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Conceptual ecological models to support detection of ecological change on Alaska National Wildlife Refuges

April 7, 2011

More than 31 million hectares of land are protected and managed in 16 refuges by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Alaska. The vastness and isolation of Alaskan refuges give rise to relatively intact and complete ecosystems. The potential for these lands to provide habitat for trust species is likely to be altered, however, due to global climate change, which is having dramatic effects at high latitudes. The ability of USFWS to effectively manage these lands in the future will be enhanced by a regional inventory and monitoring program that integrates and supplements monitoring currently being implemented by individual refuges. Conceptual models inform monitoring programs in a number of ways, including summarizing important ecosystem components and processes as well as facilitating communication, discussion and debate about the nature of the system and important management issues. This process can lead to hypotheses regarding future changes, likely results of alternative management actions, identification of monitoring indicators, and ultimately, interpretation of monitoring results. As a first step towards developing a monitoring program, the 16 refuges in Alaska each created a conceptual model of their refuge and the landscape context. Models include prominent ecosystem components, drivers, and processes by which components are linked or altered. The Alaska refuge system also recognizes that designing and implementing monitoring at regional and ecoregional extents has numerous scientific, fiscal, logistical, and political advantages over monitoring conducted exclusively at refuge-specific scales. Broad-scale monitoring is particularly advantageous for examining phenomena such as climate change because effects are best interpreted at broader spatial extents. To enable an ecoregional perspective, a rationale was developed for deriving ecoregional boundaries for four ecoregions (Polar, Interior Alaska, Bering Coast, and North Pacific Coast) from the Unified Ecoregions of Alaska. Ecoregional models were then developed to illustrate resources and processes that operate at spatial scales larger than individual refuges within each ecoregion. Conceptual models also were developed for adjacent marine areas, designated as the North Pacific, Bering Sea, and Beaufort-Chukchi Sea Marine Ecoregions. Although many more conceptual models will be required to support development of a regional monitoring program, these definitions of ecoregions and associated conceptual models are an important foundation.

Publication Year 2011
Title Conceptual ecological models to support detection of ecological change on Alaska National Wildlife Refuges
DOI 10.3133/ofr20111085
Authors Andrea Woodward, Erik A. Beever
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2011-1085
Index ID ofr20111085
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB; Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center