Managing Ecosystems and Species in a Changing World

Pyxie moss (Pyxidanthera barbulata)

Pyxie moss (Pyxidanthera barbulata)

As one of the nation’s largest federal land managers, the Department of Defense (DoD) manages a diversity of ecosystems and numerous listed and at-risk species. Effective and sustainable management of these resources supports both military readiness and stewardship needs. DoD must manage within the context of future climate change, and associated phenomena (e.g., sea level rise), continued alteration of natural disturbance regimes (e.g., fire), presence of non-native invasive species, and continued loss and fragmentation of habitat. Climate scientists and ecologists anticipate that profound, and in some places rapid, ecological change will occur in the future; however, the amount of change is still highly uncertain. To manage under uncertainty, new conceptual paradigms or frameworks for managing and conserving ecosystems, and at times focal species of interest, will be needed. In 2015, SERDP began funding a cohort of projects that seek to advance the theoretical and applied basis for informing these new paradigms of managing species and ecosystems in a non-stationary world through innovative and forward-looking research.

Under SERDP project RC-2506, Dr. Daniel McGarvey of Virginia Commonwealth University and his research team are investigating two current data gaps in network species models by accounting for multiple types of species’ interactions and predicting network responses to chronic disturbances using North American freshwater fishes as a model system. By incorporating an exceptionally large, standardized, and pre-existing database of fish co-occurrences, networks will be built for objectively classified sampling sites. Different metrics of network stability will be used to gauge network responses to environmental disturbances. This research will generate new theory on the stability of ecological networks and create new tools for conservation planning within freshwater ecosystems.

Dr. Tamara Harms of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, under SERDP project RC-2507, is optimizing analytical and statistical methods for detecting responses of biogeochemical cycles to these disturbances on DoD managed lands in Interior Alaska. The sensitivity of optical sensors and data collection methods to multiple types of disturbances will be assessed under local conditions. The methods developed in this research project may be implemented on DoD lands over longer periods of time to provide early warnings of regime shifts caused by simultaneous changes in temperature, permafrost extent, and fire.

Hydaspe fritillary butterfly (Speyeria hydaspe)

Hydaspe fritillary butterfly (Speyeria hydaspe)

Under SERDP project  RC-2508, Dr. Dov Sax of Brown University and his research team are developing a predictive framework for the relationship between species niches and climate over the next several decades. Field and other collected data will be used to test key hypotheses about the factors that limit species distributions and increase extinction risks. Species distribution models will be generated based on realized niche conditions and extinction risk and will enable predicting management options under alterative forecasts of climate change over multiple time periods. As a result, this research will provide species-specific determinations of risk from climate change and inform management options for many federally-listed species on DoD lands.

Dr. George Sugihara from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and his project team are investigating and further developing empirical dynamic modeling (EDM) as a practical nonparametric approach to address the need for ecological forecasting under SERDP project RC-2509. Using time series data, dynamic relationships will be assessed both for short-term and long-term (greater than 25 years) timescales. This research will address strategic global needs for improved environmental forecasting (e.g., in response to ocean acidification or global warming) and will lay the groundwork for next-generation risk assessment methods.

Under SERDP project RC-2510, Dr. Craig Allen from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and his project team are developing models to detect ecological regime shifts in space and time. Through the use of advanced spatial and time series modeling and discontinuity analysis, the changes in resilience of core attributes over time in ecosystems and landscapes will be quantified. The resulting model will provide recommendations for how DoD lands can be managed to avoid undesired regime shifts.

Example of landscape-level model output, showing the predicted occurrence of riparian vegetation guilds under multiple climate scenarios.

Example of landscape-level model output, showing the predicted occurrence of riparian vegetation guilds under multiple climate scenarios.

Dr. David Lytle from Oregon State University and his research team, under SERDP project RC-2511, will develop, parameterize, and test flow-population models that forecast how aquatic and riparian organisms will respond to changing streamflow regimes. The resulting models will enable DoD managers to anticipate how climate-driven changes to precipitation will change current distributions of aquatic and riparian organisms.

Snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus)

Snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus)

Led by Dr. Brian Hudgens, from the Institute for Wildlife Studies, researchers for SERDP project  RC-2512 will develop and test a combined empirical protocol and theoretical framework for determining which species are likely to become conservation reliant with climate change. The associated spatially explicit, environmental driver model will link demographic and environmental variables across spatially explicit landscapes. In addition, it will incorporate dispersal of individual organisms between habitat patches to gauge the population consequences of landscape changes in both space and time. This research will provide tools to assist DoD land managers to anticipate future climate change-related management needs and thus provide predictions and management recommendations for specific species inhabiting some DoD lands.

For more information on these projects, visit SERDP and ESTCP’s Natural Resources sub-program area.

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