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Ecological research is largely concerned with the system levels beyond that of the organism. An ecological community is all the animal and plant populations occupying a given area. Research to understand ecosystem use by humans has led to the development of sub-disciplines such as sustainable development, resilience theory, restoration ecology, and ecosystem services.

Ecosystems Research
Filter Total Items: 58
Date published: March 14, 2018
Status: Active

Integrating Estuarine Water-Quality Data in Northeastern National Parks

Estuaries worldwide are threatened by nutrient over-enrichment from watershed development. USGS led development of a regional protocol to monitor estuarine nutrient status in northeastern coastal National Parks. Synthesis and reporting of monitoring results at local and regional scales allows park managers to identify changing nutrient loads and susceptibility to eutrophication. 

Date published: March 14, 2018
Status: Active

Variation in Nitrogen Isotope Ratios of Eelgrass to Detect Trends in Estuarine Nutrient Status

Seagrasses are among the most productive ecosystems on the planet. Worldwide losses of this important habitat have been caused by water quality degradation association with watershed development. Improved approaches to detect threats of nutrient enrichment are paramount to seagrass conservation.

Date published: March 14, 2018
Status: Active

Sustainably Designed Trails: Recent Recreation Ecology Findings on Design Factors Affecting Soil Loss

An estimated 146 million Americans participated in more than 10.9 billion outdoor recreation activities in 2017. Virtually all protected natural areas have recreational trails as an essential infrastructure component to accommodate these outdoor recreation activities and visitor access, supporting a diverse array of opportunities and experiences that include nature study, hiking, camping,...

Contacts: Jeff Marion, Ph.D., Dr. Jeremy Wimpey, Dr. Chris Carr, Dr. Yu-Fai Leung
Date published: March 13, 2018
Status: Active

Use of Structured Decision Making to Optimize Salt Marsh Management Decisions at Northeastern National Wildlife Refuges

A regional assessment of salt marsh integrity (SMI) has been completed on 15 National Wildlife Refuges/Refuge Complexes in the northeastern US. Developed within a structured decision making (SDM) framework, the SMI assessment provides essential baseline data on salt marsh condition relative to regional management objectives. These data now provide the basis for applying the SDM framework to...

Date published: March 13, 2018
Status: Active

Research and Management of Informal (Visitor-Created) Trails in Protected Areas

Protected area managers provide formal trail systems to accommodate recreational visitation on resistant “hardened” treads, while protecting off-trail vegetation, soils, and wildlife. When formal trail networks fail to provide visitors the access and experiences they require, visitors frequently venture “off-trail” to fish, hunt, explore, climb, or engage in other off-trail activities. Even...

Contacts: Jeff Marion, Ph.D., Dr. Jeremy Wimpey, Dr. Chris Carr, Dr. Yu-Fai Leung
Date published: August 30, 2017

Reconstructing Flow History From Riparian Tree Rings

Aquatic Systems Branch scientists analyze rings of riparian trees relating tree growth and establishment to historical flow. We then use the tree rings to reconstruct the flow in past centuries. Flow reconstructions discover the frequency and magnitude of past droughts and floods—information that is essential for management of rivers and water supplies. We also use downscaled climate...

Date published: January 17, 2017

Ecological Drought in Riparian Ecosystems

Drought is killing riparian trees along many rivers in the western United States. The cause can be increasing temperature or decreasing precipitation, flow or water-table elevation. At multiple locations we are relating water availability to physiological measurements of tree survival and water stress, such as ring width, carbon stable isotope ratio and branch hydraulic conductivity. These...

Date published: December 20, 2016
Status: Active

Estimation of Density and Abundance of Biological Populations on National Parks and Wildlife Refuges Through Distance Sampling

The Challenge: Assessing the status and trends of populations of biological organisms is an important management goal and a recurrent theme in USGS research. Often, the most basic question of “how many are there?” remains elusive, thus making management decisions more difficult. This study continues a long-term commitment of technical support for the use of distance sampling for wildlife...

