Mission Areas

Environments Program

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Scientists in the Environments Program conduct research on the various ecosystems that occur across 416 million acres of public lands in the United States and its territories. We conduct research on these natural systems to provide information to Department of Interior agencies, which they can use to make decisions about how to manage public lands and trust resources.

Ecosystem Management and Restoration Research

Ecosystem Management and Restoration Research

Our ecological research improves the Nation’s understanding of how management decisions and environmental variation are impacting ecosystems now and in the future.

Find out how

Wildland Fire Research

Wildland Fire Research

Wildfires are a natural process in most regions of the U.S. They serve a vital role in nature but can also be unusually intense, widespread, or frequent. As a result, response and recovery costs are increasing.

Learn more

Environments Research

USGS science provides tools and information to protect responders, communities, managers and species by identifying wildland fire risks, developing ways to reduce wildfire hazards, and assessing and minimizing the aftermath of wildfires.

Wetlands

The Arctic

Deserts

Oceans

Great Lakes

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News

Image: Cow in Pasture
March 10, 2017

Each year Colorado State University (CSU) hosts the Front Range Ecology Symposium. This year the symposium showcased the works of 12 universities and primary schools through 80 oral and poster presentations, including two students currently working with the Fort Collins Science Center.

Spring 2017 Advances Very Early in Much of the USA
February 23, 2017

Get your flip-flops and shorts out because spring is arriving very early this year . . . at least 2-3 weeks early across almost the entire Southeast, from San Antonio to Atlanta to Washington, D.C.  This unusually early spring is likely to keep rolling north, already bringing surprising signs of spring to portions of the central Midwest and northeastern states.

American mistletoe fruit and flowers
December 12, 2016

Perhaps some of you have already experienced a sweet smooch or two under the holiday mistletoe, enjoying this fairly old kissing ritual for people. While figuring prominently in ancient lore, mistletoe is important in other vital ways: it provides essential food, cover and nesting sites for an amazing number of critters. In fact, some animals couldn’t even survive without mistletoe.

Ecological research is largely concerned with the system levels beyond that of the organism. An ecological community is all the animal and plant populations occupying a given area. Research to understand ecosystem use by humans has led to the development of sub-disciplines such as sustainable development, resilience theory, restoration ecology, and ecosystem services.

Ecosystems Research
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Salt marsh nekton monitoring
January 30, 2017

The Challenge: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) needs tools to inform decisions regarding the management and restoration of salt marsh ecosystems on northeastern National Wildlife Refuges. Previously, we developed a structured decision making (SDM) framework for optimizing refuge management decisions. This SDM framework served as the foundation for FWS to implement a consistent...

Teaching Eelgrass Restoration Techniques
January 30, 2017

The Challenge: Eelgrass provides essential functions to the ecology and economy of Maine’s coastal zone. When over half the eelgrass in Casco Bay, Maine, disappeared between 2012 and 2013, USGS experimental evidence identified disturbance from invasive European green crabs as the leading cause. Loss of vegetation is expected to precipitate a range of impacts, including reduced fish...

Dead and dying cottonwoods along the Mojave River, California, following a decrease in the riparian water table
January 17, 2017

Drought is killing riparian trees along many rivers in the western United States. The cause can be increasing temperature or decreasing precipitation, flow or water-table elevation. At multiple locations we are relating water availability to physiological measurements of tree survival and water stress, such as ring width, carbon stable isotope ratio and branch hydraulic conductivity....

Temporal dynamics of forest structure and coarse woody debris are being measured
December 20, 2016

The Challenge: Management of bottomland forests using wildlife forestry silviculture is being undertaken to achieve desired forest conditions for priority silvicolous wildlife, such as Louisiana black bear, migratory birds, and resident game species. Wildlife forestry management results in forests that have more open canopies and increased understory vegetation yet exhibit heterogeneous...

Scientists collecting bat location data
December 20, 2016

The Challenge: Within the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV), forest managers may prescribe variable retention silvicultural treatments within bottomland hardwood forests on public lands to improve forest conditions (i.e., structural heterogeneity, species composition, and senescence) for priority wildlife species. This is referred to as wildlife-forestry silviculture. However, concerns have...

Citizen Scientists monitoring Avian populations in the Gulf Coast National Parks
December 20, 2016

The Challenge: Avian monitoring within the Gulf Coast Network of the National Park Service is challenged to provide valid quantitative data on bird populations within park boundaries with limited financial input. Thus, citizen science (volunteer) bird monitoring has been proposed to achieve reliable estimates of bird populations and to assess the effects of habitat change and temporal dynamics...

