PubTalk 11/2016 — Ecological Stressors

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Ecological Stressors: It's a Lot of 'WERC'
"There's is no place like California" by A. Keith Miles, Center Director, USGS Western Ecological Research Center

Highlights of the science of the USGS Western Ecological Research Center: 

  • Wildlife, drought, sea level rise
  • Endangered species, species of concern
  • Alternate energy, urbanization, species connectivity


Date Taken:

Length: 00:54:07

Location Taken: Menlo Park, CA, US


[ inaudible background conversations ]

All right. Hello, hello. Okay.
Can you hear me?

Well, good evening, everybody.
And welcome to the

U.S. Geological Survey.
I’m William Seelig, and I work

in Science Information Services
here in Menlo Park.

I’m glad to see everyone attending
for our November public lecture.

Before introducing tonight’s speaker,
just as a reminder, we will not be

having a December lecture,
but please, you know, join us

for our January 26th lecture.
It’ll be on tsunami modeling,

and you can pick up a
flier on the back table there.

So, again, hope to see you all
on January 26th for that lecture,

and have a
wonderful holiday month.

But back to tonight’s lecture.

The lecture title will be presented by
Keith Miles, and the title is Ecological

Stressors – It’s a Lot of WERC.
There's No Place Like California.

Now, Keith Miles is the
center director for the

USGS Western Ecological
Research Center.

His career began at 16 years old as a
clerk with the Johnson administration

that continued with his bachelor’s
degree from Howard University.

He holds a master’s and a Ph.D.
in wildlife biology from

Oregon State University,
which he received in 1986,

and then went to work with the
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

as a research biologist with the
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

He joined USGS in 1996, and afterwards
accepted a concurrent position

as an adjunct faculty member at the
University of California-Davis location.

He is known for his research
on ecotoxicological studies

in aquatic and marine environments.
That includes the Salton Sea,

the San Francisco Bay Area,
the Aleutian Islands,

and Prince William
Sound in Alaska.

Most recently, he and his colleague
Dr. Liz Bowen have investigated

gene transcription markers that
are indicative of stressors such as

contaminants, disease, and
climate change in multiple species.

He has authored over –
authored or co-authored

over 60 scientific publications
and continues to enjoy writing.

So the – again, the USGS
monthly public lecture series

is pleased to bring you this
program about ecological stressors.

So we’ll take questions
at the end of the lecture,

and please welcome
Keith Miles.

[ Applause ]

- Thank you very much
for inviting me to present.

And thank you for taking time out
of a probably relaxing cold evening –

probably warm at home – to come out
and hear about the – about WERC.

And WERC is an acronym for the
Western Ecological Research Center.

The USGS Western Ecological
Research Center is a geographically

dispersed science community, and we’re
co-located with Department of Interior

agencies, academic institutions,
or in proximity to critical ecosystems.

The center’s mission is to conduct
peer-reviewed research to provide

natural resource managers with the
knowledge to address challenges

to ecosystem function and services
in Pacific West landscapes.

There’s a couple key words in here.
A lot of our work that we do at the

Western Ecological Research Center
is in relation to natural resource

or land managers, helping them
to understand the resources

that they have and how to
better manage or conserve those.

So that is a major function
of the – of WERC.

And I may be referring to the acronym
of DOI, which is the Department of

Interior, which is our – is our main
group that we provide this service to.

The Western Ecological Research
Center is one – it’s one of a

national network of 16 research centers
under the Ecosystems mission area

of the U.S. Geological Survey.
There’s also 50 research units co-located

with academic institutions in almost
all of the 50 states in the country.

At our center, we have 23 PIs,
or principal investigators –

our lead scientists – and an
equal number of support biologists

that work with them,
and then technicians, students,

and administrative staff.
So we total about 200 employees.

We have 12 field stations, as you see,
located throughout the state of California

with one field station just
outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Our studies are conducted across the
western U.S. and, in addition, out into

the Pacific and up into the
Aleutian and Alaska landscapes.

We do a lot of work with not
only Department of Interior,

but also we work quite extensively
with the State of California

and with other land resource managers,
such as the U.S. military –

one of our biggest
clients in the state.

And one of the most important when it
comes to proper conservation of species.

The U.S. military happens to be a very
good steward for their lands and spend

quite a deal of effort and funding to
help protect species on their lands.

And I’ll show you an
example of that a little bit later.

So there are four primary science
themes that guide our research at the

Western Ecological Research Center.
These science themes pretty much

follow the science themes of the –
or the mission of the

USGS Ecosystems
mission area.

