Mission Areas


Mission Areas L2 Landing Page Tabs

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.

Scientists with the Ecosystem Mission Area can be found working across the Nation to provide fish, wildlife, and habitat science support to natural resource managers. Our sixteen Ecosystem Science Centers provide unique scientific capabilities to support the management and conservation of our Nation’s biological resources.


Check out our Cool Tools for Hot Topics!
Filter Total Items: 634
Date published: April 26, 2018
Status: Active

Fish Health

USGS investigates pathogen discovery, causes, and drivers; researches disease ecology and immunology; and develops advanced tools for surveillance, risk assessment, and control of diseases that impact aquatic organism health to support the management, conservation, and restoration of aquatic species.

Date published: April 26, 2018
Status: Active

Fish Physiology and Behavior

USGS research focuses on fish physiology and behavioral characteristics, vulnerability assessments, and development of indicator tools that can be used to inform decisions with the goal of sustaining and enhancing fisheries resources in concert with human uses.

Date published: April 25, 2018
Status: Active

Imperiled Aquatic Species

Forty percent of all fish species in North America are at risk of extinction. USGS research is crucial to protect and manage at-risk species and healthy fish populations into the future. Species management research encompasses threatened and endangered species, Interior trust species protected by law, sensitive species that are declining, rare, or uncommon that may be candidates for future...

Date published: April 25, 2018
Status: Active

Freshwater Species

USGS research and technology provides the scientific basis for the adaptive management of aquatic species and aquatic habitats in the United States. The USGS examines the physiology, life history, reproduction, and habitat needs of specific life stages of fish and other aquatic organisms to assist fishery managers to develop techniques to understand, conserve, and restore fish species and...

Date published: April 13, 2018
Status: Active

Coastal Habitats

USGS scientists quantify and describe functional relationships among aquatic species in coastal habitats to characterize aquatic community structure, function, adaptation, and sustainability.

Date published: April 13, 2018
Status: Active

Wetlands and Ponds

USGS research to assess wetland habitats and ecological functions are critical for restoration activities.

Date published: April 13, 2018
Status: Active

Deepwater Habitats

Deepwater habitats, such as the Great Lakes, are a key strategic resource and driver of economic vitality that are threatened by multiple stressors, including overfishing, invasions of exotic species, habitat degradation, pollution, climate change, and harmful algal blooms. Under the 1954 Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries, the Department of Interior is responsible for conducting a...

Date published: April 13, 2018
Status: Active

Streams and Rivers

USGS studies the ecology and biodiversity of streams, rivers, and aquatic ecosystems to understand impacts of changing land and water use on fish species and aquatic communities. We research critical fish and aquatic habitats and develop techniques to understand, conserve, and restore fish communities.

Date published: April 10, 2018
Status: Active

Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) Surveillance

Scientists of the USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) in collaboration with partners have developed risk assessments for Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) in the United States and have begun sampling high-risk locations for the fungus.

Date published: April 10, 2018
Status: Active

Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal)

Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) is an emerging pathogen capable of causing significant morbidity and mortality in salamanders.

Date published: April 5, 2018
Status: Active

Sylvatic Plague

Sylvatic plague is a flea-borne bacterial disease of wild rodents. Humans, pets, and wildlife can be afflicted with this disease.  Prairie dogs are highly susceptible to plague and are the primary food source of the highly endangered black-footed ferret, which is also susceptible to the disease. Sylvatic plague can decimate prairie dog colonies (90% or greater mortality rates), resulting in...

Date published: April 3, 2018
Status: Active

Effect of Chronic Neonicotinoid Insecticide Exposure upon Monarch Development

The long-term viability of monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly populations in North America is in doubt.

Filter Total Items: 2,568
Year Published: 2018

A laboratory-calibrated model of coho salmon growth with utility for ecological analyses

We conducted a meta-analysis of laboratory- and hatchery-based growth data to estimate broadly applicable parameters of mass- and temperature-dependent growth of juvenile coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch). Following studies of other salmonid species, we incorporated the Ratkowsky growth model into an allometric model and fit this model to growth...