Date published: December 20, 2016
Status: Active

Bats in Forests Managed for Wildlife

The Challenge: Within the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV), forest managers may prescribe variable retention silvicultural treatments within bottomland hardwood forests on public lands to improve forest conditions (i.e., structural heterogeneity, species composition, and senescence) for priority wildlife species. This is referred to as wildlife-forestry silviculture. However, concerns have...

Date published: December 20, 2016
Status: Active

Monitoring Birds in National Parks of the Gulf Coast Network

The Challenge: Avian monitoring within the Gulf Coast Network of the National Park Service is challenged to provide valid quantitative data on bird populations within park boundaries with limited financial input. Thus, citizen science (volunteer) bird monitoring has been proposed to achieve reliable estimates of bird populations and to assess the effects of habitat change and temporal dynamics...

Date published: December 20, 2016
Status: Active

Assessing Recreational Impact to Cliff Habitats and Rare Plants

Protected natural areas, including parks, forests, wilderness, and wildlife refuges, have a dual mandate to protect natural resources and accommodate recreational visitation. Recreational activities that occur on trails (hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding) and on recreation sites (picnicking, camping) can benefit from the development of a sustainable infrastructure of facilities that...

Contacts: Jeff Marion, Ph.D., Dr. Jeremy Wimpey, Dr. Chris Carr, Dr. Yu-Fai Leung
Date published: December 5, 2016
Status: Active

Quantifying Effects of Flow Variability on Riverine Biota

Stream and river biota around the world are imperiled by alterations to stream flow regimes that result from dams, land-use changes, water diversions and changing climate patterns. To manage and conserve stream-dependent species threatened by flow alterations, natural resource managers need quantitative information relating multiple aspects of ecological response to changes in a stream’s flow...

Filter Total Items: 64
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Year Published: 2015

Increasing elevation of fire in the Sierra Nevada and implications for forest change

Fire in high-elevation forest ecosystems can have severe impacts on forest structure, function and biodiversity. Using a 105-year data set, we found increasing elevation extent of fires in the Sierra Nevada, and pose five hypotheses to explain this pattern. Beyond the recognized pattern of increasing fire frequency in the Sierra Nevada since the...

Schwartz, Mark W.; Butt, Nathalie; Dolanc, Christopher R.; Holguin, Andrew; Moritz, Max A.; North, Malcolm P.; Safford, Hugh D.; Stephenson, Nathan L.; Thorne, James H.; van Mantgem, Phillip J.
Schwartz MW, N Butt, CR Dolanc, A Holguin, MA Moritz, MP North, HD Safford, NL Stephenson, JH Thorne, PJ van Mantgem. 2015. Increasing elevation of fire in the Sierra Nevada and implications for forest change. Ecosphere 6(7):121. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/ES15-00003.1

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Year Published: 2015

Delineation of marsh types from Corpus Christi Bay, Texas, to Perdido Bay, Alabama, in 2010

Coastal zone managers and researchers often require detailed information regarding emergent marsh vegetation types (that is, fresh, intermediate, brackish, and saline) for modeling habitat capacities and needs of marsh dependent taxa (such as waterfowl and alligator). Detailed information on the extent and distribution of emergent marsh vegetation...

Enwright, Nicholas M.; Hartley, Stephen B.; Couvillion, Brady R.; Michael G. Brasher; Jenneke M. Visser; Michael K. Mitchell; Bart M. Ballard; Mark W. Parr; Barry C. Wilson
Enwright, N.M., Hartley, S.B., Couvillion, B.R., Brasher, M.G., Visser, J.M., Mitchell, M.K., Ballard, B.M., Parr, M.W., and Wilson, B.C., 2015, Delineation of marsh types from Corpus Christi Bay, Texas, to Perdido Bay, Alabama, in 2010: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3336, 1 sheet, scale 1:750,000, http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/sim3336.

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Year Published: 2015

When do we need more data? A primer on calculating the value of information for applied ecologists

Applied ecologists continually advocate further research, under the assumption that obtaining more information will lead to better decisions. Value of information (VoI) analysis can be used to quantify how additional information may improve management outcomes: despite its potential, this method is still underused in environmental decision-making...

