Demographic and Population Models

Science Center Objects

USGS scientists are currently developing models for species of interest that can be overlaid with maps showing areas of potential energy. These models, or map overlays, identify areas of biological strengths and weaknesses or high- and low-quality habitat and can identify opportunities for conservation—areas of high-quality habitat where energy-generating potential is low—and areas of potential risk—areas of high-quality habitat where energy-generating potential is high. These tools can assist resource managers and the industry concerning siting of energy development and selection of off-site mitigation areas.

Each project below is associated with a type of energy production or transmission. Types of energy production or transmission are represented by the following icons:

Energy and Wildlife icons

Abbreviations used in project descriptions are defined on the Energy and Wildife Abbrevations page.

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Oil and gas extraction and hydropower icons

A Model for Estimating Aquatic Species Density From eDNA

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Environmental DNA (eDNA) analytical methods are effective for estimating site occupancy and species
distribution of aquatic organisms. The next frontier of eDNA applications is to estimate species abundance and density. Building upon previous studies correlating eDNA concentration and associated animal density, researchers developed a modeling approach that uses eDNA and associated animal density data from a subset of sites to estimate animal density at other sites where only eDNA data are available. Areas were noted where the model could be further developed to yield more accurate estimates. This approach advances the difficult, but important, topic of inferring animal density from eDNA data.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Assessment of Forest Canopy Removal Due to Oil and Gas Development

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

USGS researchers assessed the volume of forest canopy removal in parts of Pennsylvania and New York to better understand the nature, extent, and magnitude of landscape change. Fine-scale lidar forest canopy geometric models were created to assess the volumetric change attributed to forest clearing from oil and gas development, clear cut forest harvesting, and urban and suburban development. Oil and gas infrastructure development removed a large volume of forest canopy from 2006 to 2013, and this removal spread over a large portion of the study area. Although timber operations, such as clear cutting, on Pennsylvania State Forest lands removed a larger total volume of forest during the same period, the removal was concentrated in a smaller area. Results of this study can help resource managers consider volumetric impacts of oil and gas development on ecosystems and place potential impacts in context with other ongoing land conversions.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Birds and the Bakken Formation: Oil Well, Land Cover, and Species Distribution Data

Science Center: Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center

USGS is leading a project to measure the effects of well development on birds in the Williston Basin in eastern Montana, western North Dakota, and South Dakota. Scientists plan to create maps that combine data on habitat conversion and species distribution to describe the effects of disturbance from oil well pads on biodiversity. Models are also being developed to display past and potential future effects of energy development on grassland birds. This information may assist managers with prioritizing areas for conservation in the Williston Basin.

 

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Developing a Model to Estimate Golden Eagle Take at Wind Energy Facilities

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Simple counts of bird carcasses found at wind energy facilities do not reflect actual fatalities because some carcasses are removed by scavengers or are overlooked by or fall within areas inaccessible to searchers. USGS researchers are using data from white-tailed eagles in Norway as surrogates for U.S. bald and golden eagles that are not found in adequate numbers at any given facility to allow for reliable estimation of eagle-carcass density. The applicability of white-tailed eagle models is being tested using observations from several sites in California. Results can be used by USFWS in determining take limits for new wind-power facilities and estimating actual eagle take post-construction.

 

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Effects of Dam Operations on Endangered Fishes

Science Center: Southwest Biological Science Center

Glen Canyon Dam operations affect downstream environmental conditions of the Colorado River in Glen and Grand Canyons which, in turn, affect resident aquatic species like fish. USGS scientists assessed the effects of temperature, turbidity, food availability, flow variability, and nonnative fish abundance on endangered humpback chub. Growth models showed that environmental conditions like temperature and
duration of turbidity best described growth in sub-adult humpback chub. A model using data from tagged fish measured the effects of rainbow trout, an economically important nonnative sport fish, on humpback chub. Model results showed that rainbow trout have a negative effect on humpback chub survival and, to a lesser degree, their growth. Understanding the relative importance of various environmental factors on humpback chub allows managers to make informed decisions regarding the operation of Glen Canyon Dam and management actions intended to facilitate the recovery of this endangered species.

