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The Ecosystems Mission Area provides impartial science information and tools to the Nation’s natural resource managers, with particular focus on the science needs of the Department of the Interior (DOI) and DOI bureaus to manage species, lands and priority ecosystems; fulfill treaty obligations; respond to and reduce threats to natural resources; and manage mineral and energy resources.
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How will increased drought affect forest fire severity? WERC’s Dr. Phil van Mantgem is testing the idea increased drought stress may affect forest fire severity independent of fire intensity. Drought stress prior to fire can affect tree health, potentially resulting in a higher sensitivity to fire-induced damage. Thus, with drought there may be ongoing increases in fire severity (the number of...
At the population level, Dr. Amy Vandergast and her team estimates important population parameters such as effective migration (or gene flow) and the number of breeding adults (or effective population size), and quantify the impacts of landscape changes and disturbance on these parameters. This work informs individual species management.
USGS WERC’s Dr. Karen Thorne, her team of reseachers, and her partners are currently taking a local site network approach to describe current and future conditions and projected responses of coastal ecosystems to sea-level rise and other stressors. The Coastal Ecosystem Response to Climate Change (CERCC) program’s goal is to understand how ecosystems vary in their ability to keep up with sea-...
With sea level rise, how will the coastal habitats of the San Francisco Bay Estuary change over the next 100 years? Mapping and modeling studies by Dr. Karen Thorne, WERC scientists, and partners have produced scenarios for this important coastal ecosystem.
California’s Central Valley and San Francisco Bay Estuary have a long history of mercury contamination from past mercury mining and gold extraction. Waterbirds are particularly susceptible to mercury because of their use of wetland habitats where methylmercury (the most toxic and biologically available form) is produced and relatively low methylmercury exposure can reduce reproductive success...
Coastal estuaries that contain marshes and mangroves are currently being reshaped by changing ocean and atmospheric conditions through prolong drought, sea-level rise and increased extreme storm events. Many projected increases in sea-level are expected to result in loss of tidal wetlands and their component species. In addition, changing sediment loads, extreme tide and storm events, and...
Wetlands provide numerous ecosystem services, but also can be sources of methylmercury production and export. Click the next tab to learn how WERC's Dr. Josh Ackerman is evaluating the ecological factors that drive contaminant bioaccumulation in wetland-dependent fish and wildlife.
To facilitate communication and outreach of sea level rise research results and implications, Dr. Karen Thorne and members of USGS WERC are hosting in-person workshops along the Pacific coast at different sites in Washington, Oregon, and California.
Fuel conditions and fire regimes in western forests and deserts have been altered due to past land management, biological invasions, and recent extreme weather events and climate shifts. These changes have created extreme fire risk to local and regional communities, threatening their economic health related to wildland recreation, forest production, livestock operations, and other uses of...
Western U.S. wetlands provide critical habitat for wintering and breeding waterfowl in California. WERC's Dr. Josh Ackerman is working toward collecting data to understand factors influencing duck nest success, to improve and restore breeding habitat for resident duck populations in California, and understand composition of predator communities. To learn more about how USGS WERC is...
Sea otters are crucial indicators of the health of our nearshore waters and coastal resources, from kelp forests to fisheries. What clues does the sea otter's decline hold for our knowledge of ecosystem and global change? WERC's sea otter team and U.S. and Canadian researchers have teamed together to investigate.
Relevance to USGS Missions:
This research project has direct...
Dr. Nathan Stephenson and colleagues seek to determine what changes are occurring in forests, why they are occurring, and what they mean. For example, they have documented a long-term, apparently climatically-induced increase of tree mortality rates in otherwise undisturbed old forests across the western U.S., implying that these forests could become net sources of atmospheric carbon dioxide...
Aerodynamic roughness length estimation with lidar and imaging spectroscopy in a shrub-dominated dryland
The aerodynamic roughness length (Z0 m) serves an important role in the flux exchange between the land surface and atmosphere. In this study, airborne lidar (ALS), terrestrial lidar (TLS), and imaging spectroscopy data were integrated to develop and test two approaches to estimate Z0 m over a shrub dominated dryland study area in...Li, Aihua; Zhao, Wenguang; Mitchell, Jessica J; Glenn, Nancy F.; Germino, Matthew J.; Sankey, Joel B.; Allen, Richard M.
