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USGS Science at Ecological Society of America’s Conference: From Climate Change to Fire, Drought, and Wind Energy

August 11, 2014

From climate change to wind energy effects on birds and bats to wildlife disease, U.S. Geological Survey research will be presented at the annualEcological Society of America (ESA) meetings from Aug. 10 to 14, 2014, in Sacramento. The theme of this year’s meeting is “From Oceans to Mountains: It’s All Ecology.”

From climate change to wind energy effects on birds and bats to wildlife disease, U.S. Geological Survey research will be presented at the annual Ecological Society of America (ESA) meetings from Aug. 10 to 14, 2014, in Sacramento. The theme of this year’s meeting is “From Oceans to Mountains: It’s All Ecology.”  ESA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of scientists founded in 1915 to promote ecological science.

This USGS tipsheet highlights some exciting USGS presentations at the ESA meeting. Information on news media attendance can be accessed on the 2011 ESA conference website.

A complete listing of USGS science at ESA 2014 can be downloaded here:


Session: Ecological Drought in California Forests: Linking Climate Science and Resource Management (Monday, Aug. 11, 2014: 1:30 p.m.-5:00 p.m. / 307, Sacramento Convention Center /

Stephen Jackson, a newly appointed ESA Fellow and director of the Southwest Climate Science Center, is the moderator for this timely session. California is already enduring a serious drought, and climate projections for the next century uniformly indicate increasing growing-season water stress throughout the state. The region’s forests are in transition to a new normal under climate change. From the Sierras to the sea, California forests are under the triple stresses of increased fire hazard through heavy fuel loads, increasing ignition pressure because of proximity to people and increasing drought stress. Resource managers are faced with the difficult task of designing climate-smart adaptation strategies for forest management. This session covers a suite of topics. First, a climatologist will discuss the state of the art and uncertainties in climate downscaling. This will be followed with presentations by forest ecologists on various aspects and consequences of ecological drought. The session will end with perspectives on resource management, focusing on how researchers and managers can work closely together to develop information relevant to climate adaptation in forested lands. USGS presentations include:

  • The Importance of Climatic Extremes in Evaluating Effects of Climate Change on Ecosystems

To evaluate impacts of projected future climates on ecosystems at regional and local scales (downscaling), climatic extremes as well as mean or average climate change should be considered. Extreme events are often as important to ecosystems as long-term averages, and often, averages and the extremes are not tightly correlated. However, downscaling efforts thus far have focused mostly on averages rather than extremes. The overall deficit of precipitation during drought is a crucial measure, but other phenomena such as heat waves, fire-prone weather and the spatial variation that occur within a dry spell are also important. This presentation by USGS and Scripps Institution of Oceanography/UC San Diego scientist Daniel Cayan discusses how global and regional climate models represent climatic extremes in evaluating effects of climate change on ecosystems. (Monday, Aug. 11, 2014: 1:30 p.m./ 307, Sacramento Convention Center/  /

  • A Dry Death: Drought and Recent Increases in Forest Mortality

The severe drought of 2014 across much of the southwestern U.S. provides a remarkable natural experiment to test the understanding of forest drought responses. Recent studies have already documented rapid increases in forest mortality rates and greater incidence of catastrophic forest die-back, and while these trends are often logically correlated with drought, USGS Western Ecological Research Center ecologist Phil van Mantgem will explain why we are still missing critical components in our understanding of drought impacts on forest deaths—and discuss what we might learn from the current drought. (Monday, Aug. 11, 2014: 2:30 p.m. / 307, Sacramento Convention Center / /

  • The Vulnerability of Meadows in the Sierra Nevada

Against the august majesty of Half Dome and El Capitan, visitors can often overlook the lush meadows that carpet the valleys of Yosemite National Park and elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada. Yet meadows contribute disproportionately to hydrologic cycles, watershed services, ecosystem health, species diversity, and historical and cultural use, and information is needed to assess meadows and their vulnerability to climate change and land use factors. USGS Western Ecological Research Center ecologist Matt Brooks shares updates from a project using historical and satellite data to analyze more than 9,000 meadows in the Sierras—the first step to forecasting their fate. (Monday, Aug. 11, 2014: 4:20 p.m. / 307, Sacramento Convention Center / /