 

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Evaluating Population-Level Impacts of Wind Energy Development 

Science Centers: Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center and Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

The impact of wind energy generation on wildlife is commonly approached by monitoring the incidence of mortality resulting from turbine collisions. These mortality events may or may not scale up to observable impacts at a population level. USGS scientists are developing a framework for assessing population-level impacts of wind energy by using abundance time-series data and turbine location maps. The two-part approach first examines whether the timing and placement of turbines on the landscape are coincident with observed population trends at regional scales by using dynamic factor analysis. Next, localized impacts are examined by comparing population trends from sampling locations near wind turbine development with relatively distant locations by using Bayesian structural time-series models. This research can assist conservation managers with wind energy project permitting and the use and interpretation of monitoring protocols for wind facilities.

 

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Evaluating Reclamation Success Following Oil and Gas Development

Science Center: Southwest Biological Science Center

USGS scientists developed new approaches to regional assessments of land recovery following oil and gas drilling activities and resulting dust generation. These new approaches can help resource managers make informed decisions for future well pad and infrastructure development. The approaches incorporate satellite imagery, digital soil mapping, predictive ecological modeling, and field assessments to evaluate vegetation recovery following well pad abandonment and dust production for unpaved road networks. Scientists studied more than 1,800 well pads in Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Results suggest that unpaved roads and plugged and abandoned well pads have about seven times more windblown sediment transport than rangelands in dryland areas, but also show variation between local soil types and vegetation communities where wells and roads are located. Analysis of archival satellite imagery showed that most abandoned oil and gas well pads in the study were characterized by more bare ground and less perennial vegetation than surrounding undisturbed areas, even more than 9 years after well abandonment. Differing recovery rates across environmental gradients and under varied land stewardship suggest that these findings can be useful to managers in identifying conditions that may promote or hamper well pad recovery.

 

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Golden Eagle Movement and Conservation in Coastal Southern California

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

To evaluate the effects of human activities on golden eagles in coastal southern California, USGS began a multiyear golden eagle survey and tracking program in 2014, supported by the San Diego Association of Governments, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, USFWS, and BLM. More than 40 golden eagles were captured in San Diego County, Orange County, and western Riverside County, California, and fitted with GPS backpack transmitters, allowing scientists to track their movements. Movements ranged as far north as northern Nevada and southern Wyoming and as far south as the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico. Researchers also developed habitat selection models and provided predictions of population-level habitat selection for golden eagles in San Diego County. Modeled results indicate strong avoidance of urban areas, moderate avoidance of exurban areas, and avoidance of a buffer around these landscapes. In contrast, eagles preferred more rugged areas in higher elevation terrain. This work contributes to a broader understanding of the population status, demography, resource use, and genetic structure of golden eagles across a wide gradient of environmental conditions.

 

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Impact of Biofuel Crop Production on Pollinators in the Northern Great Plains

Science Center: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

USGS, in cooperation with USDA, is quantifying how recent reductions in USDA conservation program enrollments affect pollinator habitat. Scientists are also developing a risk assessment model to identify what portions of the northern Great Plains have undergone the most substantial land-use changes due to biofuel crop development while also supporting the highest density of commercial beekeepers. This study addresses several of the key information needs to better understand, minimize, and recover from pollinator losses.

 

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Improving Stream Temperature With Modification to Hydropower Dam Operation

Science Center: Oregon Water Science Center

The USACE owns and operates more than 10 dams in the Willamette watershed. The Willamette Basin biological opinion, issued by the NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service, 2008), requires the USACE to assess the feasibility of developing project-specific alternatives for achieving fish passage as well as improved long-term temperature control downstream from these dams. USGS scientists are using models to simulate the effects of structural and operational scenarios and the effects downstream. USACE managers and engineers can use this information to determine the ways in which structural and (or) operational changes to dams can improve downstream water temperature and flow conditions for endangered fish species.