The first of these is the ecosystem’s
response to human activity.

This involves investigations of effects
of renewable energy, development,

water abatement, fire mitigation,
invasive species, urbanization,

and barriers to survival and
movement of species of concern.

The second is stressors
to species recovery.

The Department of Interior
has a responsibility to protect

and restore environments
and imperiled species.

We conduct studies that assess
key stressors that can limit

a species’ recovery and provide
management options for restoration.

The third – is that our third,
or is that – yeah.

The third science theme is ecosystem
processes and long-term trends.

And this is investigation of fundamental
processes of species of concern

and the response of these processes
to natural human-related stressors,

such as fire and climate change.
And the picture depicts browning

of a sequoia, which is unprecedented
in our knowledge of the life history of

sequoias, at least for the past 100 years
of recorded investigations on sequoias.

And I will provide some
example of that later in my talk.

And the last of our science themes
is applications for management use.

And this is translating all of this data
that we collect into predictive models

or scenarios, interactive maps,
climate change impact forecasts,

hazard risks, and so on, that give
resource managers and the public clarity

on how to better understand what types
of information we’re bringing to bear.

So the second part of my
objective tonight is to provide you

with an insight – a snapshot into some
of the studies that these 23 PIs conduct.

And that was an extremely difficult
project for me because I feel that

our 23 PIs are all very high-performing
individuals that are doing such

very applicable science that it was
just a really difficult process

for me to try to figure out,
what should I talk to you about.

And so I decided to start with
something that may be more familiar

to this audience,
and that is with the sea otter.

The first story that I’d like to
tell is one by Dr. Tim Tinker.

And I've known Tim for 25 years,
and I've worked with him in the field

as a research scientist up in the
Aleutians in the Alaskan environment.

When he – when he did this talk, we
talked about it, and he wanted to say,

instead of revisit it, how we
got it wrong for the past 30 years.

And the interesting thing is, he came
after James Estes – Jim Estes, whom a

lot of you are familiar with – all his
40 years of work on the sea otter.

And he was a student of Jim Estes,
and when I met with Jim

a couple years ago, he said,
you know what, Tim figured it out.

And so I’ll tell you the story of this.
The context is that sea otter populations

were decimated in the late 1800s, early
1900s, by the North Pacific fur trade,

largely the Russian fur trade,
as it came over and wiped out

the populations that occurred naturally
along the eastern Russian coast

throughout the Aleutian Islands
and down the – down the West Coast

of North America,
all the way into Mexico.

The California sea otter was thought
to be extinct, but a remnant population

managed to survive off of Bixby
Creek just south of Carmel.

And it’s that population that has
survived – that produced animals to this

day so that we have about 2,500 or
3,000 animals surviving in California.

It’s very different from the tens of
thousands that have recovered in Alaska.

And so that was what we
were trying to figure out.

What’s going on in California
that’s different from Alaska?

Why such low population
growth in Alaska?

If you look at recovery –
recolonization and recovery in Alaska

and in British Columbia,
it was almost 20% per year

over the past – over the
40 years of recovery.

In California, that number
is only about 5% per year.

So we spent a lot of decades looking at
all different kinds of factors that may be

limiting sea otter recovery in California,
including disease, pollution,

and fishing bycatch – because of the
thought that sea otters were being

decimated by gillnets, the California
public decided that it was best to

eliminate gillnetting from a
type of fishing in California.

But that even –
done at least 15 or 20 years ago –

still did not really help with
the recovery of the sea otter.

And if you look at how fast and
how well the sea otter population

in southeast Alaska, for example,
grew as compared to the

California population, you can
see it’s a quite drastic difference.

However, after two decades of
intensive study, we found

no consistent differences in health
or body condition of these animals.

A lot of work done by Dr. Michael
Murray out of the Monterey Bay Aquarium

with us has determined that
health-wise, these animals

are just as healthy as the –
as the ones in Alaska.

We couldn't find any consistent
differences in age-specific survival

or reproductive rates.
Animals in California were

having the same number of young,
and the survival rates and

mortality rates were about
the same as those in Alaska.

And we saw no consistent
difference in population growth

as these animals
moved into new areas.

That meant that, if you got animals
that moved in places in California,

their rate would
go up to about 18%.

The same thing was
happening in Alaska.

So we were really perplexed.
And finally, Tim Tinker figured it out.

It was a simple
matter of habitat.

If you look at the California
coastline, it’s pretty linear.