Manhard, Christopher V.; Som, Nicholas A.; Perry, Russell W.; Plumb, John M.
Manhard, C.V., N.A. Som, R.W. Perry, J.M. Plumb. 2017. A laboratory-calibrated model of coho salmon growth with utility for ecological analyses. Can. J. Fish. Aquat Sci. Published on the web 4 July 2017.

Year Published: 2018

Biological and ecological science for Michigan—The Great Lakes State

Michigan is rich in lakes, rivers, dune and rocky shorelines, forests, fish and wildlife, and has the longest freshwater coastline in the United States, 3,224 miles. Many enterprises critical to Michigan’s economy and cultural heritage are based on natural resources including commercial and sport fishing, hunting, and other outdoor recreation....

Attribution: Ecosystems
U.S. Geological Survey, 2018, Biological and ecological science for Michigan—The Great Lakes State: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2018-3012, 2 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/fs20183012.

Year Published: 2018

Distribution and seasonal differences in Pacific Lamprey and Lampetra spp eDNA across 18 Puget Sound watersheds

Lampreys have a worldwide distribution, are functionally important to ecological communities and serve significant roles in many cultures. In Pacific coast drainages of North America, lamprey populations have suffered large declines. However, lamprey population status and trends within many areas of this region are unknown and such information is...

Ostberg, Carl O.; Chase, Dorothy M.; Hayes, Michael C.; Duda, Jeffrey J.
Ostberg, C.O., D.M. Chase, M.C. Hayes, and J.J. Duda. 2018. Distribution and seasonal differences in Pacific Lamprey and Lampetra spp eDNA across 18 Puget Sound watersheds. Peer J 6:e4496.

Year Published: 2018

N-mix for fish: estimating riverine salmonid habitat selection via N-mixture models

Models that formulate mathematical linkages between fish use and habitat characteristics are applied for many purposes. For riverine fish, these linkages are often cast as resource selection functions with variables including depth and velocity of water and distance to nearest cover. Ecologists are now recognizing the role that detection plays in...

Som, Nicholas A.; Perry, Russell W.; Jones, Edward C.; De Juilio, Kyle; Petros, Paul; Pinnix, William D.; Rupert, Derek L.
Som, N.A., R.W. Perry, E.C. Jones, K. De Juilio, P. Petros, W.D. Pinnix, and D.L. Rupert. 2017. N-mix for fish: estimating riverine salmonid habitat selection via N-mixture models. Can. J. Fish and Aquat. Sci., Published on the web 07 September 2017.

Year Published: 2018

Relating river discharge and water temperature to the recruitment of age‐0 White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus Richardson, 1836) in the Columbia River using over‐dispersed catch data

The goals were to (i) determine if river discharge and water temperature during various early life history stages were predictors of age‐0 White Sturgeon, Acipenser transmontanus, recruitment, and (ii) provide an example of how over‐dispersed catch data, including data with many zero observations, can be used to better understand the effects...

Counihan, Timothy D.; Chapman, Colin G.
Counihan, T.D. and C.G. Chapman. 2018. Relating river discharge and water temperature to the recruitment of age-0 White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus Richardson, 1836) in the Columbia River using over-dispersed catch data. J. Appl. Ichthyol. 34(2):279-289.

Year Published: 2018

An epidemiological model of virus transmission in salmonid fishes of the Columbia River Basin

We have developed a dynamic epidemiological model informed by records of viral presence and genotypes to evaluate potential transmission routes maintaining a viral pathogen in economically and culturally important anadromous fish populations. In the Columbia River Basin, infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV) causes severe disease,...

Ferguson, Paige F. B.; Breyta, Rachel; Brito, Ilana L.; Kurath, Gael; LaDeau, Shannon L.
Ferguson, P.F.B., R. Breyta, I. Brito, G. Kurath, and S.L. LaDeau. 2018. An epidemiological model of virus transmission in salmonid fishes of the Columbia River Basin. Ecol. Model. 377: 1-15.

Year Published: 2018

Linking animals aloft with the terrestrial landscape

Despite using the aerosphere for many facets of their life, most flying animals (i.e., birds, bats, some insects) are still bound to terrestrial habitats for resting, feeding, and reproduction. Comprehensive broad-scale observations by weather surveillance radars of animals as they leave terrestrial habitats for migration or feeding flights can be...