 

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Informing Energy Development Siting Decisions With Vertebrate Biodiversity Measures

Science Center: Southwest Biological Science Center

USGS researchers developed vertebrate biodiversity metrics using existing data on suitable habitat for wildlife. The scientists used watershed-scale range models for vertebrate species developed through the USGS National Gap Analysis Program to illustrate how biodiversity metrics may be incorporated into renewable energy siting decisions. These metrics can inform siting guidance for energy development on public lands and help managers in identifying potential energy development conflicts with species of conservation concern.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Land-Cover Changes in the Williston and Piceance Basins

Science Center: Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center

The Williston Basin in the northern Great Plains and the Piceance Basin in western Colorado have experienced rapid energy development since 2000. USGS scientists evaluated land-cover changes from recent development along with changes in operational practices. This information can be used to model land-use requirements for future development. Evolving industry practices and proactive siting decisions, such as development along energy corridors and placing pads in areas previously altered by human activity, have the potential to reduce the ecological effects of future energy development.

 

Wind and oil and gas extraction icons

Lesser Prairie-Chicken Population and Habitat Ecology

Cooperative Research Units: Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

The lesser prairie-chicken currently occupies a range that includes parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. This species has experienced population declines due to both direct and indirect habitat loss, including conversion of native rangeland to cropland and disturbance from energy development. USGS developed a population viability analysis, or PVA model, to predict future population status of the lesser prairie-chicken in four ecoregions across the species’ range. Studies by USGS and collaborators predict habitat suitability for lesser prairie-chicken leks by exploring lesser prairie-chicken occurrence in relation to landscape characteristics, drought, and anthropogenic effects, such as distance to active wells, roads, highways, transmission lines, and tall structures. Habitat suitability models, combined with other landscape information, form the basis of a habitat assessment tool that can be used to guide siting of development projects and targeting of areas for conservation.

 

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Linking Habitat and Prey Availability to Golden Eagle Ecology 

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

Researchers gathered and compiled data on golden eagle diets to summarize and compare prey diversity across the West and Desert Southwest and construct predictive models that link prey availability and abundance with eagle productivity and survival. Golden eagle diets differed among ecosystems: lower prey diversity was associated with desert and shrub-steppe and higher prey diversity was associated with mountain ranges and the Columbia Plateau. Detailed information about golden eagle prey can help prioritize prey management and develop conservation strategies.

 

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Modeling Foraging Habitat Suitability of the Hawaiian Hoary Bat

Science Center: Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center

USGS and University of Hawai‘i at Hilo scientists are using thermal videography and echolocation sampling methods to more directly determine the occurrence and activity of the endangered Hawaiian hoary bat, a tree-roosting species. Previous approaches have relied solely on acoustic detection or bat capture, methods that have been inefficient for use in detecting sparsely distributed and vocally cryptic individuals at locations where encounter rates are low. Foraging habitat suitability is being related to bat occurrence, the frequency of feeding events, and insect abundance using multistate occupancy models, which can be more informative than simple models of presence and assumed absence. This approach may allow managers to evaluate the relative importance of different areas to foraging bats and track the effects of habitat restoration efforts over time.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Modeling Recovery of Sagebrush Ecosystems Using Remotely Sensed Vegetation Products

Science Center: Fort Collins Science Center

Much of our current understanding of sagebrush restoration relies on results from localized studies that yield limited inferences for other locations and do not provide an understanding of spatial and temporal factors influencing recovery across the landscape. USGS scientists developed a framework for modeling change in sagebrush cover on reclaimed well pads by using time-varying, remote-sensing products developed for the WLCI. This approach allows managers to predict rates of sagebrush recovery across broad scales and assess the effects of factors such as weather and soils on outcomes.

 

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Monitoring and Mapping Avian Resources in Nearshore and Open Waters of Lake Michigan

Science Center: Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

USGS scientists have surveyed pelagic bird use in areas of Lake Michigan during fall and winter periods over 4 years to determine distribution patterns and abundance in nearshore and open water areas for the common loon, red-throated loon, white-winged scoter, black scoter, surf scoter, long-tailed duck, common merganser, red-breasted merganser, red-necked grebe, horned grebe, greater scaup, lesser scaup, and other waterbirds. Efforts are now focused on developing spatially explicit distribution models from aerial survey data of selected waterbirds on Lake Michigan. These data can help resource managers with energy development planning and siting decisions.