It follows this model of just up
and down. There's no going in.

If you look at southeast Alaska south of
Juneau, if you look at this coastline,

if you laid all of this coast out, it would
just extend two-thirds of California.

So what was happening is that
these animals had a lot more habitat

to colonize, or move into,
into Alaska.

And so it’s been a simple
issue of availability of habitat.

And its, in essence, caring capacity
is very limited in California.

And so what the – interpreting this
out to, what this really means is that

the California population
probably has never really been

more than 10,000
or 15,000 animals.

It probably will not get up to
10,000 or 15,000 animals

because of urbanization of the coastline
and other buildup of the coastline.

So that we are going to be
always experiencing

a fairly low population
numbers in California.

This is brand-new work.
It hasn't been published yet.

So – but we feel very confident
that we’ve figured out

what’s happening with
the California sea otter.

There is another little caveat, a footnote,
on this is that there have been increases

in great white shark attacks
on sea otters in California.

So that’s been having a
little bit of an effect on

the population numbers, but not great.
But it is – it is an interesting

phenomenon that’s just started
happening in the past 10 years or so.

The next research that
I would like to highlight tonight

would be that of
Dr. Karen Thorne.

She’s one of our newest
research biologists who came to us

as a support biologist and really
fit in so well with the type of work

she has expertise in, and that is
the effects of sea level rise.

And that has – so we’re moving
from the coast with sea otters

now into your backyard into
San Francisco Bay Area.

Karen has study sites at 18 estuaries
along the California coast,

from Washington down
to southern California.

These have very good
application to resource managers.

Ten of these sites are
national wildlife refuges.

Four are at NOAA National
Estuarine Research Reserves.

Two are at Navy properties –
U.S. Navy properties.

Two are at state parks.
Two are tribal areas.

And one with the
Nature Conservancy.

So a very diverse group of land
managers who are interested in

what’s going to happen to my property
if sea level rise becomes a factor.

What’s going to happen to the
tidal marshes in our area?

Karen has collaborated with a
number of academic institutions

from Washington all the way
down to southern California

to establish a collaborative
data collection system

relevant to the scale that’s
important for decisions.

That is, what kind of –
what kind of scale do you need

to measure in order to understand
how vegetation will survive

in these systems and how species of
concern, such as the clapper rail or

the salt marsh harvest mouse,
which only occurs here

in San Francisco Bay,
will survive in the long term.

Her studies are comparable
across all of these 18 estuaries.

It covers over 1,700 hectares,
and on and on about the intensity

of study that’s
being done.

Work is being done on looking at how
well sediment accretes in these habitats,

whether there is good sediment buildup.
They're looking at the species that are

using this habitat, water levels, marsh
elevation, bathymetry, and vegetation.

The marsh elevation is
probably one of the most important

factors that
Karen is exploring.

And so she’s taking measurements –
and this is a – I’m sorry –

this is the Petaluma Marsh
north of here, and measurements

are taken at each one
of these dots of elevation.

This information is fed into models
based on what we know is going on

with increasing sea level rise now, just
with very contemporary information,

and then modeling that with
predicted models for what

sea level rise will be like in the –
in the next 50 to 100 years.

And what she is forecasting is that,
right now, there’s a mix of high- and

mid-elevation vegetation –
pickleweed in this Petaluma habitat.

By 2070, there's going to be
still some high-level habitat

that may be still pickleweed.
We don't know.

But a lot of the lower-level habitat
will become mudflat or inundated.

And then, by 2100,
essentially 100 years from now,

this habitat will be all mudflat.
So this is – just looking at this

one section of a – of a wetland,
we’re determining that, in 100 years,

we’re going to lose all the vegetation
and associated species with that habitat.

So they will be
very different in the future.

What you would see now
with the current – with a mix of

many species and vegetation will
transcend into higher-level vegetation,

such as cattails or species that only
can survive at higher intertidal levels

and reduction in species associated
with it to either mudflats or, in this case,

looking at Newport Bay, California,
half of that wetland that looks like this

now with different levels of high, mid,
and low intertidal zones, will convert to

low or, in the red, subtidal zones.
So you’re losing critical habitat.

What she is doing with – is working with
the resource managers to determine,

well, if we lose all this current habitat,
looking at the areas that you

are investigating, what’s our
potential for making up for it?

If you look at this current
habitat in Bolinas,

eventually this is going to look
like that other scene with mudflat.

And the only place
that it can really –

we can move into is
this little strip right here.

