Western Ecological Research Center
This project improves our understanding of the ecology of amphibians in northern California and evaluates methods of managing landscapes and these imperiled species. In particular, Dr. Brian Halstead examines the distribution and demography of amphibians to understand factors that affect where amphibians are found and how populations change. He further explores the relationships of amphibians with their abiotic and biotic environments to understand important components of habitats for amphibians, how they interact with competitors and predators in the environment, and how disease and individual characteristics affect vital rates.
Gambinini marsh is located along the Petaluma River and covers 25 hectares. We surveyed 217 elevation points and 110 vegetation plots to determine baseline conditions of the marsh. Water level loggers deployed in 2010 were used to characterize the tidal inundation patterns throughout the year. Sediment accretion rates from soil cores at Petaluma marsh were extrapolated to Gambinini marsh and used as input for the WARMER sea-level rise response model. WARMER projects that by 2060 Gambinini marsh will be dominated by low marsh vegetation and will transition into mudflat habitat by 2080.
With sea level rise, how will the coastal habitats of the San Francisco Bay Estuary change over the next 100 years? Mapping and modeling studies by Dr. Karen Thorne, WERC scientists, and partners have produced scenarios for this important coastal ecosystem.
Yukon Chinook salmon support thriving fisheries and economies in parts of Alaska. However, the fish have declined to low numbers, prompting several disaster declarations by state and federal governments. Drs. A. Keith Miles and Lizabeth Bowen are examining possible links between increasing water temperatures and decreases in Chinook salmon populations of the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region.
Toxins from oil spills and pollution can present physiological harm to wildlife, from invertebrate prey found in the mud and sand to top predators like brown bears. WERC’s Drs. A. Keith Miles and Lizabeth Bowen are developing genetic transcription tools to detect subtle changes in the physiology of animals that come into contact with environmental contaminants.
WERC is headquartered on the campus of California State University Sacramento and is aptly known as the ‘center without walls.’ The Center's headquarters houses management and administrative staff that support the dispersed science structure of WERC scientists which are located at or near ecosystems aligned with their expertise and often co-located with or near DOI partners at field stations in California and Nevada bioregions.
Follow our scientists into the midst of thousand-year-old trees, the blistering heat of the Mojave Desert, the high reaches of the Sierra Nevada, and many other environments across California, Nevada, and abroad.
Dr. Kathleen Longshore’s goal is to understand how predator/prey relationships, disease and human-caused disturbance work separately and synergistically to impact bighorn sheep populations under variable ecological stress. Information from this project will provide managers with an understanding of specific and regional impacting factors that contribute to impact variation in population trends.
Suisun Marsh is a critical habitat for wintering and breeding waterbirds in California. USGS is working with the California DWR to examine the trends in bird decline and to assess the habitat factors driving long-term survival of waterfowl, rails, and other birds in this important area.
The Western Ecological Research Center has organized its research, monitoring, and information transfer programs in response to a growing biogeographical orientation in management activities among the Department of Interior and other natural resource management agencies and organizations. We have adopted a slightly modified version of the Forest Service's National Hierarchical Framework of Ecological Units (ECOMAP 1993), to define the ecoregions within the Pacific United States where the majority of our work occurs.
How will increased drought affect forest fire severity? WERC’s Dr. Phil van Mantgem is testing the idea increased drought stress may affect forest fire severity independent of fire intensity. Drought stress prior to fire can affect tree health, potentially resulting in a higher sensitivity to fire-induced damage. Thus, with drought there may be ongoing increases in fire severity (the number of trees killed), even when there is no change in fire intensity (the amount of heat released during a fire). Dr. Phil van Mantgem and his collaborators are considering this question at a subcontinental scale by synthesizing existing information from plot-based prescribed fire monitoring databases across the western United States of America.
Dr. Kathleen Longshore, in collaboration with Dr. Todd Esque, provides information to project the possible conflict between losses of habitat for foraging involved in the proposed development of alternative energy installations in the Mojave Desert and help develop advanced conservation efforts for the golden eagle. Information from this project will also inform California’s Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan within the Mojave Desert.