Connectivity, or the extent to which a landscape facilitates or impedes the movement of organisms, is an important component of the sustainability of wildlife populations and communities. Habitat fragmentation, modification, and loss have been implicated in the decline of almost all threatened and endangered species, and both continued land-use change and climate change will have an effect on habitats. The goal of this project is to use a systematic and comprehensive approach to evaluate terrestrial connectivity across the South Central United States. Models will be used to predict patterns of connectivity for species which vary in habitat preferences, methods of habitat selection, and responses to the area between habitats. Researchers will evaluate the implications of predicted land-use change across the study area, including a focus on climate change and dominant land uses within the region. The results of this project will include spatially explicit connectivity maps that can be used for making informed management decisions about terrestrial connectivity within this region.
Submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) communities are highly productive ecosystems that provide significant ecological benefits to coastal areas, including essential caloriesfor wintering waterfowl. However, the potential effects of sea-level rise is posing new questions about the future availability of SAV for waterfowl and other coastal wildlife. Of primary concern is the fact that rising seas have the potential to increase salinities in fresh and brackish marshes on the Gulf of Mexico’s coast, changing the distribution and composition of SAV communities, and affecting valuable waterfowl habitat and food resources. Not enough is known about the relationship between salinity and SAV to predict how this important food resource will respond to higher salinity levels, creating difficulties for waterfowl conservation planning.
This project identified the relationship between SAV, salinity, and other environmental variables as a first step in understanding how sea-level rise might affect food availability for waterfowl. The study examined coastal marshes of the northern Gulf of Mexico from Mobile Bay, AL, to the Nueces River, TX. Researchers compared SAV distribution and composition across a range of salinity levels, and found that water depth and salinity were the primary factors in determining the amount of SAV resources in a particular marsh. Surprisingly, researchers also found that brackish marsh tended to produce quantities of SAV waterfowl food resources similar to those in fresh marsh environments. The study also found some evidence that saline marshes contain less waterfowl food resources than brackish, intermediate, and fresh marshes.
This work will directly benefit efforts of the Gulf Coast Joint Venture, Gulf Coast Prairies Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC), and Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks LCC in forecasting the effects of sea-level rise on the distribution, abundance, and diversity of SAV resources and the priority fish and wildlife populations that depend upon them.
A limited amount of valid scientific information about global climate change and its detrimental impacts has reached the public and exerted a positive impact on the public policy process or future planning for adaptation and mitigation. This project is designed to address this limitation by bringing together expertise in the social and communication sciences from targeted academic institutions affiliated with the Department of the Interior’s Climate Science Centers (CSCs) by means of a workshop. Workshop attendees will address and examine barriers to climate communication and methods for communicating science for policy application and engaging media and outreach. Results from the workshop will be published and made available as a resource to CSCs, scientists, land managers, and policymakers. This effort will bring together the expertise needed to ensure that the nation’s CSCs are able to effectively communicate the science of the important but often misunderstood issue of anthropogenic climate change and meaningfully support effective policy across the United States.
Spatial data depicting marsh types (e.g. fresh, intermediate, brackish and saline) for the north-central Gulf of Mexico coast are inconsistent across the region, limiting the ability of conservation planners to model the current and future capacity of the coast to sustain priority species. The goal of this study is to (1) update the resolution of coastal Texas vegetation data to match that of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and (2) update vegetation maps for the Texas through Alabama region using current Landsat Imagery. Creating consistent regional vegetation maps will enable scientists to model vegetation response to and potential impacts of future climate change.
Regional assessments of the impacts of climate change on both human systems and the natural environment require high-resolution projections to see the effects of global-scale change on the local environment. This project will address a critical and generally overlooked assumption inherent to these projections of regional, multi-decadal climate change: that the statistical relationship between global climate model simulation outputs and real, observed climate data remain constant over time. Utilizing a “perfect—?model” experimental design and the output of two high-resolution global climate model simulations, this study will evaluate and report on the ability of three different methods to simulate current and future temperature and precipitation in the U.S., with a focus on the southern Great Plains region. Differences between the methods’ abilities during the late 20th versus late 21st century time periods will provide valuable information regarding the level of confidence we should attribute to the climate projections commonly used in impacts analyses and as the basis for decision-support and planning purposes.
To date, hydrological and ecological models have been developed independently from each other, making their application particularly challenging for interdisciplinary studies. The objective of this project is to synthesize and evaluate prevailing hydrological and ecological models in the South-Central U.S., particularly the southern Great Plains region. This analysis will identify the data requirements and suitability of each model to simulate stream flow while addressing associated changes in the ecology of stream systems, and will portray climate variability and uncertainty. The anticipated results and deliverables of this project will include a comprehensive, updated, and systematic report on recent developments in ecosystem hydrology with a focus on freshwater resource management. This synthesis report will directly address existing needs of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) by providing information that can be readily used to help understand the effect of climate change and land management on hydrology and associated fish communities.
New partnerships among tribal nations and members of the climate science and conservation communities call for multicultural conversations about climate change, risk, and variability. To contribute to the goal of mutual understanding, this project will develop and implement a series of workshops that will (1) educate tribal representatives across the region about climate science and climate adaptation practices, (2) document climate impacts on the tribal nations and their peoples, lands, resources, and economies, and (3) extend, enhance, and foster dialogue among tribal representatives, climate scientists, and conservation leadership. By blending educational outreach with preliminary research on how tribal members know and conceptualize weather and climate, as well as how they have historically struggled with adapting to new climate conditions, this project will facilitate the design of products that tribal decision makers can use, help monitor climate change in the field, and provide lessons about adaptation that are useful for both tribal and non-tribal communities and businesses.