The same for Petaluma.
We have this now.

This is what we may have
to work with in the future –

and so forth across this map that you see
this kind of bright green as indicating,

that’s all we can look for once
sea level rise becomes a factor.

So in essence, there’s limited space
for upland marsh migration,

primarily because we have steep slopes,
or a lot of the wetlands are abutted by

urbanization or roads, such as
San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge

in north
San Francisco Bay.

And there’s just no real
one-to-one replacement

that we can expect on just letting
things happen the way they will.

There are some management
strategies that might be able to be

affected or put in play
to help deal with this.

But it’s going to be a difficult process
to work with land managers

to either have to try to purchase new
land or to grade land to prepare for the

potential loss of these very diverse
tidal wetlands out into the future.

And this, for example, shows that
the U.S. Navy down at Seal Beach

is now actively spraying sediment
onto areas in order to try to

mitigate against the
loss of wetlands habitats.

Because these wetland habitats
provides them with a nice barrier

that protects their military
assets on that – on that base.

So Karen has been working
with all of the refuge managers –

having periodic meetings with them,
coming up with strategies for how they

can work out, you know, a hundred
years into the future, to prepare for this.

So we move from the coastline
in San Francisco Bay now

into the Central Valley, which
a lot of you may be familiar with.

And this is the work of Dr. Joe Fleskes.
Karen is one of our new PIs.

Joe is retiring in a couple months,
and I’m sad to see him go

because we were fellow students
at Oregon State University.

He went from being a classical
wildlife biologist to a really fine –

oh, gosh, what can I call him?
Just – he has such vision for

where the future lies for waterbirds,
particularly in the Central Valley,

and what – the recommendations
for trying to make sure that we have

the proper habitat for
waterbirds in the Central Valley.

And he basically now has gone
into modeling all of the different issues

that may face loss of waterbird
habitat in the Central Valley.

And I’ll get into that a little bit more,
but the Central Valley is one of the

most important waterfowl
regions in the world.

There is more than 10 million
birds that winter there annually,

and more than 25 species
of those are waterfowl.

And then another 60 or so species
of shorebirds or other types

of wading birds that also
utilize the Central Valley.

But it’s also – the Central Valley
is one of the most plumbed in the world

in terms of all of the different –
given this diagram on the left,

it shows all the different water bodies
from the northern end of the –

of the Sacramento Valley down to the
southern end of the San Joaquin Valley.

There – and the right diagram shows
all of the different – all of the different

government agencies that are involved
in this, and also water districts, feds,

state government, and other private
concerns that are – that are plumbing

this water and have says –
have rights to this water.

So this becomes extremely of concern
to biologists because, if you look at –

based on the Department of
Water Resources data, this is how

the water is divided up
in the Central Valley.

You have 10% going to cities,
41% going to farms,

47% for flows that
also benefits fish,

but maintaining good flows in
this maintains a healthy ecosystem.

And only about 2% going to
waterbirds and waterfowl.

So Joe has worked with
the State of California,

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service,
Ducks Unlimited,

and other organizations to develop
what’s called the WEAP model.

And this model is looking at
what the future supplies of water are

and what the future
demands are on that water.

And given that –
those demands and the supply,

how is that going to
affect waterbirds?

Because basically, if you take away
this 2% of water for these

25 million birds or more that are
wintering in Sacramento Valley,

it can have a detrimental
effect on their survival.

So I don't want to get too much
into how this model is all divided up,

but it also takes into account
the climate – several climate models,

from a fairly severe model
of the GFDL-A2 model,

which predicts a very hot and
dry climate out into the future.

The PCM1 is less severe, and then a
model just using what’s going on

right now, which is also showing
some signs of potential climate issues.

Urbanization projects in the Central
Valley could go from expansive growth

to strategic growth, which would
be preferable, to no growth,

which is probably unlikely,
as we’ve got a growing population.

And then water management proposals,
especially those that involve

inter-transfer of waters around the state –
issues like idling agricultural lands that,

when you don't have enough water, and
the current situations, and then others.

So there’s lots of – lots of different
scenarios that fit into this model.

And I don't want to go into all the
details of this because that will

put you all to sleep, but what I do want to
show you is Joe has now modeled this

for seven of nine important waterfowl
basins in the Central Valley.

And he’s just about
completed yellow

and is working on the
Delta section right now.

And I’ll concentrate my discussion
of results on the Butte Basin

up in Butte County in the
northern part of the Central Valley.

