Ecosystems within parks and protected areas in the United States and throughout the world are being transformed at an unprecedented rate. Changes associated with natural hazards, greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing demands for water, food, land, energy and mineral resources are placing urgency on sound decision making that will help sustain our Nation’s economic and environmental well-being (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). In recognition of the importance of science in making these decisions, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 2007 identified ecosystem science as one of six science directions included in a comprehensive decadal strategy (USGS 2007). The Ecosystems Mission Area was identified as essential for integrating activity within the USGS and as a key to enhanced integration with other Federal and private sector research and management organizations (Myers at al., 2007).
This paper focuses on benefits to parks and protected areas from the USGS Ecosystems Mission Area plan that expanded the scope of the original 2007 science strategy, to identify the Bureau’s work in ecosystem science over the next decade (Williams et al., 2013). The plan describes a framework that encompasses both basic and applied science and allows the USGS to continue to contribute meaningfully to conservation and management issues related to the Nation’s parks and ecological resources. This framework relies on maintaining long-standing, collaborative relationships with partners in both conducting science and applying scientific results. Here we summarize the major components of the USGS Ecosystems Science Strategy, articulating the vision, goals and strategic approaches, then outlining some of the proposed actions that will ultimately prove useful to those managing parks and protected areas. We end with a discussion on the future of ecosystem science for the USGS and how it can be used to evaluate ecosystem change and the associated consequences to management of our Nation’s natural resources.