Aleutian Islands Ecosystem Recovery Studies

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The Aleutian archipelago is a 2,000 km long chain of volcanically-derived treeless islands stretching from Unimak Island in the east to the Commander Islands in the west.  These volcanic islands support a wide range of species including large numbers of seabirds and marine mammal species, some of which are threatened and endangered, leading to a high level of federal management concern.

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Kasatochi volcano as seen from 17,000 feet ASL....

Kasatochi Island, like Gareloi, Bogoslof, and several other volcanoes in the western Aleutian arc, represents the emergent summit of a predominantly submarine volcano. The island consists of a single, undissected cone with a central lake-filled crater about 0.75 km in diameter. A maximum height of 314 m is on the southern crater rim; elevation of the lake is less than about 60 m.

(Credit: Morris, Jerry. Public domain.)

The Aleutian archipelago is a 2,000 km long chain of volcanically-derived treeless islands stretching from Unimak Island in the east to the Commander Islands in the west. The archipelago separates the Eastern Bering Sea Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) from the Gulf of Alaska LME, and comprises a large portion of the USFWS Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS-AMNWR). These volcanic islands support a wide range of species including large numbers of seabirds and marine mammal species, some of which are threatened and endangered, leading to a high level of federal management concern. Intermittent volcanic eruptions vary in terms of intensity, duration, and frequency, thus specific impacts on ecosystems and the trajectories of recoveries remain poorly understood. Presumably, local species have adapted to these periodic geological disturbances on timescales of decades to centuries, yet the mechanisms dictating the trajectory of recovery from large-scale disturbances have not been well-studied. Understanding the processes that underpin the assembly of biological communities following large-scale perturbations will facilitate better prediction of the trajectory and time-frame of community recovery, critical for managing and conserving both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. 

Two Least Auklets sitting on a rock on Kasatochi Volcano

Two Least Auklets sitting on rocks on Kasatochi Volcano four years after the catastrophic eruption in 2008.

(Credit: Gary Drew, USGS. Public domain.)