So don't panic too much about
what this displays, but basically this –

the blue line shows what the condition
of waterfowl or waterbird habitat

is without any stress on the system,
and they keep their 2% of water.

The dips in this are
predictive drought periods.

This red line is the most interesting
one because that’s a mild climate,

but – or, mild climate change
prediction but expansive growth.

And what you’re seeing here is this –
probably pretty much the same as,

if we look at more severe climate 
conditions out into the future with the

severe drought points indicated,
that there is a lot of overlap of either

expansive urbanization and/or more
severe climate going out in the future.

And what this is saying is
that we will lose anywhere

from 1 to about 15% of
the available waterfowl

or waterbird habitat in the
Central Valley based on this scenario.

But here’s the worst-case
scenarios that have shown up.

Again, this is – this is on a
different scale, but here are the

lines I showed just on the previous map.
Now we’re putting in moving water

from the Central Valley –
northern into the Central Valley,

down to other
parts of California.

And also, in doing so, the only way
you can really do this effectively

is that you’re going to have to put certain
types of agricultural land into idle.

And that means rice farming.
And rice farming provides quite a lot

of very important waterbird and
waterfowl habitat in the Central Valley.

This is – this is the loss of habitat across
Sacramento Valley if this was to occur.

This blue line shows a 76% loss
of waterfowl habitat in Butte County

using this type of scenario.
So what we’re able to show the

municipalities, federal, state government
landowners is that there’s – there is a

critical need to make very good
decisions before you start moving water

and using idling rice farming as a –
as one solution for being able

to have water to move.

It’ll have a detrimental impact on water
birds as we move out into the future.

And this pushes out to about
50 years out into the future.

So this is, again, showing you some
very important work that’s being done

by Joe Fleskes and his team and that
this will be very usable models –

very interactive models that the –
that the land managers and resource

managers can use to help preserve or
conserve waterbirds out into the future.

The next place we’ll go
up into is into the Sierras.

And this is the work of
Nate Stephenson –

Dr. Nate Stephenson
and Dr. Phil van Mantgem.

Nate is located in this Sequoia
Kings National Park –

co-located at Sequoia Kings.

Phil is co-located in the
Redwood National Park up north.

They have been looking –
Nate in particular has been looking at

the demography and natural
history of big trees for 30 years.

And what he is – because we have
such long-term – again, that theme of

long-term data set, we’re now able to
pinpoint changes that are occurring in,

say, the Sequoia Forest that are
unprecedented – never been recorded

in the history of – in California
and seeing the type of effects

that the drought is
having on the sequoias.

Their research is key in revealing the
trends across the western United States

and the effects of drought
and drought-related wildfires

on the current
forest structure.

Their research has shown long-term
chronic increases in background tree

mortality that has not been seen in the
history of looking at these forests.

And that means that it’s
probably increasing temperature

that is causing this.

So they have now teamed with
the Forest Service, Parks Service,

and academic institutions such as
Berkeley and Stanford and the

Carnegie Institution to look at
what exactly does this drought mean

to the populations of trees and whether
there are management actions that

might be instituted that may help
offset if this drought does continue.

So this has three major components –
remote sensing from the

Carnegie observatory, actual
on-the-ground population monitoring,

and looking at leaf chemistry
and physiology.

And remote sensing from the airborne
platform is the most important

because it allows them to cover large
swaths of the western United States –

in this case, the Sierra Nevadas, and
looking at, what effect is this drought

having on tree populations of different
species within these environments.

There’s calibration and validation
by ground truthing the information

that the – that the airplane is picking up
in the remote sensing to – essentially,

they're looking at tens of thousands
of trees that are being assessed

for health and
causes of death.

Also, they're looking at –
in 10 dominant species of trees

that have been precisely marked
and identified in the forest,

they're looking at issues of water
content, water stress, nitrogen,

non-structural carbohydrates and
other issues that can tell them exactly

what types of stress is killing these trees
and how long that stress may occur.

So the early results for the
giant sequoias suggest that the

differences seem to be driven by
whole tree leaf – whole tree leaf area.

That is, the most drought-stressed
sequoias, that you see here in orange,

are shedding their leaves
in relation to the drought.

But we still have to determine,
what does that mean to

1,000- and 2,000-year-old trees.
And if we do still continue to see

evidence of continuing stress from
drought, then they will start looking at

issues of, why are some trees – for
example, in this diagram, if you look,

there’s these orange trees,
which are stressed,

interspersed with green trees that
are doing pretty well and blue trees,

which are doing very well.
It could be topography, elevation –

there could be a
number of factors.

