Western Ecological Research Center
Wildfires are as much a part of California as beaches and agricultural fields. Historically, they have shaped the state’s ecosystems, from forests to shrublands. However, they can also have costly economic effects on local communities, causing significant property damage. WERC’s Dr. Jon Keeley works with partners across the state to understand the effects of past fire management practices and to inform future efforts.
The San Francisco Bay estuary is one of the most important wintering and stop-over areas for migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway. The estuary supports a rich prey community of fish and invertebrates, an important food source for migratory birds. WERC’s Dr. Susan De La Cruz and her partners are investigating how changes to this estuary will affect food supply for avian species in the San Francisco Bay Estuary.
The San Francisco Bay is a critical migratory stop-over and wintering site for avian species. USGS WERC’s Dr. Susan De La Cruz works with many federal, state, and local institutions to assess avian species in the San Francisco Bay Area and California at-large. As part of the USGS mission to survey America’s natural resources, WERC scientists study impacts of avian influenza on human health, and how avian species respond to different environmental factors, be it invasive plants and predators, environmental pollutants, or human activity.
Wetlands and estuaries provide habitat for a diversity of fish and wildlife. Both the Nisqually estuary and the San Francisco Bay estuary are important estuarine ecosystems that support a diverse array of wildlife in the Pacific Northwest. WERC’s Dr. Susan De La Cruz and her team investigate approaches to monitor the success of wetland rehabilitation and restoration projects, develop methods to examine changes in biophysical parameters of the wetlands, and examine plant and animal colonization and habitat use.
Management decisions are made at the intersection of facts and values, and our role is to assist decision-makers by bringing the best available science to the table. Specifically, we seek to help managers and policy makers reassess their missions in light of rapid and unprecedented changes, develop broad concepts relevant to adapting to such changes, and provide hands-on assistance during adaptation planning.
Our ability to understand and predict changes in forests and their feedbacks to the global carbon cycle increasingly relies on models spanning several scales of biological organization – from tree leaves to entire forested landscapes. Yet many model assumptions about key processes – such as tree growth and mortality – require long-term data that are sometimes difficult and time-consuming to get.
Greater Sage-grouse are iconic birds found only in the Great Basin of the western U.S. Known for their showy courting displays, sage-grouse rely on native sagebrush habitat to shelter their young. Dr. Pete Coates is providing resource managers with the tools and information they need to conserve sage-grouse as invasive plants, evolving wildfire patterns, and energy development change the Great Basin.
Death Valley National Park and the Mojave Desert are some of the hottest and driest among the North American deserts, but in spite of these extreme conditions, and in part because of them, a diverse flora exists. This diversity of rare, endemic, and endangered species is threatened by the complex interaction between fluctuating climate and surface disturbances. Click on the “Science” tab to learn how Dr. Lesley Defalco and collaborators provide essential guidance for informed management actions.
Surface disturbances ranging from livestock grazing, recreation, and wildfires impact the majority of federal lands, but the ecological and economic impacts are poorly understood. Click the “Science” tab to learn how Dr. Lesley Defalco and her team (1) evaluate and refine conventional approaches for post-fire rehabilitation of Desert tortoise critical habitat (2) research resistance and resilience of native species in the soil seed banks in Mojave Desert vegetation communities and (3) develop ecological restoration strategies of shrubland communities impacted by energy exploration and development on the Colorado Plateau.
There is a growing consensus among resource managers to use native plant materials for ecological restoration of degraded drylands. Some plant species may be suitable for re-introduction across broad environmental gradients while others may fail under narrower conditions. By the request of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Dr. Lesley Defalco and her collaborators evaluate local adaptation of native species in the Mojave Desert and developing seed transfer zones for the Sonoran Basin and Range. Click on the “Science” tab to delve into project specifics.
The California Sea Otter Stranding Network is part of the USGS effort to monitor southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) and provide data to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. WERC's Dr. Tim Tinker works with multiple institutions and partners to report, recover, and examine stranded sea otters. In addition, instructions on how to report a stranded sea otter are included in this webpage.
Simply put, we seek to determine what changes are occurring in forests, why they are occurring, and what they mean. For example, we documented a long-term, apparently climatically-induced increase of tree mortality rates in otherwise undisturbed old forests across the western U.S., implying that these forests could become net sources of atmospheric carbon dioxide.