Developing Ecological Forecasting Models for Invasive Species

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Forecasts of where species might be and what impacts they may have are necessary for management of invasive species.  Researchers at FORT are using various approaches to provided needed information to resource managers to combat invasive plants, animals, and disease organisms.

Cheatgrass turning red in the fall in the Squirrel Creek burn area, Medicine Bow National Forest.

Cheatgrass turning red in the fall in the Squirrel Creek burn area, Medicine Bow National Forest. Photo by Amanda West, USGS.Photo by Amand West, Colorado State University. Public domain.

One tool to forecast invasions is species distribution modeling, which can be used to detect current distributions of invasive species or to forecast their potential future distributions. FORT scientists are exploring the latest in species distribution modeling techniques, including determination of which techniques work better with different datasets, taxa, and spatial extents and resolutions. Predictive models developed at FORT are being used to create regional and national-scale assessments of invasion patterns, vulnerable habitats, and potential distributions of specific invaders, and to examine how all of these may be affected by changing climate. These tools have successfully been tested in wildlife refuges, national parks, and in research areas of other USGS scientists. To help ensure proper use of the modeling results, researchers are providing guidance on caveats and disclaimers for model results.

Another tool being used to develop forecasting models is simulation models. Simulation models can be used as virtual laboratories to inform management activities and assess potential impacts of invasive species through comparisons of “what if” scenarios across a wide variety of ecosystems. Simulating scenarios can help answer questions about the magnitude of the invasive problem, provide information on management actions that achieve desired results most effectively, and help identify key sources of scientific uncertainty.

State and transition diagram showing states ranging from a landscape uninvaded by buffelgrass.

State and transition diagram showing states ranging from an uninvaded landscape to one with >50% cover of buffelgrass and potential transitions including growth of buffelgrass patches, inventory to detect buffelgrass on the landscape, and management actions to reduce buffelgrass in known patches. Credit: Jeff Morisette, USGS. Public domain.

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