It's Getting Hotter Down South: Climate Change Effects in the Southeast

The U.S. southeastern states and Caribbean islands are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This presentation by USGS scientistVirginia Burkett highlights the contents of the Southeast chapter of the Third National Climate Assessment (2014). Although the southeast experienced a cooling trend in the 1960s and 1970s, it has warmed at rates comparable to the national average since 1980, with the most recent decade the warmest on record. This increasing temperature and the associated increase in frequency, intensity and duration of extreme heat events will affect public health, agriculture, forestry, energy and natural and manufactured environments. The National Climate Assessment also addresses the widespread and continuing threats sea-level rise poses to coastal environments and the regional economy. Decreased water availability, which will also be highlighted in this presentation, is projected to be worsened by increased population growth and land-use change.  Together, these factors will increase competition for water and affect the region’s economy and unique biological networks. In addition, mosquitoes carrying malaria and yellow and dengue fevers may thrive, crop productivity is expected to dwindle, coral reef growth may decrease and billions of dollars of coastal land could be impacted by sea-level rise. (Monday, Aug. 11, 20141:30 p.m. / 313, Sacramento Convention Center / /

A History of Megafires and Extreme Droughts in California

As climate change considerations loom over California, a common question is how droughts will shift wildfire regimes in the Golden State. USGS Western Ecological Research Center fire ecologist and newly elected ESA Fellow Jon Keeley will present a sweeping overview of the historic fire and drought history in California, explaining how the vegetation communities and plant ecology have changed as fire regimes have changed—and offer perspectives on the future of fire and droughts in this state. (Monday, Aug. 11, 2014: 1:50 p.m. / 306, Sacramento Convention Center / / / Keeley will also speak at the Tuesday Symposium “Extreme Weather and Climate Events: Understanding and Adapting to Ecosystem Responses”, 8:00 -11:30 a.m. in Gardenia Room/Sheraton Hotel.)

Climate Change and The Pacific Northwest

With craggy shorelines, volcanic mountains, and high sage deserts, the Northwest’s complex and varied topography contributes to the region’s rich climatic, geographic, social and ecologic diversity. Abundant natural resources – timber, fisheries, productive soils and plentiful water – remain important to the region’s economy. All these resources will be affected by climate change, and understanding the likely impacts is key to planning for and adapting to the Northwest and for understanding what climate change means for the region. In this presentation, USGS scientist Jeremy Littell will discuss the main climate changes and their expected impacts on Northwest hydrology, coasts, forests and agricultural systems. (Monday, Aug. 11, 2014: 1:30-3:30 p.m. / 313, Sacramento Convention Center/ /


L.A. Story Part II: “I’ll Be Baaack,” Said the Stickleback?

You wouldn’t have known it was a river with its famously dry banks. But the concrete backdrop of chase scenes in films like “Terminator 2” and “Grease” is the Los Angeles River, where today 80 percent of it is channelized. Local communities are eager to restore this watershed, and USGS Western Ecological Research Center ecologist Adam Backlin will share results from biological surveys of three upstream tributaries of the L.A. River: Pacoima, Big Tujunga, and Arroyo Seco—still home to some native species, and maybe home again someday to endangered stickleback fishes and threatened frogs once found there. (Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014: 9:50 a.m. / 307, Sacramento Convention Center / /

L.A. Story Part I: How Does the Mountain Lion Cross the Road?

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars of late has been P-22, the Griffith Park mountain lion. But cougars are just one of many wildlife species that must navigate the confusing maze of disconnected habitats and urban barriers that crisscross the Los Angeles landscape. USGS Western Ecological Research Center ecologist Erin Boydston, whose research partnership discovered and first photographed P-22, will present insights from their Griffith Park Connectivity Study, using remote cameras to study how wildlife might be crossing between habitats over manic freeways like the 101 and I-5. (Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014: 10:10 a.m.  / 307, Sacramento Convention Center / /