Trails in flat terrain with wet soils are also unsustainable
December 20, 2016

The Challenge: Achieving conservation objectives in protected natural areas requires the ability to sustain visitation while avoiding or minimizing adverse environmental impacts. Trails are an essential infrastructure component that limits resource impacts by concentrating use on hardened treads designed and maintained to sustain traffic. This is particularly challenging...

Researchers on cliff face investigating the effects of climbing on rare cliff plants.
December 20, 2016

The Challenge: The Potomac River Gorge, managed by the National Park Service in Virginia and Maryland, is a highly accessible protected natural area bordered by the intensively developed Washington metro region. The Gorge is biologically rich, with more than 400 occurrences of over 200 rare species. Potomac Gorge receives exceptionally heavy visitation, with nearly two...

A visitor on a steep informal trail
December 20, 2016

The Challenge: The proliferation and degradation of visitor-created “informal” trails in protected areas can be a vexing management issue for land managers. Formal trail systems never provide access to all locations required by visitors seeking to engage in a variety of appropriate recreational activities. Traveling off-trail may be necessary to engage in...

Estuarine water-quality monitoring
December 19, 2016

The Challenge: Estuaries in northeastern states are severely threatened by the adverse impacts of nutrient over-enrichment. USGS led the development of a vital-signs protocol to monitor estuarine nutrient status in northeastern National Parks, and monitoring has been operational in coastal parks from Massachusetts to Virginia since 2006. Monitoring results must be...

Eelgrass (Zostera marina)
December 19, 2016

The Challenge: Seagrasses are productive and important components of shallow coastal waters, and they have suffered extensive declines worldwide. Because seagrasses are directly in the path of watershed nutrient inputs, a major cause of habitat loss is coastal development and consequent water quality degradation. Improved approaches for detecting threats of nutrient...

Measuring water velocities during historic low-flows
December 5, 2016

The Challenge: Ecologists have shown that many ecological processes in rivers, including organism growth, reproduction, survival and dispersal, are attuned to natural patterns of streamflow variability.  However, to predict how riverine biota will respond to flow alteration caused by, for example, water diversions and dam operations, ecologists need to understand the mechanisms through...

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Image: Arizona Upland Plant Community in the Sonoran Desert
January 27, 2017

Mean of the Top Ten Percent of NDVI Values in the Yuma Proving Ground during Monsoon Season, 1986-2011

This study uses growth in vegetation during the monsoon season measured from LANDSAT imagery as a proxy for measured rainfall. NDVI values from 26 years of pre- and post-monsoon season Landsat imagery were derived across Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) in southwestern Arizona, USA.

The Little Missouri River, flood plain
January 27, 2017

Aerial photographs and shape files for GIS analysis along the Little Missouri River: 1939-1995

This dataset includes aerial imagery of the Little Missouri River in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND from 1939 to 2005, as well as shape files delineating the channel in each image. 

Miller, J.R., and J.M. Friedman. 2009. Influence of flow variability on flood-plain formation and destruction, Little Missouri River, North Dakota. Geological Society of America Bulletin 121:752

Erosion along the Rio Puerco during the flood of 2006 following herbicide application to control saltcedar in 2003.
January 27, 2017

Lower Rio Puerco geospatial data, 1935 - 2014

A long-term study of the geomorphic history of the lower Rio Puerco arroyo in north-central New Mexico included the collection of high-precision (Real-time kinematic) GPS survey data (2002, 2007, 2010, and 2014), registration and rectification of historical aerial photographs (1935, 1950s, 1970s, and 1996), aerial LiDAR survey (2005) and post-flood (2006) satellite imagery.

South Florida Information Access logo
April 27, 2016

South Florida Information Access (SOFIA)

South Florida Information Access (SOFIA) was established to provide coherent information access in support of research, decision-making, and resource management for the South Florida ecosystem restoration effort.

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WERC Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) 2011-2012 Density map (birds/sq km) Summer - north
November 9, 2016

Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) Density map (birds/sq km) Summer - north as part of the Pacific Continental Shelf Environmental Assessment (PaCSEA) project. 
Project contacts: Josh Adams josh_adams@usgs.gov,  John Takekawa john_takekawa@usgs.gov, Jonathan Felis jfelis@usgs.gov
Partner partners: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

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Normalized Burn Ratios link fire severity with patterns of avian occurrence
Year Published: 2016

Normalized Burn Ratios link fire severity with patterns of avian occurrence

Context Remotely sensed differenced normalized burn ratios (DNBR) provide an index of fire severity across the footprint of a fire. We asked whether this index was useful for explaining patterns of bird occurrence within fire adapted xeric pine-oak forests of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Objectives We evaluated the use of DNBR indices for...