But there may be some ways of
at least looking at this area

and determining management
actions that may help protect these.

Because if climate change in that worst-
case scenario occurs, then this area up

here is going to look like this area down
here as the temperatures creep upslope.

I think this is the third or last.
I’m not sure.

The next study I’d like to talk about
is looking at genetic diversity –

genetic variation as an indicator of
the health of wildlife populations.

And in particular, this work is
being done in southern California

where there is a fragmentation of habitat
mainly due to roads and urbanization

that prevents good dispersal of species
that provides for good genetic diversity.

Having good genetic diversity
means that, when changes occur,

like climate change, you have
a better chance of surviving that.

So what we were doing –
what Dr. Amy Vandergast has done

is taken just this genetic map of a –
of a particular species and

combined this with, say, distribution
abundance of this species in an area.

So working with GIS and ArcGIS
experts and our – and our IT people,

they were able to create these genetic
diversity maps of southern California.

This top map shows genetic diversity
of a horned – I said “horned toad”

in a earlier talk.
I’m going to get slammed for that.

It was a horned lizard
in southern California.

And what the – the light blue and green
shows very low genetic diversity.

Animals in that area are less likely to
survive changes that may stress them.

As you move into this area,
which is kind of in the L.A. area –

and I think this is the
Santa Monica Mountains –

you’re seeing a stronger
genetic diversity of this species.

And then, when you come down to
Camp Pendleton, it’s blood red,

meaning that this area is highly
protected by the U.S. Marine Corps.

And lo and behold, the genetic diversity
of that species is doing extremely well

in that area, so let’s hope that
the military never gives it up.

Some of the type of mapping shows,
for 18 different species across the same

landscape. And again, you’re seeing
a strong genetic diversity here.

And down into some
fairly urban areas here.

And part of that is in relation to the
will of the people of southern California

that have voted for taxes that help
save chunks of land that are –

that they’ve been informed through
a lot of the research done through

our research center as
being important to those species.

So this becomes important to
making decisions about

proper conservation of species
as we move out into the future.

She’s also taken this same –
and this is Dr. Vandergast –

and working with Dr. Esque, who is an
expert on desert tortoise, which is an

endangered species, and also desert –
rare and endangered desert plants.

She’s taken this same application
of being able to look at genetic diversity

of species into the Mojave Desert.
Because, in the Mojave Desert,

there’s a great deal of interest
in developing solar energy.

And so what we – what we’ve done
is gone out into specific habitats

looking at, again, 18 different species,
from the Mojave ground squirrel

to the desert tortoise,
and established areas,

indicated by these circles, that
would be important to these species.

But if you look at the planned
renewable energy development

indicated by these black dots, there’s –
this one shows quite a lot of planned

activity in this area, which is important
genetic diversity for these 18 species.

But that’s probably the most severe
of them, but one thing that you

have to do when you create energy
is get it from point A to point B.

So what has – what has transpired
is that these green lines are

indicating what are the
planned transmission lines.

And now you’re seeing
that those are running through

a number of
these circles.

Providing information for these
types of activities before they happen

gives these – give the developers the
ability to route these, if – oops –

route these, if possible, around these
highly critical areas for species.

Okay, the last study I’ll talk about is
work being done by Dr. Robert Fisher

and looking at golden eagles as an
iconic species in southern California.

Its distribution and habits in terms of –
as we develop in southern California,

how do we avoid interfering with
such a – such an iconic bird?

And this is, again, work that
has been requested by developers

and also by the municipalities in
southern California to understand

how much they can move into an area
that’s important to, say, a golden eagle.

And a golden eagle, as I said,
is an iconic species.

There are a number of other
species associated with it

that will survive if we take the
caution to try to avoid those areas.

So basically, Robert’s work is assessing
the potential effects of human land use

on the occupancy dynamics of golden
eagles using 3D spatial modeling.

And what does –
what does that look like?

Real quickly, this just shows
what southern California looks like

if you’re looking at just
the roads indicated by red.

It’s pretty extensive, particularly
on the western part of the area.

Similarly, looking at just the
development impact models

for this area, it's still encouraging to see
that there is still a lot of green out there,

though, that species can
potentially still survive –

have good genetic diversity
and good habitat.

So just about in this area is
where I’ll be showing you

the habits of the –
the movement of golden eagles.

And this just shows –
the red lines indicate

all the places this
animal moves in this area.