Buler, Jeffrey J.; Barrow, Wylie; Boone, Matthew; Dawson, Deanna K.; Diehl, Robert H.; Moore, Frank R.; Randall, Lori A.; Schreckengost, Timothy; Smolinsky, Jaclyn A.
Buler, J.J., Barrow, W.C. Jr., Boone, M.E., Dawson, D.K., Diehl, R.H., Moore, F.R., Randall, L.A., Schreckengost, T.D., and Smolinsky, J.A., 2017, Linking animals aloft with the terrestrial landscape, in Chilson, P., Frick, W.F., Kelly, J., and Liechti, F., editors, Aeroecology, Springer International Publishing, p. 347-378. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-68576-2_14

Year Published: 2018

Passage survival of juvenile steelhead, coho salmon, and Chinook salmon in Lake Scanewa and at Cowlitz Falls Dam, Cowlitz River, Washington, 2010–16

A multi-year evaluation was conducted during 2010–16 to evaluate passage survival of juvenile steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss), Chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha), and coho salmon (O. kisutch) in Lake Scanewa, and at Cowlitz Falls Dam in the upper Cowlitz River Basin, Washington. Reservoir passage survival was evaluated in 2010, 2011, and 2016, and...

Liedtke, Theresa L.; Kock, Tobias J.; Hurst, William
Liedtke, T.L., Kock, T.J., and Hurst, W., 2018, Passage survival of juvenile steelhead, coho salmon, and Chinook salmon in Lake Scanewa and at Cowlitz Falls Dam, Cowlitz River, Washington, 2010–16: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2018-1050, 44 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20181050.

Year Published: 2018

Rising synchrony controls western North American ecosystems

Along the western margin of North America, the winter expression of the North Pacific High (NPH) strongly influences interannual variability in coastal upwelling, storm track position, precipitation, and river discharge. Coherence among these factors induces covariance among physical and biological processes across adjacent marine and terrestrial...

Black, Bryan A.; van der Sleen, Peter; Di Lorenzo, Emanuele; Griffin, Daniel; Sydeman, William J.; Dunham, Jason B.; Rykaczewski, Ryan R.; Garcia-Reyes, Marisol; Safeeq, Mohammad; Arismendi, Ivan; Bograd, Steven J.
Black, B.A., van der Sleen, P., Di Lorenzo, E., Griffin, D., Sydeman, W.J., Dunham, J.B., Rykaczewski, R.R., Garcia-Reyes, M., Safeeq, M., Arismendi, I., Bograd, S.J., 2018, Rising synchrony controls western North American ecosystems: Global Change Biology, p. online, https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.14128.

Year Published: 2018

Gene flow connects coastal populations of a habitat specialist, the Clapper Rail Rallus crepitans

Examining population genetic structure can reveal patterns of reproductive isolation or population mixing and inform conservation management. Some avian species are predicted to exhibit minimal genetic differentiation among populations as a result of the species high mobility, with habitat specialists tending to show greater fine‐scale genetic...

Coster, Stephanie S.; Welsh, Amy B.; Costanzo, Gary R.; Harding, Sergio R.; Anderson, James T.; Katzner, Todd
Coster, S.S., Welsh, A.B., Costanzo, G.R., Harding, S.R., Anderson, J.T., Katzner, T.E., 2018, Gene flow connects coastal populations of a habitat specialist, the Clapper Rail (Rallus crepitans): Ibis, p. online, https://doi.org/10.1111/ibi.12599.

Year Published: 2018

Juvenile Chinook Salmon mortality in a Snake River Reservoir: Smallmouth Bass predation revisited

Predation by nonnative fishes has been identified as a contributing factor in the decline of juvenile salmonids in the Columbia River basin. We examined the diet composition of Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu and estimated the consumption and predation loss of juvenile Chinook Salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha in Lower...

Erhardt, John M.; Tiffan, Kenneth F.; Connor, William P.
Erhardt, J.M., K.F. Tiffan, and W.P. Connor. 2018. Juvenile Chinook salmon mortality in a Snake River reservoir smallmoth bass predation revisted. Trans. Am. Fish. Soc. 147(2): 316-328.

