State-and-transition simulation modeling relies on knowledge of vegetation composition and structure (states) that describe community conditions, mechanistic feedbacks such as fire that can affect vegetation establishment, and ecological processes that drive community conditions as well as the transitions between these states. However, as the need for modeling larger and more complex landscapes increase, a more advanced awareness of computing resources becomes essential. The objectives of this study include identifying challenges of executing state-and-transition simulation models, identifying common bottlenecks of computing resources, developing a workflow and software that enable parallel processing of Monte Carlo simulations, and identifying the advantages and disadvantages of different computing resources. To address these objectives, this study used the ApexRMS® SyncroSim software and embarrassingly parallel tasks of Monte Carlo simulations on a single multicore computer and on distributed computing systems. The results demonstrated that state-and-transition simulation models scale best in distributed computing environments, such as high-throughput and high-performance computing, because these environments disseminate the workloads across many compute nodes, thereby supporting analysis of larger landscapes, higher spatial resolution vegetation products, and more complex models. Using a case study and five different computing environments, the top result (high-throughput computing versus serial computations) indicated an approximate 96.6% decrease of computing time. With a single, multicore compute node (bottom result), the computing time indicated an 81.8% decrease relative to using serial computations. These results provide insight into the tradeoffs of using different computing resources when research necessitates advanced integration of ecoinformatics incorporating large and complicated data inputs and models.
Monitoring of livestock grazing effects on Bureau of Land Management land
Veblen, K.E., D.A. Pyke, C.L. Aldridge, M.L. Casazza, T.J. Assal, and M.A. Farinha
Energy development is rapidly escalating in resource-rich Wyoming, and with it the risks posed to raptor populations. These risks are of increasing concern to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for protecting the persistence of protected species, including raptors. In support of a Federal mandate to protect trust species and the wind energy industry’s need to find suitable sites on which to build wind farms, scientists at the USGS Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) and their partners are conducting research to help reduce impacts to raptor species from wind energy operations. Potential impacts include collision with the turbine blades and habitat disruption and disturbance from construction and operations. This feature describes a science-based tool—a quantitative predictive model—being developed and tested by FORT scientists to potentially avoid or reduce such impacts. This tool will provide industry and resource managers with the biological basis for decisions related to sustainably siting wind turbines in a way that also conserves important habitats for nesting golden eagles. Because of the availability of comprehensive data on nesting sites, golden eagles in Wyoming are the prototype species (and location) for the first phase of this investigation.
A sampling and analytical approach to develop spatial distribution models for sagebrush-associated species [Chapter 4]
Leu, M., S.E. Hanser, C.L. Aldridge, S.E. Nielsen, B.S. Cade, and S.T. Knick
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Sagebrush ecosystem conservation and management: Ecoregional assessment tools and models for the Wyoming Basins
Understanding multi-scale floral and faunal responses to human land use is crucial for informing natural resource management and conservation planning. However, our knowledge on how land use influences sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystems is limited primarily to site-specific studies. To fill this void, studies across large regions are needed that address how species are distributed relative to type, extent, and intensity of land use. We present a study design for the Wyoming Basin Ecoregional Assessment (WBEA) to sample sagebrush-associated flora and fauna along a land cover-human land use gradient. To minimize field costs, we sampled various taxonomic groups simultaneously on transects (ungulates and lagomorphs), point counts (song birds), and area-searches of 7.29-ha survey blocks (pellet counts, burrow counts, reptile surveys, medium-sized mammals, ant mounds, rodent trapping, and vegetation sampling of native and exotic plants)...
2004 annual progress report: Stratton Sagebrush Hydrology Study Area: establishment of a long-term research site in a high-elevation sagebrush steppe
In 2004 the U.S. Geological Survey, Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Rawlins Field Office (RFO), began a cooperative effort to reestablish the Stratton Sagebrush Hydrology Study Area (Stratton) as a research location, with the goal of making it a site for long-term research on sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecology. No other long-term research sites in high-elevation sagebrush habitat currently exist, and the Stratton area, with its 30+ year history of research and baseline data, was a logical location to restart investigations aimed at answering pertinent and timely questions about sagebrush ecology and sagebrush-obligate species. During the first year of the study, USGS scientists conducted an in-depth literature search to locate publications from research conducted at Stratton. We contacted previous researchers to acquire literature and unpublished reports of work conducted at Stratton. Collated papers and published manuscripts were presented in an annotated bibliography (Burgess and Schoenecker, 2004).
A second goal was to establish Stratton as a host location for researchers interested in sagebrush ecology investigations. We contacted staff and professors from Colorado State University and Wyoming and Montana universities to notify them of the opportunities at Stratton. Several institutions showed interest in the area and the potential of such a research site. A major advantage of the Stratton site is the ability of BML to coordinate activities on the land, manipulate grazing in cooperation with permit holders, and direct other activities to accommodate appropriate long-term experimental designs.
A third goal was to evaluate grazing management after a prescribed burn. The BLM widely uses prescribed burns as a tool for land management and grazing management. In general, BLM policy restricts grazing after a wildfire for two or more years. Some BLM offices allow no grazing after a wildfire or prescribed treatment for at least two years. Conversely, the RFO often allows grazing following a prescribed burn directly after the peak growing season the following year. This procedure is used for two years post-burn, after which grazing management is directed by local conditions and goals. We are investigating this practice to evaluate the effects on plant production and nutrient cycling. The RFO specifically wants to know if there are any negative effects from grazing one season after a prescribed burn.
Range-wide Connectivity of Greater Sage-Grouse Populations
A male greater sage grouse
The range-wide distribution of greater sage-grouse mainly consists of a few large core populations surrounded by numerous small populations. The viability of many of these small populations may be sustained by dispersing individuals from neighboring populations. Development that causes habitat loss or creates barriers to dispersal between core areas has the potential to restrict movements important to maintain genetic diversity, augment small populations, or recolonize extirpated populations. State and federal agencies are currently focusing management actions for greater sage-grouse in core areas containing the highest densities of breeding birds. The core-area approach was developed to focus limited resources in areas that will have the greatest potential to benefit the largest proportion of sage-grouse. However, the concept of focusing sage-grouse conservation in these core areas could have unintended consequences by fragmenting sagebrush habitat and increasing isolation of individual sage-grouse populations, which in turn can put genetic viability and population persistence at risk.
Habitat and population fragmentation were two of the top factors contributing to the recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision that listing greater sage-grouse was warranted but precluded. The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Service (through its Sage-Grouse Initiative), University of Montana, and USGS have begun a collaborative effort to examine gene flow and connectivity among greater sage-grouse populations range-wide. More than 5,000 currently mapped breeding locations throughout their range (11 states and 2 Canadian provinces) are visited each year for population monitoring, providing the opportunity to collect feather samples for use in this study. Researchers will collect fine-scale genetic data from these feathers and combine these data with spatial analyses of landscape components such as habitat, elevation, roads, and energy development.
Study results will provide information on levels of population connectivity as well as characteristics of barriers to dispersal and genetic exchange, including geographic distance, topographic features, and human activities and land uses. Ultimately, the spatial and temporal dynamics of colonization derived from the study—based on rate of genetic exchange and barriers to dispersal—can inform estimates of population viability relative to population isolation and risk of extirpation. Managers will be able to apply this new information towards conservation efforts in areas that will most benefit genetic exchange among greater sage-grouse populations, thereby supporting species persistence.
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.