The smaller circles indicate
15-minute stops that this animal

makes as it’s moving
through this area.

We can convert this to a model
in which we can see all the blue dots

are places that this animal
visits or moves around to.

The bigger dots, though –
say the red dots – bigger red dots

are where this animal is stopping to feed,
to prey – capture prey and feed.

And then the yellow dots would be
where this animal likes to stop and roost.

So what this provides, if you
have urbanization going on here,

and there’s plans for either
recreational development or whatever,

you want to try to avoid really
building up in this area to at least

give this animal a chance to co-exist
with humans in this environment.

This just shows another way of
looking at this, that again,

all these points indicate where
an eagle has moved in this area.

The gray really indicates
fairly heavy urbanization.

And as you can see,
the yellow indicates

the most intensive use
of this – of the eagle.

And if you will notice that,
with these gray areas coming out

into the red and to the yellow, there is
very little movement of eagles into areas

where there are structures either to the
east or to the north – to the north.

So this becomes a highly critical area
that we can provide this information

to municipalities and resource managers
to say, if you conserve this area,

then people who are living here
and decide to take a ride out

in the country, there’s a good
chance you'll see a golden eagle.

So that’s it. I just wanted to give you
a quick snapshot of the type of work

that we do at the Western
Ecological Research Center.

I think we are a highly
applied science group.

We work very closely with
land resource managers,

both state and federal, to address
their issues and problems.

And I just feel very, very proud
of our 23 principal investigators

who are doing this work.
Thank you very much.

[ Applause ]

- Thank you very much, Keith.
And with that said, we’ll go ahead

and open it up to any questions.
If you have a question, you can line up

at one of the mics right behind –
there’s two on either side.

And we’ll take questions.

[ Silence ]

- Outside of California, do you
have a similar organization?

- Yes. There are six – there are
15 other ecologically oriented

research centers throughout the –
throughout the country.

For example, a center in Oregon –
in Corvallis, Oregon.

Seattle, Washington.
I forget – Flagstaff, Arizona?

The ones out in the
west side of the country.

Then there’s centers in the
central part of the country

and then centers in the eastern part of
the country and a center out in Hawaii.

So all of us are pretty much engaged in
the same kind of work working on issues

that are brought to our attention by
resource managers as having a need.

- Yeah. If I remember right,
the opening slide showed a fire.

And you didn't happen to
mention any work being done

by any of the PIs
on wildland fires.

So is there any work in
that area going on?

- A lot. A lot.
Dr. John Keeley is one of our

premier scientists who works quite a lot
in southern California, particularly –

his expertise is in chaparral –
the proper management actions

that are necessary for
maintaining chaparral habitat.

That includes that fire is – tends to be
a necessary factor in the survival

of certain of these types of habitats
and that, when you suppress fire

too much and build up too much fuels,
then that can lead to problems.

So he works quite a lot on those issues
as well as advising municipalities

on issues that you would think
would be kind of obvious, that you don't

build a house up on the ridge because
when fire takes off, it runs up a ridge.

So he does work with areas –
works with municipalities to determine

where are the best places
to place homes or actions that can

help protect homes
out into the future.

And I did – I actually wanted to talk
about wildfire, but I just kind of –

I had such a hard time trying to figure
out what to – what to even talk about.

Then we have Matt Brooks and
Peter Coates that are working on

fire issues out
into the Great Basin.

Because cheat grass
is an invasive species.

It now is causing more intense fires
than what has historically happened.

So that the sagebrush community
out in the Great Basin and in Nevada

and in southeastern California
is in danger of being converted

to a different type of vegetation.
Actually, we could lose sagebrush.

And what’s the Golden
West without sagebrush?

And then we have – Matt Brooks
does work on advising the

national park on wildfire issues
in Sequoia Kings and at Yosemite.

So fire is a
very important factor.

And I kind of wanted to talk about it, but
it could also be overwhelming. [laughs]

- Thank you. So in your discussion
about the waterbirds …

- Uh-huh.
- … you did mention that if we

let the rice fields go idle, that it would
have an impact on the waterbirds.

But isn't – wouldn't letting them go idle
be the best thing for our drought –

you know, for the drought?
And also, it seems – yeah,

that would be a good thing to do.
And since the rice is not native,

that those waterbirds must
have been elsewhere before that.

- They were – they were where the rice
fields or the agricultural or cities occur.

This whole valley was covered with –
the Central Valley was covered

with birds historically.
And they had – their habitat

has continued to shrink
and shrink and shrink.