Rose, E.T., T. R. Simons, R. Klein, A. J. McKerrow
Rose, E.T., T. R. Simons, R. Klein, A. J. McKerrow. 2016. Normalized Burn Ratios link fire severity with patterns of avian occurrence. Landscape Ecology. January 2016: 1-14. doi:10.1007/s10980-015-0334-x.
High-resolution records detect human-caused changes to the boreal forest wildfire regime in interior Alaska
Year Published: 2016

High-resolution records detect human-caused changes to the boreal forest wildfire regime in interior Alaska

Stand-replacing wildfires are a keystone disturbance in the boreal forest, and they are becoming more common as the climate warms. Paleo-fire archives from the wildland–urban interface can quantify the prehistoric fire regime and assess how both human land-use and climate change impact ecosystem dynamics. Here, we use a combination of a...

Gaglioti, Benjamin V.; Mann, Daniel H.; Jones, Benjamin M.; Wooller, Matthew J.; Finney, Bruce P.
Gaglioti, B.V., Mann, D.H., Jones, B.M., Wooller, M.J., and Finney, B.P. 2016. High-resolution records detect human-caused changes to the boreal forest wildfire regime in interior Alaska, The Holocene, first published on March 24, 2016 as doi:10.1177/0959683616632893.
Differences in impacts of Hurricane Sandy on freshwater swamps on the Delmarva Peninsula, Mid−Atlantic Coast, USA
Year Published: 2016

Differences in impacts of Hurricane Sandy on freshwater swamps on the Delmarva Peninsula, Mid−Atlantic Coast, USA

Hurricane wind and surge may have different influences on the subsequent composition of forests. During Hurricane Sandy, while damaging winds were highest near landfall in New Jersey, inundation occurred along the entire eastern seaboard from Georgia to Maine. In this study, a comparison of damage from salinity intrusion vs. wind/surge was...

Middleton, Beth A.
Middleton, B.A., 2016, Differences in impacts of Hurricane Sandy on freshwater swamps on the Delmarva Peninsula, Mid-Atlantic Coast, USA: Ecological Engineering, v. 87, p. 62-70, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2015.11.035.
Ecosystem impacts of exotic annual invaders in the Genus Bromus
Year Published: 2016

Ecosystem impacts of exotic annual invaders in the Genus Bromus

An understanding of the impacts of exotic plant species on ecosystems is necessary to justify and guide efforts to limit their spread, restore natives, and plan for conservation. Invasive annual grasses such as Bromus tectorum, B. rubens, B. hordeaceus, and B. diandrus (hereafter collectively referred to as Bromus) transform the structure and...

Germino, Matthew J.; Belnap, Jayne; Stark, John M.; Allen, Edith B.; Rau, Benjamin M.
Resprouting and seeding hypotheses: A test of the gap-dependent model using resprouting and obligate seeding subspecies of Arctostaphylos
Year Published: 2016

Resprouting and seeding hypotheses: A test of the gap-dependent model using resprouting and obligate seeding subspecies of Arctostaphylos

Ecological factors favoring either postfire resprouting or postfire obligate seeding in plants have received considerable attention recently. Three ecological models have been proposed to explain patterns of these two life history types. In this study, we test these three models using data from California chaparral.

Keeley, Jon E.; Parker, V. Thomas; Vasey, Michael C.
Keeley, JE, VT Parker, MC Vasey. 2016. Resprouting and seeding hypotheses: a test of the gap-dependent model using resprouting and obligate seeding subspecies of Arctostaphylos. Plant Ecology. doi: 10.1007/s11258-015-0551-z
Effects of drought and fire on bird communities of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona
Year Published: 2015

Effects of drought and fire on bird communities of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona

Executive Summary The U.S. Government created the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge (Kofa NWR) in 1939 in response to a citizen campaign to improve desert bighorn sheep populations in Arizona. The Kofa NWR is mountainous and remote, and its management by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) keeps anthropogenic disturbance levels low. As such,...