Behavioral responses of Pacific lamprey to alarm cues
Pacific lamprey (Entosphenus tridentatus), an anadromous ectoparasite, faces several challenges during adult migration to spawning grounds. Developing methods to address these challenges is critical to the success of ongoing conservation efforts. The challenges are diverse, and include anthropogenic alterations to the ecosystem resulting in loss...Porter, Laurie L.; Hayes, Michael C.; Jackson, Aaron D.; Burke, Brian J.; Moser, Mary L.; Wagner, R. Steven
Envisioning, quantifying, and managing thermal regimes on river networks
Water temperatures fluctuate in time and space, creating diverse thermal regimes on river networks. Temporal variability in these thermal landscapes has important biological and ecological consequences because of nonlinearities in physiological reactions; spatial diversity in thermal landscapes provides aquatic organisms with options to maximize...Steel, E. Ashley; Beechie, Timothy J.; Torgersen, Christian E.; Fullerton, Aimee H.
Guidelines for evaluation and treatment of lead poisoning of wild raptors
Lead poisoning is a threat to birds, particularly scavenging birds of prey. With the availability of portable lead-testing kits, an increasing number of field researchers are testing wild-caught birds, in situ, for lead poisoning. We describe guidelines for evaluation of lead toxicity in wild raptors by outlining field testing of blood-lead...Fallon, Jesse A.; Redig, Patrick; Miller, Tricia A.; Lanzone, Michael J.; Katzner, Todd
Linking occupancy surveys with habitat characteristics to estimate abundance and distribution in an endangered cryptic bird
Accurate estimates of the distribution and abundance of endangered species are crucial to determine their status and plan recovery options, but such estimates are often difficult to obtain for species with low detection probabilities or that occur in inaccessible habitats. The Puaiohi (Myadestes palmeri) is a cryptic species endemic to Kauaʻi,...Crampton, Lisa H.; Brinck, Kevin W.; Pias, Kyle E.; Heindl, Barbara A. P.; Savre, Thomas; Diegmann, Julia S.; Paxton, Eben H.
Declines in low-elevation subalpine tree populations outpace growth in high-elevation populations with warming
Species distribution shifts in response to climate change require that recruitment increase beyond current range boundaries. For trees with long life spans, the importance of climate-sensitive seedling establishment to the pace of range shifts has not been demonstrated quantitatively.Using spatially explicit, stochastic population models combined...Conlisk, Erin; Castanha, Cristina; Germino, Matthew J.; Veblen, Thomas T; Smith, Jeremy M.; Kueppers, Lara M.
Estimating inbreeding rates in natural populations: Addressing the problem of incomplete pedigrees
Understanding and estimating inbreeding is essential for managing threatened and endangered wildlife populations. However, determination of inbreeding rates in natural populations is confounded by incomplete parentage information. We present an approach for quantifying inbreeding rates for populations with incomplete parentage information. The...Miller, Mark P.; Haig, Susan M.; Ballou, Jonathan D.; Steel, E. Ashley
Mechanisms of nitrogen deposition effects on temperate forest lichens and trees
We review the mechanisms of deleterious nitrogen (N) deposition impacts on temperate forests, with a particular focus on trees and lichens. Elevated anthropogenic N deposition to forests has varied effects on individual organisms depending on characteristics both of the N inputs (form, timing, amount) and of the organisms (ecology, physiology)...Carter, Therese S.; Clark, Christopher L.; Fenn, Mark E.; Jovan, Sarah E.; Perakis, Steven; Riddell, Jennifer; Schaberg, Paul G.; Greaver, Tara; Hastings, Meredith
Exploring the use of environmental DNA to determine the species of salmon redds
Annual redd counts are used to monitor the status and trends of salmonid populations, but methods to easily and reliably determine which of sympatric species made specific redds are lacking. We explored whether environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis might prove useful for determining the species of salmon redds. We collected eDNA samples from the...Strobel, Burke; Laramie, Matthew; Pilliod, David S.
Thermal effect of climate change on groundwater-fed ecosystems
Groundwater temperature changes will lag surface temperature changes from a changing climate. Steady state solutions of the heat-transport equations are used to identify key processes that control the long-term thermal response of springs and other groundwater discharge to climate change, in particular changes in (1) groundwater recharge rate and...Burns, Erick; Zhu, Yonghui; Zhan, Hongbin; Manga, Michael; Williams, Colin F.; Ingebritsen, Steven E.; Dunham, Jason B.