The rice fields are a
surrogate for the birds.

- I see.

- I’m not sure I – as a federal employee,
I don't know if I can make the

suggestion that we do have to
establish better conservation

of water ideology
in California.

There is a lot of water
that is wasted in California.

So before we penalize the birds
by idling rice fields, which causes

the birds to have to move into
more dense areas of wintering.

And when you have that happen,
you’re not only stressing them

with being crowded and
reducing their food supply,

but there’s a greater
danger for disease outbreaks.

And so we do need to
keep them fairly dispersed.

And so rice fields –
the rice farmers do get quite a lot

of subsidies to maintain rice.
And I think they would

prefer to grow rice.
So it’s very important to the birds.

But I do think that there are
conservation efforts that could help.

- Okay. Thank you.
- Okay.

- In the study on waterbirds, there were,
I believe, three different models of

climate change that were being used.
- Uh-huh.

- Can you characterize the
range of those models in terms of

temperature increase, drought …
- Yeah. You’re probably pulling me

into an area that I would be
guessing more than anything.

My general knowledge is is that the
GFDL model is a fairly intense model

that indicates a several-degree
average temperature change.

And then the PBML model indicates
only a few-degree temperature change.

And then the current situation
is indicating possibly

a half a degree temperature
change going out into the future.

- And as we – as we experience rapid
warming over the last few years,

are those models changing
in terms of the probability

that is assigned to
each of those levels?

- The issue is is that we probably
still haven't had just enough time.

This could be an anomaly.
And I think that there’s going to

need to be another 10 or 15 years of
assessment before we can really say,

by 2030, that, huh, this is actually
a bona fide change we’re seeing.

And it’s hard to predict.
We call them scenarios.

We don't call them predictions.
And so this is one of the reasons

why climate models tend to
be so controversial.

Because we really don't know.

You know, we really don't know until
we get to that point where we say,

this model said this, and we got to
that point, and that actually worked.

We do have a very good handle
on accuracy of models, though.

But in this case, this is –
again, this is new territory

that we have
not really experienced.

Are we experiencing a
re-occurring climate issue in time

that has been going on for eons?
We don't know yet.

But I do think we still need another
couple decades before we can feel better

about which one of those models is real.
Is it the current condition model?

Is it the low-level model?
Or the more moderate model?

- Thank you.
- Okay.

- Questions on genetic diversity.
The sea otter population in Alaska

versus the California coast,
are they genetically identical?

- No, they aren't
genetically identical animals.

And that – for that reason,
they have different sub-speciation

so that there are – they are different –
they're the same species –

genus and species,
but they're a different sub-species.

They likely, though, could interbreed if
they – those populations eventually mix.

If you’re talking about genetic diversity,
there was some indication that the

California population had slightly
lower genetic diversity than the –

than the Alaska population,
which would be expected because it –

there was just so much fewer animals.
But that has not resulted in, say,

a founder’s effect or expression
of recessive genes that

express themselves in terms of
some type of physical ailment

that these animals suffer
compared to the Alaska animals.

They're pretty much
physically – conditionally,

they're pretty much
the same animals.

- Second, on the desert tortoise,
my experience in the Mojave

is they're very
spotty populations.

Are they also terribly
diverse or appear to be?

- Yeah. They're spotty, but it’s –
the work of Kristin Berry, in particular,

her 40 years of work has shown
pretty much that they get around.

- [laughs]
- And so that you think you hear …

- Slowly.
- Slowly. [laughter]

But they can move fairly long distances.
And so their diversity has not really

been an issue in terms of being
a factor that would lead to

reduced fitness
of those animals.

- Okay. Thank you.
- Okay.

- How does your organization
decide which projects to take on?

Do you get requests
from municipalities?

Or do you preemptively study in an area
where you know change might happen?

- We get requests from, say,
the Fish & Wildlife Service in particular,

or the National Park Service,
or the Bureau of Land Management,

on some particular issue
that is of importance to them.

For example, a lot of the desert
tortoise occur on BLM lands.

And they are in the process
of leasing lands for

renewable energy

So they will come to us and say,
where are these animals occurring?

Where can we do the least
amount of impact on them?

And so yes, we get approached
quite often to engage with our science

to help them answer the
questions of importance to them.

- Okay, thank you.

- Okay, well, once again,
I want to thank everybody

for coming to our November lecture.
And if we could please have a

round of applause for Mr. Miles.
- Thank you.

[ Applause ]

[ inaudible background conversations]

[ Silence ]