McCreedy, Chris; van Riper, Charles; Esque, Todd C.; Darrah, Abigail J.
McCreedy, C., van Riper, C., III, Esque, T.C., and Darrah, A.J., 2015, Effects of drought and fire on bird communities of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015–1240, 34 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20151240.
Predicting spatial distribution of postfire debris flows and potential consequences for native trout in headwater streams
Year Published: 2015

Predicting spatial distribution of postfire debris flows and potential consequences for native trout in headwater streams

Habitat fragmentation and degradation and invasion of nonnative species have restricted the distribution of native trout. Many trout populations are limited to headwater streams where negative effects of predicted climate change, including reduced stream flow and increased risk of catastrophic fires, may further jeopardize their persistence...

Sedell, Edwin R; Gresswell, Bob; McMahon, Thomas E.
Sedell, E.R., R.E. Gresswell, and T.E. McMahon. 2015. Predicting spatial distribution of postfire debris flows and potential consequences for native trout in headwater streams. Freshwater Science 34:1558-1570.
Fire effects on aquatic ecosystems: an assessment of the current state of the science
Year Published: 2015

Fire effects on aquatic ecosystems: an assessment of the current state of the science

Fire is a prevalent feature of many landscapes and has numerous and complex effects on geological, hydrological, ecological, and economic systems. In some regions, the frequency and intensity of wildfire have increased in recent years and are projected to escalate with predicted climatic and landuse changes. In addition, prescribed burns continue...

Rebecca J. BixbyScott D. CooperGresswell, Bob; Lee E. BrownClifford N. DahmKathleen A. Dwi
Bixby, R.J., S.D. Cooper, R.E. Gresswell, L.E. Brown, C.N. Dahm, and K.A. Dwire. 2015. Fire effects on aquatic ecosystems: an assessment of the current state of the science. Freshwater Science 34:1340-1350.
Incorporating future change into current conservation planning: Evaluating tidal saline wetland migration along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast under alternative sea-level rise and urbanization scenarios
Year Published: 2015

Incorporating future change into current conservation planning: Evaluating tidal saline wetland migration along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast under alternative sea-level rise and urbanization scenarios

In this study, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, quantified the potential for landward migration of tidal saline wetlands along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast under alternative future sea-level rise and urbanization scenarios.

Enwright, Nicholas M.; Griffith, Kereen T.; Osland, Michael J.
Enwright, N.M., Griffith, K.T., and Osland, M.J., 2015, Incorporating future change into current conservation planning—Evaluating tidal saline wetland migration along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast under alternative sea-level rise and urbanization scenarios: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 969, http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ds969.
Fire activity as a function of fire–weather seasonal severity and antecedent climate across spatial scales in southern Europe and Pacific western USA
Year Published: 2015

Fire activity as a function of fire–weather seasonal severity and antecedent climate across spatial scales in southern Europe and Pacific western USA

Climate has a strong influence on fire activity, varying across time and space. We analyzed the relationships between fire–weather conditions during the main fire season and antecedent water-balance conditions and fires in two Mediterranean-type regions with contrasted management histories: five southern countries of the European Union (EUMED)(all...

Urbieta, Itziar R.; Zavala, Gonzalo; Bedia, Joaquin; Gutierrez, Jose M.; San Miguel-Ayanz, Jesus; Camia, Andrea; Keeley, Jon E.; Moreno, Jose M.
Urbieta, IR, G Zavala, J Bedia, JM Gutierrez, JS Miguel-Ayanz, A Camia, JE Keeley, JM Moreno. 2015. Fire activity as a function of fire–weather seasonal severity and antecedent climate across spatial scales in southern Europe and Pacific western USA. Environmental Research Letters 10(11): 114031. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/10/11/114013
Recent Arctic tundra fire initiates widespread thermokarst development
Year Published: 2015

Recent Arctic tundra fire initiates widespread thermokarst development

Fire-induced permafrost degradation is well documented in boreal forests, but the role of fires in initiating thermokarst development in Arctic tundra is less well understood. Here we show that Arctic tundra fires may induce widespread thaw subsidence of permafrost terrain in the first seven years following the disturbance. Quantitative analysis...

Jones, Benjamin M.; Grosse, Guido; Arp, Christopher D.; Miller, Eric K.; Liu, Lingli; Hayes, Daniel J.; Larsen, Christopher F.
The rapid return of marine-derived nutrients to a freshwater food web following dam removal
Year Published: 2015

The rapid return of marine-derived nutrients to a freshwater food web following dam removal

Dam removal is increasingly being recognized as a viable river restoration action. Although the main beneficiaries of restored connectivity are often migratory fish populations, little is known regarding recovery of other parts of the freshwater food web, particularly terrestrial components. We measured stable isotopes in key components to the...