Using decision analysis to support proactive management of emerging infectious wildlife diseases
Despite calls for improved responses to emerging infectious diseases in wildlife, management is seldom considered until a disease has been detected in affected populations. Reactive approaches may limit the potential for control and increase total response costs. An alternative, proactive management framework can identify immediate actions that...Grant, Evan H. Campbell; Muths, Erin L.; Katz, Rachel A.; Canessa, Stefano; Adams, M.J.; Ballard, Jennifer R.; Berger, Lee; Briggs, Cheryl J.; Coleman, Jeremy; Gray, Matthew J.; Harris, M. Camille; Harris, Reid N.; Hossack, Blake R.; Huyvaert, Kathryn P.; Kolby, Jonathan E.; Lips, Karen R.; Lovich, Robert E.; McCallum, Hamish I.; Mendelson, Joseph R.; Nanjappa, Priya; Olson, Deanna H.; Powers, Jenny G.; Richgels, Katherine L. D.; Russell, Robin E.; Schmidt, Benedikt R.; Spitzen-van der Sluijs, Annemarieke; Watry, Mary Kay; Woodhams, Douglas C.; White, C. LeAnn
Biotelemetery data for golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) captured in coastal southern California, February 2016–February 2017
Because of a lack of clarity about the status of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) in coastal southern California, the USGS, in collaboration with local, State, and other Federal agencies, began a multi-year survey and tracking program of golden eagles to address questions regarding habitat use, movement behavior, nest occupancy, genetic...Tracey, Jeff A.; Madden, Melanie C.; Sebes, Jeremy B.; Bloom, Peter H.; Katzner, Todd E.; Fisher, Robert N.
Anna Ormiston and Jesi Hessong, student contractors with the USGS Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative, or ARMI, display several discarded mylar balloon collected by field teams working in and around the Capital Region National Parks in the summer of 2015. They collected a total of 71 balloons.
Robb Diehl, research ecologist at the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, explains how he uses remote sensing technology — particularly weather radar — to better understand how flying animals affect human activities.
Producer: Jacob Massey, USGS
Camera: Paul Laustsen, USGS
A scientist is working to collect alpine insects by picking through moss below tiny, cold, alpine streams. This spot was below a small seep on a slope above a tributary to the Dry Fork, North of the Two Medicine area in Glacier National Park.
Photograph of Elizabeth Lake in the fourth year of drought and two years after the Powerhouse Fire. Note salt encrustation of surface and small accumulations of water remaining in the foreground and background.
Almost all of the turtles living in a southern California lake died following a large fire and years of drought, according to a new USGS report.
Salt-encrusted remains of a southwestern pond turtle (Actinemys pallida) as found in the dry lake bed of Elizabeth Lake, Los Angeles County, California. Note the heavy coating of evaporites on the carcass. Most living turtles collected in 2014 had similar but varying degrees of coatings on the head, limbs and shell.
Almost all of the turtles living in a southern...
Sagebrush around Granby and Willow Creek Reservoirs
Determining aboveground biomass of sagebrush, grasses, and forbs is important for estimating fuel loads, measuring carbon storage, and assessing habitat quality in shrublands. Remote sensing may offer a more efficient alternative to common, labor intensive methods of measuring aboveground biomass that are difficult to apply across large areas. Researchers from the USGS are...
Permanent Site: K1 West Transect; Depth: 6.0 Meters (19.8 Feet); Distance from river mouth: 4.5 Kilometers (2.8 Miles) east; Pre/Post Dam Removal: 4 years post-dam removal; Lat/Long: 48.13592923,-123.51082988; Site Description: This is a shallow site. Sediment is a gravel/sand mixture. Both red (1:30 seconds) and brown seaweed was abundant and appears close to pre-dam...
Permanent Site: A2 East Transect; Depth: 12.4 Meters (Feet 40.8); Distance from river mouth: Kilometers 1.8 (1.1 Miles); Pre/Post Dam Removal: 4 years post-dam removal; Lat/Long: 48.14130295, -123.58766124; Site Description: One of our deeper sites at over 40 feet. Sediment is primarily sand/sandy mud. Seaweeds have returned, mainly bull kelp Nereocystis luetkeana (0:14, 0...
Permanent Site: A2 West Transect; Depth: 12.9 Meters (Feet 42.3); Distance from river mouth: Kilometers 1.8 (1.1 Miles); Pre/Post Dam Removal: 4 years post-dam removal; Lat/Long: 48.14130295, -123.5883331; Site Description: One of our deeper sites at over 40 feet. Sediment is primarily sand/sandy mud with a few scattered boulders. Seaweeds have returned but are sparse and...