Year Published: 2018

Migratory behavior and physiological development as potential determinants of life history diversity in fall Chinook Salmon in the Clearwater River

We studied the influence of behavior, water velocity, and physiological development on the downstream movement of subyearling fall‐run Chinook Salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha in both free‐flowing and impounded reaches of the Clearwater and Snake rivers as potential mechanisms that might explain life history diversity in this stock....

Tiffan, Kenneth F.; Kock, Tobias J.; Connor, William P.; Richmond, Marshall C.; Perkins, William A.
Tiffan, K.F., T.J. Kock, W.P. Connor, M.C. Richmond, and W.A. Perkins. 2018. Migratory behavior and physiological development as potential determinants of life history diversity in fall Chinook salmon in the Clearwater River. Trans. Am. Fish. Soc. 147(2): 400-413.

Filter Total Items: 622
Phragmites under stress in Pass A Loutre, Louisiana
May 31, 2017

High stakes, big questions in marsh grass die-back

Brown patches and brown stems show stress in this phagmites (roseau cane) stand in Pass A Loutre Wildlife Management Area, a tract of state-owned land in Louisiana's bird foot delta, where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico. An ongoing phragmites was first discovered in spring 2017 and blamed on an invasive scale insect from Asia. But a new USGS report, based

Varied Chesapeake Bay landscapes
May 24, 2017

To Foresee Chesapeake Bay’s Future, Scientists Look to the Land

A montage of four Chesapeake Bay aerial photos. L-R: A waterfront residential community; row crops bordered by forest; Baltimore Harbor; piers and crab pots in a waterfront fishing community.

Attribution: Ecosystems, Northeast
An extremely rare Mojave River western pond turtle was recently observed in the Mojave Desert.
May 4, 2017

An extremely rare Mojave River western pond turtle

An extremely rare Mojave River western pond turtle was recently observed by USGS scientists and staff from The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in the Mojave Desert. Turtles of this population have rarely been seen since the late 1990s.

A cabin along Alaska's Arctic coast was recently washed into the ocean because the bluff it was sitting on eroded away.
May 3, 2017

Climate Change Impacts

From the Sound Waves Newletter article, "Erosion Doubles Along Part of Alaska's Arctic Coast — Cultural and Historical Sites Lost" at http://soundwaves.usgs.gov/2009/05/research2.html

Female scientist looking through microscope.
April 30, 2017

Examining Pallid Sturgeon Eggs

Biological science aid, Marlee Malmborg, examines and records the viability of pallid sturgeon eggs at the Columbia Environmental Research Center.

Scientist holding a laptop and equipment, standing in a green field.
April 30, 2017

Assessing Tallgrass Coastal Prairie in Southwest Louisiana

Vegetation assessments are part of an effort to produce seamless, consistent, and high resolution landcover data for the northern portion of the western gulf coastal plain. This geography was once dominated by tallgrass prairie and has undergone dramatic change with less than 1% of this natural habitat in existence.

Tallgrass prairie provides a suite of ecosystem

March 31, 2017

Establishing Forster's Tern Nesting Colonies

Scientists from the USGS Western Ecological Research Center (WERC) are conducting a "social attraction" study for seabirds in the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Historically, this region offered wetland habitats to local wildlife. With the introduction of industrial salt ponds and human development, however, much of this habitat was lost. Now,

March 30, 2017

2017 March Public Lecture—Brown Bears, Sea Otters, and Seals, Oh My!

Brown Bears, Sea Otters, and Seals, Oh My!
Unexpected interactions on the Katmai Coast
by Grant Hilderbrand, Chief of the Marine Ecosystems Office, USGS Alaska Science Center

  • Highlights of ongoing research on brown bears on the coast of the Katmai National Park
  • Observations from video collars deployed on brown bears
Three sailfin catfish found in the Big Cypress National Preserve
March 23, 2017

Sailfin catfishes discovered in Big Cypress

The sailfin catfish is one of 13 species of nonnative fish that biologists discovered during the Fish Slam in Big Cypress National Preserve, March 23, 2017.