Tonra, Christopher M; Sager-Fradkin, Kimberly A.; Morley, Sarah A; Duda, Jeff; Marra, Peter P.
Tonra, C.M., K. Sager-Fradkin, S.A. Morley, J.J. Duda, and P.P. Marra. 2015. The rapid return of marine-derived nutrients to a freshwater food web following dam removal. Biol. Conserv. 192 (2015): 130-134.
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2016 (approx.)

This video will provide a brief history and purpose for one of the oldest streamgages in Indiana. The gage is at the Wabash River at Lafayette, Indiana. The site number is 03335500. This video was produced at the request of the West Lafayette Parks Department where this historic gage is located. A QR code is displayed on an interpretive plaque next to the gage which is located in a high profile location within a city park adjacent to Purdue University. Park visitors can view a brief video on their smart phone which will educate them on the history of the gage and provide them with information on how to obtain current readings. The USGS WaterAlert text or email notifications is also featured. Our goal is to better educate the public on the importance of USGS streamgages in Indiana and the data we provide to the nation.

Some material in this video is copyrighted and for use by USGS only. Contact Producer for details.

May 2, 2015

This short video features incredible and graphic images and video of golden eagle prey. These birds are eating machines. USGS biologist-rock climbers install nest cameras to study the eating habits of golden eagles and their young in the Mojave Desert. This work goes towards creating a Prey Availability Habitat Model to better site green energy projects so that they will have the least impact on golden eagles. The majority of this video is Public Domain with exception to the specific shots listed as owned by the copyright holders.

USGs Water towers
2012 (approx.)

USGS Water towers at Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

Mountain Bluebird Eating Mistletoe Berry
December 12, 2012

A mountain bluebird eats a giant mistletoe berry in an ash tree in Sedona, Arizona (Oak Creek).  These bluebirds, and many other types of birds, rely on mistletoe berries for sustenance. As a result, they also help distribute the mistletoe seeds.

Mountain Bluebird Eating Mistletoe Berry
November 28, 2012

A mountain bluebird eats a giant mistletoe berry in an ash tree in Sedona, Arizona (Oak Creek).  These bluebirds, and many other types of birds, rely on mistletoe berries for sustenance. As a result, they also help distribute the mistletoe seeds.

 

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Image: Cow in Pasture
March 10, 2017

Each year Colorado State University (CSU) hosts the Front Range Ecology Symposium. This year the symposium showcased the works of 12 universities and primary schools through 80 oral and poster presentations, including two students currently working with the Fort Collins Science Center.

Spring 2017 Advances Very Early in Much of the USA
February 23, 2017

Get your flip-flops and shorts out because spring is arriving very early this year . . . at least 2-3 weeks early across almost the entire Southeast, from San Antonio to Atlanta to Washington, D.C.  This unusually early spring is likely to keep rolling north, already bringing surprising signs of spring to portions of the central Midwest and northeastern states.

American mistletoe fruit and flowers
December 12, 2016

Perhaps some of you have already experienced a sweet smooch or two under the holiday mistletoe, enjoying this fairly old kissing ritual for people. While figuring prominently in ancient lore, mistletoe is important in other vital ways: it provides essential food, cover and nesting sites for an amazing number of critters. In fact, some animals couldn’t even survive without mistletoe.

A group of Brook Trout swim through a stream.
November 16, 2016

A new USGS study shows non-native Brown Trout can place a burden on native Brook Trout under the increased water temperatures climate change can cause.

Image: Chesapeake Bay osprey chicks mostly healthy despite toxic exposure
April 4, 2016

The world's largest breeding population of ospreys is coping well with the long-lasting residues of toxic chemicals that were banned decades ago but remain in the Chesapeake Bay food chain at varying levels, such as the pesticide DDT and insulating chemicals known as PCBs.

Stream rushing through the woods
April 4, 2016

A new study offers hope for cold-water species in the face of climate change. The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, addresses a longstanding paradox between predictions of widespread extinctions of cold-water species and a general lack of evidence for those extinctions despite decades of recent climate change.

USGS science for a changing world logo
January 15, 2016

Researchers have found clear evidence that biological communities rich in species are substantially healthier and more productive than those depleted of species.

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