicts both site occupancy and vacancy using landscape-level habitat attributes, including factors associated with energy development, sagebrush vegetative structure, and updated climate information; (3) beginning two studies to evaluate occupancy and survival rates on three major gas fields in western Wyoming; and (4) relating occupancy data with LiDAR data that describes the structural characteristics of sagebrush over broad areas. Combined, the efforts of this work will provide the information and tools needed to help natural resource managers and policymakers develop effective wildlife management plans for sage-grouse, pygmy rabbits, and other species in southwestern Wyoming.
FORT Support to the Great Plains LCC
The Great Plains LCC
Sunrise on the plains
Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) are applied conservation science partnerships focused on a defined geographic area that informs on-the-ground strategic conservation efforts at landscape scales. LCC partners include DOI agencies, other federal agencies, states, tribes, non-governmental organizations, universities, and others. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with partners to develop the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative (GPLCC) that encompasses parts of eight states: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. Some of the most imperiled habitats in the U.S are found in this area (short-grass and mixed-grass prairies; playa wetlands; riparian streams; prairie rivers; cross-timbers; and savannahs, shrublands, and sand dune systems), along with a number of imperiled species. The Fort Collins Science Center, in collaboration with the USGS Colorado Water Science Center, is providing expertise on playa lakes, landscape ecology, and surface- and groundwater hydrology to help inform management actions for greater impact on priority habitats and species.
Climate models predict increased warming, throughout the LCC area, and for some areas of the geography, greater precipitation. Maximum and minimum temperatures rise in both scenarios. Minimum temperature increases are greatest, indicating increased nighttime warming. Models show both increases and decreases in precipitation over the region and the seasons, although the overall trend is anticipated to be slightly wetter in the Great Plains region. The snow season in the Great Plains is projected to end earlier in the spring, reflecting greater warming in winter and spring. Regional change in climate variability and extreme events may affect various aspects of Great Plains ecosystems.
· Changes in winter moisture may impact cool season invasive plants, the extent of sagebrush and other woody perennials on the range, shallow aquifer recharge, stream flow timing, and forage availability and quality.
· Warmer winters may impact the incidence of pest outbreaks, soil organic matter, plant community composition, and the invasion of exotic plants. For example, leafy spurge and Japanese brome may move further south.
· Summer increases in temperature and precipitation may impact the frequency and intensity of hail storms, invasive tree species, and fire management.
· A change in the frequency and duration of extreme precipitation events can lead to the opposing problems of drought and deluge, as well as early fall and late spring snow storms which can bring problems all their own.
The Playa Lakes Joint Venture has agreed to expand its management board and serve as the GPLCC Steering Committee. A draft action plan outlines six high priority landscapes and a number of priority species of interest.
At FORT we will provide technical and applied research support to the Great Plains LCC through the application of landscape ecology, ecosystem science, climate change science and climate adaptation ecology, wildlife biology, conservation genetics, and habitat/population modeling in aquatic and terrestrial systems. Dan Manier's project, "Landscape Assessment of Relations among Land Use, Hydrology, and Wildlife Habitats in the Southern Great Plains Region" proposes to complete a comprehensive landscape assessment of the GPLCC area by aggregating, developing and analyzing spatial datasets and developing statistical models to analyze the correlative and functional relations among land use, hydrology, and wildlife habitat; utilize hierarchically organized map and data classes at a watershed scale to provide locally detailed assessments nested within the GPLCC area to provide locally detailed (relevant) information within a landscape perspective; and establish a spatial framework and data library required for systematic evaluation of Habitat Suitability, land use and climate affects, population dynamics, surface and groundwater hydrology and for conservation, management and research applications.
Landscape Phenology Program of the National Phenology Network
USGS Remote Sensing Phenology Website
In recognition of the need to understand climate change and its impacts on natural systems, the USGS implemented a land surface phenology/remote sensing phenology (LSP/RSP) activity within the USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) coordinating office. The initiative's main objectives are to (1) coordinate LSP/RSP activities across U.S. federal agencies, other national programs, and academic scientists; and (2) lead research on the utility and accuracy of RSP/LSP products. In conjunction with the EROS Data Center and the USA-NPN, FORT is involved in several specific activities related to this initiative. One is the coordination and use of a NASA RSP product to assist in the National Science Foundation-led National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) aircraft deployment strategy. The second is linking the USA-NPN activities to the USGS Remote Sensing Phenology Web site. The third is addressing how LSP/RSP can inform a National Phenological Assessment. These activities will help place the remote sensing phenology data into the context of USGS research activities. Ultimately, the results of these temporally driven products will help inform land managers on existing trends and potential future trajectories of vegetation dynamics. This will help build a better understanding of trend as well as year-to-year variability at a landscape scale.