 

Wind power, mining and oil and gas extraction icons

Post-White-Nose Syndrome Assessment of Bat Distribution in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast

Cooperative Research Unit: Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

The USGS and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, in cooperation with the USFWS, the National White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) Program, the National Park Service, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Marine Corps, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement are using multiyear acoustic data from more than 1,200 locations from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Coast, and from Virginia to New England, to determine post-WNS distribution and the community structure of bats. These data are being used to model current and future potential occupancy from the individual forest to landscape level. Results can be used to inform managers and regulators of the likelihood that a rare, threatened, or endangered bat species may be found in or near wind energy development, surface mining, or oil and gas development activities on public lands. This project can also provide information on the level of effort required for acoustic monitoring of the endangered Indiana bat and threatened northern long-eared bat.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Potential Impacts of Future Oil and Gas Development and Climate Change on Greater Sage-Grouse in Southwest Wyoming

Science Center: Fort Collins Science Center

Oil and gas development and climate change have the potential to affect sage-grouse, but little is known about the influences these changes may have on population trajectories. USGS scientists used spatially explicit and individual-based models to simulate sage-grouse responses to changing development infrastructure by using a range of expected development intensities and restrictions. Sage-grouse responses to climate-induced vegetation changes of future climate scenarios were also simulated to evaluate the influence of climate on sage-grouse abundance and distribution. Preliminary results underscore the need to spatially evaluate multiple causes of incremental change to plan landscapes that include human activities and wildlife.

 

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Predictive Modeling of Marine Bird Spatial Distributions on the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

California, Oregon, and Washington are engaged with BOEM to plan the siting of offshore energy projects within the territorial sea and OCS regions. USGS and collaborators are using historic, vessel-based, at-sea transect survey data coupled with oceanographic and environmental data to develop predictive models of marine bird distributions. These mapped data can be used to map hot and coldspot areas of relative bird occurrence and abundance throughout a large region of the California Current System, helping Pacific OCS States and BOEM prioritize areas for energy development.

 

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Quantifying the Potential Effects of Energy Development on Wildlife and Ecosystem Services

Science Center: Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center

Energy resources are critical for a prosperous and secure Nation, and a clear understanding of the potential effects of energy resource development is necessary for efficient and minimally impactful energy extraction and production activities. USGS scientists are developing and applying probabilistic models to evaluate the potential effects of energy development on landscapes, wildlife, and ecosystem services, building from the geology-based USGS assessments of undiscovered petroleum resources. Ongoing projects are using the energySim model to understand potential surface disturbance changes in sediment erosion associated with energy development and the energy footprint model to evaluate the effects of sage-grouse core area policy on landscape patterns and wildlife habitat.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Quantifying the Response of Pacific Walrus to Ocean Noise in the Arctic

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Walruses spend the majority of their time in water, where their underwater acoustic environment enables them to communicate with one another using sound and thus respond to disturbance. USGS scientists are using telemetry data and remote sensing information of sea ice and other environmental variables to study the effects of ocean noise from vessel traffic and offshore industrial activities on Pacific walrus activity patterns. Models are being developed to link levels of activity patterns to walrus energy expenditures and their potential effect on walrus rates of reproduction and survival. The results of these studies can be used to quantify the potential population-level impacts to walruses from offshore oil and gas development and associated support vessels off the coast of arctic Alaska.

 

Electric Generation Icon

Science to Support the Transition of Florida Manatees to Natural Warm-Water Sites

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

A large segment of the Florida manatee population uses warm-water effluents of coastal powerplants as a winter refuge. The power industry in Florida is working with USFWS and USGS in support of manatee research and protection measures as it upgrades powerplant operations and reduces warm-water effluents year-round. USGS scientists are developing models that estimate manatee survival and movement of individuals among warm-water sites. These models can be used by USFWS and industry to inform implementation of the warm-water action plan.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Sensitive and Rare Plant Distributions and Energy Development in the Colorado Plateau

Cooperative Research Unit: Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

USGS scientists have developed optimization models to identify lands where management and conservation conflicts between energy development and sensitive and rare plant species could be minimized. As part of this effort, scientists organized existing data on 21 federally listed, rare and sensitive plant species in the Colorado Plateau. Scientists also are collecting new data on plant locations and developing distribution models that indicate the likelihood of plants being present in specified locations. The plant species distribution models are being analyzed in relation to existing and proposed renewable and oil and gas energy development in the Colorado Plateau. Results from this study can help decision makers select variable risk strategies depending on desired management and energy development goals.