Canessa, Stefano; Guillera-Arroita, Gurutzeta; Lahoz-Monfort, José J.; Southwell, Darren M; Armstrong, Doug P.; Chadès, Iadine; Lacy, Robert C; Converse, Sarah J.
Canessa, S., Guillera-Arroita, G., Lahoz-Monfort, J. J., Southwell, D. M., Armstrong, D. P., Chadès, I., Lacy, R. C., and Converse, S. J., 2015, When do we need more data? A primer on calculating the value of information for applied ecologists: Methods in Ecology and Evolution, v. 6, no. 10, p. 1219-1228.

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Year Published: 2015

Monitoring population status of sea otters (Enhydra lutris) in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska: options and considerations

After many decades of absence from southeast Alaska, sea otters (Enhydra lutris) are recolonizing parts of their former range, including Glacier Bay, Alaska. Sea otters are well known for structuring nearshore ecosystems and causing community-level changes such as increases in kelp abundance and changes in the size and number of other consumers....

Esslinger, George G.; Esler, Daniel N.; Howlin, S.; Starcevich, L.A.
Esslinger, G.G., Esler, D., Howlin, S., and Starcevich, L.A., 2015, Monitoring population status of sea otters (Enhydra lutris) in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska—Options and considerations: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015-1119, 42 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20151119.

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Year Published: 2015

Plant-plant interactions in a subtropical mangrove-to-marsh transition zone: effects of environmental drivers

Questions Does the presence of herbaceous vegetation affect the establishment success of mangrove tree species in the transition zone between subtropical coastal mangrove forests and marshes? How do plant–plant interactions in this transition zone respond to variation in two primary coastal environmental drivers? Location Subtropical...

Howard, Rebecca J.; Krauss, Ken W.; Cormier, Nicole; Day, Richard H.; Biagas, Janelda M.; Allain, Larry K.
Howard, R.J., Krauss, K.W., Cormier, N., Day, R.H., Biagas, J., and Allain, L., 2015, Plant-plant interactions in a subtropical mangrove-to-marsh transition zone: effects of environmental drivers: Journal of Vegetation Science, v. 26, no. 6, p. 1198-1211, http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jvs.12309.

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Year Published: 2015

Tools for discovering and accessing Great Lakes scientific data

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) is a multidisciplinary and interagency effort focused on the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes (GL) using the best available science and applying lessons learned from previous studies. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) contributes to the GLRI effort by providing resource managers with...

Lucido, Jessica M.; Bruce, Jennifer L.
Lucido, J.M., and Bruce, J.L., 2015, Tools for discovering and accessing Great Lakes scientific data: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2015–3040, 2 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/fs20153040. ISSN 2327-6916 (print) ISSN 2327-6932 (online)

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Year Published: 2015

Icefield-to-ocean linkages across the northern Pacific coastal temperate rainforest ecosystem

Rates of glacier mass loss in the northern Pacific coastal temperate rainforest (PCTR) are among the highest on Earth, and changes in glacier volume and extent will affect the flow regime and chemistry of coastal rivers, as well as the nearshore marine ecosystem of the Gulf of Alaska. Here we synthesize physical, chemical and biological linkages...

O'Neel, Shad; Hood, Eran; Bidlack, Allison L.; Fleming, Sean W.; Arimitsu, Mayumi L.; Arendt, Anthony; Burgess, Evan W.; Sergeant, Christopher J.; Beaudreau, Anne E.; Timm, Kristin; Hayward, Gregory D.; Reynolds, Joel H.; Pyare, Sanjay

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Year Published: 2015

Developing objectives with multiple stakeholders: adaptive management of horseshoe crabs and Red Knots in the Delaware Bay

Structured decision making (SDM) is an increasingly utilized approach and set of tools for addressing complex decisions in environmental management. SDM is a value-focused thinking approach that places paramount importance on first establishing clear management objectives that reflect core values of stakeholders. To be useful for management,...

McGowan, Conor P.; Lyons, James E.; Smith, David
McGowan C. Developing Objectives with Multiple Stakeholders: Adaptive Management of Horseshoe Crabs and Red Knots in the Delaware Bay. Environmental management (New York). 2015;55:972-982.