Pike killifish found in Big Cypress
March 23, 2017

Non-native pike killifish from the Big Cypress

The pike killifish, native to Mexico and Central America, was one of 13 nonnative fish species that biologists discovered during the two-day Fish Slam in Big Cypress National Preserve, March 22 and 23, 2017.


Expressing lamprey feces
March 6, 2017

Expressing lamprey feces

USGS scientist Nick Johnson isn’t afraid to get dirty. Here he is expressing green feces from a parasitic sea lamprey. DNA in the feces may help USGS scientists discover the identity of sea lamprey’s last meal. 

In UV light an alga from the desmid family looks like a snowflake chain
February 28, 2017

A snowflake chain? Nope. A one-celled green alga.

The desmid family of single-celled green algae are never found in abundance, says USGS biologist Barry Rosen. They inhabit the soft, slightly acidic water of wetlands that depend on rainwater, like Florida’s Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. They don’t “bloom” en masse, but their presence is an indicator of good water quality. Rosen’s research is

Filter Total Items: 321
Date published: February 2, 2017

A Century of Habitat Loss Affects Genetics of Endangered Bird

A new study analyzes the genetic diversity and population structure of the California Ridgway’s rail, Rallus obsoletus, a state and federally-listed endangered bird. The results demonstrate that the so-called “rails” are experiencing negative genetic effects following more than a century of salt marsh habitat loss from agriculture, commercial salt production and urban development.

Date published: February 1, 2017

Christian Zimmerman to Lead Studies as New Director of the Alaska Science Center

The U.S. Geological Survey is pleased to announce the selection of Dr. Christian Zimmerman as the new director of their Alaska Science Center in Anchorage, Alaska. Zimmerman succeeds Dr. Mark Shasby who held the position for the past six years.

Date published: January 25, 2017

Changes in Rainfall, Temperature Expected to Transform Coastal Wetlands This Century

Changes in rainfall and temperature are predicted to transform wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world within the century, a new study from the USGS and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley concludes.

Date published: January 24, 2017

Current Conservation Efforts May Not Be Enough for California’s Central Valley Waterbirds

A new study published in PLOS ONE demonstrates that current conservation planning efforts for waterbird habitat in the Central Valley can likely compensate for habitat loss through the middle of the century.

Date published: January 19, 2017

Managing 246 million acres: new science-based tools support Bureau of Land Management’s landscape approach

The U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Land Management today released a collaborative report with new information and tools to support effective management of millions of acres of BLM public lands.  The report underscores the value of a landscape approach to management, and shows that the BLM manages some of the largest areas of intact public lands in the west. 

Date published: January 18, 2017

New England’s 1816 “Mackerel Year,” Volcanoes and Climate Change Today

Hundreds of articles have been written about the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history, at Indonesia’s Mt. Tambora just over 200 years ago. But for a small group of New England-based researchers, one more Tambora story needed to be told, one related to its catastrophic effects in the Gulf of Maine that may carry lessons for intertwined human-natural systems facing climate change today.

Date published: December 27, 2016

Western Fisheries Science News, November 2016 | Issue 4.11

Internship Supports Youth, Tribes, and Fish

Date published: December 22, 2016

A Grand Slam for Students, Schools and Science

"It’s a grand slam for all involved,” said Dawn Childs, USGS Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units.  “Recent high school graduates with special needs get real-world experience while helping USGS scientists on projects ranging from grizzly bears and energy to historic documents and bird migration. And a school system gets to successfully train students to enter the workforce."

Date published: December 19, 2016

The Other 364 Days of the Year: The Real Lives of Wild Reindeer

Caribou, North America’s wild reindeer, have lives apart from their famous role on Christmas Eve. Reindeer and caribou are large, cold-adapted, herding herbivores related to deer, elk and moose.

To learn more about how these arctic antler-bearers spend the other 364 days of the year, we talked to USGS caribou expert Dr. Layne Adams, who has studied these animals for more than 30 years.

Date published: December 12, 2016

Coastal Wetland Decision Support Tools Now Available for Great Lakes

Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Landscape Conservation Cooperative Launches Coastal Wetland Decision Support Tools

Date published: December 12, 2016

Not Just for Kissing: Mistletoe and Birds, Bees, and Other Beasts

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.