At-Risk Columbia Spotted Frogs: Factors Influencing Conservation

Columbia spotted frogs in southeastern Oregon, southern Idaho and Nevada constitute a genetically distinct population segment (DPS). This Great Basin DPS has been a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act since 1993 because remaining populations are small, isolated and reside in habitats altered by water development, livestock use, mining and non-native species. Projected warmer, drier climate conditions could further stress and isolate already vulnerable populations in the region. USGS researchers, including scientist Robert Arkle, examined existing data on spotted frog occurrence, abundance and habitat to understand factors influencing habitat quality, habitat connectivity and climate suitability in the Great Basin.  Preliminary results suggest that the area of the Great Basin with suitable climates for spotted frogs has already decreased over the past 100 years and will continue to decrease substantially over the next 100 years. Genetic research suggests connectivity between adjacent occupied sites is currently low, while sub-populations are isolated from one another. USGS research suggests that management tools, such as beaver reintroduction, grazing management and non-native trout control efforts may promote conservation of the Columbia spotted frog in the Great Basin. (Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014: 10:30 a.m./ Regency Ballroom, Hyatt Regency Hotel/ /

Adapting to a Changing Climate: Identifying Shared Opportunities for Resource Managers and Planners

Northeastern headwater streams are important habitat for species such as the spring salamander and brook trout, but they are also important for water quality, angling, and recreation opportunities.  As the climate changes, effective conservation in landscapes managed by multiple decision makers will not only require active collaboration of conservation partners and partnerships, but it also will require explicitly including these multiple objectives, and identifying tradeoffs among objectives. USGS scientist Evan Grant will describe a framework being used to identify shared opportunities for decision making among multiple decision makers. The typical approach to large-scale conservation includes identifying and filling information gaps, though in the context of collaborative decision making, a focus on competing management objectives and incorporating individual values may be more efficient, especially when management responsibilities are fragmented among multiple agencies.(Tuesday, August 12, 2014: 3:20 p.m. / 203, Sacramento Convention Center / /

Strategies to Help Address Climate Change Effects Along the Atlantic Coast

Coastal ecosystems and the services they provide to people are especially vulnerable to climate-related impacts from sea-level rise, coastal erosion and extreme weather events such as hurricanes, as well as other factors such as land-use change, habitat fragmentation and invasive species.  This presentation by Raye Nilius highlights management-research collaborations between the Interior Department’s Northeast and Southeast Climate Science Centers and National Wildlife Refuges from Maine to Puerto Rico to address questions on best ways to adapt to climate change and make climate-informed decisions.  Adaptation strategies that target high-priority resources including tidal marsh habitats, highly migratory waterbirds and cultural resources associated with coastal reserves, enhance the resilience of public trust resources, and assist management agencies in coping effectively with and anticipating the challenges of a changing and uncertain future.  (Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014: 4:40 p.m. / 203, Sacramento Convention Center/ / )


Climate Change May Alter the Distribution of Iconic Trembling Aspen

Trembling aspens are the most widely distributed tree species in North America, providing numerous ecosystem services such as increased biodiversity, important wildlife habitat and food, and snow-water retention.  Yet many aspen-dominated systems are declining in the western United States due to drought conditions during the last decade.  Because phenological – or life-cycle – events such as flowering and leaf fall are sensitive to climate variations, they can help scientists detect the impacts of climate change on ecosystems. Scientist Gretchen Meier and her USGS colleagues examined the start of season of aspen over a 12-year period as well as the important climatological, geographic, and ecological influences on the seasonal phenology of aspen.  (Wednesday, Aug. 13, 1:50 p.m./ 311-312, Sacramento Convention Center / /

Landscape Threats to Migratory Bats: Does Mortality Location Matter? 

The endangered Indiana bat and the little brown bat populations, like most bat populations, are under stress from habitat loss, white-nose syndrome, climate change and impacts of wind turbines.  Despite these conservation concerns, few models exist that shed light on bat populations over time and geography.  Recent findings from a new model shed light on how bats with complex life cycles – migratory, overwintering in hibernacula, and roosting in trees during summer breeding seasons – can be affected by landscape threats.  Researcher Julie Beston will discuss how the loss of a single subpopulation or roost site (either breeding or overwinter) can alter the total population size and geographic dynamics.  This research suggests that resource managers should consider incremental population loss in a similar way as they consider incremental habitat loss, as well as considering the geographic location of the loss for correctly characterizing population risks.   Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014: 2:10 p.m./ Regency Ballroom F, Hyatt Regency Hotel / /

Retaining an Army of Citizen Scientists Critical to Success of USA National Phenology Network