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Year Published: 2015

Fire history of Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, southern Florida

Fire occurs naturally in the environment on most continents, including Africa (Ryan and Williams, 2011), Asia (Kauhanen, 2008), Australia (Kutt and Woinarski, 2007), Europe (Eshel and others, 2000), South America (Fidelis and others, 2010), and North America (Van Auken, 2000). Antarctica appears to be the only continent that has no reported...

Smith, Thomas J.; Foster, Ann M.; Jones, John W.
Smith, T.J., III, Foster, A.M., and Jones, J.W., 2015, Fire history of Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, southern Florida: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015-1034, 86 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20151034.

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Year Published: 2015

Advancing the science of microbial symbiosis to support invasive species management: a case study on Phragmites in the Great Lakes

A growing body of literature supports microbial symbiosis as a foundational principle for the competitive success of invasive plant species. Further exploration of the relationships between invasive species and their associated microbiomes, as well as the interactions with the microbiomes of native species, can lead to key new insights into...

Kowalski, Kurt P.; Bacon, Charles R.; Bickford, Wesley A.; Braun, Heather A.; Clay, Keith; Leduc-Lapierre, Michele; Lillard, Elizabeth; McCormick, Melissa K.; Nelson, Eric; Torres, Monica; White, James W. C.; Wilcox, Douglas A.
Kowalski, K. P., C. Bacon, W. Bickford, H. Braun, K. Clay, M. Leduc-Lapierre, E. Lillard, M. McCormick, E. Nelson, M. Torres, J. White, and D. A. Wilcox. 2015. Advancing the science of microbial symbiosis to support invasive species management: A case study on Phragmites in the Great Lakes. Frontiers in Microbiology 6:95. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.00095

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Year Published: 2015

Value of information in natural resource management: technical developments and application to pink-footed geese

The “value of information” (VOI) is a generic term for the increase in value resulting from better information to guide management, or alternatively, the value foregone under uncertainty about the impacts of management (Yokota and Thompson, Medical Decision Making 2004;24: 287). The value of information can be characterized...

Williams, Byron K.; Johnson, Fred A.
Williams, B. K., and F. A. Johnson. 2015. Value of information in natural resource management: technical developments and application to pink-footed geese. Ecology and Evolution 6:In press.

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Year Published: 2014

Morphology-dependent water budgets and nutrient fluxes in arctic thaw ponds

Thaw ponds on the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska are productive ecosystems, providing habitat and food resources for many fish and bird species. Permafrost in this region creates unique pond morphologies: deep troughs, shallow low-centred polygons (LCPs) and larger coalescent ponds. By monitoring seasonal trends in pond volume and chemistry, we...

Koch, Joshua C.; Gurney, Kirsty; Wipfli, Mark S.
Koch, J. C., K. Gurney, and M. S. Wipfli. 2014. Morphology-dependent water budgets and nutrient fluxes in Arctic thaw ponds. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 25(2):79-93. doi:10.1002/ppp.1804

Filter Total Items: 29
Date published: November 16, 2016

USGS Study Reveals Interactive Effects of Climate Change, Invasive Species on Native Fish

A new USGS study shows non-native Brown Trout can place a burden on native Brook Trout under the increased water temperatures climate change can cause.

Date published: May 6, 2016

Happy Mother’s Day to Moms of All Species

USGS wishes to honor all mothers, of all species. Many of our research findings have and are shedding light on the lives of non-human moms.  

Date published: April 4, 2016

Despite Long-Lasting Pollutants, Ospreys Thrive in US’ Largest Estuary

The world's largest breeding population of ospreys is coping well with the long-lasting residues of toxic chemicals that were banned decades ago but remain in the Chesapeake Bay food chain at varying levels, such as the pesticide DDT and insulating chemicals known as PCBs.

Date published: April 4, 2016

Cold Mountain Streams Offer Climate Refuge

A new study offers hope for cold-water species in the face of climate change. The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, addresses a longstanding paradox between predictions of widespread extinctions of cold-water species and a general lack of evidence for those extinctions despite decades of recent climate change.

Date published: January 15, 2016

Biodiversity Critical to Maintaining Healthy Ecosystems

Researchers have found clear evidence that biological communities rich in species are substantially healthier and more productive than those depleted of species.