 

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Taxonomic Characterization of Bee Pollen Foraging

Science Center: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

USGS scientists recently developed a genetic sequencing technique to identify pollen collected by foraging bees. The scientists are now using this technique to understand how land-use change and biofuel crop development affect forage for pollinators in agroecosystems by modeling historic forage patterns based on pollen collected from museum specimens of the federally endangered rusty patched bumble bee. This information can be used to evaluate specific plants that can be included in conservation and restoration programs for pollinators.

 

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The North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat)

Science Center: Fort Collins Science Center

The USGS is the lead agency of a multiorganizational program called NABat, or the North American Bat Monitoring Program. NABat members work to better understand the ecological consequences of population decline and risks from continuing and emerging threats, such as white-nose syndrome and wind energy, on 46 species of bats common to Canada, the United States, and Mexico. NABat’s mission is to help resource managers and industry partners map bat distributions, better estimate extinction risk, and evaluate the effectiveness of conservation actions. The USGS has developed online data management and collaboration tools for bat monitoring, including services for archiving pre-construction acoustic recordings collected at wind energy facilities. Presently, NABat monitoring data have been collected in 39 States and 10 Canadian Provinces. NABat participants include State and Federal agencies, universities and NGOs, as well as private industry (for example, Duke Energy). Newly developed resources include a protocol for processing acoustic data collected to monitor the impacts of energy development on bats and advanced statistical modeling procedures to interpret acoustic monitoring data for bat population status and trends.

 

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Tools to Assess Energy Development Impacts on Sensitive Birds and Bats

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
A combination of tools is being used to understand how mortality at renewable energy facilities affects populations of sensitive bird and bat species in California. As part of this project, stable isotopes are being used to estimate the geographic scope of the population of birds or bats affected, and demographic modeling is being used to forecast how individual fatalities affect the growth or decline of the species’ populations. Development of analytical methods can aid in determining the best practices for conducting risk assessments and predicting mitigation outcomes. Field survey design and protocols are also being developed and integrated with the developed tools. These tools can allow energy developers to more accurately estimate fatality rates and effects of mitigation techniques at wind and solar energy facilities, which may streamline permitting and ultimately reduce costs of energy development.

 

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Vulnerability of Brook Trout Streams to Shale Gas Development in the Upper Susquehanna River Basin

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

The Upper Susquehanna River Basin drains parts of Pennsylvania and New York, and includes many high-quality and native brook trout streams. USGS and West Virginia University scientists are using spatial modeling approaches to assess the potential cumulative effects of unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development on high-quality brook trout streams in the Pennsylvania portion of the basin, which has experienced relatively recent, rapid increase in UOG development. Vulnerability models were developed that incorporate all stages of the UOG development process—infrastructure, drilling, spills, and water withdrawals—that may affect fish and other aquatic resources. These models incorporate measures of aquatic health and status to identify streams that are vulnerable to UOG development. This vulnerability framework can be applied to a variety of ecosystems or energy development scenarios.

 

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Wind Energy Effects on Mexican Free-Tailed Bats

Science Center: Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center

USGS scientists and collaborators at the University of Arizona are studying the interactions of Mexican free-tailed bats (MFTB) with wind energy facilities and how bat fatalities at wind energy facilities may influence pest control services provided by MFTB to farmers in the Southwest. Scientists are using seasonal distribution models of MFTB and a full life cycle demographic model as well as data about roost locations, known wind turbine locations and bat fatalities, and locations of cotton, corn, and sorghum crops to address this question.

 

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Wind Turbine Curtailment Strategies to Reduce Bat Fatality

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Wildlife fatalities due to collisions with wind turbines have sparked efforts to reduce the number of fatalities through operational management. Recent studies have shown that altering turbine operations when winds are below certain speeds can decrease the number of bat fatalities, but questions remain regarding optimal management. The USGS and colleagues are modeling the proportion of bat fatalities occurring under varying meteorological conditions at Avangrid Renewables’ Blue Creek Wind Farm in Ohio to identify conditions that minimize both bat fatalities and energy production loss. USGS scientists are also investigating whether accurate and precise estimates of fatalities can be derived from carcass searches conducted at easily accessed areas, such as roads and pads beneath turbines.