Phenology is nature’s calendar—when bears hibernate in the winter, when a butterfly goes through metamorphosis, and when flowers bloom in the spring or leaves fall in autumn. Large-scale phenological monitoring is necessary for managers to have the information needed to understand and adapt to changes in seasonal climate and associated plant and animal responses. The USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) aids in this monitoring through the founding of the National Phenology Database (NPDb), a storage record of plant and animal phenological data across the nation. Information in this database is contributed by both professionals and volunteers citizen scientists via an online phenology observing program called Nature’s Notebook. Even though over 3 million observation records for plants and animals have been obtained, the optimal dataset would consist of repeated, frequent observations of multiple individuals of the same species across its entire geographic distribution over multiple years. This presentation by USGS scientist Jake Weltzin will outline strategic approaches to maximize participant recruitment and retention and considers data needs over time and geography. The success of these monitoring efforts can serve as a worldwide fingerprint of climate-change impacts on plants, animals, ecosystems and people. (Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014: 2:30 p.m./ 304-305, Sacramento Convention Center / /

Types of Birds Most at Risk from Wind Energy

Conservationists, managers and industry professionals need to identify wildlife species that could be negatively impacted by wind energy development. This presentation by USGS scientist Julie Beston highlights a method developed for prioritizing bird species most at risk of harmful impacts from wind energy. Findings of this research include birds of prey being most vulnerable to turbine collision mortality, and wading and perching birds being most susceptible to habit degradation from wind energy development. The study highlights bird species that are most in need of resource manager planning, attention and monitoring in relation to wind energy development or sites.  (Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014: 3:40 p.m./ Regency Ballroom F, Hyatt Regency Hotel /  /

Southwestern, National and Global Forest Changes Related to Climate

Climate warming is linked to large and historically new changes in forest disturbance regimes, driving forest ecosystem responses from incremental small adjustments to abrupt fundamental changes in ecosystem patterns and processes, according to preliminary USGS research. This presentation by USGS scientist Craig D. Allen addresses synergistic climate and disturbance drivers of major changes in forest ecosystems, focusing on relationships among drought, warm temperatures and tree mortality through combinations of forest dieback and die-offs, forest fires and insect outbreaks.  Allen will highlight recent trends of more extreme forest disturbances and associated ecosystem transitions from the southwestern U.S., as well as broader trends extending from western North America to emerging global-scale forest risks. If current mainstream climate projections of substantial global warming this century emerge as modeled, major re-organizations of forest ecosystems can be expected through the effects of novel climate-modulated disturbance processes. (Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014: 3:40 p.m. / 203, Sacramento Convention Center / /


Amphibian Chytrid Fungus in Amphibian Habitats

According to one estimate, 40 percent of amphibian species are vulnerable to extinction. Although the chyrtrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is a major contributor to many amphibian population declines worldwide, most research on this fungus has focused on how itinteracts with its amphibian hosts, with little research on free-living Bd outside of the host. USGS researcher Tara Chestnut and her colleagues investigated the occurrence and prevalence of Bd in surface waters of amphibian habitats of the United States. The research provides evidence that Bd occurs in the environment year round, that the fungus was found in 47 percent of sites sampled and that it was estimated to occur in 61 percent of sites.  The occurrence of Bd was highest at low-elevation sites and decreased as elevation increased. These findings advance the study of Bd disease ecology in temperate-zones, as well as the understanding of the likelihood of amphibian exposure to free-living Bd in aquatic habitats over time. (Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014: 10:30 a.m. /301, Sacramento Convention Center / /


Biodiversity Information Serving Our Nation (BISON): Mapping Species Occurrence Data

The USGS's BISON mapping application ( portrays 140+ million terrestrial and aquatic species locations throughout the United States and its territories. From the graphic user interface, BISON search results may be displayed on an interactive map, downloaded in a variety of formats or retrieved via Web services. Recent improvement in BISON's infrastructure now allows searching larger taxonomic groups (e.g., all birds within an area) and including taxonomic synonyms (alternative scientific names that are equivalent to the search term), using the features of the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (, and also includes the option to visualize species occurrence data on top of more than 30 map layers from the USGS National Map and other reliable sources. With its newly integrated taxonomic disambiguation using the ITIS platform for improved data retrieval, BISON provides a gateway for serving, searching, mapping, and downloading integrated species occurrence records from multiple data sources, and data modeling opportunities and solutions for ecologists and other resource managers. (Friday, Aug 15, 2014: 8:40 a.m. / Regency Ballroom A, Hyatt Regency Hotel / /

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